The chance to get up close and personal with large free-ranging bison is an unforgettable experience. There are a few places to observe bison in Kansas; including the Sandsage Bison Range near Garden City, the Konza Prairie south of Manhattan, and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in the heart of the Flint Hills. However, one of my all-time favorite locations to see these shaggy beasts is at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge just north of Canton. Maxwell maintains a herd of around 200 bison and 50 elk, making this the only public area in the state where you can observe both of these species. The really cool thing about Maxwell is that the access road for the state fishing lake runs right through the middle of the bison pasture. A leisurely drive will easily give you the chance to see large bison bulls and cow/calf groups scattered throughout the mixed-grass prairie hills.
If you have binoculars, climb to the top of the wildlife observation tower which lets you look out over almost the entire area and really see the wildlife that’s out there. We drove through the area last weekend and were lucky enough to see part of the elk herd and have several bison walk within 10-feet of our vehicle (which was about as close as we would have liked them to be).
This kind of a viewing experience would cause a traffic jam and photography frenzy at Yellowstone, but we virtually had the whole place to ourselves. It’s easy enough to see bison and elk most days, but to see even more of the refuge and find out a little more about the natural history of the area you can also reserve a backcountry tram tour through the Friends of Maxwell Group website.
After checking out the wildlife we took the family on a little hike along the nature trail by the state fishing lake. The woods were starting to show signs of spring with buds swelling and getting ready to burst at any time. We didn’t see any morels, but saw several people out on the hunt. The trail was a nice short hike through the woods by the lake with a loop option to add a little variety. The highlight for the kids was definitely the stream at the end of the trail (and the trail snacks of course). All said, it made for an afternoon of good hiking and great wildlife-viewing!