Photos by LG Patterson
It seems like every year the leaves are only *just* right for about a week. They’re either not quite turned, or they’re brown. It can be so easy to miss that sweet spot.
To take full advantage of the sporadic nature of fall colors, consider going camping. Instead of simply driving around or taking a short walk through local trails, you can spend the amount of time that nature truly needs to be appreciated. And, because you don’t have to book somewhere to stay in advance, you can pack up and hit the trail whenever Mother Nature decides it wants to shine.
Whether you’re a rough-it-in-the-woods type or an RV owner, there are plenty of campgrounds in mid-Missouri to get your outdoor on. If you have kids and packing up the car to go to a campsite sounds like a lot — we get it! — consider setting up a campsite in your backyard. Go all out with s’mores ingredients (we have a few new recipes below!), pull out the cozy sleeping bags and tell plenty of scary ghost stories.
No matter how you choose to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery this fall, one thing’s for certain: The memories will be unmatched.
Finger Lakes State Park
Just on the outskirts of Columbia, Finger Lakes offers a peaceful nature getaway without getting too far from home. One of the most popular attractions of Finger Lakes is its aquatic activities. Canoes, paddleboards and kayaks are available for rent until November 15. Of course you can bring your own boat, too and launch at the boat ramp. Fishing permits are required and limits apply, so check their website on the Missouri State Parks page for information on which fish to catch and release, and which you can keep.
For the more rough-and-ready type, there are designated trails for mountain biking and off-road recreational vehicles (ORVs). If one afternoon doesn’t seem like enough time to go kayaking, fishing and four-wheeling, don’t fret. Finger Lakes has a great campground, with both basic and electric sites, and a bathroom with showers are open until October 31. Campsite reservation prices are similar to most Missouri State parks at $13 for a basic site during on-season and $23 for an electric site.
With 14 trails, there’s a hike for everyone at Ha Ha Tonka; from a somewhat leisurely .9-mile Acorn Trail to Turkey Pen Hallow, a 6.5-mile trail with a designated camping area for groups larger than seven. Other activities include fishing, boating, swimming
But of course, the most well-known attraction of Ha Ha Tonka is the castle ruins. While the ruins look like they are hundreds of years old, construction actually began in the early 1900s. According to Missouri State Parks, Robert Snyder, a self-made businessman, purchased Ha Ha Tonka Lake and Spring in 1904 and commissioned builders from Europe to begin work on the castle, but died in 1906 from one of the first car accidents in Missouri. After his death, his sons continued work on the castle and it was completed in 1920. Shortly after one of his sons began living in the castle, lawsuits around the right to the land bankrupted the Snyder family and the castle was opened as a hotel in lodge. A fire in 1942 destroyed the building, and the state purchased the property in the 1970s.
You can’t camp within Ha Ha Tonka State Park, but the Lake of the Ozarks State Park is only a 26-minute drive and has plenty of camping options for everyone.
So you’ve seen pictures of hikers all cozy in their hammocks in the woods and you went and bought a hammock you found for $20. Not so fast. To ensure a truly enjoyable hammock experience, you’ll want to put in a little more forethought.
If you want to hammock with a partner, make sure to purchase a double hammock. No, you can’t squeeze into a single — even if you’re both slight!
If you’re considering using a hammock instead of a tent to sleep in, just be aware that hammocks tend to be quite colder. All of your body is exposed to air versus in a tent where your back gets some of that retained ground heat. Camping and outdoor stores sell underquilts, which are sort of like sleeping bags, but for the outside of the hammock. In addition, be sure to bring an extra warm sleeping bag.
Invest in a 360-degree bug net. You’ll want it to completely cover the entire hammock, so no pesky mosquitoes get behind your back.
Even if you checked the weather forecast prior to making your trek, a sudden downpour is always a possibility. Pack a light rain tarp just in case.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park
If you’ve lived in mid-Missouri for any number of years, chances are you’ve been to “The lake” as locals call it. But, if you don’t have a lake house, it can be hard to find rentals, not to mention expensive. For a more natural take on a weekend at the lake, check out the Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Hike, bike, swim, fish, boat and camp.
Thirteen trails, including a hidden springs trail and several glade trails, offer distances between less than a mile and more than nine miles. Unlike most campsites at Missouri State Parks, the Lake of the Ozarks has what they call outpost cabins, with electricity, air conditioning and actual beds (woohoo!). There are eight available for reservation and cost $50 per night Monday through Thursday and $55 on weekend nights. If you’re looking to be a trendsetter, two yurts offer the perfect combination of rustic and relaxing. With a microwave, air conditioning and electricity, rent them for the same price as the outpost cabins. But, be warned, neither the cabins nor yurts have running water.
Of course, since this park is called Lake of the Ozarks, there are plenty of water activities, too. A fishing dock, three boat launch spots and during the summer, swimming and cave tours offer an Ozark oasis.
Mari Osa Delta Campgrounds
What if you’d rather park your RV, grab some grub and sit by the water? Mari Osa Delta in Jefferson City offers the perfect combination of comfort and camp vibes. With sewer, water and electric hookups available, a camp store with essentials and a dock and boat ramp complete the experience. There are 28 sites available and fishing is available both in the Osage and Maries rivers. Restrooms with showers and laundry facilities can make longer stays comfortable, too.
Tips for taking your pet with you.
If you’re looking for even more fun, bring a furry friend with on your camping adventure. Of course, there are a few extra things you’ll need to pack to keep your hound happy.
- Pack dog food in a compact travel container that is air-tight.
- Bring a collapsible food and water bowl for light packing.
- Bring along a camp mat or travel cot/bed to keep your canine comfortable.
- A long line leash is an essential for once you get to your campsite, but don’t forget the regular collars and leashes, too.
- A LED light-up collar is a great nighttime accessory that will enable you to see your perky pet right away.
- Pet wipes enable easy clean-up in case you decide to let your camp-anion taste test your new s’mores combo.
- And of course, the less fun side of bringing a pet is the waste. Bring waste bags and if your campsite doesn’t have garbage cans, bring a large gallon zip lock bag to trap stinky smells.
Sure, the basic Hershey’s milk chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker s’more is nothing to shake a stick at, pun intended. But, what if we told you by including a few extra simple ingredients, you can create gustatory greatness? Try some — or all — of the s’more variations below.
What goes better than peanut butter and chocolate? If you’re on a long hike in warmer weather, bring regular peanut butter to smear on your graham. But, if it’s colder, might we suggest a Reeses peanut butter cup in place of chocolate? You can thank us later.
- Fruit Fantasy
If you’re bringing peanut butter, you might as well bring jelly, right? Why not try it atop your graham cracker —
the tart, fruity taste marries perfectly with a slightly
Need more chocolate than the measly three Hershey’s squares? Try using chocolate flavored graham crackers in place of regular. If you’re really craving some cocoa, use dark chocolate on your s’more, too.
- Salty & Sweet
Hear us out: Candied bacon is the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and atop a s’more it elevates this campfire classic to gourmet goodness. Plus, you can use any extra bacon for breakfast in the morning!
- The Elvis
A classic flavor combination. Peanut butter, bacon and bananas combined atop a s’more would do The King proud.
- Mint Madness
If you think York peppermint patties taste like toothpaste, this isn’t the one for you. Create a peppermint s’more by using a peppermint patty as the chocolate base — just make sure to smush your s’more before eating to spread the patty perfectly.