The air is crisp and the changing leaves make this the perfect time of year to explore one of the many fascinating trails at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

The air is crisp and the changing leaves make this the perfect time of year to explore one of the many fascinating trails at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.   The park offers several trails that accommodate varying levels of difficulty, each with its own distinct characteristics.   In 1904, a prominent businessman named Robert McClure Snyder bought 5,400 acres with the dream of building a retreat to rival European castles.   Construction began in 1905, but Snyder was killed in an automobile accident in 1906. One of his sons completed the project in 1922, but on Oct. 21, 1942, a fire engulfed the entire structure and left what are now commonly referred to as “the castle ruins.”   A 1/4-mile paved trail, considered easy, starts in a parking lot next to the ruins of the old carriage house.   Several lookout points are positioned along the path that allows visitors to gaze upon Ha Ha Tonka Spring and Lake of the Ozarks 250 feet below.   An hour or so before sunset is a favorite time for photographing the castle ruins.    The trail continues on the other side of the parking lot and leads to the old water tower. The beginning of the trail is a boardwalk and also considered an easy walk.   The boardwalk remains level, except for the stairs leading to the water tower, but it becomes more challenging after the second lookout position. It then meanders its way around and down the other side of the cliff through a series of switchbacks.   The park advises this portion of the trail should only be attempted by people in good physical condition. Hikers that brave this trail will end up at the mouth of Ha Ha Tonka Spring.   The spring is also accessible without descending the 250-foot cliff. An easy paved and level trail starts at the spring/lake parking lot. It is about 1/2-mile one way to the spring.   The Island Trail, located off the Spring Trail, has rugged terrain and is recommended for advanced hikers. On the opposite side of the island, the spring flows through a chute formed by the cliff and island.   Ha Ha Tonka State Park is west of Camdenton off Highway 54. Turn left at Route D (just before the Niangua Bridge). Follow Route D up the hill and look for the park office about two miles down the road.   Contact this Lake Sun Leader reporter at brianf@lakesunleader.com.