Like many, many other St. Louisans over Memorial Day weekend I took a short trip down to the Lake of Ozarks.  Obviously the Lake of the Ozarks is an extremely popular summer destination from people all over Missouri and many other part of the midwest.  The lake is a result of damming of the Osage River and flooding of the surrounding river valley in the Ozark foothills.  The lake rarely fluctuates more than 5 feet in water level which makes it ideal for private development.  Some of the homes that are being built in the towns of Osage Beach, Lake Ozark, and Sunrise Beach are absolutely amazing.  Many have half a dozen bedrooms, pools, multiple boatslips, and cost into the millions.  There are also many more modest lake houses and condos that are great home bases for some fun on the water.

There some other great options for outdoor activities in the Ozarks that don’t involve being on the water.  Two of Missouri’s best hiking parks are located on the Lake of the Ozarks.  After spending a summer in Glacier National Park in Northwest Montana hiking some of the most scenic trails in North America I never thought that I would find anything in Missouri that would be worth while in terms of trails.  I was very wrong in my assessment!  The Ozark mountains are generally considered an underrated gem of a hiking area by hiking enthusiasts.  The area surrounding the Lake of the Ozarks is no exception.  I spent time hiking in both Ha Ha Tonk State Park and Lake of the Ozarks State Park this weekend.  Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the largest state park in Missouri and is home to many miles of hiking trails.  The trails afford great views of the lake and the many rocky bluffs that the Ozarks have become known for.  The park is quite spread out and there are both hiking and horseback trails that dot the landscape along with campgrounds and beaches.  There is also a n aquatic trail for boats to follow and experience the natural history along the shore of the lake.  The park feels extremely remote for being just a few miles off of Hwy 54, the main drag through the Lake of the Ozarks.  We saw no less than 3 deer in the course of just one 1.5 mile loop.

Ha Ha Tonka really stands out as one of the best outdoor attractions available to Missourians.  The main attraction here is ruins of a modern day stone castle built by a wealthy business mogul from Kansas City at the turn of the 20th century.  The castle sits on a high bluff overlooking a natural spring and stream.  The stream was once under a cave system that collapsed on itself which apparently left some significant geological formations.  The castle on the bluff was the centerpiece of a 5000 acre estate complete with a large carriage house and water tower that pumped fresh spring water all the way up to the castle from the stream below.  You take an elaborate staircase from the castle down to the stream with steps numbering in the hundreds.  Although the hike is relatively short in distance it is not for the faint of heart.  As if the castle and spring weren’t enough there are several other really interesting sights in the park.  One is a large natural bridge caused by erosion that suspends many tons of rock high over your head while you are able walk under the base of it.  Another is a large bolder seemingly balanced on a rock below with not more than an area the size of a quarter of the balanced rock touching the rock below underneath.  You could stick you entire hand under each side of the balanced rock.

Missouri and the St. Louis area are underrated for the outdoor options available to their residents and I’ll try to post from time to time about the ones that I have experienced.  Many other parts of the country specifically in California and the Pacific Northwest point to many of their outdoor recreational activities to demonstrate the livability of their regions or metro areas.  I can tell you with certainty that Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka can stand up to some of the best and these are only 3 hours away from Downtown St. Louis!