Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge

Earl Shaffer

Earl Shaffer on Katahdin

Long-trail hikers are blessed (or perhaps cursed) with a relentless drive to explore and push boundaries.

A good hike consists not only of a leisurely stroll or an opportunity to soak in the beauty of nature, but becomes a great adventure that tests the limits of possibility.

In 1948, after serving his country in WWII, Earl Shaffer set off on foot from Georgia on an epic journey of over 2000 miles that culminated at the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.   With gear that would be considered primitive by today’s standards, Shaffer became the first individual to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  At the time, this feat was thought to be an impossibility to complete.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, thousands of hikers now attempt to thru-hike the trail each year but the majority fail to complete the journey.

The longest trail in Kansas is the Flint Hills Nature Trail, a rail-trail that spans the rugged Flint Hills from the eastern terminus in Osawatomie west to Herington.  The trail is partially developed, but untamed sections remain with the longest being from Council Grove to Herington.  As the longest trail in the state, we are posing a challenge to any intrepid hiker to become the first to thru-hike the trail in a single trip.

Flint Hills Nature Trail

Flint Hills Nature Trail

To the best of our knowledge, no one has completed the entire trail by foot.  While the daunting exposure of the Flint Hills, lack of water sources, and length of the trail make it a true Kansas challenge; the rewards of the trail are great, with some of the best scenery and pleasant hiking along the way.

We will offer a signed copy of the “Kansas Trail Guide” to the first person to complete the challenge and a custom made leather patch to any individual that makes it all the way across by foot.

A trail services directory from the Kanza Rail Trails Conservancy provides a guide to essential services along the route.  Camping options are limited, but take advantage of Neosho Park Recreation Area at Council Grove Reservoir and the Vassar State Park area at Pomona Lake.  Plan carefully, be prepared, and don’t underestimate the grand challenge posed by the trail.  Keep us posted on your progress and the adventures you encounter along the way!

32 thoughts on “Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge

  1. Interesting challenge. How will you verify that the entire route was completed? There is primative camping in Bushong in Lyon County and at the Kaw Heritage Park 3.5 miles southeast of Council Grove, too.

  2. Thanks for the tips on camping options and spreading the word about the challenge, make sure and take some photos of yourself throughout the route and a give us a short description of your adventure to verify your journey!

  3. Has anyone completed this challenge yet? I’m seriously considering taking a week off of work next month and giving it a hike. I already own the Kansas Trail Guide though, it is, as they say, a thumping good read!

  4. Has anyone finished? I might like to try it when it gets cooler. How long do you think it would take walking or biking?

  5. I tried hiking last year and ran into miles and miles of overgrown burrs and thorn bushes outside of Ottawa. It wasn’t hikable to say the least. If I hadn’t had GPS I wouldn’t have known I was on the trail, it was pretty miserable hiking. I just gave up at Pomona, Don’t go thinking it will be like the Prairie Spirit Trail. Heading up to Nebraska in a couple weeks to hike the RTT Cowboy Trail, it has 190 connected miles completed.

  6. Has anyone completed this challenge yet? I am really interested in this trail but according to all the info online it is only open from sunrise to sunset and camping is prohibited. Is this correct? Would love any info anyone has on this trail for hikers! Thanks!

      • Awesome! I have a trip set for September 7th and I’m super excited to give this trail a go! Hopefully no one has beat me to it.. would love to be the first 🙂 I’d love to send you pics and updates along the way!

      • Yes I am on the trail right now! I am about 3 miles out from Osage City. I started Wednesday September 7th at 4 pm in osawatomie. You can follow my progress via Facebook on my page.. maggie leann fort smith ar or the kanza rail trail conservatory ♡

      • Made it into Council Grove last night. Heading for Herington through tonight and tomorrow, looks like it’s going to be rough going. You can check out my progress and follow me on my Facebook page and also the Facebook page for the public group kanza rail trail conservatory. With over 90 miles under my feet I’m pretty invested and will finish this. I’m going to put together a piece for the trail Council and Friends of the trail and also when I get home I will leave you a link to my blog covering everything anybody needs to know about thru-hiking the Flint Hills Nature Trail.

    • It’s been exciting to follow your journey so far! We would like to feature your story on the site, message us when you get done and we can also send you a copy of the guidebook and trail patches. In hindsight it may have been more useful to send you the guidebook first! The section to Herington is pretty much unfinished, so we are quite impressed that you are forging ahead.

      • I was planning on attempting the hike mid February. Where are the possible overnight camp sites. I’m starting on the Herrington side?

      • That sounds great, it should be a great February for a hike! The camping options continue to improve but there are still some long stretches without much available. From west to east, check out Council Grove Reservoir (short side hike N of Council Grove), Allegawaho Memorial Park (east of Council Grove), Bushong City Park campground, Admire (city campground), B&B in Osage City, Equine Adventure at Salt Creek Ranch is a privately owned ranch that offers a bunkhouse and camping (call ahead to check on availability), Pomona State Park north of Vassar, Ottawa to Osawatomie doesn’t have much in the way of campgrounds. Hope that helps, keep us posted on your adventure!

  7. Pingback: Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge On The Verge of Completion! – Kansas Trail Guide

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  10. Kansas is of course world-famous for its Cretaceous and upper Pennsylvanian to lower Permian fossils–the Flint Hills district is underlain primarily by rocks of early Permian geologic age; paleontologists and paleontology enthusiasts from all over the planet come to Kansas.

    See my page “Late Pennsylvanian Fossils In Kansas” over at http://inyo2.coffeecup.com/kansasfossils/kansasfossils.html for many images of late Pennsylvanian fossils (roughly 307 to 299 million years ago) that I collected during my wonderful residence experience in Kansas a number of years ago; also includes numerous on-site photographs of late Pennsylvanian Kansas rock exposures and associated scenery.

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