Castles, Caves, and Crystal Springs: Unveiling the Magic of Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Could Ha Ha Tonka State Park be the most beautiful place in Missouri? Conde Nast Travel thinks so! After you see our exciting things to do in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, you might agree. And after a trip to Camdenton, you can see for yourself.

This guide takes you from historic castle ruins on the bluff tops to the crystal blue springs at lake level. In between, you’ll find 3,700 acres of exquisite nature, including well-preserved woodlands and distinctive karst features.

See the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

At the top of the list and the top of the hill sits the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins. Kansas City businessman, Robert McClure Snyder, started construction on the castle in 1905, only to die in a car crash in 1906. His sons, Robert Jr., LeRoy, and Kenneth, completed the project in the early 1920s, just in time for the stock market crash. It struggled as a hotel during the Great Depression, only to burn to the ground in 1942. Initially designed as a 16th-century European fairy tale, these buildings more closely resemble a turn of the century American gothic.

Today, visitors can see the crumbling walls of the castle, water tower, and stables. For a moment, you could imagine that you’re in Europe looking at an old ruin set high above the Rhine. Interpretive signs tell you about the construction, operation, and demise of this historic structure. Also not to be missed are the sweeping views of the Niagara Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. Since the 250′ cliffs face west, this location is home to some of the best sunsets in the state.

Explore the Ha Ha Tonka Natural Bridge

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Just below the castle ruins, you’ll find the Ha Ha Tonka Natural Bridge. The bridge is 70 feet wide, spans 60 feet, and reaches more than 100 feet in the air. At one time, this bridge served as the primary entrance for the castle grounds like a medieval drawbridge. Today all traffic over the top, including foot traffic, is prohibited to preserve the feature.

While you’re visiting the natural bridge, be sure to keep heading down the trail a short bit to see the Colosseum, a gigantic 500 feet long and 300 feet wide sinkhole. If you like, there is a small picnic area complete with tables and grills adjacent to the natural bridge parking area.

Go for a Hike on the Ha Ha Tonka Trails

Photo Credit Jenn Coleman.

Thirteen trails crisscross Ha Ha Tonka State Park with more than 15 miles of marked routes. Highlights include: the Ha Ha Tonka Castle ruins, crystal blue Ha Ha Tonka Springs, several karst features such as the natural bridge, Devil’s Bathtub, and several sinkholes. Trail conditions range from paved paths to wooden boardwalks to the natural trail surface. Of note is the 316-step wood staircase that takes visitors from the spring head at lake level to the ruins at the top of the bluff.

When you’re hiking, pay close attention to the confluence of trails between the post office and the natural bridge. Up to four trails can share the same track, each with its own blazes. This will reduce your total distance traveled, as you’re hiking two or more trails simultaneously, but be careful with navigation.

Individual Trail Descriptions

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Acorn Trail (.9 miles / blazed green) is a self-guiding interpretive trail that leads hikers through an open woodland and glade complex.

Boulder Ridge Trail (1.5 miles / blazed red) is an old gravel road that travels by lichen-covered boulders with views of Lake of the Ozarks.

Castle Trail (.4 miles / blazed yellow) is one of the park’s most popular trails that accesses the ruins of a 20th-century castle and offers spectacular views of Lake of the Ozarks. The trail is accessed from two parking lots. The upper lot has limited parking and is recommended for people with disabilities and the elderly. The lower lot has more parking spaces available with a short, shaded hike to the castle.

Cedar Trail (.2 miles / blazed blue) is a short interpretive loop around the Post Office day-use area with native tree identification markers.

Colosseum Trail (.6 miles / blazed yellow) is a figure 8 loop around the Ha Ha Tonka Natural Bridge and Colosseum Sinkhole. It shares the trail with portions of Devil’s Kitchen, Dell Rim, and Spring trails.

Individual Trail Descriptions Part 2

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Dell Rim Trail (.3 miles / blazed red) The first .07 miles is a boardwalk around the historic water tower before circling the 150′ deep Whispering Dell Sinkhole. The trail is part of the 316 step wooden staircase that leads to Ha Ha Tonka Spring. It shares the trail with portions of Devil’s Kitchen, Colosseum, and Spring trails.

Devil’s Kitchen (1.3 Miles / blazed brown) This trail gives access to the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole and shelter cave complex. It shares the trail with portions of Dell Rim, Colosseum, and Spring trails.

Island Trail (.4 miles / blazed Green) This trail circles a small island formed by the Ha Ha Tonka Spring Run entering Lake of the Ozarks. You’ll see karst features like the Balanced Rock Boulder and Island Cave (gated). You’ll also find the historic water pipe used to supply the castle on the bluff and have several good views of the iridescent blue Trout Glen Pool at the base of Ha Ha Tonka Springs. You can’t enter Trout Glen Pool, but you can swim in the cool spring water past the old dam as it enters Lake of the Ozarks.

Lake Trail (.4 miles / blazed red) This trail primarily serves as a connector trail from the courtesy boat dock to the Quarry Trail and the Castle Ruins

Individual Trail Descriptions Part 3

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Oak Woodland Trail (.1 miles / blazed blue) This short, handicapped accessible interpretive trail has panels that identify characteristic plants of the park’s Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland.

Quarry Trail (1.7 miles / blazed green) This trail takes visitors past two quarry sites where sandstone was mined to build the castle, carriage house, and water tower.

Spring Trail (1.4 miles / blazed blue) This popular loop trail has a little bit of everything. The first .4 miles along the shoreline are paved and highly accessible up to the old mill pond. Then, a .1 mile boardwalk takes you to the beautiful blue Ha Ha Tonka Spring that discharges an average of 48 million gallons of water a day. Then a 316 step wooden staircase ascends the bluff. Finally, the trail returns through the forest at the top of the cliff band. It shares the trail with portions of Dell Rim, Colosseum, and Devil’s Kitchen trails.

Turkey Pen Hollow Trail (6.5 miles / blazed red) – The longest continuous trail in the park with spurs that access the backcountry camps. Taking the white connector that bypasses Camp B will cut two miles off the loop. This trail shares a trailhead and some distance with Acorn, Oak Woodland Interpretive, and Devil’s Kitchen trails.

Picnicking at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park has three picnic areas for everybody who loves eating in nature. Each one has ample parking and restrooms. However, the experience at each is as diverse as Ha Ha Tonka Park itself.

Natural Bridge Picnic Area – Here you’ll find picnic tables and grills in the woods between the natural bridge and the Ha Ha Tonka Ruins. Picnicking here provides the perfect base camp to explore the park’s most unique feature, the Castle Ruins, and exemplary karst formations.

Ha Ha Tonka Lake Shelter – A waterside shelter, picnic tables, and grills that let you enjoy the lake and spring before, after, and even during your meal.

Post Office Picnic Shelter – A large shelter in a quiet corner of the park. Enjoy the playground and the interpretive Cedar Trail.

Camping and Backpacking at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Photo Credit: Missouri State Parks.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park does not have a campground per se. There is a special-use camping area designated for organized youth groups, but there’s also something for everyday adventures – backpacking off the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail.

Backpackers should register at the park office before starting their trip, with after-hour registration instructions outside the park office. Campfires are prohibited as well as cutting implements such as saws and hatchets.

Groups of seven or more persons must camp in the designated camping areas (A, B, and C on the map). Smaller groups can camp at large so long as they are at least 100 feet from the trail, 200 feet from any major public use area, and at least one-fourth mile from the trail entry/exit point. If you want to try backpacking, a little paperwork and a quarter-mile hike are about as easy as it gets!

Visit Ha Ha Tonka Spring

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Ha Ha Tonka Spring is the park’s namesake. In the native Osage Indian language, it means laughing water. We didn’t hear the water giggling on our visit, but our eyes exploded with joy. The spring is Missouri’s 12th largest, and it discharges more than 48 million gallons of crystal blue water every day. The sapphire blue water collects in the Trout Glenn Pool and travels about 1/4 mile to enter the Lake of the Ozarks.

The Spring Trail boardwalk travels along the south side of the pool, offering incredible views of the spring and the old millpond. You can even take the 316-step staircase up to the castle ruins if you like or explore the Island Trail for more views. One thing you can’t do is swim in Trout Glen Pool. The closest you can come is swimming in the discharge as it enters the lake. It’s still cool and blue, but you aren’t trampling in a sensitive area.

Public Boat Docks at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park has not one but two public boat docks. The first one is adjacent to the picnic shelter on the south side of the spring. This dock is a beautiful spot for fishing or playing in the water, even if you come by car.

The second dock is on the north side of the lake and primarily serves boaters visiting the park by the water. It connects to the Lake Trail and Quarry Trail to form the shortest and easiest way up to the castle for boaters.

Kayak or SUP the Ha Ha Tonka Paddling Trail

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Don’t have your own boat but still want to explore the Big Niagara River Trail? Ha Ha Tonka offers kayak rentals from April through October. A two-hour rental is perfect for exploring the no-wake zone surrounding the park. You’ll need a full-day rental if you’re venturing out on the 13.3-mile paddling trail to explore Niagara Arm highlights like Onyx Cave, the Tunnel Dam Powerhouse, Whistle Bridge, and several wineries and vineyards.

Rentals are arranged from the park’s visitor center (573-346-2986) with a self-service kiosk lakeside. The no-wake zone combined with the park’s easy entry dock makes the two-hour tour perfect for novice paddlers. However, you should have some boating and navigation experience if you’re venturing out into the open water. Also, be sure to pick up a paddling trail brochure when you stop by the park office and ask the rangers if you have any questions.

Ha Ha Tonka FAQs

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Can you swim in Ha Ha Tonka Springs? You can not swim in Ha Ha Tonka Springs. Then entire Trout Glenn Pool is a protected ecological area. You can swim in the park by the docks and picnic shelter.

How many steps are at Ha Ha Tonka? A 316-step wood staircase that takes visitors from the spring head at lake level to the ruins at the top of the bluff.

How long is the trail at Ha Ha Tonka? Many guide books list Ha Ha Tonka as having over 30 miles of trail. However, many of these trails overlap, so the park only has about 20 miles of unique trails.

What’s the longest trail at Ha Ha Tonka? Turkey Pen Hollow (6.5 miles / blazed red) is the longest continuous trail in the park with spurs that access the backcountry camps.

What are the best trails at Ha Ha Tonka? You must see the Ha Ha Tonka Springs and ruins. You get to reach the springs you use the 1.4 mile Spring Trail and to reach the ruins you use the .4 mile Castle Trail.

Wrapping Up Things To Do at Ha Ha Tonka

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Hopefully, you see that Ha Ha Tonka is not only beautiful but full of exciting things to do. Its rich history and natural beauty make it a must-see attraction while you’re on a Lake of the Ozarks getaway. Much like its sister park, Lake of the Ozarks, visitors can explore the hills and hollows here that make the Ozarks special.

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Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

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