There’s plenty to do outdoors on Labor Day weekend. Here are five fun adventures within 100 miles of Wichita.
Waterfalls and fishing at state lakes
Where: Chase and Cowley state fishing lakes
Distances: Both within 80 miles of Wichita.
These state fishing lakes average about 120 acres. Kids using pieces of worms on small hooks should catch bluegill and green sunfish around flooded weeds and along the rock jetties. Fish close to shore. All three lakes have solid populations of bass and catfish. Check for specific lake regulations.
Chase State Fishing Lake, is three miles west of Cottonwood Falls in a Flint Hills valley. Across the lake from the parking area there’s a waterfall below the dam when water is plentiful.
Cowley State Fishing Lake, 14 miles east of Arkansas City, has a nice setting with trees and a waterfall at the northwest corner of the lake, below the dam.
Both lakes are easily accessible but have no concessions. Bring your bug spray, fishing bait and refreshments. Trails to the waterfalls are not maintained so use caution.
Hike to buffalo and wild flowers
Where: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, on K-177 north of Strong City.
Distance: 80 miles from Wichita.
Rarely are Flint Hills so green and vibrant in August, thanks to the wet summer. The preserve covers 11,000 acres, with 40 miles of hiking trails and never closes to foot traffic. The visitor’s center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
The buffalo herd on the preserve is at 100 animals in a pasture of 1,000 acres. They’re not a guaranteed find, though many hikers spot the animals. Do not approach the animals. This year’s crop of wild flowers is impressive.
Free fireworks at Cheney Reservoir
Distance: 30 miles from Wichita.
For the past 20 summers, the Ninnescah Sailing Association has given summer a sendoff with a fireworks display on Labor Day weekend. This year’s is Sept. 4 at dusk and should last an hour. The public can watch from boats near the sailing club’s cove on the west side or from the land around the association’s facilities.
Watching the fireworks is free, but state park permits are required for driving to the association’s grounds. Enter the state park at the entrance west of Cheney’s dam. Signs will lead you there. Refreshments and lawn chairs are recommended.
Hike the Chautauqua Hills
Where: Cross Timbers State Park, in Woodson County
Distance: 85 miles from Wichita.
The Chautauqua Hills are a narrow finger of geographical delight that seem a cross between the Flint Hills and the Ozarks, with sections of tall grass prairie leading to towering trees and rimrock canyons with big boulders. Cross Timbers State Park, on the shores of Toronto Reservoir, is a great place to hike them.
There are five hiking trails ranging from a half-mile to 11 miles. To get the most for your steps, try the 1 1/4-mile Overlook Trail, just east of the lake’s dam. It winds through woodlands and gives some nice views of the lake.
The Ancient Tree Trail, the only of the five not open to mountain biking, is a mile long and has interpretive signs to help identify some trees more than 300 years old.
A state park vehicle permit is needed to enter the state park. Daily permits can purchased for $5. Permits also allow use picnic tables, restrooms, playground equipment, loaner kayaks and canoes at the park office, and other state park amenities.
Deer walks at dawn
Where: Chisholm Creek and Pawnee Prairie parks, Wichita
Get to these parks by 6:30 a.m. to possibly see whitetail does and fawns feeding at first light. Eagle reporter Roy Wenzl usually sees several when he hikes Chisholm Creek Park, near 29th and Oliver. The paved trail through most of the 282 acres crosses wetlands, goes through riparian areas and patches of tall grass prairie. Plan on finding wild flowers, assorted songbirds and butterflies. Wenzl enters from the Great Plains Nature Center parking lot, 6232 E. 29th Street North, accessing the trail by the restrooms.
Those wanting more leg room have nearly five miles of trails at Pawnee Prairie Park, 2625 S. Tyler Road. Remember, these are wild animals, so don’t approach too close or feed them.