The lake region has the added advantage of being home to two fine state parks, Lake of the Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka.
Chris Boyle, a local resident and active runner, said he moved to the lake region because his “goal was to live” and play in the same place.
Like so many others, he found exceptional opportunities to live his dream here and well before retirement. Along every country lane are people who’ve done the same, leaving cities for the savory scent of forests, grand vistas glimpsed from hilltops, and water views.
The lake region has the added advantage of being home to two fine state parks, Lake of the Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka, it alone averaging half a million visitors annually. Hikers, bikers, and runners are among the many repeat “customers” enjoying trails in varying lengths and sporting different challenges.
Natural Resource Manager Ryan King says one of the most popular trails in Ha Ha Tonka is Turkey Pen Hollow Trail, a 6.7-mile loop affording a view of the park’s natural woodlands. Chris Boyle agrees. He describes that trail as one of his favorite runs because it has good drainage, “good climbs and some fun descents.”
Deemed moderately difficult, that trail is one of those “loved” almost “to death” by frequent use, but Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) staff in the company of volunteers, including Boy and Girl Scouts as well as church and school groups, maintain the trails for those who will hike next.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park also welcomes volunteers, some of whom will stage the first in a three-race series there on May 4. Called the Trail of Four Winds 25K, the race represents what brings many together in an informal club known as Lake of the Ozarks Runners. Requiring no application or annual membership fee, the group consists of runners challenging their own bodies and spirits to run farther and faster. Members do not compete against other runners as much as they compete against their own personal bests. Posts to the group’s Facebook page or texts motivate other members by inviting them to get up and out to a trail for a run.
After runs, members gather to share a meal and a drink just as bikers and hikers often do. It’s this combination of tough, challenging terrain and camaraderie that keeps the group together. It also brings people in. Last year’s Ha Ha Half marathon winner, Michael McCulloch, will return for the Trail of Four Winds 25K because of that combination.
When asked to explain why running trails here is a powerful magnet for the whole area, Chris Boyle said trail running is the “perfect intersection of endurance sports and outdoor adventure.” The Ozark hills make runners “stronger and faster.” Trails also add “a fun level of complexity and challenge to running,” in part because splashing through streams and “getting dirty …. feels less like exercise and more like playing.”
Scott Page, another member of the local runners group, agrees. He ran a marathon in 2012 and learned that local 5Ks in these hills could improve his endurance and strength for other marathons (26 miles and 385 yards) and ultra-marathons (distances longer than marathons). Page created a Facebook presence to help area runners meet and motivate each other to include a weekly 10 to 20-mile run in their training regimen. This motivation must be effective because some group members were on the trail during the early March Arctic blast, complete with single-digit temperatures and snow.
In better weather, late April for example, 12 groups members will strive on the annual Go! St. Louis Marathon course. Past runs include one in 2018 when John Shelby and Chris Boyle were two members of a relay team for a 207-mile run known as Outback in the Ozarks, a runners’ tour of State and city parks in northwest Arkansas, seen under moon and sun. Also in 2018, Boyle ran the No Business 100, named for the 100 miles of “rugged trail … through the South Fork National Forest in Kentucky and Tennessee.” Local runners served as his support team.
A favorite trail in Lake of the Ozarks State Park, according to Larry Webb, Natural Resource Manager, and to both local runners and bikers is the Honey Run Trail added in 2006. GoJim.tv, a comprehensive website for outdoor sports enthusiasts created by Jim Glickert, another local runner, provides a fine description of Honey Run. Visitors to the site will learn about two landmarks on the trail--a spring and a bent tree thought to have been used as directional markers by early indigenous people. Elevations, distances for loops and connectors, and insect advisories are also posted. In addition, YouTube.com provides a fine GoPro Hero video of a biker enjoying the thrill of speed and natural beauty while peddling this trail.
Both park’s managers, Ryan King and Larry Webb, say that DNR is mindful of those who cannot run or bike so freely. They may need level ground and shorter distances. Both parks provide these. Webb notes Fawn’s Ridge Trail in Lake of the Ozarks State Park is accessible “to wheelchairs and strollers along a 0.6 mile section … from the campground check station to a picnic area along [Hwy] 134.”
Ha Ha Tonka provides asphalted trails of different lengths and elevations from parking lots to the Castle Ruins and to the spring. One of the “submitted [DNR] projects,” according to King, is to resurface the spring trail and improve the drainage system along it. Additional improvements include “renovating the Spring Trail boardwalk.”
The area, confesses King, is one of his favorites to hike, especially early in the morning when he might glimpse a “family of river otters playing, a den of young foxes romping around worrying their mother, herons catching their breakfast, and much much more.”
Many spectacular sights at Ha Ha Tonka are accessible by climbing stable wood steps, but one of King’s favorite trail climbs is Devil’s Kitchen, somewhat arduous and something over 1 mile in length. This one leads hikers to ancient sinkholes, verdant mosses, and a “sea” of boulders.
Other short, easily accessed trails for hiking and running are located in city parks. In Laurie, an asphalted path winds through the Hillbilly Fairgrounds. Another more natural trail near the Laurie ballpark was created by the Lake of the Ozarks chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists in partnership with the City. In Osage Beach’s Peanick and Camdenton City parks, visitors will find asphalted paths and moderate elevations.
A seriously challenging hike suitable for a true aerobic workout is available in Camdenton’s Park while playing the Dragon Ridge Disk Golf course. Now at 18 holes with a reputation for excellence attracting international players, this one is not for the feint of heart. It is, however, one more reward made possible by trained park personnel, enthusiastic volunteers, and passionate outdoor sportsmen and women.
Tourists and residents alike use the lake’s rich trail resources to train for life’s challenges. They also celebrate the coming of spring or a rare sunny day in winter by taking to the trails. They can go the distance here and elsewhere after training. They can also take mountain bikes to the trails and attain dizzying speeds, or they can slip into sneakers and just listen to the leaves catch the breeze as they walk slowly. They recognize these trails are rich rewards at Lake of the Ozarks.