Ha Ha Tonka State Park is one of the most beautiful and unique state parks in Missouri. The park offers stunning natural beauty with a turquoise blue spring, cave, and natural rock bridge. Visitors can also explore the ruins of a turn of the century stone castle perched on a bluff above Lake of the Ozarks. This is truly a must-see park and great for the whole family.
History of Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The area around Ha Ha Tonka attracted both Native Americans and early settlers. In 1830, a man named Garland dammed the lower end of spring and constructed a grist mill. Garland was also involved with counterfeiters who used the caves in the park to hide!
In 1903, Robert M. Snyder, a wealthy Kansas City businessman, visited the area and decided it would be a perfect spot for his own personal retreat overlooking a small spring-fed lake. He planned a European-style castle He envisioned a European-style castle with 60 rooms and a tall center atrium.
Construction began in 1905 but was halted a year later when Snyder was killed in one of the state’s first automobile accidents. The castle was finally finished by his sons in 1922. In the 1920s, Snyder’s fought to stop the construction of nearby Bagnell Dam but failed. The resulting Lake of the Ozarks divided the estate and covered the original smaller spring-fed lake.
The property was eventually used as a hotel until sparks from a chimney ignited the roof and fire gutted the castle and carriage house in 1942. In 1976, the water tower was sadly burned by vandals. Today, only the ruins of these structures remain in what became a state park in 1978.
Things to Do at Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Located alongside Lake of the Ozarks, Ha Ha Tonka offers a variety of recreation options.
The Visitor Center for Ha Ha Tonka is very small, but it is a great spot to stop to pick up a park map. The center also has a small gift shop, restrooms, and an outdoor kiosk about the park.
This park has an impressive 13 different trails to hike. I will explain the trails and the loop we hiked further below.
With the park located along Lake of the Ozarks, there are several ways to explore by water. The park can be accessed by the Big Niangua Arm with two boat docks available. The Visitor’s Center offers kayak rentals to explore the Niangua River Trail. A fishing dock is available near the Lake Picnic Area for those that want to cast a line.
Hiking Trails at Ha Ha Tonka State Park
There are a variety of trails to explore at Ha Ha Tonka from a short, paved path to a longer and more rugged trek. It’s also easy to combine several trails for an all day, scenic adventure. I will explain the different trails and then do my best to explain how we made a loop to hit all the big highlights in one hike!
The Top Hikes at Ha Ha Tonka State Park
- Distance: 0.4 mile each way
- Difficulty: 2/5. Paved, but uphill
- Scenic Value: 5/5. The castle ruins are so cool to see
If you only have time for a quick trail, this is the one to choose. It is the most popular spot at Ha Ha Tonka for good reason. A short and easy walk leads to the castle ruins as well as great lake overlooks.
You can start this trail at one of two parking areas. The upper lot is 0.2 miles closer to the castle, but has limited parking. The lower lot is much larger and has a restroom. Both paths are paved from these lots and they join together near the ruins of the carriage house.
Follow the paved path uphill from the carriage house as it passes several overlooks of the lake. There are benches along the way if anyone needs a break.
Soon the castle ruins come into view. They are large and impressive. Take the time to walk around both sides to see the castle from all angles.
When we last visited several years ago, you could go under the archways and peek right inside the windows. However, due to instability of the structure, it is now fenced off so you cannot get as close to the structure.
The castle trail is an out-and-back so head back down the path or you can continue on to the quarry trail which leaves from near the castle.
Dell Rim Trail
Distance: 0.3 mile each way
Difficulty: 3/5. Wooden boardwalk, some stairs.
Scenic Value: 4/5. Water tower ruins are neat to view
The Dell Rim Trail starts by the upper parking lot near the carriage house ruins. The path follows a boardwalk over a glade with seasonal wildflowers. A spur to the left leads to the ruins of the water tower. Take this side spur to see the impressive and tall stone structure.
The trail continues along a wooden boardwalk and offers an overlook of the Whispering Dell sinkhole. Past the overlook, the trail starts to descend the first set of wooden steps. Here the trail offers connections to the Colosseum, Spring, and Devil’s Kitchen Trails.
Distance: 1.4 mile loop with a connector
Difficulty: 1/5 on paved section, 4/5 if you make the full loop using the stairs
Scenic Value: 5/5. The spring is beautiful and a vibrant turquoise color
The Spring Trail can be accessed several different ways. You can hike in from the Dell Rim or Colosseum Trail, or you can start at the lower parking area alongside the lake.
If you start at the lower parking area, the path is paved and accessible for 0.4 miles as it runs parallel to the lake. The paved path passes by a sheltered picnic area and the trailhead for the Island Trail. It will also pass the white connector which heads uphill near the shelter to make a shorter loop. Eventually the paved path turns to a wooden boardwalk and offers great views of the brilliant green-blue Ha Ha Tonka spring waters.
Keep an eye out for an old water pump along the boardwalk before you pass through a rugged section of rock and reach the spring outlet. The spring puts out 58 million gallons of water a day, making it the 12th largest in the state.
The path then continues to a tall set of 316 wooden steps. If you want to hike the full loop, I highly recommend you hike the loop so that you go down these steps instead of up! (The stairs run along the northside of the loop along the water so you want to hike from east to west in that section.) You can also make this an out and back and skip the stairs all together if you started at the lower parking area.
We started the hike from the Dell Rim Trail above so we descended the 316 steps down towards the spring and paved trail. The steps give a great view of the spring from above.
Distance: 0.4 mile loop with connectors
Difficulty: 3/5. Short loop but some rugged terrain
Scenic Value: 5/5. Great views of the spring and lake
The Island Trail starts off the Spring Trail at the site of an old dam and mill. You can use the parking lot for the spring trail for the quickest access. The trail crosses over by the old dam and heads up a set of stairs.
We opted to turn left at the first junction which leads to a balanced rock above a wooden boardwalk.
From here, the path descends towards the lake level as it follows around the edges of the island and the springwaters. The paths can be a little confusing as there are several connectors that criss-cross over the island. We used the AllTrails app to keep on track, but it’s not a big island so you can find your way back out easily.
Along the northside of the island, the water is a beautiful color of blue as it leaves the spring. There are some rocks and little rapids as the spring waters rush past. This was a neat area for the kids to play as the water was shallow and there were rocks to play and leaves to float downstream. There is supposed to be a cave along this spur, but we never did see it.
We had to backtrack a little from this point to get back to the main loop and complete the trail and cross back over to the Spring Trail. Overall, this is a fun and short trail with some really beautiful views.
Distance: 0.6 mile loop
Difficulty: 3/5. Short loop but some rugged terrain
Scenic Value: 5/5. Passes under a huge natural bridge
The Colosseum Trail winds under a natural bridge and through a large sinkhole. The rock bridge was actually used as Mr. Snyder’s (the owner of the castle) road to access the castle.
The main trailhead has a parking area on Natural Bridge Road. From here, it is a very short walk downhill to the natural bridge. The path passes under the bridge before climbing a rugged trail uphill through rock bluffs and trees. From the top of the ridge, hikes are rewarded with views of an old post office, the spring, and the castle ruins.
The northwestern segment of the loop shares the trail with the Dell Rim, Spring, and Devil’s Kitchen Trails. The path returns to the parking area by passing over the top of the natural bridge.
We accessed the Colosseum Trail by hiking in from the Spring Trail connector from the south. From the Spring Trail, we descended into the sinkhole area before passing under the cool natural bridge.
Scenic Loop of Castle, Spring, Dell Rim, Island, and Colosseum Trails.
I admit that I was a little confused when trying to piece together all the trails on a map to come up with the best hiking loop option. Many of the trails overlap and there are several connector options. It all depends on how far you want to hike or if you would prefer to move your car and start hiking from several different parking areas to make the hike easier or shorter.
I highlighted our route on the map below. The red arrows represent the direction we hiked, although some portions were out and back so did hike both directions there. The more important part is to make the descent of the wooden steps near the spring by hiking from east to west along the northern section of the Spring Trail loop.
We decided to start our hike at the Castle Ruins before it became more crowded. After taking in the castle views, we headed back down the paved Castle Trail to the upper parking area and hiked the Dell Rim Trail towards the Spring Trail.
We descended the wooden steps of the Spring Trail down to view the spring and hiked along the paved trail towards the Island Trail.
We then hiked the Island Trail loop.
After completing the Island Loop, we then took the Spring Trail connector back up to connect to the Colosseum Trail. The connector didn’t appear marked, but it is an obvious uphill trail near the Mill site and pavilion. The connector is a more gradual incline then climbing up the wooden steps located near the spring outlet.
At the end of the connector, we turned left to follow the blue signs for the Spring Trail main loop. When the Spring Trail intersected with the Colosseum Trail, we took a right turn on the yellow Colosseum Trail.
This section of the Colosseum trail was rocky and could be slick and muddy when wet. It descended downhill past some impressive rock bluffs before reaching the natural bridge.
We then passed under the natural bridge which is a scenic spot for photographs.
After heading uphill to the parking area, we took the spur access trail to connect back to the upper part of the Colosseum Trail and took this trail back to connect to the Dell Rim Trail near the wooden boardwalk.
We then retraced our steps back up Dell Rim, past the water tower, and back to the parking lot near the Castle Ruins. This total loop hike ended up being about 3 miles of hiking and 446′ of elevation gain.
Other Ha Ha Tonka Hiking Trails
We did not hike the following trails, but hope to explore some of them the next time we visit.
The Acorn Trail is a 0.9 mile moderate interpretive loop through an open glade and woodland that is subject to periodic controlled burns. A trail guide at the trailhead offers information on eight interpretive spots along the trail.
The Boulder Ridge Trail shares a trailhead with the Spring Trail by the lower parking lot near the lake. This 1.5 mile lollipop trail starts along the same path as the Spring Trail before veering left and crossing Tonka Spring Road.
The trail then follows and old roadbed and up stone steps to start the loop. The hike makes a loop around a long narrow ridge top. The trail passes through rocky woodlands and offers some views of Lake of the Ozarks.
The 0.20 mile Cedar Trail starts near the Post Office Shelter and parking area. The trail makes a short loop around the picnic area. The trees along the loop have identifying labels.
Devil’s Kitchen Trail
The Devil’s Kitchen Trail is a 1.25 mile loop hike. A parking area and trailhead are located off Highway D.
If hiking clockwise, the trail passes through woodlands and glades before entering the Devil’s Kitchen sinkhole and passing a small cave. The trail passes the Post Office Day-Use Area and then joins with the Spring, Colosseum, and Dell Rim Trails to cross over the top of the natural bridge before returning to the parking area.
Dolomite Rock Trail
This 2.50 mile total trail offers a short and longer loop option. The trail starts at an overlook off Highway D. This interpretive trail has 10 stops with a brocure to descibe the natural features. The trail passes two River Cave sinkhole entrances.
At an intersection near interpretive stop 9, hikers can either decide to complete the short 0.5 mile loop only, or take the northern 2 mile loop to see more woodland and glade communities.
The lake trail is a 0.4 mile trail that provides access to the park for visitors arriving by boat. A kiosk at the trailhead has a map and park information. This short and steep trail climbs 250 feet to reach the castle ruins site. Portions of the trail share a path with the Quarry Trail.
Oak Woodland Interpretive Trail
The Oak Woodland Trail is a 0.08 paved wheelchair and stroller accessible trail located off Highway D. The path features an interpretive kiosk and four interpretive stops. Signs identify characteristic plants of the natural area.
The quarry trail is a 1.7 mile loop that passes by two quarry sites that were mined for sandstone to construct the castle. A small gauge track and carts pulled by mule were used to make transporting the stone easier.
This hiking loop offers two connectors to shorten the hike. The trail also offers views of a glade and the lake. We did not hike this loop, but it appears it may be a trail more about history than scenic views.
Turkey Pen Hollow Trail
This trail is a good option for anyone who wants a longer hike. The Turkey Pen Hollow Trail is a 6.5 mile loop with one connector option. The hike also offers a spur to a backpack camp.
The trail passes through dolomite glades and woodland plant communities. The path also goes by large sinkholes and large rock outcrops. The connector passes an intermittent pond and shortens the hike to 4.75 miles.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The park grounds are open from 7 a.m. – sunset daily April through October. This year there are temporary hours of 10-3 daily through October however.
In winter, hours are 8 a.m. – sunset daily, November – March.
- A park map can be printed here, but if you can get a brochure map at the park it is much more detailed.
- Always remember to pack out what you bring in.
More to See
There is so much to see and do at Lake of the Ozarks. We also enjoyed hiking at Lake of the Ozarks State Park, playing mini-golf at Pirate’s Cove, renting a boat, and giving the kids their first go-karts ride. The are also boasts several cave tour options.
Some great free activities include visiting historic Wilmore Lodge, which has a museum of the dam construction. Head over to one of the two scenic overlooks of the dam or head down to Bagnell Dam Access to see the dam from the river level.