What Are Some of the Best Lakes in Kansas?
Summertime is the perfect time for a weekend getaway at the lake—especially in this hot weather. What better way to relax than to surround yourself with natural scenery and cool water? As someone who started going to the lake at two weeks old, I know a good lake when I see one, and there are many to choose from in our great state. Whether you like hiking, camping, fishing, swimming or water sports, there’s a lake in Kansas for you.
Located in the Flint Hills, just a short one-and-a-half hour drive from Wichita, Fall River provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun including swimming, boating, water sports, jet skiing, camping, and sightseeing. There are 45 campsites, as well as three modern cabins. The trail system stretches for seven miles, where you can hike or bicycle right along the lake. Fishers can expect to find white bass, bluegill, crappie, green sunfish and catfish. For the nature lover, there are miles of public wildlife area where chickens, rabbits, wild turkeys, deer and many species of birds are commonly seen. I love to wake up early in the morning to take a walk in nature with my dog, then head out on the lake to slalom ski.
Located in Central Kansas just two hours from Wichita, Wilson Lake is one of the clearest lakes in Kansas. This beautiful lake defies Kansas stereotypes with rolling hills, canyons, red rock outcrops and sandy beaches. Swimming, boating, water sports, jet skiing, picnics, camping, fishing and lodging are available for your fun in the sun and water. Even if you don’t bring a boat, it will still be worth your while to canoe, stand up paddle board or swim in the gorgeous lake. The views approaching from the west are mesmerizing as the flat fields give way to rolling hills and then the clear, blue lake. Both campgrounds are pleasant, but Hell Creek has the best views of our perfect Kansas sunsets. If you’re a cyclist, you’ll definitely want to check out the Switchgrass Bike Trail, an epic mountain bike trail for singletracks that stretches 25 miles with different loops for people of all experience levels.
Located on the edge of Lawrence, Clinton Lake in Clinton State Park is one of Kansas’ newest state parks. The park is managed to support a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, disc golf, archery, sand volleyball, swimming, boating and more. There are seven cabins available, six of which sleep six, and one that sleeps eight. There is a privately owned and operated marina on the lake called The Clinton Lake Marina, and it’s one of the newest and largest marinas on any of Kansas' lakes. Because of its increasing popularity, the marina has grown to offer more items such as packaged food, clothing, boating supplies, fishing supplies, beer and pizza, as well as fuel and covered slips for boat storage.
The oldest state park in Kansas, Kanopolis State Park is situated in the rolling hills, bluffs and woods of the Smoky Hills region of Kansas. Kanopolis Lake has two main campground areas, Langley Point Area and Horsethief Area, which include over 400 campsites, five group picnic shelters, six cabins, modern showers and restrooms, swim beaches, three boat ramps and a full service marina. There is also a 26 mile trail system that can be used for hiking, biking and riding horses. Kanopolis Lake is a high traffic lake as far as water sports go, but there’s also plenty of room for fishers as there is a designated fishing section located in a tranquil area of the lake.
The largest lake in Kansas, Milford Lake is perfect for scenic getaways. In addition to the huge lake which offers boating, water sports, fishing and sandy beaches, Milford Lake also offers other outdoor recreational opportunities including hiking trails, biking, horseback riding and camping. Check out Acorns Resort where there are lodges, cabins and RV parks. All cabins and lodge rooms are within walking distance to the sandy beach, boat docks, the boat rental area and trails. They are also pet friendly! Pull up by boat to The Cove Bar and Grill, located on Acorns Resort, and sit outside on the large patio area with a great meal and a drink in hand.
You have to check out Nudie Beach while you’re at Milford Lake, which is one of the best sandy beaches there. Boats line up and people swim, play games and lay out in the sun. But, don’t let the name fool you, this beach is not a clothing optional one.
Melvern Lake is situated on the eastern edge of Kansas' Flint Hills Region with ten miles of open water. Outdoor lovers will find plenty of activities ranging from fishing to hunting, camping and swimming, and boating to skiing. The convenient Melvern Lake Marina opens at 7 a.m. everyday and offers food, beer, fuel, fishing supplies, camping supplies and toiletries. Six campgrounds are located around the lake if you want to stay for a weekend: Outlet, Coeur d' Alene, Arrow Rock, Sun Dance, Turkey Point Parks and Eisenhower State Park campground. Most people camp out in motorhomes or tent trailers. There are three sandy beaches on the lake that are designated for swimming. The Outlet Beach and Coeur d' Alene beaches also have volleyball nets set up if you’re feeling competitive.
Santa Fe Lake
If you’re looking for a quick getaway, look no further than Santa Fe Lake in Augusta. This lake has calm waters which are perfect for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and skiing. Don’t have a stand up paddle board? Flatwater Fitness and Fun, located right on the lake, rents these boards out for lessons, fitness classes or for fun on your own. Visit both of Santa Fe Lake’s sandy beaches so you can swim or paddle board all day. They both offer protection from boating traffic yet allow for a quick swim right off the boat. Bathrooms are conveniently located within walking distance of both beaches. If you’re a fisher, know that this lake only allows catch and release fishing. The fish are plentiful as the lake was restocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish and walleye in April of 2015. Santa Fe lake is also home to hiking and biking trails. You’ll want to pass by the beautiful waterfalls by the dam site while you’re on the trail, especially in the spring and summer.
Lake Fort Scott
Located along the Western Vistas, National Geographic listed the area as one of the country's 50 must-see state parks. The park provides a serene setting for campers, boaters, swimmers, hikers, hunters and fishers. Nature trails can be used by hikers, horseback riders and naturalists, and provide the opportunity to observe or photograph wildlife in their natural habitat. Expect to see wild turkey, deer, bobcats and beavers. The quaint lake is more for fishing boats as recreational boaters must have a permit purchased at either City Hall or Woodland Hills Golf Course.
Wichita has plans to not only put in a 420-acre park with a lake, but also an urban wetlands park. Crystal Prairie Lake will be located near K-96 between North Hoover Road and the Arkansas River, and will offer scuba diving, a swim beach, 14 miles of trails, a shelter and events buildings, a fishing pier, a festival lawn and amphitheater, picnic areas, playgrounds, boardwalks, a nature center, and a marina and boat ramp. It will also offer a cable wake park where a cable, instead of a boat, will be used for skiing and other water sports.
Pracht Wetlands Park will be located at West 29th Street North and Maize Road. There will be park trails, a boardwalk system, observation areas to watch wildlife and a long trail.
Construction may begin as early as this fall, and although these developments won't be complete by 2025, some parts may be open to the public as progress happens.
Kansas has a lot to offer when it comes to beautiful scenery, and our lakes are no exception. I can't think of many things better than being outside in nature with a hot summer breeze, the cool lake water in my hair and a nice cold drink. Don't even get me started on the dazzling night skies, away from the city lights, where you can see every star in the sky brighter than ever before. Our Kansas lakes truly are breathtaking, and they're about to become even better with the new additions in Wichita.