Where to see bald eagles in Kansas – 2019

Where to see bald eagles in Kansas – 2019


Bald eagle pair in Kansas. Photo by Bo Rader.

The return of the bald eagle has been a remarkable success story.  After being pushed towards extinction, the eagle steadily recovered under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  In Kansas, nesting eagles made a return to the state in 1989 at Clinton Reservoir and have been increasing in numbers ever since.

As the winter cold sets in, eagles push south in search of open water.  In Kansas, mid-January is typically the ideal time to search for eagles along secluded coves of major reservoirs in the eastern half of the state.

For a good hike with a chance to see bald eagles, we recommend the Eagle Ridge Trail at Milford State Park or the Chaplin Nature Center trails by the Arkansas River.  Throughout the month of January there are events throughout the state that celebrate the recovery of this iconic species. Each of the following events offer educational programs and guided viewing tours for the public.

January 5th: The first opportunity for guided eagle viewing is at Tuttle Creek Reservoir with a program and vehicle tour starting at the Manhattan Fire Station (Kimball & Denison Ave) from 9:00 – 12:30.

January 23rd: Kaw Valley Eagles day celebrates the natural history and recovery of the bald eagle in Kansas with a family-friendly event at Billy Mills Middle School in Lawrence from 8:30 – 4:00. There will be presentations, activities for the kids and viewing expeditions.

January 26th: Eagle Days at Milford Lake. The nature center at Milford Lake hosts an annual eagle day event that includes programs and guided bus tours running from 9:00 – 4:00 to view eagles along the lake. Admission to the state park is free for the event and there’s also hot chocolate and popcorn for all!

January 26th: Chaplin Nature Center will offer a short educational program and guided hike along the nature center trails to view eagles along the Arkansas River.  Meet at the visitors center at 10:00 to join the fun.

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

“And when in the great future of the matchless State, farm shall be added to farm, and town to town, and the great cities of the future shall have come, the mounds shall still stand and still keep silent watch over the noble landscape forever beneath their feet.” -William G. Cutler 1883


View from South Mound

One of the most striking natural landmarks in Wilson County are the Twin Mounds which rise up to an elevation of over 1,000 feet to tower over the surrounding plains.  Noted by William G. Cutler in his 1883 “History of Kansas”, early hikers were said to take a “well-worn path” to the summit and upon reaching the pinnacle can see “unrolled before him one of the finest sights of the new world. Southward runs the somber timber lines which mark the course of Fall River. Westward lies the second mound and between the fertile fields to the far north can be seen the fringe of the Verdigris”

The mounds still keep watch over Fredonia and present a sweeping view of the Fall River valley. The South Mound is now graced by a picnic area, playground, observation tower, and what appears to be the largest American flag west of the Verdigris. Through the work of the Kansas Trails Council and the Cultivate Fredonia Healthy Living Action Team, the South Mound also regained a short trail network that allows hiker and bikers to explore the rocky wooded areas along the rim and steep slopes of the mound.


Flag & playground on the South Mound

In a patriotic spirit, the trail network is christened the “Old Glory Trail” and trail segments include the 0.34 mile Liberty Trail which traverses the rim of the mound, and a slightly longer loop trail lower on the hillside known as the Freedom Trail.  Both trails have a natural surface and the upper trail offers sweeping views off the side of the mound and some fun rocks and boulders for a little off-trail scrambling. Check out the map below for the trail location and route options.

We were on the radio! KCUR Central Standard

We’ve reached out to others to talk to them about what they find special about Kansas and how they work on building trails, so it was unexpected and awesome to be contacted by KCUR Central Standard 89.3 FM for an interview about Kansas trails and the Kansas trail guidebook.

I (Kristin) got a little overexcited and managed to confuse the Oregon Trail with the Santa Fe Trail – you wouldn’t be going through the Cimarron National Grassland if you were on the Oregon Trail, unless you were lost. Other than that, I think it went pretty well! Here’s a link where you can listen to the interview and read about some of our personal favorite trails and some new trails that we’d recommend:  http://kcur.org/post/best-kansas-trails-biking-hiking-and-horseback-riding


Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Flint Hills culture is built on prairie grasses.  Too rocky to be tilled, the rugged limestone underlying the prairie soils spared the majority of this landscape from the homesteaders plow.  While the sodbusters moved on to more amenable locations, the ranchers established a stronghold in the Flint Hills.  The expansive cattle ranches throughout the area have effectively kept large contiguous tracts of tallgrass prairie intact to this day.   While much of the Flint Hills is in private hands, there’s no better place to experience the sublime beauty of the prairie than at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Strong City.  A multitude of hiking trails follow old ranch roads throughout the preserve, and the trails are open 24/7 affording opportunities for night hiking as well. Kids will enjoy hiking the Southwind Nature Trail to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse, a one-room country school, built in 1882 and still standing strong.

Ranch house

Stephen Jones Ranch House Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School
Photo by Mark Conard

The schoolhouse is open for tours on Saturdays from 12-4 during May-June and September-October. Hard-core hikers will want to experience the expansive backcountry trails that start behind the historic stone barn, and we recommend the Scenic Overlook Trail or Crusher Hill Loop for spectacular views of wide-open prairie. Watch your step when crossing through Windmill Pasture as bison roam freely through this area and there have been recent reports of aggressive behavior. Front-country trails winding along Lower Fox Creek are sheltered from the wind and are a great spot to view a diverse assortment of wildlife.

If you’re able to visit this weekend (April 26th) there’s a special event “Let’s Experience the Great Outdoors” sponsored in partnership with Backwoods, which includes opportunities for volunteer service, kids activities, crafts, and demonstrations.  There are great hiking opportunities as part of the event and knowledgeable park rangers will lead a family-friendly hike along the Southwind Nature Trail (12:30 – 1:30), a longer nature hike into the backcountry (1:30 – 3:30) and even a special night hike from 9:00 – 10:00 PM.

After a day on the trail, take some time to experience the ranching culture of the Flint Hills,  which is still alive and strong in the nearby towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. The annual Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City will be held from June 5-7 and is the longest-running consecutive rodeo in Kansas.  Cottonwood Falls is also home to the legendary Emma Chase Cafe and Music Hall. The food is certainly good but the main attraction each Friday night is the acoustic jam session. Check out the full schedule of performers and get ready for some authentic music from the heart of the Flint Hills. It’s an experience like no other and has been named one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Customs” by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  Each Friday features a different genre, ranging from acoustic country, gospel, bluegrass, and old-fashioned rock-n-roll.


Review of Wildflowers of the Great Plains app

As the weather warms up, wildflowers will start to bloom. Lots of Kansas trails have some spectacular wildflower displays along the way, and in the book, we will have a list of the best trails for wildlife/wildflower spotting. photo

While you’re out on the trail, you can carry along a book to help you identify the different plants and flowers, University Press of Kansas has a great field guide. Or, if you’re looking to use something you probably already have with you, your Android smart phone or iPhone, you can use an app.

Written by the same author, Professor Michael John Haddock, who wrote the University Press of Kansas field guide, the Wildflowers of the Great Plains app is an easy to use, high tech way to ID plants and flowers in Kansas and the Great Plains. There’s a free version with 25 plants and flowers or for $3.99, you can check out over 500 species. You can search by location, habitat, flower color, or just browse by name.

Each flower or plant includes an image of it as well, with lots of the representative images from Kansas, like the Prince’s Plume here that’s in Gove County.

There’s also a quick section on plant morphology – flower parts, shapes, leaf attachments, etc. so in the description of the flower on the app, you can double check you know what you’re looking at out on the trail.

Bonus – the app works without cell signal, so you can still check out the flowers without having to be connected to the rest of the world.

What do you think of using technology out on the trail? And do you have a favorite Kansas wildflower? Let us know in the comments below.

Plant morphology

Ghost trails: 5 trails that have disappeared

Lake Atwood trail starts with such promise... Photo by Mark Conard

Lake Atwood trail starts with such promise… Photo by Mark Conard

A good guidebook should highlight the best of what’s out there.  However, it’s also important to know where not to go.  There’s nothing more disappointing than planning a trip and finding out that a trail is no longer used or is in poor condition.  We’ve done the work for you for the upcoming book, so you won’t end up on a trail that once was or isn’t anymore.

We would say rest in peace, but if we’re honest, we’d much rather these trails make a comeback with some loving care and, let’s face it, an infusion of cash.  Without further ado, here is our requiem to the “ghost trails” of Kansas:

1. Kingman State Fishing Lake / Byron Walker Wildlife Area – This hike was featured in the “Hiking Guide to Kansas” and is still listed online, and according to all descriptions seemed like it would be a great short hike.  It probably would have been a great hike. If it actually still existed.  Apparently trees fell across the trail during a large storm and it has never been cleared and rebuilt.  A few short years later there are few traces that it had ever existed.

2. Clark State Fishing Lake – Jay Wood Memorial Trail – After driving through the open croplands of western Kansas, the abrupt transition to the striking panorama of the steep canyonlands surrounding Clark State Fishing Lake is nothing short of breath-taking.  The excitement that was building to explore the  rugged terrain quickly dissipated when a park worker informed us that the trail bridge located shortly after the start of the trail had washed out and not been replaced.  The only remaining trace of the trail is a few steps in the banks leading down towards the stream where the bridge once stood.

This is what the bridge looked like before it washed out. . .  Photo by Jim Mason

This is what the bridge looked like before it washed out. . .
Photo by Jim Mason

Although there are no current plans to replace the trail, the spectacular scenery (and fishing possibilities!) makes this lake worth seeing. Just don’t expect to be able to go on the memorial trail.

3. Hayden Nature Trail at Lake Atwood – With great promise, this trail starts out wide and covered carefully in wood chips. Past a large observation tower that looks out over the currently dry lake bed, the trail hits the highway and peters out into nothing. It may have been a project started when the lake was being resealed in the mid 2000s and never finished.

4. Cimarron National Grassland – The eastern portion of the Turkey Trail – Between the Cottonwood Picnic Area and the Cimarron Campground, the trail is wide and easy south of the Cimarron River. Through stands of cottonwoods, it’s a mostly exposed trail that’s also open to ATVs along with mountain bikers and hikers. Once you get to the east side of Cimarron Campground, the trail fades. This is likely because east of the campground, the trail is off limits to ATVs. The end of the trail is one mile east of County Road 16, and since the terrain is relatively flat and treeless, you could probably make it to that end point from the campground, but it won’t be on a well-defined, easy to follow trail.

5. Honorable mention – Crawford State Fishing Lake – Drywood Creek Trail – This one is kind of there in spots, and it has enormous potential and it isn’t quite dead yet. It circumnavigates the lake, and dips in and out of the trees. Along the west side of the lake, the “trail” is the road along lake front cabins, and on the north side of the dam and on the east side of the lake, with washed out sections and fallen trees, the trail is hard to follow. At one point, I found myself trying to lift fallen trees myself to make sure I was mapping the “real” trail, but I realized that there was no way I’d want to recommend that particular route to anyone without some major cleanup.

Do you have fond memories of any of these trails? Have we gotten any of them wrong – have there been any improvements or updates to any of them? Let us know in the comments.

Flint Hills Nature Trail

Flint Hills Nature Trail

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”  -Robert Frost

The long trail holds an allure unlike any other.  The good ones are the stuff of legend; the well-worn Appalachian Trail, rugged Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail are universally revered.  But the truly great long trails once cut through the endless expanse of prairie that we now call Kansas.  The names themselves are legendary; Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Chisholm Trail.  But all of these legends slowly died with the advent of the railroad.

There’s more than a bit of irony in the fact that well over a century later, the modern decline of the once wide-spread railroad has driven the establishment of the new long trails spanning the plains.  One of the best known trails in the Midwest is the acclaimed Katy Trail, which runs 225 east/west from St. Charles to Clinton, Missouri.

Kansas boasts multiple long rail-trails, including the Prairie Spirit Trail, Landon Nature Trail, Blue River Trail, and Meadowlark Trail.  However, the most ambitious rail-trails project is the Flint Hills Nature Trail.  When completed, this section of rail-trail will be the seventh longest in the nation and will stretch 117 miles from Osawatomie to Herington.  Currently, the trail is not fully open but there are many sections that are ready to ride.

Flint Hills Nature Trail

Flint Hills Nature Trail

Here’s a summary of our favorite sections that are open to explore:

Osawatomie to Ottawa (18.9 miles):  The easternmost section of the Flint Hills Nature Trail is well-maintained and easily accessible as it runs along the bluffs of the Marais De Cygne river east through Rantoul and on to the historic Old Depot Museum at Ottawa.  The depot also serves as the northern terminus for the Prairie Spirit Trail and is open for tours from March – December.

Vassar to Osage City (11.1 miles): To the west of Ottawa, the trail is intermittent with 1.2 miles open between the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa west to the Marais De Cygne River and a 2 mile finished stretch east of Pomona.  However, the longest continuous section along this part of the trail currently stretches from Vassar to Osage City.  Check out the unique assortment of merchandise at the Vassar Mercantile and enjoy the gradual downhill as you cross US-75 and continue on the trail west to Osage City.

Osage City to Council Grove (39.7 miles): From Osage City the trail runs west through Admire and Allen and enters the heart of the Flint Hills.  There are a few rough stretches but this entire section is certainly passable on foot or bike.  The section between Bushong and Council Grove is one of the most scenic and remote sections of the trail as it cuts through the rugged and vast Flint Hills landscape.

Wildflowers along the Flint Hills Nature Trail

Wildflowers along the Flint Hills Nature Trail

Before Council Grove a short side trip will take you to the Allegawaho Memorial Park just to the north of the trail.  This park is located on land that formerly served as the Kaw Indian Reservation.  The end of the trail is currently at Council Grove, once the last outpost of civilization for travelers heading west along the Santa Fe Trail.  While in Council Grove visit the Kaw Mission Historic Site and dine at the Hays House which has served fine food to weary travelers since 1857.

These sections of trail are some of our favorite, but we look forward to the completion of the trail which could occur as early as 2015.

Snow daze

With a thick blanket of white over most of the state, it may be easy to start suffering from cabin fever.  There are plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the snow this month, so don’t let shoveling the driveway by your only outdoor activity this winter.  Before the snow melts, make sure and take advantage of some of these great opportunities to enjoy the winter!

1. Cross-country ski at Clinton Lake

Located along the North Shore of Clinton Lake State Park, the trailhead starts near the park office and there are around 5-miles of cross-country ski trails through the park. With the bare trees and the blanket of white, you can more easily spot wildlife.  The best (and only) designated cross-country ski trail in the state!

2. Sled at Shawnee Mission Park

Cross country skis. Photo by Jeremy Bronson

Cross country skis. Photo by Jeremy Bronson

During the summer, the numerous trails at Shawnee Mission Park are frequented by singletrack enthusiasts and trail-runners.

During the winter, there is more solitude and with a deep snow there are great opportunities for sledding along the steep hills (just watch out for trees!).

Another top sledding location is Indian Rock Park in Salina.  The 35-acre park is centered around a high steep hill and when the snow flies, the parks department will close the gates and turn the long steep driveway leading to the top into a massive sledding hill.  The downhill run is popular, fast, and free of obstacles.  Personal experience and a broken sled leads to the recommendation to not venture off onto any insanely steep, tree-ridden, but oh-so tempting side trails.

3. Go ice-fishing at Kanopolis State Park

The bonus of sub-zero temperatures is that the ice will thicken on many state fishing lakes and reservoirs.  Venture out with caution and make sure to drill to check the depth of the ice before getting started.

4. Ice skate outdoors at City Park in Manhattan

With the winter Olympics underway, take your best shot at a triple lutz (or just enjoy gliding around the unique outdoor rink).  Access to the rink costs $3 per skater and skates can be rented for the same price.  Open through February 28th.

Elk River Trail: saving the best for last

In what will likely be the last hiking day for 2013, I decided to hike the Elk River Trail near Independence earlier this week.  This trail is consistently ranked among the top trails in the state and so after hiking my way across the trails of Kansas for the past year I wanted to see if it lived up to the high expectations.

Venerable patriarchI was accompanied by the venerable patriarch of the family; official photographer, reliable shuttle driver, and all around great trail companion.

Luckily, we caught a break with the weather and enjoyed a balmy December day which made for perfect hiking conditions.  Actually, some of my best hiking days have been during warm days in the winter. No ticks, no crowds, no poison ivy.  Not a bad combination for a hike.

I started at the east end of the trail around 11:00 and set off in high spirits.  The trail did not waste any time getting to some amazing scenery and rugged ascents.  The rock bluffs are truly like nothing else in Kansas and within the first 1/2 mile the trail was going right through the midst of these spectacular formations.  Rock bluffs along trailAfter winding for several miles along the rocks outcropping along the edge of the bluff, I stopped for a power lunch (think: PBJ, trail mix, and Clif bar) before continuing on down the trail.  The entire route had a nice wilderness feel, there were no intersecting roads, no views of civilization, and we didn’t see another hiker the entire trip.

Continuing along the top of the bluffs, the trail soon began to switchback across a series of ravines, each complete with small stream crossings that could be negotiated by using the native rock as stepping stones.  Around 9.5 miles and 4 hours later, the trail crossed an old paved park road through the former Oak Ridge Public Use Area; I thought about pushing to the end of the trail, but decided that this location would make a good spot to stop for the day and break the hike into two sections.  Despite what Google Maps may show, this is really the only spot on the trail that is intersected by a passable road, and so it does make a good location to resupply, camp, or catch a ride back to the trailhead.

Starting the next morning from this point, my legs were protesting a bit from the 9.5 miles logged the day before.  I suppose thisHiked our soles off isn’t unreasonable, since I had spent most of the last month at my desk job and the trail is technically designated as “rugged”.  Despite the designation, I thought that there wasn’t any single section that is unreasonably “rugged”, but the rock trail does require a cumulative effect to repeatedly ascend and descend through the limestone formations and across the steep ravines. However, before writing the trail off as less than rugged, in all fairness I should note that it did produce several pairs of sore feet and lay claim to one boot sole (see picture).

IMG_5223After a solo hike on the first day, I was joined on the second part of the hike by my Dad (aka: venerable patriarch and designated photographer), which was fortunate since we soon reached one of the most scenic spots on the hike.  Before reaching mile 10, there was a stream running slightly off the trail, in which a stately sycamore grew up out of the banks of the stream under a rock ledge.  Although some guidebooks would have you believe that the western part of the trail is less scenic, the section between miles 10-13 was actually my favorite part of the hike.  This section parallels the Elk River as it flows towards the reservoir and there are several overlook points and an area where the trail passes through rivulets of trickling water cascading over a wide broad-brimmed rock ledge.  Over the last several miles, the trail parted ways with the Elk River and crossed through oak and cedar woodlands before reaching the western trailhead near US-160.Hiking on Elk River Trail

All told, I tend to agree with the outstanding reviews about this trail.   It’s one of the few trails in the state that could provide a legitimate backpacking experience, the rocks are flat-out amazing, and the views are sublime.

In fact it just might be the best trail in Kansas.


Well, let’s just say you’ll want to read the book to find out.

Happy trails!