10 Secrets Of Missouri's Big Cedar Lodge

big spring lodge overlooking table rock lake
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris dreamed, designed, and built Missouri's Big Cedar Lodge so you could escape to his slice of heaven on earth. Johnny is the man when it comes to the great outdoors, and as unofficial tackle box king, he was pretty much the perfect person to start a lodge property on a nearly 60,000-acre lake just outside Branson, Missouri. Since it opened in 1988, Big Cedar Lodge has been Johnny's hometown hideout on Table Rock Lake, barely 30 minutes from where he started his first bait shop in 1972 in the back of his dad's liquor store. The Bass Pro spirit and Johnny's gentle call of the wild fill all 83 cabins, three lodges, five cottage settings, four restaurants, and 100 boat slips. Here, the local boy-done-good shares his 10 Big Cedar favorites.

01 of 11

Originally a "Fish Camp"

big spring lodge overlooking table rock lake
Robbie Caponetto

Johnny originally wanted a place for customers to test fishing boats but ended up building an Ozarks lodge on par with any lake resort in the country. "Jeanie [his wife] originally found the ad for the property in the Springfield News-Leader classifieds," Johnny says. "What we discovered looked like a run-down roadside motel." Now guests choose between cottages, cabins, and handsome hotel rooms in one of three ridge-side lodges.

02 of 11

Craftsmanship By His High School Buddy

tim burrows's chandeliers in the lobby of big cedar lodge
Robbie Caponetto

Artisan blacksmith Tim Burrows, a classmate of Johnny's, forged Big Cedar's gate work and fixtures. None is more awesome than his soaring lobby chandelier, reminiscent of a cast-iron treetop canopy. Tim's intricate metalsmithing features hummingbirds, tree branches, whitetail deer, and (of course) monster bass throughout the lodge on balconies, fencing, and lighting.

03 of 11

A Boat Named After Waylon Jennings's Wife

devil's pool overlooking table rock lake at big cedar lodge
Robbie Caponetto

A ride on Goin' Jessi, Big Cedar's replica 1939 Chris-Craft cruiser, is the perfect end to the day. "I bought it on a whim in upstate New York," Johnny says. "We named it after Waylon's wife because the Jenningses always stayed with us when he played Branson."

04 of 11

Breaking In the Grounds with Family Cookouts

truman smokehouse at big cedar lodge
Robbie Caponetto

Before a single guest stayed the night, Johnny and his shop-owner father (and hero), John A. Morris, broke in the grounds with sunset cookouts. And they weren't alone. "I remember two big old dogs always hung around what's now the Truman Smokehouse," he says. Today, guests enjoy lattes and bagels on the same patio.

05 of 11

Driftwood Furniture

handcrafted furniture inside big cedar lodge cabin
Robbie Caponetto

Lampe, Missouri, craftsman Rick Braun is Johnny's hand-hewed furniture source. His whole-tree headboards, juniper mantels, and gnarly end tables seem so forest-fresh that you half expect the sap to still drip. Rick, who has created hundreds of Big Cedar commissions, salvages downed signature-size timber (often cedar and oak) from burn piles, storm debris, and Table Rock tributaries with his son, Shawn Gates. "Johnny trusts craftsmen and turns us loose to create one-of-a-kind pieces," Rick says. See more of Rick's work.

06 of 11

Cozy Year-Round Fires

Lodge cabin with stone fireplace
Big Cedar Lodge cabin two-bedroom with fireplace.

Edward C. Robison III/Courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge

You can build a fire in July. After a day on the lake, crank up the AC so you can start a wood fire in the cabins. Johnny says so. Cabins feature cozy wood-burning stone fireplaces and are perfectly sized for a quiet retreat, a family getaway, or a group get-together. Tuck into a private one-room cottage with a relaxing wood fire. And set the tone in lodge rooms that feature electric fireplaces.

07 of 11

Missouri Menus

missouri mountain trout entree at worman house restaurant
Robbie Caponetto

Johnny recommends the Ozark trout for a memorable meal, and the Worman House—once a retreat for Frisco Railroad executive Harry Worman. Enjoy its gourmet meals and lake views. At Devil’s Pool, try regional fare like Rockbridge rainbow trout. Downstairs, find huntsman grandeur at the Buzzard Bar, which has a mahogany bar top that's twice as old as the man-made Table Rock. Local musicians play nightly.

08 of 11

The Best Fishing Spots

Lakeside Cabin
Big Cedar Lodge Lakeside Cabin.

Matt Suess/Courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge

"I remember when the first water came over Table Rock Dam and filled the lake," Johnny says. "I was 10." Thousands of fishing hours later, he is full of tips ("Fish early and hit the shallow gravel beds for smallmouth") and determined to give back: Bass Pro Shops has put $2.5 million into the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's More Fish campaign for lake conservation.

09 of 11

Adirondacks-Inspired Design

kayaker on table rock lake
Robbie Caponetto

While envisioning Big Cedar in the mid-eighties, Johnny studied old Ozarks photographs and grand Adirondack lodges with Bass Pro's architect, Tom Jowett. "I wanted things to be nostalgic, that old hunt-camp feel to conjure up times past," he says. To create a striking, Yellowstone-like aura, Johnny chose naturally cured logs from western Montana's Bitterroot Valley to frame and accent Big Cedar's three lodges and 83 cabins. He also filled out guest rooms and gathering spaces with bears, moose, whitetail deer, and trophy trout, many donated from longtime Bass Pro Shops customers. Teddy Roosevelt would be proud.

10 of 11

The Road to Big Cedar

bass pro shops founder johnny morris
Robbie Caponetto

The main road is Johnny's decompression chamber. For Johnny, Big Cedar's half-mile-long entry drive meanders from ridgetop to shoreline like a man walking in the woods, giving a mysterious sense of arrival for 600,000 guests every year. "The road is an escape," Johnny says. "It's my decompression chamber." He's currently building a second road, this one four times as long and leading cars through a limestone cave.

11 of 11

The Best of Big Cedar Lodge

bass pro shops founder johnny morris
Robbie Caponetto

Best Room: For families, a lodge two-bedroom with a kitchenette, around $180, or a one-bedroom cabin with a loft, around $220. For couples, try a lodge room with a king-size bed, fireplace, and balcony, around $180.
Best Economy Tips: Ski boats rent for $180 for two hours, but canoes and kayaks are free. Also, the movies on the lawn for families at the Swimming Hole (held three nights a week) are free.
Best Way To Get There: The $140-million Branson Airport is 10 miles from Big Cedar Lodge, making access to the resort easy and affordable.

Big Cedar Lodge: www.bigcedar.com or 1-800-225-6343

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