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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