A view of the Lake of the Ozarks in autumn from a scenic lookout at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Lake of the Ozarks, MO. - It should come as little surprise that the area that is home to the "Best Recreational Lake" in the nation, Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks, would also feature one of the best state parks in the country: Ha Ha Tonka. It's only natural.

The remains of Robert McClure Snyder's idyllic country estate attract thousands of visitors throughout year.
In a USA Today readers poll, voters across the country chose the 3,751-acre Ha Ha Tonka State Park as the fourth best state park in the country, finishing behind Letchworth State Park in New York, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan and Watkins Glen State Park, also in New York. 

"I'm proud of our staff and their dedicated efforts to make our state parks stand out above the rest," says Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks. "It's particularly meaningful that this honor was received through a poll of the public and shows just how much visitors support and enjoy Ha Ha Tonka State Park. I hope that this recognition will encourage even more visitors to come to the area and see what outdoor adventures we have to offer."

According to Ozark folklore, the curious name of this Ozark beauty, Ha Ha Tonka, is derived from an Osage Indian phrase believed to mean "laughing waters," in reference to the park's large natural spring. The spring is just one of many features that attracts roughly 520,000 visitors to the park each year.
Paved walking paths around the ruins of the "castle" make it easy for tourists to explore the park's most popular feature.
"For many, Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a favorite place to explore," Bryan adds. "The park includes trails for all ages and experience levels, as well as an opportunity to view and experience some unique history in our state.  It's a place where families make memories and have experiences that last a lifetime."  

Jim Divincen, administrator for Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association, echoes Bryan's sentiment and has the stats to back it up. According to a poll of 20,000 visitors checking into all types of lodging facilities around the Lake, exploring Ha Ha Tonka State Park tied with boating for the activity that brought the highest level of guest satisfaction. "That's really saying something," Divincen said. "The park's uniqueness, beauty and history make it a very special place. It's the perfect family attraction." 

The ruins of a 1900s-era "castle" stand out amid the scenery of this magnificent park. Crafted from stone quarried on the property, the structure that sits atop a bluff overlooking the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks is all that remains of the dream of Robert McClure Snyder. As a wealthy Kansas City businessman, Snyder purchased roughly 5,000 acres in 1904 and began construction on his elaborate country estate in 1905. Snyder never saw his dream materialize as he was killed in one of the states' first auto accidents the following year. The home was finally completed by his sons in the late 1920s and served as Robert Snyder, Jr.'s residence for several years. It was later operated as a hotel until it was destroyed by fire in 1942. The skeleton of Snyder's dream home is now the centerpiece of the park. 

The natural bridge at Ha Ha Tonka State Park piques visitors' curiosity. This state park is a wonderful example of karst geology and how water shapes and carves the carbonate bedrock found throughout the Ozark landscape.
Although the "castle" ruins are the most recognizable facet of the park, Ha Ha Tonka offers so much more for those looking to explore this gorgeous natural setting. The park is Missouri's premier showcase of karst geology and is unique in the quantity and quality of its remarkable geological features. Some key features are: a massive natural bridge, 70 feet wide, spanning 60 feet in length and reaching more than 100 feet into the air; a steep-sided sinkhole, named "The Colosseum," measuring 500 feet long and 300 feet wide; the "Whispering Dell," a 150-foot deep sink basin with two bluff shelters that were used as hide-outs by criminals in the 1830s; 250-feet high bluffs that tower over Ha Ha Tonka Spring, the state's twelfth largest spring, which discharges approximately 48 million gallons of water daily. All of these wonders are the result of the collapse of underground caverns in ancient geological times.

Native Missouri brown-eyed Susans populate the glades of Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park also contains one of Missouri's best examples of a woodland landscape. The woodland areas, which are neither totally forest nor entirely prairie, are prime grounds for wildlife as native prairie grasses flourish among the old growth oaks and hickory. More than 400 species of plants have been recorded in the woodlands, including many native Missouri wildflowers. And, during the autumn season, the foliage
is a sight to behold.

Several large glades can also be found at the park. Often referred to as Missouri's "deserts," glades contain plants and animals typically associated with the southwestern United States. Some standout glade inhabitants include native flowers - the large yellow-flowered Missouri evening primrose and the Missouri brown-eyed Susan, among others - as well as prairie scorpions and the intimidating-but-harmless Missouri tarantula.

Haha Tonka Walkway
A wooden boardwalk winds throughout Ha Ha Tonka, leading visitors to and from the natural spring, the "castle" ruins, between rock formations and along the impressive bluffs.
Fourteen walking trails covering more than 15 scenic miles throughout the park make it easy for visitors to experience the honeycomb of tunnels, caverns, springs, sinkholes and other natural areas. Visitors can peer into caves, trek through and around sinkholes, climb 316 steps from the spring to the "castle" on a wooden boardwalk that circles the spring chasm, or navigate well-worn paths through the woodland area and the park's glades. 

Divincen spends a lot of time at the park, walking and hiking the trails. Turkey Pen Hollow, one of Divincen's favorite trails at the park and its longest, is a 6.5-mile hike through the rugged and scenic Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland Natural Area. "With some near 200-foot climbs in elevation, it's a real workout," says Divincen. "But it's totally worth it. There are some spectacular views when you're up on the trail. I remember finishing the trail for the first time and thinking, 'wow, that was really special.' It's an absolutely beautiful experience no matter the season or the weather." Divincen also suggests those planning to hike Turkey Pen Hollow should allow at least three hours to complete the trail and be sure to bring drinking water with them.

Located on the Niangua arm of the Lake, the park is accessible by water and offers boat docks, fishing areas, picnic tables, pavilions and a visitor center complete with a topographical map of the park carved out of stone. Ha Ha Tonka is open year around and admission is free.

Lake of the Ozarks State Park is a perfect place to watch the sunset.
Although Ha Ha Tonka often steals the spotlight, there is another massive state park and many other natural wonderlands in the area. Lake of the Ozarks State Parkconsisting of 17,626 acres, is the largest and also the most popular of Missouri's state parks. Lake of the Ozarks State Park includes activities for every member of the family. Boat rental, public ramps, docks and a self-guided aquatic trail are perfect for boating activities and fish are abundant in the cool waters. On land, 12 trails, ranging from 0.8 of a mile to 13.5 miles, wind through the park. Lake of the Ozarks State Park also features mountain biking and equestrian trails for those who would like to explore the park by bicycle or on horseback. And, hidden below the surface of the park is Ozark Caverns. Informative park interpreters offer hour-long hand-held lantern tours of the area's underground beauty from mid-May until mid-September. For more information on the Lake of the Ozarks' two state parks, visit

A group tours Ozark Caverns in Lake of the Ozarks State Park with hand-held lanterns.
Speaking of "underground beauty," the Lake area is home to 300 wild caves as well as four "show" caves. Show caves are wild caves that have been "tamed" through tremendous work and expense. Paved walkways, bridges and hand rails have been constructed, and lights have been installed for the convenience of viewing nature's underground beauty safely and with little effort. Visitors to the Lake may choose a guided tour of Bridal Cave near Camdenton, with its stalactite-adorned wedding chapel, site of over 3,000 weddings. Or, see geological evidence of six ice ages and three earthquakes in Jacob's Cave near Versailles. Ozark Caverns in Lake of the Ozarks State Park features a large, impressive "Angel Shower," one of only fourteen in the world and the only one in the US available for public viewing. And, Fantasy World Caverns, located outside of Eldon, has served as a shelter for Native Americans, a storage space for early settlers and a speakeasy during Prohibition. The caves add an extra dimension to the Lake, with fun on the water, on the shore and underground. For additional details on the Lake's four show caves, visit

To find out more about all the natural attractions, fun events as well as dining  and accommodations at the "Best Recreational Lake" in the nation, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) at 800-FUN-LAKE, or visit the CVB's award-winning website

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