44 In Hiking + The Outdoors/ Missouri/ Travel

Exploring Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri

Ha Ha Tonka has made several appearances here for a very simple fact, it’s my favorite Missouri State Park! Ha Ha Tonka has it all. Castle ruins, a lake, a spring and several different geological wonders. Although I’ve been to Ha Ha Tonka a handful of times, I think this was my favorite visit. Matt + I took my parents for a day trip!

The Castle Ruins at Ha Ha Tonka

This castle was built by a business man from Kansas City in 1905. However, it wasn’t finished for several years because the man (Robert M. Snyder) passed away in a tragic automobile accident. His sons completed the construction some years later and it was eventually leased to be a hotel. In 1945, while it was being used as a hotel, a spark from a chimney ignited the roof and the castle burned. There are other sites from this original home that were damaged as well. The carriage house burned at the same time and the water tower was burned by vandals several years later.

The castle ruins from across the bluff along the Spring Trail

Left: the coachhouse that burned in the original fire // Right: Matt + me with the castle in the background

While it was still amazing to be able to walk around the castle ruins, you don’t get to enjoy the Ha Ha Tonka Castle up close like you used to. You used to be able to walk right up to the windows and look inside or sit on the steps of it that overlook the spring. Last time we were here (fall of 2015), we were even able to walk under the arches. Now the area around it is boarded up and you have to take a wider walk around it. It’s still worth exploring though!

 

Plus, in addition to the castle, the views up here are unbelievable!

The Hikes of Ha Ha Tonka

Ha Ha Tonka has a great web of connected trails that lead to its many geological sites. The trails are well-blazed and most feed into each other so you can make one grand loop or section off individual trails to choose the geological formations you most want to see. I’ve now done all of the hikes except the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail (the longest trail at 6.5 miles).

Spring Trail / 1.5 Mile Loop / Blue Blazes

Ha Ha Tonka is Osage for Laughing Waters. I have to assume this spring had something to do with that name.

This trail has a couple of different starting points because of the way the trails connect, but it’s a trail that should not be missed. This trail is a loop and if you start it from the designated parking area, I recommend starting the loop by turning right. There’s a section of the trail that’s a boardwalk with a grand total of 316 stairs and I personally find that it’s much easier to go down the steps than go up them.

If doing the trail from the right, you’ll come upon Whispering Dell just before starting down the stairs. Whispering Dell is a 150-foot-deep collapsed sinkhole. It’s hard to photograph the vast depth of it because it’s filled with trees, but worth checking out in person.

   

The stairs take you down through trees, along the bluff line, and if you have a silly dad like I do, you might even find yourself considering a limbo challenge.

This is my favorite photo from the day. Matt captured my parents and me talking about the spring and enjoying nature together. 

Ha Ha Tonka spring feeds into Lake of the Ozarks. Here’s my beautiful mom taking it all in.

   

The trail continues on and you have to go through this boulder path. Eventually it leads you to to the island, which has its own trail. Before you reach the island you get to see the original stone from the mill that used to sit here.

When we were heading up to finish the trail we noticed all these turtles sitting on these logs! They were so cute!

The Island Trail / .50 Mile Loop / Green Blazes

You hop on this trail by crossing the small bridge at the bottom of the Spring Trail. It’s short, but is considered a rugged trail so watch your feet. Along this trail you’ll see the Ha Ha Tonka version of balancing rock and a cave used for creating counterfeit money back in the day.

Colosseum Trail / .70 Mile Loop / Yellow Blazes

The Colosseum trail follows the natural ridge of a large sinkhole, thus giving it the name the Colosseum. The trailhead starts at the Natural Bridge which is about 100 feet high. It’s seriously impressive. My family loves rock formations so I was super excited to take them there. You cross through a boulder area before coming back down.

Devil’s Kitchen Trail / 1.25 Mile Loop / Brown Blazes

This trail leads into the Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole. The gorgeous area has a couple of really memorable geological sights. There’s Counterfeit Cave (pictured right) where counterfeit money was stored back in the day and through my personal favorite, Devil’s Promenade. This concave bluff wall is the trail for a bit and you have to get to it by stepping over a rock gap. It’s such an awesome trail! It joins back up with the Spring Trail, Colosseum Trail, and Dell Rim Trail. Before continuing on the trail, however, you come across an the old Post Office from before the Castle was ever built. It’s worth taking a peek at.

There are other various trails, many connect so they’re easily done together. These are the ‘Don’t Miss’ of Ha Ha Tonka, in my opinion.

Ha Ha Tonka is the perfect place to catch all kinds of beautiful geological sights, cool off in the lake, fish or soak up some history. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve visited in all of Missouri thus far. Go in the fall for foliage, the spring for gorgeous green leaves in cooler weather and any time of year to enjoy the views of the castle. 

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44 Comments

  • Reply
    Candy
    August 14, 2017 at 9:35 am

    I have never heard of this state park and it’s gorgeous! It’s too bad you can’t get up close to the castle these days, but it’s still looks like a fascinating site to see. I also love the color of the blue springs!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 14, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      It’s definitely worth a visit, even without being able to get as close! I love the spring too, there had been a heavy rainfall so the water was much murkier than it usually is, but it was still gorgeous.

  • Reply
    Anne @TravelTheGlobe (@TTGLOBE4L)
    August 14, 2017 at 9:47 am

    I have to confess this is a part of the USA I do not know at all. I love the name of the park though and that the castle looks so cool. I wonder if they have boarded it off because they plan to develop it?

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 14, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      I don’t think they’re planning to develop it. I would guess that people started getting into it. You know, those few people who ruin it for the rest of us… The Ozarks is pretty spectacular. I can’t believe I didn’t explore here more growing up, but we’ve been getting around to a lot of it before we leave!

  • Reply
    Patricia Steffy (@PLSteffy)
    August 14, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    I have to tell my husband about this place! He loves hiking. I love castles. It’s the perfect place for us to explore! Plus, it looks to be a gorgeous way to spend the day. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 14, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      That is perfect for you guys! Definitely make your way here. It’s beautiful and just one of many beautiful spots in the Ozarks.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    August 14, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    I love this! How cool is it that there are castles in the U.S.?! Looks like a great place for some hikes that take you around some really beautiful and peaceful places. Thanks for laying out some of the trails! Super helpful.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 14, 2017 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks for checking it out! I love that they’re just castle for people who wanted to live in one. No royalty, just wanting a sick house! It’s pretty cool, huh?

  • Reply
    Sandy N Vyjay
    August 15, 2017 at 5:02 am

    Loved the post, first of all the castle ruins look intriguing. I was really surprised that someone started building a castle as late as 1904 and it was completed and converted to a hotel in 1945. The natural trails look really enchanting and nice to see you spending some really quality time with your parents too. Must have been a special experience.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 17, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      They are very intriguing. It was really just a mansion, they just call it a castle because it’s built in that style. It was quite special. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    ambujsaxena05
    August 15, 2017 at 10:54 am

    I have to tell my friends residing in Missouri and the states around it about this place! I love nature trails and I had one great experience in Andaman islands back in India and i cant wait to do it again!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 17, 2017 at 8:15 pm

      You absolutely should! It’s the gem of the Missouri Ozarks, in my opinion. I’m glad you had a great nature trail experience and hope that you enjoy your return!

  • Reply
    Thelittlelai: Beyond limits
    August 16, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Truly, this is really beautiful. I love how serene this place is and it seemed that only few people who have been here. The ruins is really breathtaking including the view of the clean lake and the rock formation. I haven’t heard about this one yet and I will surely include this on my bucket list. This is really the kind of adventure that I’m always in love with. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 17, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      I love how serene it is as well. It’s just so beautiful. There are so many beautiful sights in one small area. I think you’d enjoy it, especially since you feature so many nature-experiences on your own blog. If you’re ever in the Ozarks, let me know. My husband and I will give you a proper tour!

  • Reply
    Vibeke Johannessen
    August 16, 2017 at 6:53 am

    First I must say the name Ha Ha Tonka is pretty funny. I am fascinated with castle ruins so would love to check that out. It sounds like a great trip and the blue spring looks amazing and a great spot for photos 🙂

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 17, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      It is a little silly isn’t it? I love that it’s Native American for Laughing Water. Ha Ha seems to be universal, huh? 😉 It is a stunning spot for photos.

  • Reply
    Carmy @ carmyy.com
    August 16, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    You had me at the castle but then the spring trail stole my breath! I need to send this to my BF as a hint hint nudge nudge! It seems like a great spot for Instagram photos too haha. How early did you head out there? it looks so empty.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 17, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Haha! It’s absolutely stunning. You should send him as a hint. It’s pretty incredible! There are so many amazing IG opportunities. We got there around 9 am, I think? I’ve never seen is super busy. Missouri is underrated for its natural beauty.

  • Reply
    Kate Brissette
    August 19, 2017 at 10:27 am

    This park sounds like so much fun! Not only is the name pretty awesome, but I love how much history is there with the old castle, mill, and post office. Like little gems you come across while hiking around!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      It’s absolutely beautiful, and loads of fun. There really are a lot of little pieces of Ozarks history hiding out here. You’ve gotta keep your eyes open so you don’t miss them.

  • Reply
    Janna
    August 20, 2017 at 3:38 am

    I love how its called Ha Ha Tonka! It already made me smile lol. This place is beyond stunning! I can’t believe how blue that spring water is. It’s so captivating!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:25 pm

      It’s a fun name isn’t it? It’s absolutely stunning. It’s usually much clearer, but there had been a lot of rain the day before so it kicked up a lot of sediment which made the water murky.

  • Reply
    Jayce
    August 20, 2017 at 4:33 am

    Amazing how big the place is! I love how there’s a castle in it, too. Too bad exploring’s no longer available.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:26 pm

      It’s a relatively small park, just so much to do inside of it. We love exploring the again and again, even if you can’t get right up to the castle anymore.

  • Reply
    Cindy Collins
    August 20, 2017 at 6:18 am

    We love hiking so will keep this in mind. I love that you got to see turtles during the Spring Trail. We would probably try the Turkey Pen Hollow Trail too as we do love a long hike! Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      We love a long hike too! I’m surprised I’ve not taken it on yet (it’s really not that long). Maybe we’ll see you on the trail 😉

  • Reply
    lucywilliamsglobal
    August 20, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Love the name of the park! It looks beautiful and your photos really show off the park. When I read there were castle ruins, I thought in America! But then read they are quite new and only built in 1905! I’m from the UK, so all our castles/ruins are very old!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:29 pm

      Thank you so much. Yeah it’s not really a castle, more of a mansion – no royalty or anything. It’s just called the castle. Although, 1905 is pretty old for a big house in the Midwest of the U.S. shockingly enough.

  • Reply
    forever roaming the world
    August 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I have to say being from England I had no idea that this place existed but I have actually just added this to my list of places to visit when I eventually do my USA trip, it’s a shame you can’t get up close and personal with castle anymore but the trails looks great 😀

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:30 pm

      That’s so awesome! I’m glad it’s made your list! The U.S. is huge and full of varied natural beauty, you’ve got your work cut out for you 😉 I’m heading to England for the first time next May – let me know any must-sees that you would recommend!

  • Reply
    Elaine J Masters
    August 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    What a sad fate for a beautiful castle. Such hard karma! Love learning about new natural areas to explore and this park has some fine features.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      August 20, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      It is a sad fate, but maybe for the best that it isn’t housing anyone since it never housed the man who dreamt it up. It definitely has fine features. It’s a beaut!

  • Reply
    Anthony Jury
    August 20, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    What a breathtaking place, the scenery is just amazing and that springs, wow. It is easy to see why the Ha Ha Tonka (he he he love the name) is your favourite, I am sure if I didn’t live thousands and thousands of kilometres away (yeah I will speak in Aussie language) it would get plenty of appearances from me too. Thanks for sharing a great destination.

  • Reply
    SherianneKay
    August 20, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    What a great park, I had no idea this exist. Love that there are castle ruins in Missouri

  • Reply
    Candiss | Lost Not Found
    August 20, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    What a lovely state park Ha Ha Tonka definitely seems like it has a lot to offer a visitor. The ruins are very cool are all the trails! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    London-Unattached.com
    August 21, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Nice length hikes – I think I’d have to visit because the name of the park is so cute. It looks very unspoilt too.

  • Reply
    Kerri
    August 21, 2017 at 5:15 am

    Another wonderful park to explore in the states. It’s on my list to do a road trip and get to some of these amazing parks. The sinkhole would be super interesting to see! There seems to be quite a few of them opening up in the US lately. 316 steps isn’t too much to have to manage either. I’ve certainly done worse.

  • Reply
    Cai Dominguez
    August 21, 2017 at 8:46 am

    This place is so amazing. The ruins is awesome. But I love the view and experience with nature the most. I would love to be surrounded by tall tress with the view of the sky. Your photos ans story is great 😉

  • Reply
    consiec2011
    August 21, 2017 at 10:15 am

    The castle looks awesome. I always have a bit of a struggle with when monuments such as this which used to be completely accessible get boarded up / more controlled / blocked etc. I get that sometimes it needs to be done for conservation but it really can detract from the experience. Also love the look of that spring. Makes you want to dive straight in!

  • Reply
    authenticfoodquest
    August 21, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I simply love the name.!! Looks like a gorgeous park with Castle ruins…amazing. Love the spring feeds and the sense of serenity from your pictures. Will definitively remember this park with it’s great name 🙂

  • Reply
    Jennifer Ryder Joslin
    August 22, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Thank you for sharing about Ha Ha Tonka State Park. I would have never guessed you could find a castle in Missouri! Not to mention the views and that blue spring look amazing. We’ve got family in Missouri, so this will definitely be on our list of places to check out the next time we visit!

  • Reply
    Mia Herman
    August 22, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Wow, I would have never guessed this place is it’s in Missouri. I’m originally from there but we moved when I was little so I didn’t do much exploring. I would love to check this place out and see those cute little turtles! Also, the Whispering Dell looks like a cool thing to see in person and a bit scary if you have to do the limbo. I bet this place is just gorgeous when it’s sunny out. Great recommendation!

  • Reply
    travellingslacker
    August 22, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    I’d never heard of this and TBH Ha Ha Tonka sounds a bit funny… he he…
    But this a seriously great trail. Jungles, water bodies, bridges, it has everything. The turle picture is the best of the lot. But do I also see a bird with them?

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Made all the Difference
    August 23, 2017 at 10:34 am

    I am sold. I get to explore the ruins of a castle then get to do some hiking in the woods. I would love to hike Spring Trail and take a swim.

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