Wild Logo v4

10 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Columbia, MO

The choice of lakes surrounding Columbia isn't huge, but it's varied. From small city ponds to massive recreational reservoirs, there is something for everyone here.
itiswild.com Best Lakes near Columbia Missouri

The selection of lakes around Columbia is varied. Lake enthusiasts will find small but popular city ponds, nature preserves, flooded open mines, and massive recreational reservoirs boasting multiple fishing records.

Many of these lakes have designated swimming areas for cooling off in summer. Most allow paddling and boating, and some provide campgrounds and trails as well.  

Those who are willing to drive for a little over an hour can visit Mark Twain Lake, Long Branch Lake, as well the nation-famous Lake of Ozarks. The rest of the options are less than an hour away.

Learn more about the area and discover what Columbia has to offer!

Lakes near Columbia:

  1. Stephens Lake
  2. Perry Phillips Lake
  3. Finger Lakes
  4. Little Dixie Lake
  5. Binder Park
  6. Bennitt Lake
  7. Rogers Lake
  8. Mark Twain Lake
  9. Long Branch Lake
  10. Lake of Ozarks
Lakes near Columbia Missouri Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Stephens Lake

Stephens Lake in Columbia Missouri
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Stephens Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 2 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Walking, Biking

A short distance east of downtown Columbia, Stephens Lake is a crown jewel in the city. Near the original 1818 Smithton site that became Columbia in 1821, a pioneer’s cabin sat near the lake. 

Since the city took possession of Stephens Lake in 2001, the 116-acre Stephens Lake Park and its 11-acre lake have become popular destinations in the city. 

With three playgrounds, trails, a summertime swimming area, the Hindman Discovery Garden, and other amenities, this outdoor space hosts a variety of community events. 

Open throughout the year, the park welcomes those who enjoy ice skating, ice fishing, and sledding during the winter. 

Fishing in the stocked waters of Stephens Lake is a popular activity. 

Guests may fish from the embankment, non-motorized watercraft launched into the lake, or two pedestrian bridge walkways connected to an island in the center of the lake. 

2. Perry Phillips Lake

Two Boys Fishing at the End of Pier
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Perry Phillips Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 7 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Located 7 miles southeast of downtown, Perry Phillips Lake is managed by the City of Columbia as a place for fishing.

The lake is often identified as “Phillips,” though the proper spelling is “Philips.” 

This 40-acre body of water honors A. Perry Philips, a philanthropist and entrepreneur from Columbia who passed away in 1985. 

The lake sits within Philips Park, a recreation site just north of the 320-acre Gans Creek Recreation Area

Philips Park includes picnic sites, boat and fishing docks, a boat ramp, and a 1.4-mile pathway around the lake’s perimeter.

Opened for fishing in 2008, Perry Philips Lake offers anglers a great opportunity to cast a line from land or a boat. 

Fish found here include largemouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, bluegill, and white crappie. 

3. Finger Lakes

  • Website: Finger Lakes
  • Distance from Columbia: 11 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, OHVs

The Finger Lakes occupy an area ten miles north of downtown. 

Along with the adjacent Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area, this park was an area mined by the Peabody Coal Company until 1972. After strip mining operations ended, the pits filled with water. 

The company donated 1,028 acres for the creation of Finger Lakes State Park in 1974, and the state’s Department of Conservation purchased the 2,199 acres that formed Rock Fork Lakes in 1979.

The state park offers trails for hiking, biking, and off-road vehicles. One of two Missouri state parks with ATV tracks, this destination is popular with those who enjoy motocross and off-road adventures. 

The water trail attracts the interest of those who enjoy these artificial, excavated waterways. Kayak, paddle board, and canoe rentals are available. 

Seasonal swimming is possible along a sandy beach. Camping is popular for guests wishing to extend their stay.

With dozens of lakes, the state park and conservation area offer great locations for anglers to fish. 

Species found here include bluegill, bass, redear sunfish, crappie, blue catfish, and channel catfish.

4. Little Dixie Lake

Sunset at a conservation area located in Missouri. The Lake has a reflection of the glowing sunset
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Little Dixie Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 16 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A drive of a little more than 14 miles east-southeast of downtown, Little Dixie Lake is an impoundment of Owl Creek created in 1958. 

This 205-acre surface reservoir in Callaway County takes its name from the origin of early settlers in the region who had traveled here from the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The Missouri Department of Conservation acquired 467 acres in the original Little Dixie tract in 1957, with work on the dam beginning soon after the acquisition. 

Fields, prairies, and oak-hickory forests cover this site, known as Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area, now expanded to 733 acres. 

The Department of Conservation and students from the University of Missouri conduct wildlife and fisheries research at this location, a place where anglers enjoy catching catfish, crappie, black bass, and sunfish.

5. Binder Park

This is a sunset over Binder Lake at Binder State Park outside of Jefferson City, MO
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Binder Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 38 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Sailing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Binder Lake is a little more than 35 miles south of the city, immediately west of Jefferson City. 

An earthen dam created in 1966 impounds 155 surface acres of water within the 644-acre Binder Park, an outdoor recreation site managed by Jefferson City. 

Binder Park includes disc golf courses, sports fields, and a high & low rope challenge course, campgrounds, and 15 miles of trails perfect for mountain biking. 

Binder Lake has a boat ramp, ADA-compliant fishing pier, and also provides opportunities for bank fishing. 

The Capital City Sailing Association offers sailboat lessons at this lake. 

Those who fish here will find largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, and bullhead. 

A state-record 4 lbs. 11 oz. black bullhead was caught in Binder Lake in 1977.

6. Bennitt Lake

Family in a canoe on a lake in the summer
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Bennitt Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 34 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Thirty-four miles north of downtown, Bennitt Lake is a 48-acre reservoir created by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the State Department of Conservation in 1999. 

Not to be confused with Bennett Lake in Prairie Township, more than 160 miles to the southwest, this body of water sits within the 3,575-acre Rudolf Bennitt Conservation Area that honors a zoologist who advocated for the creation of the state’s Conservation Department in the 1930s.

Forests, bottomland fields, and grasslands span the rolling terrain within this preserve. 

Bikers, hikers, and horse riders will notice songbirds, deer, and other wildlife when visiting this conservation area. Trails remain closed during the hunting season. 

Those who fish in this location will discover a boat launch, a dock and fishing pier, and ample locations for bank fishing. 

Species commonly found in Bennitt Lake include black bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and redear sunfish. 

7. Rogers Lake

A fisherman fishing on a boat on a lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Rogers Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 33 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

A 33-mile drive northwest of the center of Columbia, Rogers Lake is one of the reservoirs created for recreation and a reliable water supply a short distance northwest of Fayette. 

Built in the 1960s and subsequently modified, the earthen Rogers Lake Dam impounds this 185-acre lake. 

A boat launch and shoreline fishing areas provide access to this location, a place with few amenities. Simple campsites are also available.

Immediately northwest of Rogers Lake, the Fayette New City Lake Dam – constructed in 1961 – impounds an 80-acre reservoir known as Peters Lake or Fayette Lake. 

This body of water also serves as a drinking water resource and fishing site for this area of Howard County. 

Those who choose to fish in this generally quiet, solitary location will find plenty of areas to cast a line. 

Fish commonly caught in these lakes include bass, bluegill, sunfish, and crappie. 

8. Mark Twain Lake

backflipping while wakeboarding on a lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Mark Twain Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 57 miles (1hr 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Mark Twain Lake is approximately 57 miles northeast of Columbia. This 18,600-acre impoundment of the Salt River took shape after the construction of the Clarence Cannon Dam. 

Named to honor the nom de plume of prolific author Samuel Clemens, this expansion of the Salt River covers an area near Twain’s birthplace, the village of Florida. 

The dam, dedicated in 1984, has created a variety of recreation sites for hiking, swimming, fishing, hunting, and boating near the maple, oak, and hickory bluffs.

Mark Twain State Park includes picnic areas, camping sites, boat ramps, and more than six miles of trails in a space that covers over 2,788 acres, including the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site. 

Multiple federal campgrounds and day-use sites also provide access to this reservoir. 

Ray Behrens sits along the southeastern shore, while the largest campground, Indian Creek, sits along the northern banks. 

Other sites include BluffviewFrank Russell Campground, and the John Spalding Area.

The reservoir’s big-three fish are bass, catfish, and crappie. Other species found in Mark Twain Lake include bluegill and walleye. 

9. Long Branch Lake

Long Branch Lake and State Park missouri
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Long Branch Lake
  • Distance from Columbia: 63 miles (1hr 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A drive 63 miles north of the city offers an opportunity to visit Long Branch Lake. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers created this 2,400-acre impoundment of the East Fork of the Little Chariton River to offer water supply to local entities, provide flood protection, and create recreational opportunities. 

Nearly 5,000 acres of land surrounding this reservoir are preserved.

Long Branch State Park came into existence in 1983 after the Army Corps and the state entered into a long-term agreement. 

This park offers three boat ramps, a day-use area, a seasonal swimming beach, and a campground. 

Hikes in the Chariton River Hills Natural Area offer great bird and nature-watching opportunities. 

The lake offers excellent bass fishing prospects, whether on a boat or casting a line along its 24 miles of coves and shoreline. Fish found here are crappie, walleye, and catfish. 

10. Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks Missouri
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake of the Ozarks
  • Distance from Columbia: 72 miles (1hr 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Unlike many 20th-century impoundments created by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the creation of the Lake of the Ozarks occurred when the Union Electric Company built a dam that filled low-lying land in 1931. 

With a surface area that spans approximately 54,000 acres, the lake created to generate power has turned into a recreation and tourism powerhouse in central Missouri. 

Designed by impounding the Osage River, this reservoir also includes other tributaries, such as the Niangua River.

The stable shoreline has led to the construction of more than 70,000 dwellings and vacation homes along a waterfront that attracts more than five million visitors each year. 

The Lake of the Ozarks State Park took shape as a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the mid-1930s, with the state taking over management in 1946. 

This year-round park offers numerous outdoor recreation activities that span from fishing and boating to camping and hiking. In addition to the many land and water activities, the park also offers underground cave tours.

As of 2022, the lake holds six fish records in Missouri. Those who fish in the Lake of the Ozarks will find a variety of favorite spots to cast a line. Fish they may encounter include walleye, catfish, bass, and bluegill.

More Lakes in Missouri:

You Might Also Like: