Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri; recommended hiking trail combinations & general park visitor info
Updated: Sep 10
Beautiful Ha Ha Tonka State Park boasts over 3,7000 acres of lush woodland near the Lake of the Ozarks in Camdenton Missouri. In addition to Missouri's 12 largest spring, you will find caves, natural bridges, sinkholes, towering bluffs, the ruins of an old stone castle, and a whole lot more! all perfectly laid out on 31 miles of prime hiking trails.
When to go
This park is enjoyable all year round but I would recommend going when the park is blanketed in green courtesy of the dense forest that covers the park. We went in early April, probably just a couple of weeks before mother nature painted it in shades of emerald green. As far as crowds go, 609,096 people visited the park in 2020, so it likely won't be overcrowded. I went on a Saturday, when the weather was just starting to get nice and it was quite crowded that day. Go during the week if possible and you may just feel like you have the place all to yourself.
Much to my disappointment, when I visited in early April the trees had not leafed out yet but there were stirrings of spring and a few pretty things popping up here and there:
Hiking Trails in Ha Ha Tonka State Park:
I spent one day exploring the trails, but really wish I would have allowed for more time to explore. With limited time, I chose a few of the trails that appealed to me the most and combined them for efficiency. I've included maps to help clarify my routes.
The trails in this park are extremely well marked and color coded....
Del Rim/Devil's Kitchen/ Oak Woodland Combo total 1.7 miles
I started this trail combo off from the trail head at the parking area on Castle Ruins Road. If it isn't too crowded, you can park near the castle right where the trail head starts.
Tip: If you want to get some good photos go early and photograph the castle first. When I returned later in the day this area was quite crowded.
1- Del Rim section (RED TRAIL)
Del Rim trail is a approximately .3 miles out and back. Stroll down the wooden boardwalk. Sites along the way: The stately old water tower, and an overlook into the 150 ft deep Whispering Dell Sinkhole. The trail circles around the sinkhole with views back toward the water tower. This is a short but sweet trail, so if you aren't into long distances or are pressed for time this is your trail! and if you have lots of time, don't skip this one!
2- Devil's kitchen Sinkhole (BROWN TRAIL)
Devil's Kitchen sinkhole trail is a 1.3 mile trail if done alone. Watch for the Devil's Promenade (a large bluff that walls in part of the trail. You must step across a small gap in the bedrock, watch your step on the rocky terrain in this area) a small cave, large areas of rock, and look for the entrance to the cave shelter (take a look back out of the cave for a view of the sky through the chimney at the rear of the cave.) This trail joins others, so watch for the brown blazes to stay on the trail.
note: this trail does cross the road in a few spots, you'll be able to pick up the trail again, just look for signs.
My little Toto really enjoyed exploring this trail. (dogs permitted on all trails, must be leashed)
3- Oak Woodland Trail (BLUE TRAIL)
After walking this .1 mile paved loop I decided that for me it was skip'able. It was built for the purpose of allowing people with disabilities a chance to enjoy the landscape, therefore it is wheelchair and stroller accessible. I imagine it is prettier when the leaves are on the trees, and is also provides opportunity for spotting something found on the bird watching checklist.
.6 mile loop
When you come to Natural Bridge Road follow the signs to Colosseum Trail (YELLOW TRAIL) The trail winds under a natural bridge (a massive stone arch left behind when the cave system around it collapsed) and through a sinkhole.
Just beyond the natural bridge I found this sign and was not permitted to continue on with this trail:
This is something we never want to see. Please be respectful when enjoying our natural areas, access to them is a privilege, which can be taken from us at any time.
After viewing the natural bridge, I returned back to my car via Del Rim Trail.
Don't forget to check out the castle before you leave the area.
Spring Trail/Island Trail/Boulder Ridge Trail
After viewing the castle, I re-parked my car. Go back to State Road D, take a right (go south, the trail head and parking area are on your right across from Shelter Road.
1-Spring Trail (BLUE TRAIL)
Oh Spring trail...this trail is amazing and beautiful and EXHAUSTING! Before you descend the 316 wooden steps you'll find the following precautionary notice: "This is a scenic but strenuous portion of Spring Trail. This boardwalk descends approximately 200-verticle feet, using 316 steps. Only person's in good physical condition should hike this trail" and boy are they serious!
That being said, this was one of the most beautiful trails I've been on, and well worth the effort.
My save your legs tip: After leaving the parking lot head straight for the stairs. This allows you to go DOWN all of those steps instead of climbing UP them. On my descent into the gorge I met many (very exhausted/out of breath) people walking back up those 316 steps! After reaching the spring at the bottom, rather than head back up I carried on onto the trails below, and was able to make my way back out of the gorge at a more gradual ascent! (see the map below) Let's get started!
At the base of the steps is a lovely spring that emerges from a water-filled cave... now squeeze between the large rocks on either side of the trail, and continue on the trail. You'll find an old pump, old mill, and Island Trail trail head.
2-Island Trail (GREEN TRAIL) .4 mile loop
Island Trail, an offshoot of Spring trail, starts at the old mill site. On this trail you'll find Balanced Rock (a large cylinder-shaped dolomite boulder) the confluence of Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Lake of the Ozarks, a small breach dam where spring water runs over large boulders, and Island Cave.
After you arrive back at Spring Trail once more, continue along the shoreline of the Lake of the Ozarks.
3-Boulder Ridge Trail (RED TRAIL) total 1.5 mile loop
YOU MUST WALK THIS LOOP IN A CLOCKWISE DIRECTION. The trail consists of rocky woodland, huge sandstone boulders, bluffs and shelves, and views of the Lake of the Ozarks. The website says it can be tricky after a leaf fall, so plan accordingly. Exhaustion got the best of me, and my husband and puppy were waiting in the car for me, so I skipped this portion of the trail and headed up and out of the gorge. I hear it is a very nice trail! I'll be sure to get it next time!
There is a definite incline to get back to the parking area, but I assure you, you won't feel as if you have climbed 316 stairs!
Coming from Kansas, something I especially appreciate about the state parks in Missouri is that they are free to visit! Thank you Missouri!
Some of the trails in the park are wheelchair accessible. For assessibility information check out their website.
There are 167 species of bird in the park. The park has provided a handy checklist for the birdwatchers among us.
Other must see and do things in the great state of Missouri:
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