One of the best ways to enjoy the scenic and natural beauty of the Ozarks is by hiking or taking a leisurely walk through the mixed terrain enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the forests, glades, meadows and prairie . There are ample opportunities for visitors to the "Best Recreational Lake" in the Nation to head off the beaten path and discover the wonders of nature.
There is perhaps no better place to hike at the Lake of the Ozarks than 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.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park was voted the fourth-best state park in the country by readers of USA Today and has one of the most photographed features in the state: The ruins 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 fourteen 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.
Jim Divincen, administrator for the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association, enjoys spending some of his free time hiking the trails at Ha Ha Tonka. One of Divincen's favorite trails is the park's longest, Turkey Pen Hollow. This 6.5-mile hike winds through the scenic and rugged Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland Natural Area.
"With some near 200-foot climbs in elevation, this trail provides many spectacular views," says Divincen. "The first time I finished the trail, I remember thinking, 'wow, that was really special.' Since then, I've hiked this trail on several occasions at different times of the year and it's an absolutely beautiful experience no matter the season or the weather."
Divincen recommends that those planning to hike Turkey Pen Hollow should allow at least three hours to complete the trail. In addition, Divincen encourages hikers of any of the trails at the Lake to be sure to bring plenty of drinking water. More details on Ha Ha Tonka's trails can be found atmostateparks.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 a 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 great family-friendly trail at Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the Lakeview Bend Trail," says Divincen. This 1.5-mile trail begins at the campground check-in station along State Highway 134 in Kaiser and runs along the banks of Lake of the Ozarks. "There are some splendid views of the Lake from this trail, especially in-season, from June through October, when the water level is up," Divincen concludes.
Hidden below the surface of Lake of the Ozarks State Park is Ozark Caverns, one of four show caves in the Lake area. Informative park interpreters lead hour-long, narrated hand-held lantern tours of Ozark Caverns' underground beauty from mid-May until mid-September. For more information on the trails and features of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, visit mostateparks.com/park/lake-ozarks-state-park.
Five unique Missouri conservation areas at Lake of the Ozarks welcome hikers and feature designated walking trails, birding areas and natural areas to explore as well. The conservation areas also are free and open year around. For more details on all the Lake-area conservation areas, their trailheads, and other activities and amenities available, call the Camdenton Conservation Service Center at 573-346-2210, or head to the Missouri Department of Conservation website at www.mdc.mo.gov to access an interactive atlas for detailed maps of the different areas.
There are many lodging options available in close proximity to the state parks and conservation areas, making it easy to relax and unwind after a day on the trails. Accommodations range from full-service resorts to smaller, family-owned resorts; quaint bed and breakfasts to fully-equipped vacation rental homes and condominiums; rustic cabins and comfortable campgrounds and RV parks and familiar hotels and motels. For a complete listing of lodging options available around the Lake area, visit the accommodations page at www.FunLake.com .
To find out more about all the attractions, fun events as well as dining options available at the "Best Recreational Lake" in the nation, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) at 800-FUN-LAKE , or visit the CVB's award-winning website at www.FunLake.com .