Article By Bill Cleven
When someone mentions the phrase “state park lodge”, you’re probably inclined to think of dated bedspreads, odd smells and maybe even a rotary phone in the corner of your room. Truth be told, I’ve done plenty of stories on state park lodges across the country. Let’s just say, while in route to Echo Bluff State Park, I set the bar just high enough to hover above my tennis shoes.
But then… I walked through the front door. Greeted by smiling faces, and in awe of gorgeous wooden beams high above a spacious, cozy lobby, I quickly realized I better raise the bar before anyone happens to notice my disbelief. The on-site gift shop was a pleasant surprise as well. Sinkin’ Creek Mercantile has some great Echo Bluff State Park swag – including t-shirts, caps, stickers, shot glasses, and even a large variety of Christmas ornaments.
Oh and the only smell: A bit of smoke from a welcoming, roaring fireplace.
“So far, so good”, I thought to myself. After checking in and heading upstairs, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d now seen the best this place had to offer. I slowly opened the door to my room. (Not for dramatic effect; my hands were full.)
The room was fresh and modern. The bathroom included both a walk-in shower and a separate tub. There was no waiting for hot water and the welcome kit of bathroom toiletries even included a fancy looking exfoliating soap bar. (Were they trying to tell me something?) A simple switch ignites a gas fireplace. Even the alarm clock which often requires a masters degree in engineering to operate was simple to set with plenty of plugins for your mobile devices. Oh, and of most importance: The property’s Wi-Fi signal is fantastic!
Echo Bluff opened in 2016 and is now Missouri’s 88th state park. Billed as a “Gateway to the Ozarks”, the 476-acre property is open year round with a wide range of recreational opportunities. Whether it’s hiking, swimming, floating, fishing, or simply admiring the occasional wild horse, you’re bound to find your perfect combination of space and activities.
Renee Greenshields, the park’s sales manager is hearing positive reactions from many of the site’s recent guests. “People do love it. It’s very cozy, it’s very comfy. You just feel like you’re at home but you’re in a state park. They love the fireplaces in each room and the balconies where you can just watch the world go by if that’s all you want to do.”
Echo Bluff, which is about a three-hour drive from Saint Louis, is located near the popular Current River State Park and Montauk State Park. Also, three sides of Echo Bluff are surrounded by Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry, a private working forest owned by the L-A-D Foundation. The foundation donated a lease to Missouri State Parks for an extensive trail system that lets the public explore the backcountry’s more than 62,000 acres. All told, an abundance of recreational experiences are available within a short distance from the Betty Lea Lodge or the park’s private cabins.
Another pleasant experience was dining at Creekside Grill, the property’s on-site restaurant. Let’s be honest, a state park lodge is not exactly where most of us go to get four-star meals. In fact, if you’ve ever eaten at a typical lodge restaurant you’ve probably had – at best – an average meal. The entrees here were not only above average; they were so good that I was completely stunned.
But, at the top of a long list of positives discovered at Echo Bluff State Park is the staff and crew. Customer service is always of most importance in the hospitality industry, but being polite and friendly can be faked. Each employee I came in contact with took real ownership in the park and truly seemed to care about their guests’ experiences. Greenshields adds “It’s a family-friendly resort, without actually being a resort.”
Echo Bluff Is Ideal For Events
The Betty Lea Lodge offers 4,800 square feet of meeting space including a boardroom, a great room which can be divided into two sections, and a second story deck with a terrific view of the park’s signature bluffs. The sky is the limit when it comes to options for retreats, conferences, or team building outings. There are multiple pavilions, including the Bluff Top Pavilion, which has its own fire pit. Between the outdoor amphitheater, a handful of multi-room cabins and the plethora of recreational opportunities, there are endless options for a creative, memorable
Greenshields adds: “We have a huge fire pit out back. A lot of groups will go outside at night and do s’mores and stare in awe at the stars in the sky. The views are amazing here at night.” Mary Kever of the Missouri Soy Bean Association agrees. Her staff retreat was recently held at Echo Bluff and described those views from the balcony as “magical”. In addition to the scenery, Kever says she couldn’t have asked for a better experience during their three-day staff retreat. “The team was available for anything we needed, and there was an abundance of great food.
They fed us really well.”
“Our new chef, Rick, has taken the on-site catering to a new level”, said General Manager Reg Marvin. One of the tasty options is smoked ribs and chicken – an Ozark favorite.
But, perhaps the best part of your Echo Bluff experience will be spotting beautiful wild horses that are known to make guest appearances around the property. Ms. Kever recalls that seeing the horses amounted to a cherry on top of the cake’s icing. “Some of our employees got to feed them apples which everyone absolutely loved.”
AT A GLANCE:
State Park Lodge, Cabins & Cabin Sites
Lodge rates from $89-$209
Cabin rates from $139-$339
Camping from $12-$35
Betty Lea Lodge: 20 rooms (16 standard, 4 suites)
(1) 4-bedroom cabin
(4) 2-bedroom cabins
(4) stacked duplex cabins
Campground: 62 premium sites, 12-walk-in sites.
Wi-Fi throughout the lodge, park.
ADA accessible accommodations available
Pet-friendly (dogs only) accommodations available.
24-hour front desk, balcony and fireplace in each room,
cabins are fully equipped with kitchens and outdoor
2 miles of paved walking trails, 7 miles of hiking/biking
trails, direct access to Sinkin’ Creek.