What a 30-Mile Paddle On the Kansas River Taught Me

Roughly one year ago, I decided to buy a kayak on a whim with the intent to use it mainly for fishing. As I soon discovered, owning a kayak in Kansas opens up a world of new outdoor activities. So, earlier this month, when a friend asked me if I wanted to join him for a 30-mile jaunt on the Kansas River, I was eager to take part in the excursion.

Preparing to depart from the Belvue Boat Ramp onto the Kansas River.

Gearing up to get on the Kansas River

Belvue to Topeka: A Three-Day Journey

The plan itself was simple enough. Access the Kansas River at the Kansas River Belvue Boat Ramp, paddle roughly 30 miles and then get off the river at the Kaw River State Park Boat Ramp. Doing so over the course of three days.

Now, I would consider myself an experienced camper. I get out frequently, whether that be car camping or a multi-day hike. Adding a boat to the situation was entirely new to me, but thanks to the experience of my friends and some helpful guides, I felt confident getting on the river the first day. As it stood, our plan was to paddle about three miles the first night and camp on a sandbar. Then, the next day we would travel roughly 20 miles to find a new place to setup camp. Finally, on Sunday we would have a lazy seven mile float to our final destination.

As with all things, some of our plan worked out and other parts, not so much.

Day One: Finding My Bearings

After figuring out the proper way to transfer my camping setup from my hiking pack to my kayak, I was looking forward to paddling the first few miles to get to our first camp. I was traveling with my sleep system, which consists of:

  • Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1 backpacking tent
  • Outdoorsman Lab sleep pad
  • Trekology inflatable pillow
  • Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt

Also along for the ride was some general supplies, plus food and water. When it comes to kayaking the Kansas River, filtering water isn’t a viable option. So be sure to bring plenty of clean, drinking water.

The loadout used for the author’s kayak

The initial three miles of the trip went off without a hitch. After everyone made some adjustments, we made it to camp within an hour or so of getting on the river. When a likable sand bar was found, we pulled up, unloaded our boats and setup camp for the night.

A glimpse inside paradise AKA a 1-man tent

Despite temperatures dipping into the upper 20’s, camping on a sandbar in the middle the world’s longest prairie rivers was quite the experience. A campfire was enjoyed, as were brats and a healthy dose of Canadian whisky.

After a long night’s rest, the intent was to get on the river again by 9am, but due to frosty gear, our second day did not start until around 11am.

Campsite on Night One

Day Two: Too Much Water, Yet Somehow, Not Enough

On day two, upon checking on of the river apps, we realized we may be in danger of the river becoming too high. Should the river hit over 8,000 CFS (8,000 cubic feet per second) the sandbars quickly disappear. And from the looks of things, that was a possibility. So, we decided to hope for the best and attempt for our 20 mile paddle to hit mile 23 of 30 by sundown.

The first half of the day was easy sailing. One thing noticed was the sheer amount of old cars placed along the shoreline. My friend informed me, that during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the government decided that it would be a good idea to use junked cars to help stabilize the river banks. Thankfully, this practice is no longer used. But the results detract from the beauty of the river.

If the first half of our second day was easy, we paid dearly for it in the second part. We encountered plenty of low points in the water, causing our boats to become stuck. And ultimately, we had to portage in some sections. This all came to head near the Willard Bridge, where getting stuck seemed to happen every few minutes. Around 5pm, it became clear we would not reach our goal of 20 miles. We soon settled somewhere around 16 or 17 miles when we checked again and saw the river flow had stabilized around 7,000 CFS.

Finding a usable island, we quickly setup camp for the second night and endured some heavy winds.

Paddling on the Kansas River, some portaging required

Day Three: All Things Come Together, and Eventually, A River Runs Through It

The third, and final day had a rocky start. With the stress of the second day upon us, the fact that Belvue to Topeka is the longest stretch between boat ramps was weighing heavy. Essentially, even if we wanted to get off the river early, it would not be possible.

After a hot breakfast, those feelings quickly subsided. We took note that the river was flowing much faster, and outside of wind, we would likely have an easy day. I emphasize likely, because it turns out paddling into the wind, even with the river behind you, can be a difficult task.

At some points, I feared I may encounter the dreaded boat tip. But, ultimately my boat was able to brave the choppy waters and make it to calmer scenes. Before we knew it, landmarks of Topeka were in view, and it became clear our trip was coming to a close. We decided to spend some time on an island roughly a mile before the boat ramp in Topeka to relax, and enjoy some snacks.

The boys taking a well-deserved break

Around noon on Sunday, we made it to our final destination. We pulled our boats out of the water, and loaded them up on our pre-parked cars. And, even with all of the challenging, frustrating moments faced on that 30-mile stretch of river. I realized that we are lucky to have such a unique river, right in our backyard. In fact, a full trek of the Kansas River from may be in my future.

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