Summers at The Lake
With Labor Day weekend upon us, this is the unofficial last weekend of summer. School has or is starting, vacations are concluding, and the last of the barbeque parties are rolling out this weekend. Therefore, I’m saying farewell to summer with a post about my home-state’s quintessential summer weekend getaway.
In Missouri when people say they are “going to the lake” it means only one thing: the Lake of the Ozarks, which is probably Missouri’s most popular summer destination for local Missourians and neighboring states. The Lake of the Ozarks is a beautiful and large lake set in the lush Ozark region of southern Missouri that has grown into quite the tourist destination for Missourians and neighboring states. (Side fact: Missouri is tied with Tennessee for most neighboring states; each has eight.)
Every state has their version of “the lake” and a summer getaway for the locals, but The Lake of the Ozarks holds a special place in my heart because it is my home-state’s summer destination. I usually fly back to Kansas City for Memorial and Labor Day weekends, and flew back this year for Fourth of July weekend, to then spend three hours in the car to go to the lake with my family. That may seem silly, especially when I live in Southern California, but it’s a tradition and time with my family that I’m not ready to let go of yet and may never want to let go. Plus, there’s still plenty for me to explore in the area, such as Jacob’s Cave. Come back next summer for my potential post on that!
There are numerous routes to take to the lake, but my personal favorite, even if it’s not the quickest, is to head to Boonville and then take Highway 5 south through Tipton to Gravois Mills where my family’s lake place is located. I enjoy this route the best because it takes you through the countryside of Missouri AND we get to stop at the Dutch Bakery in Tipton where you can eat amazing homemade sandwiches! But also along this route is Ravenswood Mansion, and it’s open for tours.
After years of driving past this place and saying we will tour it one day, we finally did on one of my last summers at the lake before I moved to Los Angeles. We weren’t sure when I would be back in this area so it was now or never if we wanted to see inside the mansion. Luckily they were open on the day we randomly decided to go, and the family happily provided a tour of the mansion.
Ravenswood Mansion is a plantation farmhouse located just south of Boonville and north of Tipton right off Highway 5. The mansion was built in 1880 by Captain Charles E. Leonard and his wife Nadine Nelson Leonard. The home has remained in the family since its erection. Six generations have lived at Ravenswood with the fourth generation being the present owner. That is a pretty incredible legacy since it is often difficult for these homes to stay in the same original family. Ravenswood is filled with original furnishings and clothing purchased mostly by the first two generations of the Leonard family. Few changes have been made to the stately residence so it is much as it was in the late 1800s. The family takes on the restoration of the home themselves, which is a huge and ongoing project, and the tours help provide the family with extra means to help maintain this home in its original beauty. It’s a great stop to make on your trip to or from the lake especially if you love Victorian architecture and plantation mansions as much as I do! http://ravenswoodtours.com/
Another route to take to the lake is to go through Sedalia, and by traveling this way you get to see the Bothwell Lodge nestled in the bluffs along Highway 65. Same as with the Ravenswood Mansion, this big house on the hill was a site we drove past often with the intention of visiting someday. So one day while driving back from the lake, mom and I made a detour to finally visit this beautiful mansion we eyed from a distance.
Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site is located north of Sedalia off Highway 65 and offers a tour of Bothwell Lodge and hiking and mountain biking trails. The lodge was constructed by John Bothwell, a lawyer in Sedalia, who first purchased the land in 1890 when he visited the area and was impressed by its natural beauty. Bothwell built his mansion in four stages from 1897 to 1928 as his summer home. Bothwell was a widower and often invited friends and family to stay with him at the lodge. Upon his death, the lodge was left to a group of his friends known as the Bothwell Lodge Club. The lodge was in their control as long as more than five members were alive; when the sixth to last member passed away the lodge was offered to the state of Missouri in 1969 as per the terms in Bothwell’s will. Fiive years later the state accepted the offer and the park was thus established in 1974.
The Bothwell Lodge is a gorgeous stone mansion that has a spectacular view. It’s definitely worth a visit and you can enjoy a nice picnic along one of the trails while there.
And, of course, once you are at the Lake of the Ozarks there are a million things to do. One of my family’s favorite lake spots is Seven Springs Winery. The winery and vineyards sit up on 160 acres of rolling hills between Camdenton and Osage Beach. It’s a great place to do a wine tasting or sit out on the covered patio area and enjoy great wine, appetizers and listen to live music. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon and evening. http://www.sevenspringswinery.com/
Near Seven Springs Winery, or Seven Hills as my mom likes to call it ;), is Ha Ha Tonka State Park which is another favorite location of mine to visit at the lake. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a great place to exercise your legs and take in the beautiful Ozark bluffs while also viewing the Lake of the Ozarks from high above. The park is located about five miles south of Camdenton on the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. Ha Ha Tonka offers plenty of sites to explore including caves, sinkholes, natural bridges, bluffs overlooking the lake, and of course the most notable feature is the “castle”, which is the stone ruins of an early 1900s mansion modeled after the medieval European castles.
When mom and I visited the park we hiked to a natural bridge and then on up to the “castle”. The natural bridge we visited is located on the Colosseum Trail. It’s an easy hike, just shy of one mile, with plenty of shade so I recommend this one if you’re looking for a nice walk on a hot summer day. The Colosseum Trail is a natural surface trail that winds under the natural bridge and through a large sinkhole that fills with wildflowers in the Spring. The natural bridge is a massive stone arch that remained after a cave system around it collapsed. The natural bridge was actually used as a route to the castle until it was closed to automobile traffic in 1980 due to the narrow road. This trail is a nice and gentle hike to take, and there are more than 15 miles of trails in the park that lead to beautiful sites and down to the lake.
Our next stop in Ha Ha Tonka was to the castle! It’s a good hike up to the stone ruins, about a mile and a half, but it’s fairly easy walking and you get great views of the lake. The trail begins with a shaded walk through a wooded area that opens up to the carriage house ruins.
As you continue winding up the trail you are treated to three scenic overlooks before arriving at the castle ruins. The stone ruins are pretty substantial as you begin to picture how massive this home was originally. You can easily see how impressive this mansion looked perched high above on the bluffs overlooking the lake. Even though just the stone frame of the castle is left standing it is still an incredible sight and represents the craftsmanship and the majesty of a man’s dream to build his own European castle.
In the early 1900s, Robert McClure Snyder, a wealthy and prominent Kansas City businessman, visited the area known to the natives as “ha ha tonka” and knew it was the ideal setting for his European-style mansion. In 1904 Snyder purchased over 5,000 acres and began construction of his dream in 1905. Sadly, he was killed in an automobile accident in 1906 and never saw the completion of his castle. The interior remained unfinished until his sons completed the mansion in 1922. The castle was then used as a hotel until it was destroyed by a fire in 1942. It then sat empty and abandoned for several decades until the State of Missouri purchased the castle and grounds in 1978, and opened it to the public as Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
I highly recommend visiting Ha Ha Tonka State Park and exploring the many sites the park offers. The castle is definitely a highlight and it’s extraordinary to see these imposing stone walls are all that remain of a man’s dream to build his own castle.
My time at the lake is over for 2013, but I’m eagerly anticipating my 2014 summer plans because there are many detours and adventures to take while visiting the Lake of the Ozarks. I highlighted some of my favorites in this post but there are still many left for me to explore! Sometimes we can take our home cities and states for granted, but you might not always live in your hometown so take advantage of adventures within your daily reach and see what your state has to show! Missouri is the show-me-state after all!