How Kansas’ private campgrounds appeal to families

Fewer people, less traffic and smaller bodies of water are reasons some families prefer to stay at private campgrounds, like Spring Lake RV Resort and Campground, near Halstead.(May 2, 2017)
Fewer people, less traffic and smaller bodies of water are reasons some families prefer to stay at private campgrounds, like Spring Lake RV Resort and Campground, near Halstead.(May 2, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

Before they had children, Susan White and her husband, Jeff, did quite a bit of camping at state parks. But since they’ve had three children, now ages 9 to 12, rather than camping at state parks that cover up to 4,300 acres, the Whites spend as many weekends as possible at the 93-acre Spring Lake RV Resort and Campground, near Halstead.

White said they feel they get much more from the privately owned campground that’s a fraction the size of any state park.

“There are just more things for a family to do, even though it is smaller,” said White, of Andale. “It’s like a community out there. We like the quiet hours because it’s mostly families staying out there. It can get kind of loud and rough at (public parks) sometimes.”

Among other things, White said her family, all of whom like to fish, can catch more fish in the smaller ponds at the private campground than at a sprawling reservoir.

“We don’t have a boat, and you really need one for the big lakes,” she said. “A kid can cast for hours from shore (at a big lake) and never get a bite. You can take a kid to one of the smaller, stocked ponds and they’ll catch fish after fish and be hooked for life.”

Larry Olson, a private campground owner and the Kansas RV Parks and Travel organization founder, said creating a family atmosphere is a top priority at most of the roughly 75 private campgrounds within Kansas.

A complete list of member campgrounds, plus many city and county grounds, is available at www.ksrvparks.org. Following are four examples of what private campgrounds in Kansas can offer to families.

Spring Lake RV Resort and Campground, Halstead

Co-owner Mark Vogel said one of the most important things he’s learned about operating their business is “if you can keep the kids happy, the kids will want to come back. Whenever the kids want to come back, the entire family comes back.”

Three ponds amid the prairie setting, which are stocked regularly with bass, bluegill and catfish, are a large draw for families, Vogel said.

White said her kids like the pond that has a bridge going to a small island, where the bluegill fishing can be excellent.

“You take a kid out there and it seems like they’re getting a bite every 30 seconds some days,” White said. “But we also like to fish at night for catfish at other ponds. That’s just something my family likes to do. The nights are so calm, so peaceful and relaxing out there.”

There’s a $4-a-day charge per angler.

The Whites spend about two weekends a month at the campground, which is about 37 miles north of Wichita and located between Halstead and Burrton, just south of Highway 50. They often take bike rides on the roads that weave through the park or hike a short nature trail.

Spring Lake is one of the rare campgrounds in Kansas with an in-ground pool, which White prefers over her kids swimming in a lake that can have a blue-green algae problem, litter or a soft mud bottom. The campground also has a sizable playground and mini-golf course.

The campground has a stage and hosts live music many weekends, and a clubhouse where the staff prepares, for a cost, meals like hamburger dinners and pancake breakfasts on weekends. They host kids fishing tournaments and have a Halloween celebration.

Vogel said the grounds have 180 camping sites, of which 126 have full hook-ups. They have cabins for rent, ranging from a simple bunk room to those with kitchens and two bedrooms. There are also several RVs that can be rented on the grounds.

Wi-Fi is available in some locations, and there are several shower houses, shelter houses and a workout gym. Prices begin at $13 for a primitive tent site. Furnished rental cabins or RVs start at around $50 per night. For more information, call 316-835-3443 or go to www.springlakervresort.com.

4 Mile Creek RV Resort, near Augusta

“Just about everyone,” was how Ken Bratton, resort manager, answered when asked if many families camp at the campground a few miles southwest of Augusta. The campground is about 20 miles southeast of Wichita.

Even though the main grounds are 120 acres, Bratton said most of the activity is around the spring-fed, seven-acre lake in a wooded valley between two camping areas.

“It’s pretty quiet and peaceful out here,” said Bratton as he led a recent tour. “There are a lot bigger lakes, but we get people that come here because they don’t want their families around some of the things at bigger lakes where things can get pretty loud, and rough, especially at night.”

The lake is dotted with usable docks that campers have built, and left, over the years. Campers can bring their own canoes or kayaks. The campground has none for rent or loan.

4 Mile has a number of RVs that people live in year-round, and others left on a site that are mostly used by families on weekends and holidays. Bratton said there are usually plenty of vacancies for anything from tents to nice RVs. Pricing starts at $16 for tent camping, which includes utilities. Guests include a mix of cross-country travelers and Kansans who may live less than a half-hour away.

Home to college cross country meets, the resort has 2K and 5K walking trails. There’s also a nature trail going to Four Mile Creek, where campers can fish for native fish like spotted bass and flathead catfish. Guests are welcome to ride bicycles on the gravel and paved roads through the campground.

The campground has two shower houses, a clubhouse and other shelters. The golf course was recently closed, and the mini-golf course is being repaired.

For more information, call 316-733-0459 or go to 4milecreekresort.com.

Acorns Resort and RV Park, Milford Reservoir

Kansas’ only full-service resort on the shores of a major reservoir does indeed offer camping.

Rick Dykstra, marketing manager for the 99-acre facility at Milford Reservoir, said lodging ranges from shaded tent sites to cabins that put most houses to shame in terms of size and furnishings.

The resort has a marina, with boat slips for watercraft brought by guests, and rents about everything from stand-up paddleboards to pontoon boats. Milford has some of Kansas’ best reservoir fishing for wipers, blue catfish and smallmouth bass. Staff can suggest good locations or arrange for guided trips.

Acorns has a maintained three-mile hiking trail, and dozens of miles of other trails are nearby. Milford State Park, one of Kansas’ largest, is only a few miles away and can be accessed with a daily park pass. Museums and other attractions at Fort Riley, Kansas State University, Junction City and Manhattan are just a few miles away. The resort is about 120 miles north of Wichita.

Unlike most campgrounds, Acorns has a full-service bar and grill for lunch and dinners, often served on a deck overlooking an arm of the lake.

Wi-Fi is available in many areas, and there’s a small store on the property. For more information, call 785-463-4000 or go to acornsresortkansas.com.

Topeka/Capital City KOA

The hundreds of KOA campgrounds around America share one common theme, according to Charlie Reaser.

“In general, we’re all about the family, getting families together so they can have a good time,” said Reaser, Topeka/Capital City KOA manager. “It’s our job to keep (every member) happy, to keep them coming back to us for family camping fun.”

Reaser’s campground offers nature trails and three fishing ponds, but also a super-sized playground, saltwater swimming pool and off-leash dog park. His KOA offers everything from tent camping to fully furnished cabins.

To give the camping experience more of rural flair, the campground offers hay wagon rides on warm weather weekends, as well as pancake breakfasts on Saturday mornings.

Reaser said his clientele is a mix of Kansas families on weekend or vacation camping trips and out-of-state campers passing through. Many decide to stay at his campground so they can branch out and experience a variety of sites.

“We do get a lot of people in who make day trips from our campgrounds,” he said. “Some may be in from out of state and want to spend a nice day in the Flint Hills so they’ll drive over.

“We’re in a great location for people who want to see museums, with what we’ve got in Topeka and other towns nearby.” The campground is also within about an hour of major sporting events in Lawrence, Manhattan and Kansas City. It’s about 140 miles northeast of Wichita.

Reaser is proud, though, that so many would rather return to his campground for the evening and night than stay within one of those towns.

“There’s so much more for a family to do at a good campground than a hotel,” he said. “We’re offering a total experience, with the activities, picnic tables, places for campfires. Camping, in my opinion, is one of the last real activities a family can really enjoy together. They can go fishing, or hiking, or if they’re gone (all day) they can still come back and make s’mores. That’s real family time, right there.”

For more information, call 785-862-5267 or visit the Capital City KOA website here.

Michael Pearce: 316-268-6382, @PearceOutdoors