Celebrating Kansas Beauty at Kanopolis State Park

Kansas is the proud home to over 25 state parks. Spanning across the state, these parks provide Kansans with an escape from normal life and the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscapes that dot our state. Over the 4th of July weekend, we decided to visit one of these parks for a couple of days of kayaking, hiking and sleeping under the Kansas sky.

Taking the Scenic Route to Kanopolis

If you know me, you know I will jump at any chance to take the long way to get somewhere. The trip to Kanopolis State Park was no different. Sure, taking I-70 across the state would be the quick and easy option, but doing so means missing out on some great views and a leisurely drive. Because of that, I decided to avoid highways during the road trip and add an extra hour to my journey.

How You Know You’re On The Road Less Traveled, “Darn” Rough Road Ahead

By opting to take the back roads to Kanopolis, travelers can experience a different side of Kansas. Particularly because the route is rich with different historic markers and interest points. Many of these revolve around things like the Santa Fe Trail. Which was a 19th century trail that connected Franklin, MO to Santa Fe, NM. Historic sites are marked by a family of road signs, and I found myself stopping at several different spots to learn more.

Old Lost Springs Historic Site
Monument Erected by Settlers of Marion County

Kayaking, Hiking and More at Kanopolis State Park

Kanopolis State Park is the first state park in Kansas. Completed in 1948, it is located in the Smoky Hills region of the state. The park offers a number of amenities including a vast expansion of hiking trails and a man-made lake which allows for boating, swimming and fishing. We decided to camp at a primitive campsite which did offer a small shelter. If you choose to camp at Site 52, you will also benefit from a fire pit constructed by one of my good friends, Brian, in years past.

The Pains of Having an Easily Misspelled Last Name

After getting camp setup, we decided to head out onto the lake for a paddle at dusk. Kanopolis Lake is a man-made lake created to help with flood control. There are multiple boat ramps, which allows those looking to enjoy the water easy access. Our initial plan was to explore the lake as well as Smoky Hill River. But unfortunately the latter did not happen. Still, the lake is surrounded by awesome views, which prove what a beautiful state Kansas truly is.

At night, we sat round the fire. Reflecting on memories and chowing down on some delicious brats. Come morning, I whipped up what has now become a legendary breakfast hash. And we set out on another day of exploration and adventure. Despite heavy winds sweeping the lake.

The Cliffs of Kanopolis Lake
A Lazy Weekend Paddle Enjoyed by the Group

Often times, when hiking or kayaking, I find myself pushing myself for that extra mile which can result in losing track of why I started these hobbies to begin with. The enjoyment of the great outdoors. This past weekend, we made a concerted effort to do just that. With friends traveling from as far away as New Mexico to camp, this trip was about relaxing and appreciating the presence of people we care about. And I couldn’t think of a better place to do so than Kanopolis State Park. Once you make the trip, and see the grander of this Kansas treasure, you are likely to agree with that opinion.

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

A kayak featuring the Kansas River behind it.

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.

Why Should You Camp at Public Use Areas?

Looking to plan your next camping trip? If so, considering a public use area may be the right call. Public use areas are designated sections of land that are open to the general public. And just an hour away from the greater Kansas City area lies a public use area that is truly worth the trip, Woodridge Public Use Area.

Sitting near Clinton Lake, Woodridge Public Use Area is one of those places that I am constantly suggesting to people when they ask me where to camp. The location offers trails, multiple camp sites and basic amenities. Better yet, it is free to use.

To get to the campground, you will have to drive up a gravel road that does have a steep incline. Be warned, during inclement weather the gravel road can be difficult to navigate. Once you get to the campground, you’ll be greeted by a public restroom and plenty of campsite equipped with fire pits. If you are looking for more isolation, consider hiking down one of the many trails. There are primitive campsites located throughout.

Speaking of trails, that is the main highlight of Woodridge Public Use Area. The George Latham Trail is a 3.9-mile loop that circles the park. The trail features wooded areas, a couple of meadows and also goes alongside the shore of Clinton Lake. The trail is rated as easy, and is great for hiking as well as bird watching. Even if you are not planning to camp, I would suggest making the visit just to experience this well-kept, and interesting trail.

It can be easy to think that you need to drive hours away in order to decompress from city life. But with camping locations such as Woodridge Public Use Area, escaping the hustle and bustle of your daily routine is less than an hour away. Whether you are looking for a multi-day excursion or an overnight camping trip, this campground at Clinton Lake is one to consider.

Exploring Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

Finding adventure in Kansas is not a difficult task, especially when you consider the 28 State Parks that dot the map. In 2018, a new State Park was opened in western Kansas, but the contents in the park are anything but new. Because Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park contains a Niobrara Chalk formation that was established millions of years ago.

In late July, some friends and I decided to visit this treasure to see a landscape that you may not expect in Kansas. And after a roughly six hour drive with a stop in Hays, KS, we arrived. Because of the length of the road trip, we opted to do a two-night camp at nearby Lake Scott State Park. This park offers a range of amenities, but we decided to keep it simple with a primitive camping site adjacent to the lake.

Not to detract from the beauty of Little Jerusalem, but Lake Scott also offers some awesome views. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a complex systems of trails that provided decent elevation above the camping area. So, shortly after setting up camp we gathered some water, and started to explore the trails that surrounded the lake.

While we hiked roughly a few miles, there were trails on all sides of the lake. Had we chosen to camp on a cooler weekend, we may have been able to explore more. But be advised, on a hot day, shade is hard to come by in this region of Kansas. So plan accordingly with plenty of water and snacks to help with the heat.

When hiking these trails, you may be surprised by some of the terrain. We found the trails to be well-maintained, but there are certainly some steep and rocky areas. So be sure to hike with care, there were a few times where I found myself having to focus on balance more than I expected.

As the sun set, the campground we were at was relatively quiet. There were some groups who were partying but also a fair amount of families. From what we could tell, Lake Scott is a favored fishing location for locals as well. I wish I would have brought along my pole and tackle box!

On our second day at camp, it was time to enter Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, which is roughly 20 minutes from Lake Scott. And to say we were impressed would be an understatement. The formation itself was priorly a part of McGuire Ranch for five generations. And it is astonishing how well-preserved this location is. In order to continue this, hikers are required to follow strict rules, that way the park can remain in pristine condition for more to enjoy.

The rock formations tower nearly 100 feet above the plains. This, combined with the wide-open skies make for a sublime feeling. And needless to say, it made the cross-state drive worth it. With temperatures reaching into the mid-90’s we spent about three hours in the park itself. Various wildlife can be spotted, as can plant life unique to the area. There is also plenty of informative signage throughout the park.

On our final day of camp, we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise with some welcomed cloud cover. And on the return home, I believe we all felt a deeper connection to the state of Kansas.

So, should you make the trip to Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park? If you are looking for a new side to Kansas, I think so. We are lucky to have public access to a place like this, and once you visit, that is something you are sure to feel as well.

Hiking The Elk River Trail

In terms of outdoor experiences, Kansas has quite a bit to offer. Especially if you are someone interested in camping and hiking. A prime example of this is the Elk River Trail located near Elk River, KS. A 15.3-mile point-to-point trial, the Elk River Trail offers unique landscape, awesome views and more.

In 2020, a friend and I decided to tackle this hiking trail over a two day period, camping roughly seven miles in. We started out early Saturday morning, and were immediately impressed with the upkeep of the trail and how quickly its characteristics changed. While many recommend starting the trail at the east end, we opted to start on the west side near Highway 160, parking another vehicle at the end of the trail.

The beginning of the trail is relatively flat, but as you progress you will find yourself consistently going up and down hills. Overall, the Elk River Trail has an elevation of 977 ft, which makes for some intense hiking for Kansas. In terms of water, a major benefit we found on this trail was the abundance of filterable water. If you plan to hike the Elk River Trail on a hot day, that is something that you are sure to appreciate.

By starting on the west end of the trail, we hiked along the Elk River for about seven miles before setting up camp. The trail starts off in a heavily wooded area with interesting limestone walls throughout. There are plenty of primitive campsite located throughout the trail, making an overnight excursion an easy task.

About ten miles into the trail, you will finally arrive at Elk City Lake. And if you were not impressed by the views prior, you are going to appreciate the atmosphere that this area provides. I suggest taking the final 5 miles slowly, to fully take in your surroundings. Enjoy the landscape and all of the wildlife, especially the waterfowl. After all, that’s the point of this hobby, isn’t it?

If you are interested in The Elk River Trail, check it out on All Trails. The trail is well marked, but it is nice to check your progress on the map.