We hear it often that Kansas is flat, boring, and uninspiring. And let us be honest. There is some grain of truth in these accusations. But again, it is just a grain — and if you may, a case of painting the Sunflower State with a broad brush. Parts of Kansas are hilly, especially on the eastern side; where the Ozarks of southeast Kansas stage a geographical drama that will make you wonder if you are still in Kansas. Here is the truth no one will tell you, if you know where to look, Kansas is as much a hiker’s dream destination — as any other state in the country. Not convinced? Discover the best hikes in Kansas you will want to drop everything and lace up for immediately.
Anyone hiking Castle Rock for the first time will find it hard to believe that this gem is in Kansas. The rock formation itself, a unique geographical spectacle that draws in many hikers, will leave you awestruck. Known as the Sentinel of the Plains, Castle Rock is among the Eight Wonders of Kansas. A visit to this place will feel like stepping back into a time when Native Americans hunted buffaloes in what was then a forbidding, rugged wilderness. Located between the towns of Quinter and Collyer, approximately 12 miles south of Interstate 70, well-maintained gravel roads that any vehicle can handle provide access to this wonder. The attraction itself is on private property whose owners permit visits. The honeycombed rock formations tower up to 70 feet above the ground and dramatically interrupt the sameness of the area’s terrain. The trail is about 2.3 miles roundtrip and is classified as easy.
Wyandotte County Lake Loop Trail
Categorized as “Moderately Challenging,” Wyandotte County Lake Loop Trail is another Kansas gem you will want to explore. This is a loop trail, so you will not have to endure the boredom of hiking back the same route. Located about 22 miles from Kansas City, this trail is the perfect spot for those who will want to make a quick dash from town for some leg-burning adventure. The trail meanders along the edges of the Wyandotte County Lake and combs through the wooded hills that encircle this blue-space gem. A first-time visitor should brace for steep climbs and steep descents — as well as lots of rocks — on a trail that does not like hosting beginners. But still, its setting is idyllic and makes for a delicious visual feast.
Violet And Red Trail At Shawnee Mission Park
Shawnee Mission Park plays host to a sandy stretch Money Magazine once named the best beach in Kansas. While the park’s star attraction is the beautiful 120-acre lake and its award-winning beach, Shawnee Mission Park is also home to more than 10 trails hikers will love to wander through. The best trail, however, at the most-visited park in the state, is the Shawnee Mission Park Violet and Red Trail. That is according to AllTrails. Expect a fairly intense adventure here. So come prepared and in shoes that will not see you continuously sliding and rolling. This is a loop trail. It will take you approximately 5-6 hours to complete, especially if you want to do both sides, including the Orange side.
Konza Prairie Nature Trail
As the name implies, Konza Prairie Nature Trail is set on more than 3,400 hectares of wind-swept prairies about 9 miles south of Manhattan, Kansas. This is a moderately-challenging hike and will burn your legs, especially if you are a beginner. The experience, however, is among the most rewarding. You may have a close-up encounter with wildlife, especially the numerous white-tailed deer and turkeys that roam the beautiful hills and the tallgrass prairies that define this ecologically critical landscape. This trail stretches over a distance of approximately 2.7 miles and will transport you through certain underappreciated landmarks, including the Hokanson Homestead, which was built in 1878. You will want to carry your camera because the views from the elevated overlook may just be among your most-treasured possessions.
Elk River Trail
There is a reason many hikers swear Elk River Trail is the best hiking trail in the Sunflower State. This is a trail that will show you a side of Kansas you never knew existed. Located about 8 miles from Independence, Kansas, Elk River Trail is a 15-mile trail that begins at Elk City Lake, a blue-space gem that boasts more than 50 miles of shoreline. It then meanders along the waists and tops of cliffs and through wooded tracks before crossing over the banks of the Elk River in a rollercoaster that will transport you through a whirlpool of emotions. The hike will see you climb hills that rise up to 200 feet above the surrounding area and which afford spectacular views of the cascading terrain. You can start at the trail near a bridge over the Elk River — or at the east trailhead, which begins right on the lake.
South Shore East Loop At Shawnee Mission Park
Though some parts of this 3 miles trail can be quite rocky, South Shore East Loop is mostly an easy hike. Considered by AllTrails the second-best in the Shawnee Mission Park — after the Violet and Red Trail — South Shore East Loop is, however, almost all unpaved and hence, can get muddy when it rains. But when the weather does not act up, this heavily wooded trail opens up to heart-melting views of the lake and will not fail to cast a spell on any adventurer. Then again, this trail is often uncrowded, peaceful, and quiet; except for the occasional roar of the model airplanes that sometimes fly overhead and interrupt the delicious quiet of the area. And when the redbuds bloom, South Shore East Loop is an eye candy, no one will want to ignore.
Tomahawk Creek Trail
This popular, point-to-point trail is located about 5 miles from Leawood, an upscale neighborhood that plays host to the largest Methodist church in the United States. If you want to complete this trail, you should set aside about 3 hours and 20 minutes to cover the trail’s approximately 11 miles. Since this is an easy route, you can bring the whole family on board, including your furry family member — although you will have to keep it on a leash. As to its accessibility, Tomahawk Creek Trail boasts paved trails you can easily walk, bike, or drive on. Then again, this trail is dotted with benches and picnic tables and is as shady as everyone would want a trail to be.
Hiking trails that meander along the picturesque edges of lakes, many will confess, are among the most inspiring. And such is the trail around Lake Lenexa near the town of Lenexa. Most of the trail is shaded and can provide much-needed shelter from the blistering sun. This is a loop trail and covers a distance of about 2 miles. If you want to complete the trail, you should set aside between 40 and 60 minutes. Otherwise, this is an easy trail that can make for a perfect all-family adventure. As to its accessibility, the Lake Lenexa Trail is half paved; half gravel and therefore does not feature seriously muddy patches that often come with sliding, dancing, or even floating. Peel your eyes for the herons that often circle the skies above the trail.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
For starters, Little Rock Badlands State Park plays host to the largest expanse of exposed Niobrara Chalk formation in the Sunflower State. They are also hands-down the most dramatic. The park is a unique habitat for birds such as ferruginous hawks, which, together with the Rough-legged Hawks, are the only American hawks to have feathered legs all the way down to their toes. There are two trails in this park, the Overlook Trail and the Life on the Rocks Trail. For the best views, we will have to place our bet on the 2.4-mile Life on the Rocks Trail. The view of the badlands and the vast emptiness all around are awe-inspiring. While you won’t be able to go down among the badlands the views from above are nearly as good. As a heads-up, however, there is no shade here. So carry plenty of water.
Forget about the ignorant stereotypes. To those who know how to look, Kansas and hiking can actually be in the same sentence. The Sunflower State is home to certain dramatic natural features that will tickle your heart and make you feel you are in a different country. If you want to experience the state through its best hiking trails, you cannot go wrong with such underrated gems as Castle Rock, Wyandotte County Lake Loop, Konza Prairies, and Tomahawk Creek Trails — among several others.