BLAZE YOUR OWN TRAIL AT CENTRAL MISSOURI’S LAKE OF THE OZARKS
Whether you enjoy a gentle stroll in nature, hiking in new locales, mountain biking, paddling, trail running, or all the above, Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks offers the opportunity for all visitors to blaze their own trail in the beautiful backyard of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains range.
“While the Lake of the Ozarks is known for on-the-water fun and our many family-friendly attractions, we have so many visitors that come for our beautiful natural scenery,” says Lagina Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. “The Lake of the Ozarks offers some of the most incredible scenery in the state and one of the most popular ways to explore that scenery is getting out on the miles and miles of trails throughout the Lake of the Ozarks area. Visitors could build an entire vacation around exclusively exploring all of our trails.”
THE LAKE’S STATE PARKS
Arguable, the best place to go for a hike at the Lake of the Ozarks is at its two state parks. In total, the parks have a combined 26 different trails covering over 57 miles. Each park showcases the area’s natural history and beauty and each has its own claim to fame.
“If you’re looking for a leisurely hike, or just a walk in the park, both Ha Ha Tonka and Lake of the Ozarks state parks have trails that offer amazing views that are perfect for capturing that once-in-a-lifetime photo,” says Tisha Holden, information officer for Missouri State Parks. “If you’re serious about hiking and you want to escape from the crowds, both parks also offer lengthy backpacking trails as well. Or, if you’re in search of on-the-water fun that’s a little quieter than riding in a ski boat or cruising in a pontoon, both Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka state parks have water trails that you can follow on your kayak, canoe or paddleboard. While these parks offer natural beauty and solitude, visitors are just minutes away from the many shops, plethora of restaurants and variety of entertainment options found at the Lake of the Ozarks.”
HA HA TONKA STATE PARK
Ha Ha Tonka State Park has been named the most beautiful place in Missouri by CondeNast Traveler and voted the fourth-best state park in the country by readers of USA Today. Part of that acclaim is due to the fact it has one of the most photographed features in the state: The skeletal remains of a 19th century “castle” that was constructed on a high limestone bluff overlooking Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. The 3,751-acre park is Missouri’s premier showcase of karst geology and is unique in the quantity and quality of its remarkable geological features.
Ha Ha Tonka’s thirteen walking trails, covering more than 15 scenic miles throughout the park, make it easy for visitors to experience the honeycomb of tunnels, rock bridges, caverns, springs, sinkholes and other natural areas. Visitors can peer into caves, 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.
A favorite among regular visitors is the park’s longest trail, Turkey Pen Hollow. This 6.5-mile hike winds through the scenic and rugged Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland Natural Area. A couple other of the park’s most popular trails are the 0.4-mile paved “Castle Trail” which leads up to and around the remains of the once-elaborate country estate, and the 1.4-mile “Spring Trail” which provides a wonderful view of Ha Ha Tonka Spring before ascending up toward the castle ruins.
Ha Ha Tonka visitors can also embark on the Big Niangua River Trail, whose aquatic trailhead is located near the rental kayak fleet at Ha Ha Tonka Cove. This 13.5-mile aquatic paddling/boating trail showcases the park’s storied natural history, including Onyx Cave, the Tunnel Dam Powerhouse and Whistle Bridge, along with spring-fed creeks named after counterfeiting gang members that once called the park home.
For more information about Ha Ha Tonka’s trails, please visit mostateparks.com/park/ha-ha-tonka-state-park.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS STATE PARK
Lake of the Ozarks State Park is Missouri’s largest park consisting of 17,626 acres and also is the most visited. It is a favorite among backpackers and anglers and also features the nearly 10-mile Aquatic Trail, accessible only by boat. 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 trails that accommodate mountain bikers and equestrians for those who would like to explore the park by bicycle or on horseback.
One of the park’s more popular trails is Coakley Hollow, a self-guided interpretive trail that measures a fairly easy distance of one mile. Coakley Hollow meanders through one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the park, featuring six different types of ecosystems, including dolomite glades, fens, spring-fed streams and several types of woodlands. Interpretive stations are located along the trail, making it easy to learn about the terrain and rare species encountered along the hike. A few other standouts are Rocky Top Trail, which is a semi-rugged two-mile loop that features panoramic views of the Lake from atop a dolomite bluff, and the Trail of Four Winds, the longest trail in the park clocking in at 14.1 miles in length. Four Winds travels through almost every type of natural community in Lake of the Ozarks State Park providing stunning views of the Lake, rock outcrops, breathtaking overlooks, seasonal streams, ponds and woodlands.
In addition, Lake of the Ozarks State Park features two unique “trails” for a completely different kind of experience as well. In most cases, “trail” and “water” might not seem to go together, but the Lake of the Ozarks Aquatic Trail is the exception. This 9.75-mile trail gives visitors a unique perspective of the beauty of Lake of the Ozarks State Park – enjoying the shoreline from the water, instead of the other way around. Buoys mark key points along the trail between Grand Glaize Beach and the main campground. The letters on the buoys correspond with descriptions in the Aquatic Trail Guide, which describes the stops along the trail. The guide is available in several locations around the park.
And, hidden below the surface of Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the quarter-mile-long Ozark Caverns, one of four show caves in the Lake area. Informative park interpreters lead hour-long, narrated hand-held lantern tours of Ozark Caverns’ natural underground beauty from mid-May until mid-September. For more information on the trails and features of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, visit mostateparks.com/park/lake-ozarks-state-park.
Admission to both state parks is free and they are open to the public year around. Each offers spectacular shows of color during the spring and fall and native plant species and wildlife thrive in all seasons.
CONSERVATION AREAS ABOUND
Five unique Missouri conservation areas at Lake of the Ozarks welcome hikers and feature designated
walking trails, birding areas and natural areas to explore as well. The conservation areas are free and open year around. A few popular conservation areas are the Camdenton Conservation Service Center, which features several miles of walking trails as well as an 80-foot fire tower that visitors are welcome to climb for scenic views of the area; Fiery Fork, which clocks in at just over 1,000 acres; and the Larry R. Gale Access, featuring 192 acres and paved walking trails and a boat launch. For more details on all the Lake-area conservation areas, their trailheads, and other activities and amenities available, call the Camdenton Conservation Service Center at 573-346-2210, or head to the Missouri Department of Conservation website at www.mdc.mo.gov to access an interactive atlas for detailed maps of the different areas.
BLAZING NEW TRAILS
A local organization at the Lake of the Ozarks has been busy blazing their own trails at the Lake. The founders of Magic Dragon Trails at the Lake of the Ozarks saw a wonderful opportunity to showcase the area’s beautiful and rugged Ozark terrain and the ability to share it with the community and visitors near and far.
In 2022, the team of dedicated volunteers behind Magic Dragon Trails developed and opened the new Magic Dragon Bicycle Skills Park and an additional half-mile of single track trail adjacent to the Lake’s Tri-County YMCA in Osage Beach, which serves Miller, Morgan and Camden counties. However, this is just the beginning.
Already in 2023, Magic Dragon Trails is in the process of developing another 18 miles of multi-use, backcountry single track and hiking trails located off State Highway KK near Margaritaville Lake Resort in Osage Beach. This recreational area, which will be mainly a soft surface trail, promises to be a local treasure. The stunning landscape, beautiful views, and scenic ponds make this area ideal for multi-use trails and another great option for enjoying the outdoors at the Lake of the Ozarks. Once complete, the new 18-mile trail also will include segments that are ADA accessible so that everyone can enjoy the trail.
However, the longterm goal of Magic Dragon Trails is to complete over 75 miles of interconnecting trails throughout the entire Lake area, connecting all the different communities at the Lake of the Ozarks, from Osage Beach to Camdenton and Ha Ha Tonka State Park, then from Versailles to Eldon. Once in Eldon, the Magic Dragon Trails system would connect with the Rock Island Trail, which will be an additional 144 miles of rail-trail in Missouri once completed. When the Magic Dragon Trails is connected to the Rock Island Trail, the sky is the limit for any cyclists that want to ride the rest of the state as the Rock Island will hook up with the famous 244-mile long Katy Trail State Park that runs from Machens, Mo. on the eastern side of the state to Clinton, Mo. on the west side of the state. When completed, this would be the longest rails-to-trails system in the world.
For those interested in a more competitive or more challenging trail outing, Ha Ha Racing Events (named after Ha Ha Tonka State Park) offers the Lake of the Ozarks Endurance Runs — one epic day of trail racing at the Lake of the Ozarks. In early May of each year, organizers offer three incredible racing adventures at Lake of the Ozarks State Park for participants to choose from, ranging from five miles up to 35 miles of trail racing. The Wandering Bobcat is a fun and fast five-mile trail run that features over 700 feet of elevation change and impressive views of the waters of Lake of the Ozarks. The Trail of Four Winds 25K is 15.5 miles of challenging trail running that includes 1,500 feet of elevation change and traverses the entirety of the Trail of Four Winds at the park. The most ambitious of the three races is the LOZ Traverse, which covers 35 miles of challenging Ozark terrain throughout the park. The LOZ Traverse has racers run the entirety of the Trail of Four Winds before hopping into/onto a paddle craft (kayak, canoe or standup paddle board) to paddle roughly 1.5 miles across the Lake to Honey Run Trail, then run the 13-mile Honey Run Trail before paddling back across the Lake to the Trail of Four Winds and completing a short run to the finish line.
All three races begin and end at Public Beach #1 at Lake of the Ozarks State Park, which also is the location of the post-race TrailFest award ceremony and vendor village.
Proceeds from the Lake of the Ozarks Endurance Runs go to Magic Dragon Trails to use for new trail maintenance. For more information on the Lake of the Ozarks Endurance Runs, visit www.HaHaRacingEvents.com.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN YOU COME TO PLAY AT THE LAKE
There are many lodging options available in close proximity to the state parks and conservation areas, making it easy to relax and unwind after a day on the trails.
Accommodations range from full-service resorts to smaller, family-owned resorts; quaint bed and breakfasts to fully-equipped vacation rental homes and condominiums; rustic cabins and comfortable campgrounds and RV parks and familiar hotels and motels. For a complete listing of lodging options available around the Lake area, visit the accommodations page at www.FunLake.com.
To learn more about all the events, attractions, activities, and available dining and lodging options at the Lake of the Ozarks, visit www.FunLake.com. Or, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE (386-5253).