25 Best Kansas State Parks By Region

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Clinton State Park, one of the best Kansas State Parks.
Clinton State Park. Photo credit: freeblue_kostas via Wikimedia Commons

Kansas, the Sunflower State, so named in 1903, boasts 28 state parks. Most offer access to lakes, primitive camping, hiking trails, and wildlife areas. Jaw-dropping landscapes and unlimited outdoor activities make Kansas state parks a destination for nature lovers of all ages.

The highest concentration of Kansas state parks is in the northeast and north-central regions near Kansas City and the border with Missouri. While I present the parks in a particular order, all have unique characteristics, and you can visit them in any order you prefer.

For your convenience, I’ve placed each park in the region of the state so you can explore more than one while you’re there.

Northeast Kansas State Parks

1. Clinton State Park

Four miles from Lawrence, Clinton State Park is located on the shore of Clinton Lake and next to a 9,200-acre wildlife area. Especially popular with nature photographers and mountain bikers, the park also offers archery and disc golfing.

Clinton State Park is historically significant because it was once a key location for the Underground Railroad.

The largest full-service marina in the state, Clinton Lake Marina, offers fuel, slips, rentals, and a store.

2. Eisenhower State Park

Eisenhower State Park, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th U.S. President, is especially popular with equestrians because of the expansive riding area and the facilities accommodating travelers with horses.

Melvern Lake draws visitors because of the 6,900-acre lake with a swimming beach, playgrounds, sand volleyball court, archery trail, and horseshoe pits. Try your hand at fly fishing and build your skills at an 18-hole disc golf course.

A unique feature of this state park is the popular cabins and yurts. Reserve early and plan a family reunion at Ike’s Shelter House.

3. Hillsdale State Park

The newest state park in the system, Hillsdale State Park, is located in the rolling hills of eastern Kansas, a short drive south of Kansas City.

The park is popular with horseback riders at the Saddle Ridge Equestrian Area on the east side of the lake. At the Jayhawk Marina, you can get fuel, slip and boat rentals, and other products and services.

The park is also great for archery, canoeing, and kayaking, and a radio-controlled model airplane flying area is located south of the dam.

The Hillsdale Shooting Range and Training Facility offer ranges for rifle, pistol, and trap/skeet shooting, as well as state-of-the-art safety measures, trained supervision, cleaning, and ongoing maintenance.

4. Kaw River State Park

The only urban park in the Kansas state park system, Kaw River State Park, for day use only, is located in west Topeka on 76 acres along the south bank of the Kansas River. It’s adjacent to MacLennan Park and the governor’s resident Cedar Crest on the east and has no daily entrance fee.

This park’s wide range of trails was designed for sustainability, erosion protection, and access. You can access the Kansas River with small watercraft, kayaks, and canoes.

The moderately difficult Kaw River Mountain Bike Loop is used for walking and mountain biking.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Spend the night at one of these great Topeka hotels.

5. Perry State Park

Upland forest riding trails and 16.5 miles of intertwining trails are specifically designed for horseback riding, but it is also an excellent place for hiking. The adjoining lake and wildlife space with extensive wetlands is nestled in forested hills.

Campers will enjoy lake views and can launch their boats at the two boat ramps or set sail with their catamarans from the Hobie Cove campground.

Perry Wildlife Area offers extensive wetlands that attract waterfowl each fall. The wildlife area is an excellent location for birdwatching, hunting, and simply exploring the area’s natural landscape.

Northwest Kansas State Parks

6. Cedar Bluff State Park

Located in the heart of Trego County, Cedar Bluff State Park is only a 13-mile drive south of Interstate 70 and is about halfway between Kansas City and Denver. It offers an archery range and a unique BMX track. Limestone bluffs 150 feet high provide a stunning view of Cedar Bluff Lake.

7. Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

The Niobrara chalk formations at the “Badlands of Kansas” are not to be missed. The chalk sediment was deposited 80 million years ago when Kansas was covered by sea and is world-famous for its well-preserved fossils. This 330 acres of land will transform your idea of what the shortgrass prairie should look like.

This Kansas State Park offers outstanding views and fantastic photo opportunities of natural wonders.

8. Prairie Dog State Park

On the shores of Keith Sebelius Reservoir, a colony of 300 prairie dogs inhabits a town at Prairie Dog State Park. The colony is about a quarter mile south of the park office.

Seasonal storybook signs for youngsters on the Steve Mathes Nature Trail engage young hikers (and oldsters like me) on a 1.4-mile pathway. The adjacent Norton Wildlife Area provides excellent opportunities to see wildlife.

South Central Kansas State Parks

9. Cheney State Park

Cheney State Park is 16 miles west of Wichita. If you want wind for your water sports, Cheney Lake has dependable winds clocking in at 13.9 miles per hour. With a reputation as the windiest lake in the lower 48 states and listed in the top ten10 lakes in the country for windsurfing and sailing, it’s also famous for parasailing.

The East Shore marina, with 22 boat-launching lanes, offers boat-launching avenues to the lake. The Toadstool Loop Jetty is a handicapped-accessible fishing spot.

Geifer Creek and Spring Creek Wildlife Observation Trails are short, easy hikes. The longest trail in the park is moderate difficulty and is popular for mountain biking, hiking, and running.

10. El Dorado State Park

The largest Kansas State Park, El Dorado, is in the Flint Hills, about 35 miles northeast of Wichita. It extends along the eastern and western shoreline of El Dorado Reservoir.

Seven trails offer outdoor adventure for all skill levels of hikers, bikers, and horse riders. A mile-long course is used for cross-country walk and run competitions.

The half-mile Tallgrass Prairie Trail is ADA-accessible and displays wildflowers of the Flint Hills.

The Teter Nature Trail, less than a mile long, leads into a stand of pawpaw trees. The flavor of pawpaw fruit, often compared to bananas, has hints of mango, vanilla, and citrus.

Hunting is popular in the wildlife area along the shores of the upper end of the reservoir.

The park features an extensive ADA archery range and an impressive amphitheater and stage designed for special events and concerts.

Southwest Kansas State Parks

11. Historic Lake Scott State Park

Natural springs, craggy bluffs, and deeply wooded canyons are historic Lake Scott State Park attractions. Spring-fed Scott State Fishing Lake draws water sports enthusiasts to the western Kansas prairie. Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats are seasonally available to rent.

Easy hiking and horseback riding trails offer an excellent opportunity for wildlife observation.

12. Meade State Park

Meade State Fishing Lake is the centerpiece of Meade State Park, known as the “Oasis on the Plains.”

The dam was built by hand between 1928 and 1929 with mule skids and a couple of tractors. The lake opened in 1929, but work continued in the area with the Civilian Conservation Corps/Works Projects Administration stationed there from 1938 to 1943.

Meade State Park is an excellent park for paddle boarding and disc golfing.

Camping and day-use areas include a swimming beach and a beach-side children’s playground.

Southeast Kansas State Parks

13. Crawford State Park

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the 150-acre lake in the 1930s at Crawford State Park. An interpretive trail leads to the CCC memorial.

History buffs will enjoy two archaeological sites within park boundaries and remnants of a 19th-century U.S. military outpost.

On special occasions and holidays, 104 state and American flags are set along the dam to commemorate the park’s history.

A mature oak forest offers shade for campsites peppered amongst them.

14. Cross Timbers State Park

Thick with hardwood trees and grasslands, Cross Timbers State Park provides access to Toronto Lake. Diverse fauna and flora are showcased in this state park.

Campers have easy access to the lake from picturesque and shaded campsites.

The trails are perfect for mountain biking.

15. Elk City State Park

Rolling meadows of big bluestem and Indian grass meet oak-hickory woodlands in Elk City State Park.

The Elk City Wildlife Area is adjacent to Elk City Lake, where visitors can enjoy their favorite outdoor activities.

Four miles of trails with open prairies, limestone bluffs, and wooded hills are open all year.

Paved trails in the Osage Lowland day-use area are ADA-accessible and suitable for walking and biking.

The four-mile Eagle Rock Mountain Bike Trail, rated easy to moderate, was designed for beginner and experienced mountain bikers to practice their skills. Part of the trail traverses ice-age boulders.

16. Prairie Spirit Trail State Park

The 51-mile linear park called Prairie Spirit Trail State Park spans three counties and includes eight pocket parks to stop along the way. It is the first rails-to-trails site in Kansas. Built in the 1860s, Kansas’s first north-south rail line followed the original bed of the Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Fort Gibson Railroad.

The greenway of the Prairie Spirit Trail is open to pedestrians and bicyclists and offers diverse ecosystems that include riparian areas, tallgrass prairie, and agricultural communities and lands. The trail is a hard-packed limestone screening surface in rural areas and paved in towns. The trail is accessible for electric wheelchairs in many locations.

Together with the seven-mile-long Southwind Rail Trail between Humboldt and Iola, the trails pass through ten rural communities.

North Central Kansas State Parks

17. Flint Hills Trail State Park

The state’s second linear state park, Flint Hills Trail State Park, intersects the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park in Ottawa. Open for non-motorized traffic, this rails-to-trails track was originally a Missouri Pacific Railroad line built in the late 1800s.

Families with strollers, horseback riders, hikers, and bikers can safely navigate this recreational path through small towns and rural countryside.

The Prairie Spirit Trail is an excellent side-trip exploration.

18. Glen Elder State Park

Waconda Lake (meaning “great spirit” by Native Americans), also known as Glen Elder Reservoir, is the 12,500-acre lake named for the mineral spring covered when the lake was filled.

Stocked with trout in the winter, the Chautauqua Fishing Pond is accessible to people with disabilities and families with children. The nearby Kanza Campground has a great playground and archery range.

Five miles east of Glen Elder State Park, Cawker City is home to the remarkable and ever-growing World’s Largest Ball of Twine!

19. Kanopolis State Park

The first park in the Kansas State Park system, Kanopolis State Park, is located about 30 miles southwest of Salina in the Smoky Hills Region amidst woods, bluffs, and rolling hills.

The Kanopolis trail system, designated as the Kansas Millennium Legacy Trail, is over 31 miles of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.

The Wildlife Viewing Area Trail is the most accessible of the trails. All restrooms are ADA-accessible.

The Prairie Trails connect Horsethief Canyon Trails to the Alum Creek Trails and take you to Red Rocks Canyon, a breathtaking Kansas canyon lined with red sandstone. Some sections of these trails have water crossings which can be challenging.

20. Lovewell State Park

You can camp, fish, watch wildlife and attend special events at Lovewell State Park. In the Pioneer day-use area, visitors can play sand volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, and disc golf.

Cottonwood Campground features an archery range nearby. A full-service marina serves the lake with a bait and tackle shop, lighted fish-cleaning stations with outlets for electric knives, and meal options after you work up an appetite enjoying the park amenities.

21. Milford State Park

Located on the southeast end of Milford Lake, Milford State Park is a multipurpose recreation area serving trail users, boaters, fishermen, wildlife viewers, water enthusiasts, picnickers, and campers. Sandy beaches and a playground make this an excellent location for the entire family. Eight campgrounds feature cabins, RV hookups, and campsites. An ADA fishing dock and kayak launch are also available.

Milford Wildlife Area also provides thousands of acres for hunting various game species and wildlife viewing by hikers and other users. This park would be a great place to use the wildlife viewing checklist to see how many you can spot.

The Splash Park has four dumping water buckets, several interactive wildlife/plant spray features, multiple picnic areas, and a great view of Milford Lake.

The Milford Nature Center, with interactive exhibits, helps visitors understand the natural communities of Kansas. The Butterfly House Exhibit is open from late May through early October (weather and butterflies permitting).

Next door to the nature center is the state-of-the-art Milford Fish Hatchery, one of only a few warm water, “intensive-culture” fish hatcheries in the country. Tours are available on weekends or by appointment.

22. Mushroom Rock State Park

At only five acres, Mushroom Rock State Park, the smallest state park in Kansas, is one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Geography. It’s great for families with kids, grandparents, singles, and couples–anyone interested in geology. Located in the Smoky Hills, this day-use park allows no camping, and no permits are required.

About 27 miles southwest of Salina, the mushroom-shaped Dakota rock formations were created by the erosion of beach sands and sediments of the Cretaceous Period from 144 to 66 million years ago. The largest rock is 27 inches in diameter and offers a great selfie opportunity.

The rocks used to be meeting places for Native Americans, pioneers, and now tourists with their graffiti.

The North and South trails are not paved but are very short and on flat, grassy terrain. Nearby Kanopolis State Park on the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway.

23. Tallgrass Prairie

Tallgrass Prairie is a National Preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills. The remaining 4% of the tallgrass prairie is preserved in this NPS-managed region. Most notable features include bison habitat and wildflowers from spring through fall.

The Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan offers a wealth of information with permanent and temporary exhibits, an immersive theater experience, and an outdoor classroom and trail.

24. Wilson State Park

Wilson State Park, located in the scenic Smoky Hills, is a prime water recreation area with camping and mountain biking. A multitude of hunting opportunities abounds in the Wilson Wildlife Area.

The Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail, designated as an “Epic Trail” by the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), is located in the Hell Creek Area of the park.

25. Tuttle Creek State Park

With more than 100 miles of wooded and rugged shoreline, located near Manhattan, Tuttle Creek Lake offers a wide range of outdoor recreational activities and is the second-largest reservoir in the state.

Tuttle Creek State Park attracts mountain bicycle riders from across the country to try their skill on one of the steepest mountain biking trails in the state. This professional-grade path is the scene for competitions throughout the year.

General Information About Kansas State Parks

Fishing in Kansas

If fishing appeals to you, anglers can throw their lines into the waters of Kansas state parks with the hopes of catching some of these fish:

  • Bass
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Perch
  • Saugeye
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • Wipers

Note that Kansas requires all residents ages 16 to 74 and all non-residents 16 and older to buy a state fishing license and have it in their possession when fishing.

Wildlife You Might See

If you’re like me, the thrill of spotting wildlife is a high point of any road trip. Here’s what you might see in Kansas state parks:

Mammals with feathers

  • Eagles
  • Bluebirds and Blue Jays
  • Bobwhite
  • Buntings
  • Cardinals
  • Ducks
  • Flycatchers
  • Geese
  • Gulls
  • Hawks
  • Herons
  • Kingbirds
  • Meadowlarks (the official state bird)
  • Mourning Doves
  • Nighthawks
  • Orioles
  • Ospreys
  • Owls
  • Pelicans
  • Pheasants
  • Prairie Chicken (grouse)
  • Quail
  • Roadrunners
  • Songbirds
  • Turkey
  • Waterfowl
  • Whip-poor-wills and Chuck-Will’s-Widows
  • Woodpeckers

Four-legged animals

  • Armadillos
  • Bobcats
  • Coyotes
  • Deer
  • Opossums
  • Otters
  • Prairie Dogs
  • Raccoons
  • Squirrels
  • Woodchucks

Use this as a checklist when watching for wildlife. I always love a good scavenger hunt–a great family activity.

Tips for Visiting Kansas State Parks

  • Make campsite reservations, obtain licenses and permits, and more at the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
  • Drone flying is only permitted in some designated areas at some state parks. Always check the website or call the state park to confirm.
  • Some trails are usable seasonally. Always check the park website for accessibility before you go.

National Parks in Kansas

Kansas does not have any congressionally designated national parks. There are many national historic sites, national historic trails, and the Brown v. Board National Historical Park, which is of significant historical importance.

Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things – photography and travel (along with a little food and beverage). Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures.
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