One doesn’t necessarily expect to stumble upon massive abandoned castle ruins in the middle of the Missouri Ozarks. However, if you’re ever driving down Route 66, this amazing state park is well worth the detour.
Tucked behind lush forests and bordered by a vast river, Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a world unto itself. Ha Ha Tonka allegedly comes from the Native American phrase for “laughing waters”, a reference to the area’s many springs. There are 15 miles of trails for hiking enthusiasts, complete with sinkholes, natural bridges, and even caves. But, the most prominent park feature, is the early-20th-century castle ruins.
Robert McClure Snyder was born in 1852, one of seven children. He was born into a family of millers and grocers. Robert moved to St. Louis to work in the grocery business and then in 1904 he bought 5,000 acres of land around Ha Ha Tonka Lake and Spring. He started building roads and used the area as a place to escape, where he could explore the many caves and escape the busy city life.
He imported Scottish stone masons to get to work building his dream home, a massive castle, European-style castle, with an incredible view overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks. Snyder developed a reputation for being an honorable and incredibly hardworking businessman. Unfortunately, he died before he saw his dream home completed. In 1906, he became one of Missouri’s first automobile fatalities.
His sons took over construction on the castle and completed it in the 1920s. The castle was used as a boutique hotel for the next two decades. However, tragedy struck in 1942, when a horrible fire completely destroyed the interior, and the carriage house. In 1976 vandals burned down the water tower.
In his obituary, the Kansas City Journal wrote that Snyder “was a man who understood big things and made them win by keeping up the fight when other men might have been ready to give it up.”
Today you can visit Snyder’s castle and enjoy its artistic masonry, as the walls have been stabilized. Ha Ha Tonka became an official state park in 1978. While the castle is the major feature of the park, there are loads of trails, many less than two miles, boardwalks, caverns, and springs.
I can personally attest to how awesome this park is. I recently visited with my son Bruce. He loved exploring the ruins with his little red car.