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
|Arguably, 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 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 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.