Once a wealthy businessman’s dream getaway, now a ruin surrounded by the karst topography Missouri is famous for, Ha Ha Tonka State Park reminds us that you can’t take it with you. Sandstone ruins once accessible for photo ops, but now cordoned off for safety sit at the top of a bluff overlooking the southern end of Lake of the Ozarks. Beautiful any time of year, but especially in the fall, Ha Ha Tonka is worth the drive and the effort to hike one of its many trails.
An hour and a half northeast of Springfield, the easiest way I have found is Hwy 65 to Hwy 73 just north of Buffalo and a right on Hwy 54 and down Missouri Hwy D. The park has a visitor’s center, 13 trails rated from easy to rugged including Spring Trail with 316 wooden steps ascending 200 vertical feet. I recommend you skip this trail if you are having knee surgery any time in the near future (or have had it in the recent past!) This is one of my favorite trails, as it takes you right down to the spring which pours more than 48 million gallons of water daily into the lake. There was once a mill located on the river flowing from the spring and you can still find the old grist millstone on the trail. Worth a look is the Island trail which is rated rugged and takes about 30 minutes in addition to the Spring Trail.
My son, Cole and I headed up on a Friday around lunch time to find the parking lot of the Castle Trail full of people from as far away as Texas and South Dakota. We chose the Quarry Trail this time around as it had been raining a lot lately, making the Spring Trail a possible disappointment. Having never taken this particular trail, I was excited to see something new; the rock formations, wildlife and open meadows we passed through did not disappoint. We took Cole’s dog, Balto, along for the trip and managed to keep him from pulling us down any cliffs in his enthusiasm to become one with nature. Not any easy task with a one year old Husky. A well-mannered dog (as well as children) for some trails is a must. The trail was wet and I was grateful I had worn hiking shoes as Cole kept slipping in his trainers. Of course, Balto’s instinctual pulling increased Cole’s odds of falling on his butt or his face.
Turkey Pen Hollow Trail is a little over six miles and offers three primitive camping areas for those interested in staying in the park a little longer. Reservations for this area are required-same day reservations April-October and one week in advance November-March. I attempted to make reservations for the primitive campsites on the Missouri State Park website (https://mostateparks.com/park/ha-ha-tonka-state-park), but that was unsuccessful so I called the park office at (573) 346-2986 and the employee who returned my phone call stated that they gladly make reservations but require a few days’ notice. He asked me to leave a voicemail for what date(s) I wanted and they would make sure everything was ready as well as return the phone call to confirm.
I was grateful the trail blazes were visible on this particular trail; there were a few places it would have been easy to get turned around. I was not worried about becoming lost here as there were quite a few people visiting the park, but I have been on the Devils’ Kitchen Trail with no sign of any other hikers and I did become lost on that particular day. Again, a good compass, water and some food go a long way to making a day hike an enjoyable experience so get out there!
Let me know where your favorite place to hike is located in the comments section!
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