Monday, May 20, 2013

Ha Ha Tonka State Park: Tips for Visiting

I've been so caught up in planning and executing our move to England that I've really neglected blogging about our great trip to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri back in March. But since I'm now relegated to hotel living for a week, and no more cleaning/purging/organizing tasks to face (until we arrive, of course), it's time to dig into that trip.

The far and away best adventure we had while there was exploring the castle ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Camdenton.

A castle in the middle of Missouri? I was as surprised as you. Apparently at the turn of the century, a prominent Kansas City businessman, inspired by the grand castles he saw in Europe, found a gorgeous piece of land high on a bluff and built this enormous palace. Unfortunately, between the Great Depression and a fire that ripped through, the castle fell into ruins. But fortunately for the rest of us, the land is now a state park and the castle ruins are open for exploration.

The Arrows and their Cousin Arrows wanted to share a few tips if you're planning a visit:

1) You can bring a stroller. There are about a dozen or so parking spots within a few hundred yards of the castle, with a paved path up to the castle property itself. So if you've got a little one, feel free to bring the stroller. (If you park further away and take the hiking trail to the castle, I do not believe that was paved and you would want to use a carrier.) As it were, we left our stroller in the car and Little Arrow happily hitched a ride on his uncle's shoulders.

2) Don't forget to enjoy the views. The man who built this castle probably had no way of knowing that in the years ahead, Lake of the Ozarks would be built, and his dream home would have an amazing view of it.

3) Let your kids explore on their own. We spent the week with 4 kids under 5. I savor those moments when the kids can just roam and do their own thing, creating their own fun. This was the perfect spot for that.

The portion of the castle that is inaccessible, the interior, is completely gated off. So you don't have to worry about the smallest of wanderers getting someplace they don't belong. Much to his dismay, of course.

4) Make time to hike. It began to storm when we finished exploring the castle, so we had to leave the park. But my sister's family returned later in the week and loved the hiking trails at this park. Plus, the park is free. So return as many times as you'd like to see it all.

5) Bring your camera. This is true of any big attraction, of course, but there are particularly beautiful spots at Ha Ha Tonka to take family pictures that you'll always treasure.

I know the Arrows will probably get a chance to visit dozens and dozens of castles in the three years ahead as Europe becomes our playground. And maybe they'll get a bit jaded and bored by the whole thing. But I'll always remember their sheer delight in getting to run amuck through these ruins, ducking around crumbling towers, peeking through window frames, and squealing with joy along with their cousins.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walking on Travels.

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