Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks‘ two celebrated state parks offer a world of natural wonders and adventures that keep visitors returning year after year. Between the two parks, visitors could build an entire vacation around exploring the different trails, ecosystems and natural features. Whether visitors decide to spend part of a day or several days at the area parks, the fascinating natural terrain of the legendary Ozark highlands are on full display throughout the wide array of activities available at the parks.

“Both Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka state parks offer unique opportunities,” says Tisha Holden, division information officer for Missouri State Parks. “At Lake of the Ozarks State Park, visitors can swim, fish, boat or simply enjoy the view from a shady campsite or picnic spot. On shore, hikers, backpackers, equestrians and bicyclists can explore the park’s numerous trails,” Holden says.

“And of course, Ha Ha Tonka State Park, with its intriguing history and remarkable geologic features, offers beautiful overlooks and impressive views of the Lake and of Ha Ha Tonka Spring,” Holden concludes.

Spend Time Exploring Missouri’s Largest and Most Visited State Park

The National Park Service began developing what would become Lake of the Ozarks State Park in the mid-1930s shortly after the Lake’s creation, employing the legendary Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Work Progress Administration (WPA). The park was then turned over to the state of Missouri in 1946. Many of the original CCC-built log cabins, rustic bridges and stone ditch-dams still dot the area, resulting in the state park and its main road, Highway 134, being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, which is comprised of over 17,665 acres spread over Camden and Miller counties in the Lake area and welcomes nearly 1.4 million visitors a year, has the distinction of being the state’s largest and most visited park. And it’s little wonder why; with all there is to do, it’s like a vacation destination all on its own.

“Lake of the Ozarks State Park encapsulates the mission of Missouri State Parks with notable cultural landmarks, high-quality natural communities, and diverse recreational opportunities,” says the park’s superintendent Larry Webb. “With so much to do and see, the park has something for everyone.”

Indeed, with over 85 miles of shoreline throughout the park, Lake of the Ozarks State Park offers two free sandy swimming beaches; three fully-stocked park stores; multiple public boat launches, picnic sites and shelters. In addition, there are over 50 miles of designated trails, including the state’s first self-guided interpretive Aquatic Trail which measures nearly 10 water miles. The two park marinas include fully-stocked camp stores and offer rentals of pontoons, fishing boats, kayaks and paddleboards for those interested in enjoying the many miles of shoreline around the park.

The park also is home to Ozark Caverns, the most rustic of the Lake area’s four show caves. Its claim to fame is the large “Angel Showers,” one of only fourteen in the world and the only one in the U.S. available for public viewing. An “angel shower” is an unusual cave phenomenon made up of a “bathtub” formation beneath a never-ending shower of water that seems to come out of a solid rock ceiling. Other highlights include evidence of early cave explorations, claw marks left in the sediment from sheltering animals long ago and other impressive cave formations. Informative park interpreters lead hour-long, narrated hand-held lantern tours of Ozark Caverns’ underground beauty from mid-May until mid-September. Tours of Ozark Caverns cost $10 for adults, $8 for teenagers, $6 for children between the ages of 6 and 12 and children under the age of 6 years are free.

Visit The “Most Beautiful Place in Missouri”

Widely considered one of the shining jewels of the Missouri State Parks system, Ha Ha Tonka State Park has the distinct honor of being named “the most beautiful place in Missouri” by Condé Nast Traveler and also was voted the fourth-best state park in America by readers of USA Today.

According to the local Ozark folklore, the park’s name – Ha Ha Tonka – is derived from the local Osage Native American phrase thought to mean “laughing waters,” in reference to the large natural spring that pumps out over 48 million gallons of water per day.

The park’s main attraction is the ruins of the 20th century “castle” perched high on a bluff overlooking Ha Ha Tonka Spring where it’s shockingly blue water feeds into the Lake of the Ozarks. The skeletal stone structure of the “castle” was originally constructed as a European-style country escape for a wealthy Kansas City businessman who perished in one of Missouri’s first automobile accidents. The home was eventually completed and later operated as a hotel before tragically burning down in 1942. In addition to the outer walls of the estate, the remnants of a stone carriage house and tall water tower are all that remain of the original structures.

Over half a million visitors each year make the trek to Ha Ha Tonka to view the ruins as well as explore the 14 different hiking trails and the numerous natural highlights, including Ha Ha Tonka Spring, which is the twelfth largest in the state. 

Ha Ha Tonka is Missouri’s premier showcase of karst geology and features a massive natural bridge, a steep-sided sinkhole named “The Colosseum,” a 150-foot deep sink basin that was believed to be a meeting place for local native tribal leaders. In addition to the bridge and Colosseum, there are two bluff shelters that were used as hide-outs by bandits in the 1830s and the imposing 250-feet high bluffs that tower above Ha Ha Tonka Spring.

On the water, the Big Niangua Water Trail offers 13 miles of boating and paddling fun. Any visitors that would like to paddle the Water Trail or simply paddle around the Ha Ha Tonka Cove can rent kayaks from the park office. Each rental includes a kayak, paddles and lifejacket(s).

Ha Ha Tonka also offers opportunities for fishing and swimming in addition to boat docks, picnic tables, pavilions and a visitor center complete with a topographical map of the park carved out of stone.

Both Lake-area state parks have friendly naturalists that are always happy to answer any questions visitors may have about their respective park, its history and fascinating features. In addition, there also are self-guided trail maps and species note cards to help visitors at the parks learn about all the different plants, trees and wildlife.

Both parks are open year around and admission is free. For more information about both parks, visit the state parks page at www.funlake.com/state-parks.

Your Lake of the Ozarks Adventure Awaits
At the Lake of the Ozarks, visitors can choose from full-service luxury resorts, family-owned resorts, charming bed and breakfasts, rustic cabins, campgrounds and RV parks, spacious vacation rental homes and condominiums, as well as hotels and motels to complete the perfect Lake stay.

This is just a highlight of some of the opportunities for fun and adventure that await at the Lake of the Ozarks. For more fun vacation ideas, or to learn more about all the year around events, attractions, as well as lodging and dining options available at the nation’s “Best Recreational Lake” and “Best Lake for Water Sports,” call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau (CVB) at 1-800-FUN-LAKE, or visit www.FunLake.com.

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