Where to explore from south-central Kansas

By MeLinda Schnyder | March 31, 2021

The Flint Hills Trail State Park features 94 miles of developed trail from Council Grove to Osawatomie.Photo by MeLinda Schnyder

Instead of the hectic travel schedule with at least a dozen out-of-state trips I had planned for 2020, I spent the year focused instead on rediscovering what was around me in south-central Kansas.

From our east Wichita home, my husband and I found new-to-us urban parks, including the Pracht Wetlands in the northwest part of the city. We rediscovered outdoor public art collections on the Wichita State University campus, renewed memberships at the Sedgwick County Zoo and Botanica Wichita and spent more time bicycling local rail-trails. We access the Prairie Sunset Trail from the city park in Goddard. The Redbud Trail runs near our house. We can ride it nearly to Augusta.

I bought and used my first state parks passport despite living in Kansas for 26 years. We took half-day excursions to hike at Cheney State Park and El Dorado State Park. We ventured out for full day-trips to see one of the most recent additions to the 28-unit state park system: Flint Hills Trail State Park, a rail-trail with about 94 miles of developed trail from Council Grove to Osawatomie.

We plan to tackle the Flint Hills Trail in segments. For our first adventure, we drove 100 miles northeast of Wichita to access the trail at the town of Allen. We covered about 13 miles riding east past farmland, tallgrass prairie and small towns, thankful for many tree canopies along the route, before turning around.

We hiked trails at Santa Fe Lake near Augusta, known for its waterfall that flows after a good spring rain, and saw fall foliage from the series of short trails at the Wichita Audubon Society’s Chaplin Nature Center near Ark City. On an early winter drive to Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, we saw a few of the 200-head bison herd at a distance and spent most of our time hiking the Gypsum Creek Nature Trail at the adjacent McPherson State Fishing Lake.

While life’s pace will likely pick up this year, we hope to keep seeking out more adventures close to home.