The 90-plus-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail is Kansas’ longest trail, as well as one of its most diverse.
The trail stretches from Herington east to Osawatomie and passes through several towns including Rantoul, Ottawa, Pomona, Vassar, Osage City, Admire and Council Grove. Here’s a look at what trail users can find and expect, according to Scott Allen and others of the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy.
Osawatomie to Rantoul – 7.8 miles
Osawatomie has many amenities for food and lodging. There are camping sites at the John Brown Memorial Park.
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The trail between Osawatomie and Rantoul is lined with trees that mesh for a canopy over the trail for most of the way. Staying on the maintained part of the trail should alleviate any problems with poison ivy or ticks. About two miles of this section of trail goes through the tall bluff country of the Marais des Cygnes River valley.
Rantoul to Ottawa – 11.1 miles
There is ample parking, including for horse trails, for those accessing the trail in Rantoul, but there’s not much else as per food or lodging.
The trail between Rantoul and Ottawa is classic eastern Kansas woodlands. Watch for a detour that takes trail users down about two miles of gravel road before again bringing them to the old railroad right-of-way.
Ottawa to Pomona – 10.2 miles
Ottawa is a sizable town right on Interstate I-35, with motels and plenty of places to eat. As of now, though, the town has no camping.
The trail gets a lot of use between Ottawa and Rantoul, though it’s seldom crowded. The bridge over the Marais des Cygnes River, just west of Ottawa, is new and offers a great view of a nearby waterfall and seating for those wanting to take a break.
Pomona to Vassar – 10.7 miles
Pomona’s Casey’s General Store is bigger than some small-town grocery stores. It sells hot food; plus there are three restaurants in town.
Hobo Rock is about two miles west of where Highway 68 crosses the trail. Legend has it hobos gathered there, and would jump down on the top of trains moving through the area. The trail passes near the tiny hamlet of Quenemo, which offers nothing in the way of food or lodging.
Vassar to Osage City – 11.2 miles
Vassar has little to offer, but there’s plenty of camping, shower houses, etc., at Pomona State Park, about a mile north of town.
There’s an open-tie bridge between Osage City and Highway 75 with no railing. Hikers cross it regularly. Most bikers walk their bikes across.
Camping is available at Salt Creek Ranch, and primitive and complete “horse hotels” with pens and water for those traveling via horseback. The ranch also leads trail rides on the trail. Call 785-828-3739 for more information.
Osage City to Admire – 15.5 miles
Osage City has several places to eat and buy basic necessities, but no lodging or campgrounds.
This stretch of the trail is the most primitive of all the open sections, and also the least crowded. There’s a detour on a nearby county road to avoid a section of the trail that’s closed. Also, the final 13 miles into Admire are not yet finished. Allen compared the surface to “a typical gravel road.”
Bridges are not decked or railed. Some have open ties.
Admire to Bushong – 9 miles
There’s a small cafe in Allen that serves lunches Monday-Saturday, and primitive camping in the small city park. Admire has public water and restrooms spring through fall. The city park has camping, including four sites with water and electricity.
The trail and bridges between the two small towns are easily traversed by foot or bike.
Bushong to Council Grove – 15.2 miles
Primitive camping is available at Bushong, just off the trail where it crosses Road F.
The first eight miles or so west of Bushong is through some of the most spectacular views of the Flint Hills. Another highlight is the 400-plus-foot-long bridge over Rock Creek. It’s wide and smooth.
There are some primitive camping sites at Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park, about 3½ miles east of Council Grove.
Council Grove offers a variety of eateries, ranging from big-chain fast food to the legendary Hays House, which has been in operation since 1857.
There are campgrounds at Council Grove Reservoir, about a mile north of town. The town has a variety of lodging options.