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Central Standard

Best Kansas Trails For Biking, Hiking And Horseback Riding

Kristin Conard

Spring is finally here and outdoor enthusiasts around the Midwest are ready to hit the trails and take in some fresh air. Acccording to authors Jonathan and Kristin Conard, the Great Plains offers a wide variety of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails, ranging from simple beginner paths to more advanced ones. 

Jonathan and Kristin Conard shared their favorite outdoor spots with Central Standard's Gina Kaufmann in anticipation of their upcoming book, Kansas Trail Guide: The Best Hiking, Biking and Riding in the Sunflower State

Kristin Conard's top trails:

Best hiking trail: Lake Scott State Park - Scott City, Kan.

  • It runs all the way around Lake Scott, and you get great views of the bluffs, with some side trails that you can take to explore, and great views of the lake.

Best riding trail: Melvern Lake in Eisenhower State Park - Osage City, Kan.

  • There are two main loops that you can take, the longer one takes you through the timber and along the banks of the lake, and the shorter one takes you across the open hills. It’s an ideal mix of prairie and wooded areas with some fantastic views, particularly in spring and summer with plenty of wildflowers in bloom.
Credit Jonathan Conard
Blue River Trail

  Best bike trail: Blue River - Manhattan, Kan.

  • It’s got some offshoots where you can hit up some jumps and obstacles, and the hard packed single track takes you through the woods near the Linear Trail.

  New trail:  Southwind Rail Trail - Garnett, Kan.

  • Located at the southern end of the Prairie Spirit Trail, the Southwind Rail Trail connects Iola and Humboldt. It opened in 2013, and it’s a well taken care of stretch of trail that adds another 6.5 or so miles to the 51-mile Prairie Spirit Trail. 

New trail: Shawnee Mission Park and Wyandotte Lake

  • Both had plans in place to put in new loops and trails to the already existing trail network that’s out there. What with the passionate cyclists and runners in the area, the trails are well taken care of, and it’s exciting to see what’s being added on to these trails that wind through the hills and woods of Kansas City.

Jonathan Conard's top trails:

Best hiking trail: Elk River Trail in Elk City State Park - Independence, Kan.

  • The rock formations and towering bluffs over the Elk River make it hard to beat this trail. This 13-mile trail also offers a chance for backpackers to overnight at backcountry sites along the trail.

Best biking trail: MacLennan Park - Topeka, Kan.

  • Tucked behind the governor's mansion in Topeka, this trail network has a real wilderness feel even though it's in the midst of the city. The trails switchbacks through thick forests near the Kansas River and features a log obstacle section and connects with additional trail in Kaw River State Park. With enough loops to add some variety to your ride this trail offers options for everyone.

Best horseback trail: Horsethief Trail, Kanopolis State Park - Marquette, KS

  • The Dakota Sandstone bluffs of Horsethief Canyon are a scenic backdrop for one of the best horse trails in the state. There are over 20 miles of trails that wind deep into the canyons and along the ridges of the first state park in Kansas. Hikers can also enjoy this trail but the sand makes it difficult for mountain bikers.
Credit Jonathan Conard
Flint Hills Nature Trail

New trail: Flint Hills Nature Trail

  • The longest rail-trail in Kansas, the Flint Hills Nature Trail cuts a path through the scenic heart of the Flint Hills. Trail construction is currently underway to fully connect existing segments from Osawatomie to Council Grove. Eventually the trail will stretch all the way to Herington in the west and connect with the Landon Nature Trail as it runs south from Topeka. Our favorite section cuts through vast expanses of open tallgrass prairie between Bushong and Council Grove.

New trail: Blue River Rail Trail

  • This trail starts at Marysville and goes north as it parallels the Big Blue River.  The first few miles of the trail are the most scenic with great views of the river and a chance to see the signature covered bridge along the way.  The trail was just recently extended north to the Nebraska state line, and will connect directly with the Homestead Trail that continues north all the way to Lincoln.

Top trail picks from our listeners:

  • Clinton Lake North Shore trails - Lawrence, KS
  • Wilson Lake Switchgrass Trails - Wilson, KS
  • Camp Horizon Mountain Bike Trail - Arkansas City, KS
Central Standard hikingtrails
People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
Matthew Long-Middleton has been a talk-show producer, community producer, Media Training Manager and now the Community Engagement Manager at KCUR. You can reach him at Matthew@kcur.org, or on Twitter @MLMIndustries.