4/23/16 = Free state parks day!

Pick a park, any state park in Kansas on Saturday, April 23, 2016 and entrance is free! It’s tied in with Earth day celebrations, and really, since it’s free, there’s no reason not to get out there and check out some of what Kansas has to offer.

Plus, some of the parks are holding special activities from snacks to guided nature hikes to 5k run/walks. Get more information from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s our list of top 10 trails, many of which are in the state parks. And if you need more info on just what’s out there, we know of a good book!

Top 10 trails

Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge

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!

The new Baker Wetlands Discovery Center


Along with the construction around creating the South Lawrence Trafficway, the Baker Wetlands have also been changing – restoration of more land, expansion, and new trails – spearheaded by Roger Boyd and his son Jon Boyd.

Many of the trails listed in our Kansas Trail Guide are still in place, but there’s been an expansion of several more miles of multi-use trail – see the map below.

IMG_2237Another addition is the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. The eco-friendly building was opened in October 2015, and it’s a large space with panoramic views out over the boardwalk.

The center has exhibits on the importance of the wetlands and how they
were restored and how they’re being taken care of now.

They have spotting scopes, an observatory tower, a research lab, and a classroom space.

Also featured are some family-friendly stations where kids can check out pelts and other animal artifacts. Plus there’s a little gift shop to commemorate your visit.

Around the building are impressive wildlife photos, many of them by the Boyd’s.

If you go:

1365 N. 1250 Road
Lawrence, KS 66046

Trails are open during daylight hours and dogs are allowed on leash.

Discovery Center is open 9am to noon and 1 to 3pm Monday to Saturday and 1 to 3pm on Sunday.

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Sorry – no elk on the Elk River Trail

DSCN2334So, despite reports otherwise in October’s Backpacker magazine, there are no elk along the Elk River Trail. It is one of our top 10 recommended Kansas hikes, but sorry, no elk to be spotted along the way!

If you do want to see what’s there – check out our description. It was one of the last hikes completed for the book, and it was one of the best!

Kansas state parks will be free on 9/26 this year!

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas have come together for Healthy Fun at the Parks Day on Saturday, September 26, 2015. As a part of that, all of the state parks will be free on that day! Normally, a daily use entrance fee is $5.

Plus, they’ve made a coloring book and a map of all 26 state park locations. Coloring books will be available across the state at state park locations, rest stops, and tourism offices, or you may have picked one up at the Kansas State Fair.

So head out to a state park near you on Saturday and enjoy a free visit! If you need some guidance on the trails you can find at the parks, check out our book.

You can learn more about the free day here.Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 4.33.15 PM

Are you for or against rail trails? Let us know!

The Hutch News has published a couple of articles on the issues of the rail to trail conversion in Reno County (read them here and here). There are holdouts that are preventing expansion of the rail trail projects into the Hutchinson area – basically, it takes the cooperation of the landowners to allow the unused rail lines to be converted into a trail system with a variety of objections from concerns about litter, vandalism, and more. The article outlines how many of these objections haven’t manifested themselves on current rail trail projects, but change can be hard.

On the Prairie Sunset trail

On the Prairie Sunset trail

There are also potential legal issues for railbanking, which came from a 1983 trails act.

It will come as little surprise to find out that we are pro-trails (we did write the book on them!). We spent time on all of the complete rail trails in the state (Prairie Spirit – one of our top 10 trails!, Southwind, Meadowlark, Prairie Sunset, Valkommen and more) as well as the in progress Flint Hills Nature Trail.

Trails like this can boost the economy of small towns along the corridors and it helps with the health of locals.

We’ve also spoken with Clark Coan, a prominent rail trails advocate.

What do you think? Are you for or against more rail trail projects in Kansas, particularly Reno County? Let us know in the comments below!

Portland Alley Pedalfest – September 12 and 13

Portland Alley Pedalfest – September 12 and 13

PedalfestPoster2015There are lot of great ways to enjoy the Prairie Spirit and Southwind Rail Trail, but what better way than with camping, live music, food vendors, and a beer garden? Oh, and of course – cycling!

Props to Thrive Allen County for driving a grassroots effort to promote healthy living and a vibrant trails community in Allen County.  Saddle up your bike and head out to Iola September 12 and 13th to join the fun at the annual Portland Alley Pedalfest.

They’ve got a Family Fun Ride as well 25, 50, 75, and 100 mile rides – sign up at EventBrite.

Best Family Friendly Hikes in Kansas

School may be in session, but there’s still plenty of good weather left in the year to get out and enjoy a weekend morning or afternoon on the trail.

We picked our top family-friendly trails based on accessibility – all of them are wide and smooth enough for you to push a stroller on them and most can handle a wheelchair. They’re also shorter – between 1 and 2 miles and a lot of them have interpretive signage along the way to help keep things interesting.


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Did we miss any? What’s your favorite family-friendly trail in Kansas? Let us know in the comments below.

National Trails Day is June 6!

National-Trails-Day-copyright-American-Hiking-Society-00001We were pretty excited about National Trails Day – the first Saturday of June. It’s the country’s largest celebration of trails, and Kansas has hundreds of miles of great trails (hint, find out more with our book!).

But then, as can happen in Kansas, the weather has turned and a lot of trails may not be in great condition for a hike. Something to keep in mind – as best you can, stay off trails for a couple of days after a big rain since bike treads and hoof prints particularly will leave indentations in the mud that will then harden, making a previously well-groomed trail into a rutted mess.

For those ready to take on the always changing Kansas weather, volunteers have worked hard to put together some events across the state. Here are the National Trails Day events happening in Kansas –

The Dirty Kanza is on: 1 day, 200 miles

As I write this, 950 cyclists are tearing up the gravel along this year’s Dirty Kanza course. It’s in its 10th year, and the infamous gravel race has had finish rates as high as 70% and as low as 17%.logo_1423062671

200 miles through the Flint Hills where part of the challenge is not just the physical effort but also the mental fortitude to hold up out in the vast prairie, where you can feel completely isolated.

With the recent rains, it’s going to be a muddy ride. It started at 6am and the winner’s estimated to cross the finish line around 4pm with the last finishers around 2 am – some may abandon the race or get pulled off for not maintaining a strong enough pace.

If you want to watch the finish at the Granada Theater in Emporia, here’s a link to the live feed citylinktv.com/channel/emporia-sports-tvs/.