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Girls Gone Wild

Adventure-seeking women look to outdoors for a girlfriends’ getaway.
by Deborah Reinhardt

The yellow fishing line landed on the green water in a hypnotic rhythm. Back and forth, tick tock. As I stood on the creek bank, I could feel stress evaporate. All that mattered at that moment was my leader landing close to the target in the water.


Above: Scenic spots, like this limestone pool and wooden footbridge, dot Dogwood Canyon. Branson CVB photo

Below: Practicing our casting technique at Dogwood Canyon’s fly-fishing school. Keith Oxby photo


Our group of three newbie fly-fishers was at work learning proper casting techniques at the Orvis Fly-Fishing School in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Branson, Mo. Instructor Keith Oxby, a delightful British fellow and experienced fisherman, extends profound patience to us, but within about 10 minutes, we begin to get into the rhythm and move on to working on locating the leader. “I can really get hooked on this,” I say to Oxby, who just smiles at my tired pun. Yeah, he’s probably heard that one before.

I’m at Dogwood Canyon for the day with Pat Cannone and his teen son, Brandon, who researched several fishing schools before recommending this one to his dad. They were visiting from Chicago.

Our class is representative of the average mix of men and women who enroll in the two-day fishing school. According to Oxby, about a third of students are women. A factoid during Oxby’s introduction also caught my attention: It’s believed that the first book about fly-fishing was written in 1496 by an English woman, Dame Juliana Berners. I refrain from pumping my fist and shouting, “you go, girl,” in the class. I am–after all–a minority here, but like many sister travelers looking for something different, I’m hoping to stretch outside my comfort zone and experience something new.

Girls just want to have fun

Lisa Johnson, chief executive officer of ReachWomen, an Oregon-based company that specializes in women consumers, defines the adventure-seeking woman as one who “crosses all ages, family configurations and fitness levels” and carves out time in her schedule and budget “for new adventures involving everything from rock climbing to Tuscan cooking to snowshoeing.”

Author and women’s travel expert Marybeth Bond writes the average adventure traveler is a 47-year-old woman.

While we may desire adventure on the other side of the world, the practically minded woman also knows the challenge to find any wiggle room in her budget. The good news is regional adventures that require a willing attitude and $1,000 or less are available for women to experience.

For once, I throw out a line

Women hear a variety of lines, whether it’s in a bar or the boardroom, but fly-fishing allows her to cast out her own line, which may not sound like much but I found the experience to be powerful.

According to a study by AARP, fishing is the No. 1 adventure activity for Baby Boomers. Fly-fishing presents a series of mental challenges; the fly you select to tie on depends on many variables, like the species of fish you’re trying to hook, depth and speed of water and what fish are eating at the time. The finesse of fly-fishing–the graceful motion and bend of the fly rod, as well as the intricate knots–is appealing.

However, a novice fly-fisher can learn all she needs to know at Orvis’ school. Equipment introductions, entomology and fly selection, knot tying and a good amount of hands-on practice make this the complete package. Instruction runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and lunch is included. Equipment is provided. The school is open to all, 12 years and older, and the fee is $470 per person.

“The school really is designed for people who have never done this,” says Oxby. “Usually, they’ve seen ‘A River Runs Through It’ and want to give this a try. People seem to think I can wave a magic wand and turn them into Brad Pitt.” However, that’s truly not desirable, Oxby says, as Pitt did not display good form in the film. Oh well girls, he was nice to look at, yes?

Because it’s a two-day school, you’ll need a place to sleep. Big Cedar Lodge, a luxury wilderness resort, is nearby and the resort will provide transportation to the nature park. Dogwood Canyon also has three cabins for overnight rental. Branson has plentiful choices in motels, hotels, resorts and camping. Because Dogwood Canyon is on state Highway 86, 16 miles west of U.S. Highway 65, you may want to look at Indian Point and places south for accommodations.

Within Dogwood Canyon’s 2,200 acres, you can select from a variety of activities in addition to fishing. Adventure passes allow you to spend the day and enjoy it all.

Float trips and Route 66

One of the printed guides I picked up from the well-stocked racks at Pulaski County’s visitor center tagged this part of the Ozarks as the wettest, wildest, most scenic and historical part of Missouri. Sounds like an adventure to me.

I toured this part of central Missouri for a day with Karen Hood, marketing relations manager for the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau. I came for a short float trip on the beautiful Gasconade River but discovered much more. This region is a great choice for women who want to put the top down on the convertible, put their hair up in a ponytail and go exploring.

Start with a scenic drive along Route 66. Take exit 169 off Interstate 44 and make your way to the hamlet of Devil’s Elbow. Check out the historical Route 66 bridge and nearby Shelden’s Market, which opened in 1954. Barb Shelden has been postmistress for Devil’s Elbow since 2005. The post office, located within the market, has a visitors’ book, with notations of people passing through from Italy, Norway, Sweden and England. How is it these folks found this place, but I’ve driven by it my whole life? Lesson learned. Get off the interstate once in a while.

The scenic Big Piney River is here and is a fine choice for a cooling float trip. Grab a satisfying plate of Ozark barbecue for little cash at the Elbow Inn, another Route 66 fixture. Don’t let the motorcycles parked out front deter you. Bikers always know where the good food is, and they know a little about adventure, too.

Follow Route 66/state Highway Z west along the interstate west toward St. Robert. There are some walking trails to enjoy and the pleasant Reed Park here. The county’s visitor center also is in St. Robert. Plenty of lodging and dining options are available, as well as in Waynesville, located less than two miles west on the I-44 spur.

Get away from it all at peaceful Bluejay Farm in Dixon. You won’t find a phone or a television here, but there are five cabins that date to the early 1900s, a small spring-fed lake stocked with fish and 360 acres of serene quiet. Host Sue Goodman says guests often come to read, eat, share a bottle of wine and talk. Pets are welcome, too. Rates range from $90–$210 a night.

For a one-hour float trip, we chose to put in at Boiling Spring Campground in Dixon. I tried a kayak for the first time. The stretch of the Gasconade River we explored was gentle and very scenic. Boiling Spring rents kayaks, canoes, tubes or johnboats. Rentals vary, according to length of trip and watercraft you’re renting; single kayaks were $25 for the day.

A trip to Pulaski County isn’t complete without seeing the quirky landmark, Cave Restaurant in Richland off state Highway 7. The restaurant is indeed in a cave, seats 225 people and serves Ozark staples like fried fish, barbecue and burgers. Steaks and pasta plus homemade desserts round out the menu. Weekends will get busy during summer, so relax and enjoy this interesting dining experience. Appetizers were about $6, entrees about $15.

There are shopping, dining and entertainment options in Waynesville. An Antique Trail features four shops and starts in Crocker and moves on to Richland before ending in Waynesville with Talbot House Antiques, Collectibles and Gifts.

If a restorative getaway is something you’re looking for, then look to Missouri’s Ozarks. Then grab some girlfriends for a great adventure that’s close to home.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler.

Go wild with more adventures

Discover your inner cowgirl at one of many guest ranches in Kansas. Horseback riding, chuckwagon dinners, hiking or helping with ranch chores are part of this experience. Many ranches provide cabins and a hearty breakfast to begin your day. Order a Kansas visitors’ guide by calling (800) 2Kansas (800-252-6727), ext. MT or visit

  • Another fine fly-fishing school is in Lebanon, Mo., at Bennett Spring State Park. Jim Rogers’ Fly-Fishing School offers a one-day class that covers casting, fly selection, equipment and wading. The cost is $145 for women. Rogers also operates concessions at the park that include cabins, camping, a dining lodge and more. Information: (417) 532-4307,
  • The Missouri Canoe & Floaters Association has a free directory to help plan a weekend or day float. Order a directory at

–Deborah Reinhardt

May/Jun 2011 Issue


For more information, contact Dogwood Canyon Nature Park at (417) 779-5983 or www.dogwood; Pulaski County Tourism Bureau, (877) 858-8687 or

To plan an outdoor adventure in Missouri, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Missouri through the Reader Service Card, found online at

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