An Ozarks treasure gets some national recognition.
In a USA Today readers poll, voters across the country chose the 3,751-acre Ha Ha Tonka State Parkas the fourth best state park in the country, finishing behind Letchworth State Park in New York, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan and Watkins Glen State Park, also in New York.
According to Ozark folklore, the name Ha Ha Tonka is derived from an Osage Indian phrase believed to mean "laughing waters," in reference to the park's large natural spring. The spring is just one of many features that attracts roughly 520,000 visitors to the park each year.
The ruins of a 1900s-era "castle" stand out amid the scenery of the park. Crafted from stone quarried on the property, the structure that sits atop a bluff overlooking the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks is all that remains of the dream of wealthy businessman Robert McClure Snyder of Kansas City.
Snyder purchased roughly 5,000 acres in 1904 and began construction on his elaborate country estate in 1905. Snyder never saw his dream materialize as he was killed in one of the state’s first auto accidents the following year.
The home later operated as a hotel until it was destroyed by fire in 1942. The skeleton of Snyder's dream home is now the centerpiece of the park.
The park is accessible by water and offers boat docks, fishing areas, picnic tables, pavilions and a visitor center complete with a topographical map of the park carved out of stone. Ha Ha Tonka is open all year and admission is free.