hiking the flint hills
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For details on all these Kansas trails and many more, order your copy of Kansas Outdoor Treasures


Best Hiking Trails in Kansas

From the famous, striped Flint Hills to the semi-arid climate of western Kansas, terrain and hiking trails vary greatly thanks to the state's diverse geology. Following is a list of the most scenic hiking trails in Kansas (from east to west).

Table Mound National Recreation Trail / Elk City SP (Independence, KS)
Blue waters peek through the trees on most of the rugged 3-mile path. This Kansas trail becomes steep and challenging, squeezing between stone slabs and rock walls, and passing cave-like formations. Some scrambling is required at the top, but the pay off is a stunning view of the valley below from a rock ledge far above the dam. Lengthen your hike with additional short loop trails found on each end of the linear trail.
cross_timbers_state_park Chautauqua Hills Trail System / Toronto Lake (south of Ottawa, KS)
Three color-coded connecting loops wrap around an arm of the lake offering hikers many options. These Kansas trails feature wooden bridges, sandstone slab stream crossings and rugged stone staircases that lead through both heavily shaded areas and open prairie on a natural tread. Stands of post and blackjack oak provide thick cover in wooded areas heavy with moss and lichen.
George Latham Trail / Clinton Lake (Lawrence, KS)
Along the 4.5-mile loop, well-placed primitive campsites lead to visions of morning campfires accompanied by the sound of water lapping the limestone shores and geese honking overhead. This Kansas hiking trail sometimes nears the water’s edge and sometimes offers panoramic vistas from afar alternating between prairie areas and deep wooded ravines.
Nature Trail / Konza Prairie Biological Station (Manhattan, KS)
A 2.8-mile, interpretive hiking trail begins a steep climb among the Kansas Flint Hills. The payoff is traveling rocky ridgetops that look into watersheds, across ravines and ranchlands. Views of the Kansas River valley come into view below you. Limestone rubble is scattered about the hillsides. Stunning wildflower displays begin in June. Unending aerial views from the ridge are surprising but you may find the wind invincible.
Scenic Overlook Trail / Tallgrass Prairie NP (Emporia, KS)
This Kansas hiking trail is also the route of the ranger-guided bus tour, which climbs 300 feet to an overlook at 3.2 miles (one-way). Backcountry trails treat hikers to stunning, unending vistas. Clouds cast dramatic shadows on the hilltops and valleys below while wildflowers add streaks of color to the steep slopes. Cattle linger around watering holes and sometimes become hiking companions. New: bison and their calves graze the backcountry! A new visitor center is under construction for 2012.
Horsethief Trail / Kanopolis Lake SP (southwest of Salina, KS)
Beside red sandy trails are rolling hills with sandstone cliffs and outcrops. You may wonder if you're still hiking in Kansas. Pillars and balanced boulders are some of the features that hang over the 5.5-mile Horsethief Trail. Scramble up a slick-rock staircase, take a break in a mini-cave or hold out for the red rock canyon. Keep watch for barking villagers -- the adorable prairie dog. If water crossings keep you from the trails, sign up for horseback riding at the General Store.
Rock Town Natural Area / Wilson Lake (west of Salina, KS)
Registered as a natural and scientific area, this 3-mile prairie loop ascends hills and rocky terrain skirting the rim of a shallow canyon to overlook Wilson Lake’s crescent-shaped beach with 3 colorful sandstone sentinels. This Kansas hiking trail, located in Lucas Park, is rated moderate for some steep slopes.
Multi-purpose trail at Cedar Bluff SP (west of Hays, KS)
Copper-colored rocks peak out from impressive green hills and buttes as you hike through prairie grasses accompanied by the sounds of ecstatic birds on this 5-mile loop. The variety of wildflowers is surprising as the trail climbs to views overlooking the lake while colorful fishing boats float below you. This Kansas hiking trail can be rugged and uneven in parts with short but steep climbs for a moderate rating.
Multi-use trail at Lake Scott SP (north of Garden City, KS)
Like a mirage, a blue lake appears enveloped by buttes and mesas. The landscape is dotted with yucca, cactus and sage in the High Plains Region. A 7-mile trail circles the spring-fed lake and travels below a ridge eroded from the Ogallala formation. This rugged Kansas hiking trail presents many side paths that tempt you to scramble up the craggy bluffs -- which offer the best views and surprising vistas of the canyon and lake below.

For more information on hiking Kansas, order Kansas Outdoor Treasures (Trails Books, a division of Big Earth Publishing).

©2013 Julie M. Cirlincuina