Colorful. Picturesque. Breathtaking. The green side of Kansas.
We don’t look like Hollywood’s Kansas
There are rolling prairies like you see in “Wizard of Oz”, but most of the southeast corner of Kansas confuses visitors (especially cyclists).
No region in Kansas has more ecoregions than Southeast Kansas:
- the Springfield Plateau of the Ozark Highlands;
- the Osage Cuestas, Wooded Osage Plains and Cherokee Plains of the Central Irregular Plains;
- the Cross Timbers of the Central Oklahoma/Texas Plains; and,
- the Flint Hills.
Plus, after decades of shaft mining and then surface mining, extreme Southeast Kansas is now dotted with more than 1,000 strip pit lakes surrounded by rocky hills (“dumps”).
Map from U.S. Geological Survey (PDF)
Creep, Crawl, Climb
2051 130th St
Kansas Rocks Park near Mapleton is the ultimate off-road weekend adventure spot. The park offers 380-plus acres of trails for four-wheel drive vehicles, bicycles and hikers, and some camping also is available. Open Saturdays and Sundays with trails suitable for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels – beginner, intermediate and expert.
A parking area is available, as well as a tire air-up station and a pavilion. Continued improvements and development projects are always in the works.
The park is family friendly – no alcohol is allowed and the speed limit is 5 mph. The park also prohibits ATV’s (four-wheelers, etc.), motorcycles and horses.
Summer hours: Apr 1-Sept 30, 8a-7p Saturdays; 8a-5p Sundays. Winter hours: Oct 1-Mar 31, 8a-5p Saturdays; 8a-4p Sundays.
Join the cycling movement
Emporia is generally recognized as ground zero for the growing gravel cycling movement sweeping rural America and the globe. Thousands of cyclists flock to the community for the annual UNBOUND Gravel ride in June, which offers distance categories from 25 to 350 miles. The event is just one of many organized rides for which SEK’s backroads are perfectly suited.
Allen County is known as the “King of Trails,” with miles of well-maintained hiking/running/biking trails. The Lehigh Portland Trails boast 2.25 miles of wide gravel paths and 10 miles of natural surface trails set along the banks of Elm Creek and a spring-fed quarry lake. This system connects with Southwind Rail Trail, which runs from Humboldt to Iola and joins Prairie Spirit Trail running through Garnett to Ottawa.
Hike an acclaimed trail
The 15-mile Elk River Hiking Trail spans from the west end of the Elk City Reservoir dam to the US-160 bridge over the Elk River south of Elk City. Backpacker magazine named the trail the best hike in Kansas. The trail offers breathtaking views ranging from open prairie and waterfalls to limestone bluffs.
Kayak and canoe adventures
FALL RIVER & EUREKA
Eureka City Lake: 620-583-5858
Fall River State Park: 620-637-2213
Greenwood County offers several scenic water destinations.
Located between the unique Cross Timbers region and scenic Flint Hills grasslands, Fall River State Park is the perfect place for rest and relaxation or, if you are feeling adventurous, canoeing at Fall River, which feeds into the 2,450-acre Fall River Lake. The 980-acre park offers six hiking trails and an orienteering course for an up-close-and-personal perspective on this unique area.
Another great stop for adventure or relaxation is Eureka City Lake with abundant opportunities for recreation. Boating, fishing, skiing, camping and swimming are all available to the public. The Eureka Lake Waterfalls is an impressive sight and with enough rain, has earned the nickname “Eureka’s Own Niagra Falls.”
The Bachelor Creek Waterfall, one of the most impressive waterfalls in the state, is a runoff from the Eureka City Lake, a great site for kayaking, videography and photography.
*Whitewater kayaking should not be attempted without proper safety equipment and training. Photo of Jacob Guiot
Get out and rough it… sort of
Base Camp is a full-service campground at the trailhead of the extensive network of bike trails surrounding Humboldt and Iola. Chic cabins built on the shore of the quarry pond offer visitors the opportunity to get close to nature with the comfort of ultra-modern amenities.
The Base Camp development is just one arm of a comprehensive community effort to reimagine and revive this small rural town, which was recently featured in Midwest Living magazine and The New York Times.
Birding ops abound
Wildlife is diverse and abundant in SEK. The Wilson Cadman Environmental Education Area (1 mile E. of Hwy. 75 on 17th Road near Burlington) offers viewing opportunities for bald eagles, osprey and many other species. Five trails guide you through Kansas habitats, including a unique wetland area. Guided tours and educational presentations may be scheduled.
Explore an ancient forest
One of the walking/hiking trails winding through Cross Timbers State Park on Toronto Reservoir traverses an ancient forest of post oak and blackjack oak trees (among other species). Fourteen old-growth trees are visible from the Ancient Oaks Trail Trailhead, and some trees date as far back as 1727. The Ancient Oaks Trail trailhead is located next to the Toronto Point Permit Station near the park entrance.
The trail is open to hikers only (no bikes). While you’re hiking, keep an eye out for wildlife and some incredible rock formations and evidence of early pioneer life as well.
Former mined lands offer unique habitat
CHEROKEE & CRAWFORD COUNTIES
The quest for coal of days gone by inadvertently created a man-made wildlife habitat like none other in Kansas. Deeply mined pits surrounded by rocky hill ranges evolved into lakes and natural woodlands with dense vegetation.
Thanks to purposeful habitat, water and land management practices, the “strip pit lakes” are now safe for public access and boast incredible bird-watching and fishing opportunities, as well as beautiful scenic vistas for passersby.
Commune with nature on horseback
For horseback enthusiasts, the Big Hill Lake Equestrian Trail on the north side of Big Hill Lake (near Cherryvale, extending into both Montgomery and Labette counties) offers 23.5 miles of natural, wooded riding enjoyment.
Amenities along the trail include camping sites, corrals/pens, horse tie-offs and restrooms. Park permit required.
State Parks in Southeast Kansas
|Crawford State Park||1 Lake Rd, Farlington||Cabins, primitive camping & full RV hookups, showers, swimming beach, boating, fishing, biking, hiking||620-362-3671|
|Cross Timbers State Park||12 miles west of Yates Center, south of Toronto, 144 KS-105||Primitive camping & full RV hookups, showers, boating, fishing, biking, hiking. Ancient Trees Trail||620-637-2213|
|Elk City State Park||4825 Squaw Creek Rd|
5 miles northwest of Independence, 1 mile north of US-160
|Primitive camping & full RV hookups, showers, boating, fishing, biking, hiking, swimming beach, playgrounds, 1 cabin||620-331-6295|
|Fall River State Park||2350 Casner Creek Rd, Fall River||Primitive camping & water/ electric hookups, showers, boating, fishing, biking, hiking, playgrounds||620-637-2213|
Wildlife Areas in Southeast Kansas
Hunting and fishing licenses, permits and boat registrations required, but state park permits are not required.
|Berentz-Dick (Buffalo Ranch)||11 miles SW of Elk City||Consists of 3 tracts of land totaling 1,360 acres.||620-331-6820|
|Big Hill||9 miles E of Cherryvale (2 miles E of Big Hill Lake)||1,320 acres.||620-432-5053|
|Bourbon||10 miles S of Moran on KS-59 to Elsmore then E 4 miles||103 acre lake sits on 380 acres total.||620-449-2539|
|Copan||1.5 miles W of Caney||620-331-6820|
|Dove Flats||4 miles NW of Elk City||206 acres.||620-331-6820|
|Duck Creek||5 miles N of Elk City||100 acres.||620-331-6820|
|Elk City||5 miles NW of Independence||12,446 acres.||620-331-6820|
|Fall River||NW of Fall River State Park||11,000+ acres includes nearly 40 miles of shoreline. Additional 750 acres for waterfowl refuges are off limits to the public.||620-583-6783|
|Harmon||1 mile N of Chetopa||620-231-3173|
|Hollister||11 miles SW of Fort Scott||180 acres.||620-449-2539|
|John Redmond||9 miles W of Burlington||1,637 acres. 75% prone to heavy flooding.||620-637-2748|
|La Cygne||1 mile E of Linn Valley||2,600-acre cooling reservoir with 2,000 acres of land||913-352-8941|
|Lyon||13 miles N of Emporia on KS-99, then 2 miles E on Country Road 270||135acre lake surrounded by 442 acres.||620-699-3372|
|Marais des Cygnes||4 miles west of Trading Post||7,654 acres.||913-352-8941|
|Melvern||North of Reading||9,000+ acres.||620-699-3372|
|Mined Land||47 tracts scattered across Cherokee & Crawford counties (Google: “MLWA Unit”)||1,500 acres of water plus 13,000 acres of land scattered across two counties. Most was surface mined then returned to nature. Includes more than 1,000 strip pit lakes.||620-431-0380|
|Neosho||3 miles E of St. Paul||3,246 acres, including 1,675 acres of wetlands.||620-449-2539|
|Osage||5 miles SW of Carbondale||366 acres includes 140 acre lake||620-699-3372|
|Shoal Creek||2.5 miles S of Galena||32 acres. Adjacent to Schermerhorn Park, maintained by the city of Galena, which includes the Southeast Kansas Nature Center.||620-231-3173|
|Spring River||Two tracts: 424 acres of the Ozark Plateau along Spring River near Crestline; and, 62 acres along river near Riverton.||620-431-0380|
|Toronto||NW of Toronto Lake||4,700 acres of land and water.||620-583-6783|
|Wilson||3 miles SW of Buffalo||Includes 119 acre lake.||620-637-2748|
|Woodson||6 miles E of Toronto||Includes 180 acre lake.||620-637-2748|