Best Hikes in Kansas: Top 11 Trails in the Sunflower State

Get ready to hit the trail in the Sunflower State! From walks along the Kansas River to the historic Santa Fe Trail, we’re covering all the top trails along with tips and descriptions for each hike.

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Kansas may be known for its sprawling prairies and miles of farmland. But when it comes to hiking, don’t underestimate the Sunflower State!

Whether it’s the 70-foot chalk towers at Castle Rock or Elk River’s waterfalls and rock chambers, Kansas has plenty of incredible hikes to offer for everybody, from beginners to pro hikers.

In this guide, we’ll cover some of the top treks in the area, including descriptions and important details for each trail.

1. Castle Rock

Castle Rock, Kansas
Visit the intriguing limestone pillars that are Castle Rock.
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 2.3 miles

Located along the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, Castle Rock is home to a unique rock formation known as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas. The 70-foot calcareous limestone towers rise above the Kansas plains in the shape of an English castle. 

The landscape here is dominated by chalk bluffs and beds. The ground is scattered with fossils from the time this entire region was covered by an ancient ocean.

The hike along the chalk bluffs through Hackberry Creek Valley is one of the state’s most memorable treks. Follow in the footsteps of early travelers who once used the towering rocks to guide the way. Scramble down the bluffs and explore the area’s interesting arches and tunnels.

It’s important to note that although the public is allowed access to enjoy Castle Rock, it is located on private land.

2. Konza Prairie Nature Trail

Konza Prairie Nature Trail, Kansas
Hiking over the prairies of Kansas. (Photo by Nick Varvel / CC BY 2.0)
  • Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 2.6 miles

Konza Prairie, a biological research station managed by Kansas State University, boasts several public hiking trails in the surrounding area.

The Konza Prairie Nature Trail traverses through lowland forests, across Kings Creek, and along limestone ledges into the prairie’s native tallgrass. The hiking path’s higher points offer incredible views of the Kansas River Valley and Flint Hills.

Most hikers complete the trail in about 2 hours with stops to take in the views. The Nature Trails are open year-round from sunrise to sunset. The path is subject to closure when the bridge is closed and when controlled burns are taking place in April. Note that dogs and bicycles are not allowed on the trail.

3. Lawrence Levee Trail

Lawrence Levee Trail, Kansas River, Kansas
Straddle rural and urban life along the banks of the Kansas River.
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 21.9 miles

The Lawrence Levee Trail is a 21.9-mile packed gravel path on the outskirts of Lawrence, Kansas. It takes most visitors about 7-8 hours to complete, but many prefer to hike smaller segments of the trail. 

This makes it perfect for both beginners looking for an easy stroll along a section or those looking to build up their endurance by finishing the entire trail. 

Hiking along the Kansas River’s flood-control levee, you’ll get views of sprawling farmland on one side and downtown on the other. The trail’s northern end provides access to Riverfront Park, including a disc golf course, a dog park, and a nature preserve. To the south, there are several other hiking and mountain biking trails close to the river. 

4. Flint Hills Nature Trail

Flint Hills Nature Trail, Kansas
The longest hiking trail in the whole state of Kansas.
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 117 miles

At 117 miles point-to-point, the Flint Hills Nature Trail is the longest hiking trail in the state and the seventh longest rail trail in America. The trail is located in East-Central Kansas and passes through five counties from Council Grove to Osawatomie. 

Flint Hills is home to one of the few tallgrass prairie ecosystems left on the entire planet. It has a variety of prairie flora and fauna, beautiful views, historic national sites, and multiple recreation areas. 

The Flint Hills Nature Trail follows the Santa Fe National Historic Trail and forms a section of the American Discovery Trail, which travels across the country from coast to coast. 

This trek winds along the Marais Des Cygnes River to the east and traverses miles of farmland and riparian woodland. There are several access points that allow beginners to hike portions of it instead of the entire length.

5. Riverwalk Trail, Junction City

Republican River, Kansas
Take a trip along the Republican River. (Photo by Acorns Resort / CC BY 2.0)
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 4.8 miles

The Riverwalk Trail meanders along the northern bank of the Republican River in Junction City, about two hours west of Kansas City. The 4.8-mile trek starts at the outlet tubes of Milford Lake and ends at Washington Street in Fort Riley. 

The crushed limestone path eventually becomes Old River Bluff Trail at the Corp of Engineers Outlet park and continues to the Milford State Park Trail system for a continuous 14 miles. 

Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are a few of the activities available on this multi-use trail. The area is also a popular spot for birdwatching, especially for those keen to see the iconic American Bald Eagle.

6. Horsethief Canyon Trail

Kanopolis Lake State Park, Kansas
Take in the lush green hills at Kanopolis State Park. (Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 6.9 miles

This 6.9-mile loop is located in Kanopolis Lake State Park near Marquette, Kansas. The 1,585-acre state park features rolling hills, bluffs, and the scenic Smoky Hills Region woodlands. There are over 30 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding. 

The Horsethief Canyon hike passes through rugged canyons and has several creek crossings. The path is made up of two segments of the trail system which connect the Rockin’ K Trails and the Prairie Trails. 

It takes most hikers about 2.5 hours to finish this loop. It’s a tranquil, less busy hiking area, and it’s open all year. 

7. Santa Fe Trail, Cimarron National Grassland

Santa Fe Trail, Cimarron National Grassland, Kansas
Recreate the journey of the early settlers along the Santa Fe historic trail.
  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 19 miles

Located in Southwestern Kansas, the Cimarron National Grassland encompasses a massive 108,175 acres of grassland in Morton County and Stevens County. The area also contains 23 miles of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail, the longest segment of the route on public lands.

This route was an important commerce and transportation route from Old Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico between 1821 to 1846.

Nineteen miles of the Santa Fe Trail run diagonally through Cimarron National Grassland between the Murphy and Conestoga trailheads. The path parallels the original trail which was used by early travelers. Limestone markers and interpretive signs line the hiking path and describe the historical significance of the area. 

8. Life on the Rocks Trail, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

Have a change of scene from the usual Kansas prairie landscapes.
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 2.4 miles

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park near Monument features a dramatic landscape made up of stunning ​​Niobrara chalk formations. The bluffs are an important habitat for many of the area’s wildlife and plant species, including some only found here.

Life on the Rocks Trail winds around the chalky cliffs and then climbs up to an overlook with incredible vistas of the park. Multiple natural spires tower over 100 feet above the chalk bed and the Smoky Hill River.

This easy 1.4-mile round-trip trek takes a little under an hour to complete. For a shorter hike, take the ½ mile Overlook Trail instead.

9. Agave Ridge Loop, Cedar Bluff Reservoir, Cedar Bluff State Park

Cedar Bluff Reservoir, Cedar Bluff State Park, Kansas
It’s pretty evident how this state park got its name!
  • Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 0.8 miles

Discover the natural beauty of Cedar Bluff State Park on this easy 0.8-mile loop in Western Kansas. The trail is named after the Great Plains Yucca plant (part of the Agave family) which inhabits the region

The Agave Ridge Loop trailhead is located in the Page Creek area of the park. For a more challenging hike, hop on the 4-mile Primitive Loop to enjoy the vistas of the cedar-filled bluffs.

This less-visited trail is popular for birding, hiking, and running. The best time to do this hike is from April through September.

10. Elk River Trail

  • Type: Point to point
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 15.3 miles

The 15.3-mile-long Elk River Trail is on the northwestern shore of Elk City Lake and is one of the most visited hiking paths in the Sunflower State. 

This moderate to strenuous point-to-point trail is popular with both backpackers and birders due to the length of the route and the variety of flora and fauna. It takes about 5 hours and 20 minutes for most hikers to complete this trail.

The trek follows the Elk River with small waterfalls, streams, caves, and rock chambers to check out along the way. The trail passes through a forest with footbridges and rock overhangs until it ascends switchbacks to limestone bluffs. Stop here to take in the scenic views of Elk City Lake and its surroundings before heading back on the path. 

The trail runs adjacent to the 857-acre Elk City State Park. There are plenty of shorter trails in Elk City State Park that are well worth exploring if you have time. 

11. Indian Creek Trail, Overland Park

Indian Creek Trail, Overland Park, Kansas
The perfect trail for a Sunday hike with all the family. (Photo by Benjamin White / CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Type: Point to point
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 10 miles

If you’re looking for a breezy hike that can be followed by an afternoon in town for a post-hike beer or lunch, the Overland Park section of the Indian Creek Trail is a great choice!

This portion of the trail takes you through a leafy forest on a wide, paved trail that’s stroller-friendly and accessible for all. There are various access points to the trail, but we recommend starting at the Indian Creek Recreation Center just off W 103rd St and heading southwest. 

The highlights of this trail are the foliage and the creek itself. You may be close to a busy road and Kansas’ second most populous city most of the way, but at times you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere! 

Best Hikes in Kansas: Happy Hiking!

From scrambling down chalk bluffs filled with fossils to a leisurely walk along the Kansas River, the Sunflower State has something for every type of hiker. We hope this list of the best hikes in Kansas helps you find the perfect trail for you!

What are your favorite Kansas trails? Let us know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your friends.

Last update on 2024-06-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Kristina Large Avatar

Kristina Ros is an adventure travel writer and outdoor enthusiast. Whether it's backpacking to alpine lakes in Colorado or camping on white sand beaches in Mexico, she’s always seeking more time in nature.

A lifelong native of southern California, she had much to learn about cold weather living after moving to Colorado. A few slips on the ice and numb fingers later, she adapted to life in the snow. Moving to the mountains allowed her to enjoy a greater variety of outdoor activities, like snowboarding and snowshoeing, aside from her previous experience as a certified scuba diver and avid snorkeler.

Kristina has been traveling full-time since 2018, including many hiking, backpacking, and camping adventures. Most recently, she and her husband have spent over a year exploring the western United States and Mexico in their self-converted Sprinter van. 

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