The Sunflower State has no shortage of beautiful landmarks, state parks and recreational opportunities for families to visit and explore. Kansas is home to 28 state parks, including one recently added in April after Governor Laura Kelly signed off on a bill declaring LeHigh Portland Trails be added on the list. Kansas is also home to several National Historic Landmarks operated by the National Park Service. The recreational areas are rich with well-maintained trails, meandering through historic places and ancient trees. It also boasts an abundance of lakes with a healthy amount of marinas and usable shoreline. If an outdoor adventure is what you are needing, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has you covered!
Top State Parks to Visit in Kansas
El Dorado State Park, the largest in the state, is also the most visited. Along the western edge of the scenic Flint Hills, outside of Wichita, people choose this destination for its 2,000 usable acres of park space, 4,000 acres of wildlife area and 8,000 acres of water.
Top features include an extensive archery range, amphitheater for special events and concerts, trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Top trails include the Tallgrass Prairie Trail, which is ADA-accessible and displays wildflowers along the pathways; and Teter Nature Trail, that leads to a stand of pawpaw trees. Wildlife enthusiasts can see a wide range of small mammals, white-tailed deer, songbirds, game birds and waterfowl.
Clinton State Park is also popular, but closer for those traveling from Kansas City. Only four miles from Lawrence, it’s possible to be there in under an hour depending on your location within the metro. Hikers, bikers, nature photographers and families flock to this area for good reason. It offers amenities in the form of hundreds of camping locations, a 25-mile hiking and biking trail, an archery range, 18-hole disc golf course, swim beach, trout pond and more. Clinton Marina, on the enormous lake, is a full service marina offering slips, rentals, fuel and a store.
For those wanting to stay on land, sightings of white-tailed deer, turkeys, cranes and songbirds are pretty routine for mountain bikers winding along the north shore of the lake. Two popular biking trails are perfect for adventure lovers. The Blue Trail is more for novices, including kids, and the White Trail for more advanced riders.
Mom Tip: ride the spur to downtown Lawrence for lunch when everyone gets hungry! Traveling with budding angler? The picnic area houses a kid-only fishing pond.
Located in Paola, Hillsdale State Park is just a hop, skip and a jump away. It sees thousands of visitors every year who come to enjoy the more than 12,000 acres of park and wildlife areas. The reservoir of the lake is notable as it contains much of the original standing timber from when the park was completed in 1982 which is now used to provide fish habitat. This does, however, make boating tricky. Other notable features include the Saddle Ridge Equestrian Area for horse enthusiasts, and an area designated only for radio-controlled model airplane flying! Thousands of acres of the park are open to hunting during permitted times.
Tuttle Creek State Park is home to a campground with both water/electric sites and primitive options, rentable cabins, a swimming beach, boat ramps, trails for hiking, biking and horse riding. A 18-hole disc golf course, volleyball courts, archery range and a state-of-the-art shooting range also attract visitors. The enormous lake adjacent to the campground is relatively calm, making it perfect for kayaking, paddleboarding and boating.
While in Manhattan, also take time to visit the Tallgrass Prairie, a National Preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills. It is part of a minute 4% of preserved prairie in the country, and is an important ecosystem for the state. Bison and beautiful wildflowers can be seen spring through fall. Finish your visit with a visit to the Flint Hills Discovery Center, a stroll through campus, a stop at Varsity Donuts and maybe even a game to watch the Wildcats play!
Kaw River State Park is the only urban state park in Kansas. It consists mostly of forest overlooking the Kaw River in Topeka. It is also the only free park in the state, as it does not require a day use fee. Launch canoes and kayaks or visit MacLennan Park and Cedar Crest for a day of leisurely fun.
Named after the former president, four modern cabins and two yurts, plus more than 100 electric and primitive campsites inhabit Eisenhower State Park in Osage City. The unique accommodations set it apart from others in the state. Enjoy the 10,000 acre wildlife area, swimming beach on the shore of Melvern Reservoir, playgrounds and an archery trail. There’s also a fly-fishing pond! Kayak and canoe rentals are available, a perfect activity when the air is warm. Before leaving, stop by Ike’s General Store for souvenirs.
Waconda Lake, meaning “great spirit” by Native Americans, is named for the mineral spring covered when the lake was filled at Glen Elder State Park. Outdoor lovers and families are welcome to camp in the many sites, boat, use the Chautauqua Fishing Pond accessible to people with disabilities and families with children, enjoy the playground or have fun at the archery range. Five miles east in Cawker City, is the World’s Largest Ball of Twine!
Milford State Park rounds out the list, and is worth visiting because of its multipurpose recreation area serving trail users, boaters, fishermen, wildlife viewers, water enthusiasts, picnickers, and campers. Sandy beaches are popular with families as an easy way to access the lake. Wildlife viewing is aplenty here!
Another popular feature is the splash park, built around multiple picnic areas that all have a view of Milford Lake. A trip isn’t complete without visiting The Milford Nature Center and Butterfly House (open weather permitting, so call ahead!). Both provide interactive exhibits, helping patrons understand the natural communities of Kansas. Next door is also home to an impressive fish hatchery. It is one of only a few warm water, “intensive-culture” fish hatcheries in the country. Take a tour and learn all about this interesting ecosystem.
State and national parks are a gift to us all. They preserve the natural ecosystems and beauty of our lands while providing safe and enjoyable ways to enjoy the outdoors. Plan to visit Kansas state parks in the spring and fall for the changing of vegetation and the beauty of the foliage. Summer is always popular for water sports, horseback riding and hiking. Make sure to book campsite reservations, obtain licenses and permits and look up other general information well in advance at the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks before setting out on your next adventure.
What state parks do you love in Kansas? Any we should add to the list?
Explore Missouri State Parks.