With more than 2,000 miles of trails and floatable streams, Kansans are never at a shortage for places to hike, pedal, paddle or giddy-up.
Here is a month-by-month look at great times to try some of the state’s top trails or floats, as suggested by experts. Keep in mind some require good physical conditioning and gear such as water, insect repellant, a compass and a trail map.
February — The Perry Lake Trail dips and climbs about 30 miles around its namesake reservoir. The trail has its challenges, especially for those on mountain bikes, Lyle Riedy said.
The openness of winter provides some striking vistas looking out over the lake, sometimes from towering bluffs or places where waves lap at your feet.
During cold spells, when the surface is glazed, the cracking and popping of the shifting ice provides a symphony worthy of the great views.
For those short on time, the most scenic area is between the Old Military Park trailhead and the Old Quarry Road.
March — It’s called the Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail, but it is a pure pleasure for hikers, too, according to Bob Nicholson. It’s about 25 miles of trail often tracing beautiful Wilson Reservoir.
Many sections of the trail are atop high, rocky bluffs that have you looking down into the lake’s clear waters.
Some of the trail can be challenging, but there’s a special five-mile segment for beginners. The trail also bisects sections of prairie with broad views of the scenic Smoky Hills, which in many places resembles the Flint Hills of 40 years ago.
It’s no wonder the trail draws riders from across the nation, and has gotten recognition from the International Mountain Bicycling Association as the best of its kind on the great plains.
April — Chaplin Nature Center is only 200 acres but holds an amazing diversity of pure prairie, mature bottomland forests and long sandbars along the Arkansas River.
April on one of the center’s short trails should be a time of blooming redbuds. The grounds are maintained well. It’s a great place for a family hike.
May — The Elk River Trail has won national acclaim by pushing through for about 15 miles of mostly wooded terrain near Elk City Reservoir. But it’s the rimrock country, with some boulders the size of small houses, that make the trail extra special, according to Kate Hauber.
Be sure to spend some time just looking and listening. Carrying binoculars could be wise. You may see incredibly-colored warblers migrating northward through the tops of the dense oaks.
For those lacking time or endurance, check out the Post Oak Nature Trail.
June — The Flint Hills Nature Trail stretches about 80 miles along an old railroad bed that bisects some of the best parts of the Flint Hills. It’s well-maintained for foot or bicycle traffic, complete with some high bridges over gin-clear streams.
Wild flowers should be blooming. Some of the views are so prairie-perfect, one trail-side pasture was the site of last year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills.
Back roads crossing the trail make good spots to drop a second vehicle. One stretch of the trail spans 6 1/2 miles of prairie without a road. Council Grove is a great place to start.
July — No need to walk in the heat when you can paddle a trail at Toronto Reservoir. The Blue Water Trail is a well-marked aqua-trek through the gorgeous Chautauqua Hills. The trail has about 15 stops, and can be done in about 45 minutes, though many floaters take longer.
Cross Timbers State Park maintains the Blue Water Trail, and can provide all equipment from interpretive handbooks to kayaks and canoes for free. Reservations are required by calling 620-637-2213.
You can make a day of it at the swimming beach, playgrounds and traditional hiking trails in the park.
August — Wrangler Walt Gove will tell you there’s no bad time of the year for a horseback ride on the Horsethief Trail at Kanopolis State Park. And he’s right, including dawn and dusk rides in August.
On his gentle horses clients follow Gove through what he calls “the Yellowstone of Kansas,” with deep and steep canyons studded with yucca cactus and vintage prairie grasses and flowers.
As you ride, Gove recounts tales of the region’s rich history. As with all real cowboys, at least some of Gove’s stories are true. Reservations can be made at 785-826-0743.
September — The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve offers a variety of hiking trails, all through vintage Chase County prairie, Hauber said.
The grasses are beginning to turn a variety of copper, golds, reds and purples.
Take binoculars to possibly get a better look at the preserve’s small bison herd. No, you can’t go hug the calves.
October — Back to Cross Timbers State Park and other parts of Toronto Reservoir. In particular, check out the Chautauqua Hills Trail, which has loops of about 1 1/2 and 4 miles.
Hauber said the trail moves through the unique landscape of rimrock, huge boulders, stands of small oaks hundreds of years old and through stands of managed prairie grasses.
The last half of the month could have the many leaves in brilliant fall colors.
November — Lake Scott State Park has several trails, and all will leave you wondering if you’re really in Kansas anymore. It’s a valley of steep, rugged canyons, cactus and massive rocks.
Yes, it’s way out there, but you can make a fun weekend of it. To break up the drive, stop by Clark State Fishing Lake, an unexpected oasis on the high plains. You may want to check Ford County Lake Trail, near Dodge City.
Hit Lake Scott the next morning and on your way home stop by the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in time to watch the sun set at the Big Salt Marsh. You may see hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and ducks silhouetted against the sky. Binoculars are a must.
December — Family in for the holidays? Maybe ate too much at Christmas dinner? Check out Wichita’s Pawnee Prairie Park. Access is easy and the trails well maintained as they wind through some old-growth forest, riparian areas along Cowskin Creek and tall stands of native grass. It’s a significant taste of the great outdoors, within the state’s largest city.
January — Water conditions permitting, a winter float down the Arkansas River can give a unique look at one of Kansas’ few navigable waterways.
There’s no better people to share the “Big Ark” with than the Arkansas River Coalition. This group of hard-working volunteers think the best way to protect their favored water is to share it with others.
As well as knowledgeable guides, the coalition gladly furnishes things like canoes and kayaks, complete with paddles and floatation devices for free.
The group is known for their short twilight floats in the immediate Wichita area. Better, are their all-day floats.
Drifting and paddling through peaceful, and remote stretches of the Arkansas in winter is almost guaranteed to give good looks at bald eagles. If you’re lucky, lunch will be beside a driftwood fire on a sandbar. Check www.arkriver.org for a float schedule.