Ever since early settlers first arrived in Macon County in 1830, periodic flooding was a major problem. A large dam that was completed in 1980 did more than solve the flood problem. It also created one of the largest lakes in northern Missouri.
Long Branch Lake has over 20 miles of shoreline. Much of it is a sandy beach that rivals most anyplace else in the country. Long Branch State Park also features three boat launches, so there are lots of water sports opportunities. Whether you tow a powered or unpowered boat behind your rig, you’ll have plenty of room to float it. Further inland, visitors enjoy hiking along one of many easy or moderate trails, motorhome camping, wildlife viewing both on the ground and in the air, and other activities.
The RV campground has a mixture of reservable and first-come, first-served sites. So, whether you plan your vacation for months or suddenly get the camping itch, this park is a great place to drive your motorhome. The campground is open all year long, even in the dead of winter. Amenities include a surprisingly large camp store and a stable WiFi connection. These campground amenities, along with all the aforementioned activities, make Long Branch State Park a nice place to stay for a weekend or longer.
Long Branch State Park is located just north of U.S. Highway 36. This road is the main drag between St. Joseph and Hannibal. For the most part, this road is a four-lane divided highway with very few sharp curves. So, it has good visibility and should be no problem, even for novice RV drivers and even in less-than-ideal weather. Through Missouri, Highway 36 basically runs parallel to Interstate 70, which is the main route between Kansas City and St. Louis. So, even in the winter, Long Branch State Park is not just one of the most RV-friendly parks in Northern Missouri, it's also one of the most accessible ones. At the same time, the park is far enough away from Highway 36 to give it a very remote feeling. Lots of large vehicle parking is available near the boat launches and the major trailheads.
Long Branch State Park's campground has 66 reservable sites. A few of them are close to the lake, but most of them are a bit further inland where there is plenty of shade. About a half-dozen of these sites are larger pull-through spots for family-sized motorhomes. The other spots are not exactly tiny, but they are not as large either. Most of these sites have electrical hookups, and many of these sites have powerful 50-amp connections. Campground amenities include a restroom and shower area, a frost-free drinking water spigot, several standard drinking water spigots, vault toilets, an RV dump station, children’s play area, and wood lot. Keep in mind that while the campground is open year-round, the restrooms and shower are only available from April to October.
Three of the five non-reservable campsites are right next to the lake. These three spots also have electrical hookups. The same campground amenities are available to all RV visitors.
Long Branch State Park is adjacent to the Atlanta State Wildlife Area. Since animals pay little attention to park boundaries, many of these creatures are quite common in Long Branch State Park as well, especially in the northern areas. Lots of waterfowl are in this marshy, wet area, especially in the fall. There are lots of woodpeckers as well, and you will probably hear them before you see them. Further inland, look for deer, cottontail rabbits, and wild turkeys. Bright purple Prairie Blazing Star wildflowers are quite pretty in the spring, and the white oak trees are nice in the spring and summer as well.
When the beach is closed to swimmers, it’s open to metal detector wielders. Long Branch State Park is one of only a dozen Missouri state parks which allow this activity. You may not find a mother load of treasure, but many RV campers are surprised at how many coins and pieces of jewelry they find. But these finds are basically a bonus. Most people will tell you that the real thrill of metal detecting is just being outside and enjoying the quiet.
Long Branch State Park has a number of hiking trails. We recommend the Little Chariton Prairie Trail. It’s wide and well-marked. This trail winds through some of the few remaining prairie grasslands that once dominated this area of the state. The Little Chariton Prairie rail is a bit long, but there are several spurs and designated on-off points. During the winter, it’s fun to get outside your motorhome, strap on your snowshoes, and explore this trail. There’s also a designated canoe and paddling trail which hugs the tree-lined lakeshore. There are lots of cool coves and inlets to explore along the way. And, as mentioned, there are also a few campsites along the way where you can pause and catch your breath.
The triangle-shaped swimming beach is located near a large parking lot which has plenty of room for your rig. This beach is open between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. A very long fishing jetty is one one side and a cabin campground is on the other side. So, the many boaters never bother the many swimmers. A number of trees along the perimeter break up the wind, and the sand is very thick and fine. No lifeguard is on duty, but if you swim with a buddy, you should be fine. The lake has very few undercurrents or underwater drop-offs. Beach amenities include a picnic area, changing house, and volleyball net.
This 1,800-plus acre lake has three concrete boat launches at different points along the shore. So, there is always plenty of room and hardly ever much traffic congestion, even on July Fourth and other major boating holidays. Long Branch Lake is made for power sports. The lake has no speed restrictions, so open up those engines. For a change of pace, rent a kayak or paddleboard at the store. Or, bring your own canoe along with your camping trailer. Long Branch State Park has several boat-in campsites where you can spend one of the most relaxing days ever.
Most RV campers pull bass, carp, and catfish out of Long Branch Lake. Look for schools of bass just below the surface as they feed on gizzard shad. Carp abound near the marina dock, as well as the underwater brush areas scattered throughout the lake. Channel catfish thrive in the flooded timber areas. And, since Long Branch Lake is primarily a flood-control lake, there are lots of these places, especially around the Little Chariton River East Fork. Blue catfish are plentiful in the spring and fall, when the water temperature is just right.