One of the more enchanting state parks I've had the pleasure of visiting, Missouri's Ha Ha Tonka boasts mile after mile of unrivaled natural wonder and beauty. Today we're taking the first in a series of virtual hikes through Ha Ha Tonka State Park, beginning with the serene Quarry Trail, located near Ha Ha Tonka's most famous attraction, the castle ruins.
There are two ways to enter the Quarry trail: the first being the trailhead just north of the castle ruins, the second located beside the carriage house site. As most visitors to Ha Ha Tonka will opt to visit the castle ruins first, our virtual tour begins at the main trailhead.
Note - Although I'm missing the photo, one of the first sites you'll see upon entering the trailhead is the original location of the castle's greenhouses. Not your average greenhouses, the original structures were huge with foundations constructed of stone just like the castle, carriage house and water tower. Upon Snyder's death, the greenhouses were dismantled and sold, but the stone foundations remain along with interpretive kiosks for more information.
Fallen, mossy log along the Quarry Trail.
Coming to Ha Ha Tonka to hike and immortalize my visit, this 1.75 mile trail, blazed in green, took a bit longer to hike than the estimated 1 hour & 20 minutes, mainly because I kept stopping to take photos. Considered easy to moderate in difficulty, this trail can be hiked about an hour & a half if you keep moving, including the scenic side trip down to the shore of the Lake of the Ozarks via the red trail. All trails are readily marked via small, colored squares attached to trees---a feature you'll appreciate if you forget to stop at the visitor's center on your way in and pick up a more detailed map.
Moss-covered tree roots adorn north-facing portions of the trail, easy to spot (and not trip over) in winter months, standing out amongst the fallen oak leaves.
In addition to the main trail blazed in green and red trail leading down to the lake blazed in red, the Quarry Trail also offers connector trails blazed in white to shorten or enhance your hike. While hiking the main trail, look for white connectors 5 & 6 which connect the green trail via optional, scenic loops.
Numerous sandstone & dolomite outcroppings line the hillsides here, making it easy to understand why Robert McClure Snyder chose to mine stone from quarries surrounding the Ha Ha Tonka castle to construct his one-of-a-kind mansion.
Coming down the northern slope of the Quarry Trail and rounding the first curve, you're suddenly reminded you're not just in the woods here at Ha Ha Tonka, being greeted with a tantalizing glimpse of central Missouri's beautiful Lake of the Ozarks.
In addition to the red trail leading down to the lake's shoreline, enticing views of the Lake of the Ozarks peek through the trees on this portion of the Quarry Trail.
Once you pull yourself away from the gorgeous lake views, the trail begins a gentle climb upward, softened by sweeping curves and natural wonders such as dolomite and sandstone outcroppings which stand between towering oak trees.
As if not to be outdone by the stone upon which it sits, this tree boasts an almost unreal tangle of gnarled roots, clutching onto the rock below as if its existence depends on it, which, as nature would have it, it does.
Ready to go in for a closer look? Careful though, don't teeter off the rocky edge to the right.
Depending on when you hike Ha Ha Tonka's Quarry Trail (especially after a rain or snow), a pair of calf-high waterproof boots can be your best friend. Some areas were pretty muddy with standing water the day we visited, and I was glad to be wearing these waterproof Bogs. With substantial tread on the bottom, they prevented slipping & sliding. If you visit in the summer, be forewarned: flip flops are a bad idea. I recommend hiking boots year-round, even throughout the summer months. At minimum, hiking sandals or tennis shoes will do a better job at keeping you and your feet protected (although hiking boots will do more if you encounter an unexpected, feisty snake along the trail).
Best year-round tips? Dress in layers, wear appropriate footwear, and bring plenty of fresh water on your hike. An energy/granola bar would not be out of the question here, just make sure whatever trash you bring in you take out with you. Additional summer tip? Bring plenty of insect & tick repellent. You can thank me later.
After using a white connector trail to explore the Ha Ha Tonka hills further, we picked up the green trail once again and continued on, wrapping around to another quarry site before heading up towards the carriage house.
Moss-lined paths are abundant along the 2nd half of the Quarry Trail and add a degree of comfort to your hike...there's just something about them that's entirely peaceful & soothing as you make your way through these woods.
Curved paths, sweeping gracefully around a shallow, stone gorge, are a highlight of this path and mark one of the more beautiful stretches of the Quarry Trail.
A simple sign marks one of the quarry sites from which sandstone was mined for castle construction. In this rocky, hilly, uneven terrain, it's hard to imagine mules pulling carts of stone back up to the castle site where stone masons from Scotland waited, hard at work on Snyder's massive 3-story retreat.
Along the trail, you'll encounter holes, some large, some small, home to various woodland creatures. If you're lucky, you'll spot deer, fox, rabbit and other animals roaming the woods.
And if you keep your eyes open, looking closely as you hike...
...you might just find unexpected surprises like this heart-shaped knot, exposed on a fallen tree limb.
This tree, which we nicknamed The Wishbone Tree, is just one of the many fascinating sights waiting to be seen by those who hike the Quarry Trail.
Before you know it, you reach the ruins of the carriage house and your time on the Quarry Trail comes to a close. If you're up for it, turn around and venture back or better yet, carry on because there are more trails in Ha Ha Tonka State Park ready to captivate you and other hikers.
Stay tuned for our next virtual hike, when I take you on the Colosseum Trail---one of my favorite short hikes in Ha Ha Tonka!