Have you ever visited Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri? Our family did as part of an epic 30+ day road trip across America. In part thanks to the Netflix show, we made the Ozarks a two night stay as part of our journey. And although we didn’t get to explore nearly everything that the Ozarks has to offer kids and families, we were thrilled to find the hidden get of Ha Ha Tonka State Park. In fact, this state park was named the most beautiful place in Missouri by Conde Nast Traveler! And after visiting, we can certainly see why. Now, just to be sure you don’t miss this when you’re in the area, I’m sharing the Ha Ha Tonka State Park with Kids complete guide.
The Basics: Cost, Time, Overview
Ha Ha Tonka State Park with kids is a great day trip. Wherever you are staying near Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, this state park is an easy drive. And guess what? This park is FREE! We’ve been to other state parks that are free, but usually that price is reflected in how well maintained the trails and facilities tend to be. At Ha Ha Tonka State Park, this could not be further from the truth. Although this park has no admission fee, it had the most well maintained trails, and best marked trail signs, that I’ve ever seen in a state park!
How long should you plan to be there? That depends on how much you want to do! We spent most of the day in the park, and arrived mid-morning. But we also hiked 6 miles and climbed 60 stories, so we did a lot. There are also shorter trails and accessible experiences. So if you are looking for a shorter stay, that’s possible too! The park is also accessible by boat.
Ha Ha Tonka is also pet-friendly! We saw a lot of well behaved, leashed dogs on the trails. In some locations, bags are even provided to clean up after your pet. Some of the trails are very steep and may not be safe for your pup, so be sure to pick up a detailed trail map at the Visitor’s Center when you enter the park.
Can kids hike in Ha Ha Tonka State Park?
Absolutely! Our kids are 6, 8, 11, 12, and 15 and have done quite a bit of hiking. And they loved Ha Ha Tonka State Park! There were so many diverse ecosystems and terrain, the hiking did not get boring. We saw a castle, a spring, cliffs, a natural bridge, and climbed 316 steps, just to name a few. We even explored an island and found Balanced Rock. This place is a virtual wonderland for kids. And each trail is clearly marked by blazes of different colors so we always knew where we were. The hiking was perfect for kids. Ha Ha Tonka State Park with kids is a perfect choice for families. Get some sturdy shoes, and you can find a trail that’s perfect for your kids.
What’s the story with the castle in Ha Ha Tonka State Park?
This state park in Missouri is known for the “Castle.” When I was googling this state park and read about this park, I kept seeing pictures of this grand abandoned castle. I had no idea what it was, but knew I wanted to see it in person! So what is the history of this castle? Construction was started by Robert Snyder in 1903 and then was halted when Mr. Snyder died in one of Missouri’s first automobile accidents. The home was finished years later by his sons and eventually turned into a hotel. In 1942, the entire home burned to the ground, including the carriage house and other small buildings in the surrounding area. Years later, the water tower was burned by vandals.
The remnants of this castle are amazing to see in person. Near the castle, there are amazing views of Ha Ha Tonka State Park and Lake of the Ozarks. The castle is easily walkable with a paved trail from a handicapped accessible parking lot. Or you can park in an alternate location and hike to the castle as our family did.
What else is there to see in Ha Ha Tonka State Park?
The Ha Ha Tonka Spring is definitely another highlight of this Missouri gem. This Spring is so beautiful and can be seen from overlooks around the park. You can also hike down 316 steps to the Spring from the Natural Bridge. There’s also a more level path from the boat dock at Ha Ha Tonka. The boardwalk is very well maintained and there are interpretive signs to learn more about what you are seeing. It’s really worth the trip!
The Natural Bridge in Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a highlight, especially for kids. No Ha Ha Tonka State Park with kids complete guide would be complete without the Natural Bridge. Kids can climb all around, get a little wet, and explore a lush wonderland. This was probably my personal favorite part of the park. It is also easily accessible from a parking lot by a rocky trail if you prefer not to hike in.
One of our other highlights was the Island. You can access this rocky island by a footbridge. This area was one of the most rigorous hiking areas we explored. The trails were steep and slippery in some places. But it was definitely worth it! There was even a Balanced Rock to make Mom’s heart skip a beat or two.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park with kids cannot be missed!
I’m so thankful that I happened to come across Ha Ha Tonka during our one day in the Ozarks. Although I had imagined renting a boat for the day we were staying on the Lake of the Ozarks, for us, this was even better. We were able to see so many different topographies and ecosystems. And we got exercise and spent quality time as a family. Be sure to pack a lot of water and snacks before you head out on the trails. And if you’re visiting in warmer months, also be sure to check for ticks when you’re done hiking for the day.
I can’t say enough good things about Ha Ha Tonka State Park with kids. This is an absolutely beautiful state park! Have you ever visited? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for lots more travel tips with kids!