The upside of Kansas’ endless vista of flat countryside is that there is plenty of space to roam around and gloriously big skies that create a unique sensation of weightlessness. From the western grasslands of the High Plains to the woodlands in the eastern part of the state, Kansas has a decent range of landscapes to play in. With 300,000 acres of public land and more than 2,000 miles of recreational trails, you can find things to do anywhere in the state.
Outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing, and boating are entrenched activities in Kansas that involve families, friends, and even communities. The original American frontier trails that once guided pioneers are now enjoyed by bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. The camping in Kansas is also surprisingly good, with dozens of state-managed parks next to lakes and in the eastern forests.
Many diehard anglers insist that Kansas has the best range of fishing options in the Midwest. Its reservoirs and rivers are stocked each year with an impressive variety of fish, including giant bluegill, crappie, saugers, largemouth bass, and other species ideal for eating or catch and release. The prairie hides hundreds of tiny fishing ponds and outfitters like Chad Richardson’s, who specializes in Walleye, and Rader Lodge Guides in Glen Elder help visitors find the best spots.
In the early days of pioneering America, people traveled west through Kansas on the Chisholm, Oregon, and Santa Fe trails. Today these wide, well-trodden paths have been developed into the state’s finest network of trails for biking. In addition, abandoned railroad lines like the Prairie Spirit Trail from Ottawa to Iola are smooth, flat, long distance bike routes with loads of wildlife on the way. Check with the Kaw Valley Bicycle Club or Lawrence Bicycle Club to find group rides, routes, and guided tours.
Any trail in Kansas that is good for biking is equally good for hiking. The Kansas Trails Council maintains all the state’s trails and is a great source of information. There are state parks in every corner of the state, but a real gem is the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, a true representative of historic prairie grasslands. The hiking is sublime, whether on your own or led by a park ranger.
Horseback riding is another wonderful way to experience the unique prairie of Kansas. The Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, where bison and antelopes play, is a top spot for riding. Outfitters like Show Me Trail and Saddle Creek Horses can arrange all kinds of rides around Leavenworth and Lawrence. The Boulder Bluff Trail is another gem, running right through the Flint Hills and along El Dorado Lake.
The Kaw River, or Kansas River as it’s also known, is an amazing waterway for boating trips. It is the world’s longest prairie river, flowing 173 miles from Junction City eastward. Friends of the Kaw organizes all kinds of fun river excursions, from a day to a week in duration.
Hunting is also a major activity in Kansas. There are more than one million acres of private land used for hunting and 300,000 acres of public land. Fowl like pheasant, quail, geese, and turkey are the most popular wildlife to track, while eastern Kansas has herds of whitetail and mule deer. Southeast Kansas Outfitters and Wolf River Outfitters are just two of the many private guides that can take you on private and public lands year round.