Waterfalls in Kansas
Probably no sound in nature is more relaxing than that of falling water.
It’s like a Siren’s Song that draws us to that place we don’t want to leave, where smoothly flowing water drops to crash and splash before again sliding easily downstream. It’s almost impossible to not stop, stare and listen.
And, yes, Kansas has places where the trilogy of rolling topography, flowing water and cracked limestone all come together. Four of the best waterfalls in Kansas are within a 25-minute drive of Sedan, a Chautauqua Hills town 90 miles southeast of Wichita.
Autumn can be a great time to tour waterfalls, especially after recent heavy rains.
Probably Kansas’ prettiest natural waterfall, Butcher Falls feeds from a stream that flows from the grasslands north of Sedan. Just above the falls, the stream slides across a solid limestone base and around boulders before its free fall of 10 to 15 feet. The pool below the falls is large and framed in boulders the size of small houses.
The boulders are easily accessed but drop directly into the water, so watch small children while there. Artists often set easels on a boulder and do their best to capture the scene. Blankets can be spread for picnics, too. The pool and falls can also be seen from a sturdy bridge that spans where the pool breaks into the next set of rapids.
Butcher Falls’ only real weakness is that a watershed dam was placed upstream. In drier times, it can limit the amount of water that reaches the falls.
▪ The gravel road to Butcher Falls is 1.2 miles north of Sedan on K-99.
▪ There, turn west at the large Red Buffalo Ranch sign, and stay on Kansas Road for 3 miles.
▪ Red Buffalo Ranch (which owns the falls) has a large sign and gate on the north side of the road. Park along the mowed grass beside the county road. Note that vehicles are not allowed beyond the gate without specific permission. Latch the gate behind you and walk about 80 yards to the north. Remember to take out your trash.
These man-made falls date back to when most riverside towns built dams to raise the flowing water high enough to accommodate the giant wooden wheels of a grain mill. At least 20 such dams are still on streams and rivers across the eastern half of Kansas.
The Elk River is one of the top streams in the Chautauqua Hills. At the skeletal town of Elk Falls, it’s a full-fledged river that falls probably 10 feet, under normal conditions. A refurbished 1890s railroad bridge sits just downstream from the falls, offering a nice view.
Dirt paths on the south side of the river can take you closer to the waterfall, but they can be slippery when wet. This is a river, and wading in the currents could be dangerous.
▪ Elk Falls is probably the quickest and easiest to find of the waterfalls in the Sedan area. The town of Elk Falls is on U.S. 160, about 5 miles east of where U.S. 160 and K-99 intersect. That’s about 18 miles north of Sedan and 8 miles south of Howard.
▪ Turn south off U.S. 160 at the “Business District” sign into the town of Elk Falls. Take the first left (east) on Montgomery Street. After about a half-mile, turn north at a T in the road. It’s not far to a parking area by the bridge.
The Caney River meanders about 30 miles before dropping into Oklahoma. It’s a pretty stream that normally flows as clear as polished glass over long stretches of riffles and through quiet pools. Nowhere is it prettier than at Osro Falls.
Osro Falls may be only 3 feet high, but it stretches for nearly 200 feet across the river. There’s a shallow limestone flat immediately above the falls where covered wagons crossed 150 years ago. Some locals still drive across the shallows when the water is at normal or low levels. A special lease with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism allows fishing just below the falls through the end of October.
The riffles below the dam are a great place where kids can poke around, with an endless supply of flat skipping stones.
Unfortunately, simply finding Osro Falls can sometimes be a challenge. That also adds to the adventure.
▪ First, do not listen to Siri or any other navigational system. She’ll try to bring you in from the north, which is not the best way.
▪ The best route is through the village of Hewins. You access Hewins off U.S. 166, about 11 miles west of Sedan. You should see small signs indicating the town is to the south, on Road 8. Take it south and stay on the dusty gravel road about 5.5 miles.
▪ The small cluster of four or five houses is Hewins. Take Dalton Road west from there. It’s not well marked, but it’s the only gravel road heading west. Take Dalton 1.3 miles to Eagle Road, which will continue westward. Stay on Eagle Road for 1 mile, through several turns. The dirt road to the falls goes north off Eagle Road but is not marked.
▪ If conditions are dry, you can slowly drive that trail north a half-mile to a large, cleared parking area a few yards from Osro Falls. GPS coordinates are N37 41.142 and W097 19.637.
▪ The fields and pastures along the dirt road to the falls are private property. If there’s been any rain, it’s best to park near Eagle Road and make the half-mile walk.
Swinging Bridge Falls
Moline’s claim to fame is “Kansas’ Oldest Swinging Bridge.” Once they are at the 1904 span, many people are probably more impressed with the waterfalls easily seen upstream.
The falls are small, with a couple of 3-foot drops, and Wildcat Creek is barely as wide as a two-lane road. The dainty size adds to the charm of what are sometimes known as Wildcat Falls. There are small pools below the falls where kids in rubber boots can wade and lift rocks as they look for crawdads while the family dog splashes about.
There are large rocks on both sides of the stream where people can just sit and maybe read a book, or visit with a friend, while they listen as the water rolls over the falls.
▪ Moline is on U.S. 160, less than a mile west of where 160 intersects with K-99. Follow U.S. 160 straight into downtown.
▪ The little town does a nice job with signs pointing to the swinging bridge. It and the falls are at the north edge of town, a block west of Main on Biddle Street. If the stream is high, the road will be blocked just above the low-water crossing by the bridge. It’s easy to loop east and take Main Street north and work your way back to the bridge. There’s a gravel parking area on the east.
This town of about 1,000 people attracts quite a few tourists. Many come for the area’s natural beauty or for a few special events and downtown shops. More than 10,000 bricks make up Sedan’s Yellow Brick Road. People, some famous, paid for the privilege of getting their names etched in one of the bricks.
There are places to get food, fuel and drinks. Eating places range from several small cafes downtown to a Pizza Hut. The largest restaurant is Buck’s BBQ, at the west edge of town. It has a good selection of smoked foods, steaks, sandwiches and beer.
If you’re driving, better not order a large beer at Buck’s. It’ll be 32 ounces. It’s closed on Sundays.
You can drive to Sedan from Wichita by taking U.S. 400 east, then south on K-99. Another route is I-135 south, then east on U.S. 166 through Arkansas City.