PEDALING, PADDLING, AND PRAIRIE HIKES: THESE PARKS DELIVER OUTDOOR PERFECTION WITH A CAPITAL “P.”
Photography by Dana Damewood
Paddle And Roll
A magnificent seven parks bustle with pedaling, paddling, and other popular pastimes.
While many people know northeast Kansas for its urban areas, it also boasts some of the most spacious outdoor playgrounds. At northernmost Perry State Park near Ozawkie, an 11,000-acre reservoir and equal-size wildlife area team up for the ultimate retreat on water and land. Hoof it across 40-plus miles of wooded hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Lawrence residents access nature next door at Clinton State Park. Fish Clinton Reservoir’s clear waters; spot deer, songbirds, and wildflowers; and ski cross-country trails during the winter months.
When summer heat kicks in, camp under the mature trees at Pomona State Park near Vassar. Bring the family for disc golf and a dip into calm Pomona Reservoir. Families also salute the Ike-centric offerings at Eisenhower State Park near Osage City. Troop to the archery and bike trails at Five-Star Campground and stock up on groceries and firewood at Ike’s General Store. In west Topeka, Kaw River State Park leaves the city behind with its trails through oak-hickory forest and access to the Kansas (Kaw) River. Launch kayaks and canoes at the boat ramp to float the scenic river (designated a National Water Trail).
At Hillsdale State Park near Paola, avid anglers cast a line along 51 miles of shoreline. Hike through woodlands, prairie, and wetlands, or let horses do the work at Saddle Ridge Equestrian Area. Just 30 minutes south at its Osawatomie trailhead, Flint Hills Trail State Park provides a 92-mile path to Council Grove for bikers and hikers. The state’s longest rail trail rolls through a river valley, wooded stretches, and farmland before reaching the tallgrass prairie. Under development, the final western section to Herington will lengthen the trail to 118 miles.
Stay in one of four ADA-accessible cabins at Pomona State Park. The modern spaces include kitchens, air-conditioning, heating, and restrooms.
Photography by Kansas Tourism
Into The Woods
Journey from open grasslands to thick woodlands in this geologically diverse region on the outskirts of the Ozarks.
Each August, a stargazing party at Fall River State Park near Toronto takes advantage of the dark skies in this crowd-free corner of the state. During daylight hours, soak in the diverse display of tallgrass prairie, blackjack savannas and forested plains. In the Verdigris River valley, rolling prairie, oak savannahs, and heavy hardwoods draw nature and ecology enthusiasts to the distinct flora and fauna at Cross Timbers State Park, also near Toronto.
Branch out on the Ancient Oaks Trail to see mighty oaks dating to 1730. Steep limestone bluffs loom over the dense oak and hickory woods and bluestem meadows at Elk City State Park near Independence. Trek up Table Mound Trail for a bluff-top panorama of Elk City Reservoir (where a 123-pound world record flathead catfish was caught). Birders observe pileated woodpeckers along the river.
Near Farlington, get a preview of the Ozarks—sans the crowds—at Crawford State Park. This pretty paradise of woods and water blossoms with redbud trees in spring and brilliant foliage in fall. Kiosks along the Spiderleg Bridge Trail tell the story of archaeological sites preserved here, including remnants of a 19th-century U.S. military outpost.
Pedal 51 miles through the heart of the southeast on an 1860s railbed, now the smooth Prairie Spirit Trail State Park. From Ottawa south to Iola, the wide, mostly flat pathway rolls through tallgrass prairie, wooded ravines and eight towns. Stop halfway at Garnett’s Santa Fe Depot visitors center and connect with the Flint Hills Trail State Park or Southwind Rail Trail.
Motorized wheelchairs can travel the entire ADA-accessible Prairie Spirit Trail. Sections in Ottawa, Garnett, and Iola are paved, while the rest of the trail consists of packed limestone with moderate grades and 8-foot minimum widths. ADA restrooms are available at rest stops along the trail.