Points of Interest:
- One of the best oak woodlands of the Missouri Ozarks.
- Enjoy old-growth oaks and outstanding glade and woodland wildflower displays.
- See the full range of woodland birds during the spring and summer.
One of the best open oak woodland landscapes in Missouri that has been restored and managed with prescribed fire for over 20 years by State Parks staff. Gnarled old-age (150+ years) post, white and chinkapin oaks grow scattered over an open understory with a lush ground cover of native grasses, sedges, and forbs. In 1819 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft toured portions of the Missouri Ozarks and described a landscape of open oak woodlands as: “A tall, thick, and rank growth of wild grass, covers the whole country, in which the oaks are standing interspersed, like fruit trees in some well cultivated orchard, and giving to the scenery the most novel, pleasing and picturesque appearance.” A similar scene can be found today at Ha Ha Tonka Oak Woodland Natural Area.
Dotting this landscape of cherty dry woodlands are openings in the woods – dolomite glades – that provide a panoply of wildflower blooms throughout the season: reds of Indian paintbrush in the spring, yellow coneflowers in early summer, pinks of blazing stars in summer, and yellows and purples of prairie dock and aromatic aster in fall. Steep north facing slopes and sinkholes provide habitat for more moisture loving trees such as northern red oak, slippery elm, and basswood. Conspicuous dry woodland wildflowers include pale purple coneflower, a variety of asters (e.g., blue, spreading, prairie, and flax-leaved), rough blazing star, many goldenrods (e.g., downy, rigid, elm-leaved, and white) and lots of legumes (e.g., goat’s rue, lead plant, wild indigo, purple prairie clover, and slender lespedeza) that provide excellent food for turkeys and other wildlife. On deeper soils white oak dominated dry-mesic woodlands occur with bristly sunflower, whorled milkweed, bee balm, and bare-stemmed and small-leaved tick trefoils. All told 500 native plant species have been documented growing here. Look for the red-headed woodpecker, summer tanager, blue-gray gnatcatcher, black-and-white warbler, and eastern wood-peewee flitting among the scattered oaks and hickories of these woodlands. You might also spot a broad-headed skink, five-lined skink, northern fence lizard, or six-lined racerunner scurrying over rocks and logs. The natural area protects three rare plant species and the Ozark endemic, ringed salamander, as well as a characteristic landscape of the Osage River Hills region.
From 1909 when this region was first recommended to become Missouri’s first state park by Governor H.S. Hadley, it took until 1978 for this area to become a state park. This natural area was the first recognized for its outstanding woodland natural communities in 1990. The natural area is fascinating for naturalists at any time of year.