Take a Walk on the Wild Side in Montgomery County

hiking imageA unique geological area with wooded hills, interspersed with limestone formations, caves and crevices defines beloved hiking venues across America. But southeastern Kansas isn’t generally the first to come to mind.

“Visitors say they must be in the Ozarks,” said Jacob Guiot, Park Manager at Elk City State Park. “They can’t believe this is Kansas!”

That specific ecology and geology is what separates the Elk City State Park, Reservoir and Wildlife Area from other parts of Kansas. Just west of the city of Independence in Montgomery County, the area includes the finest hiking in all of Kansas, as well as a range of exceptional outdoor activities. 

Rugged and Beautiful Hiking

The area is well-known for its diverse trail systems. The biggest draw for serious hikers is the nationally-known Elk River Hiking Trail, a 15-mile trail that runs from the north side of the reservoir westward through the Elk City Wildlife Area to the US-160 bridge outside of Elk City. The trail offers hikers of all experience levels to enjoy day hikes to overnight backpacking. In 2007, Backpacker Magazine ranked it the best trail in Kansas.

“The trail is very well maintained, thanks to the Kansas Trail Council,” said Bill Barnett, a leader in the Kansas Hiking Club. “It is very rugged and beautiful to those who love being outside.”

Barnett has experience hiking across the country. While Kansas does not have an Appalachian Trail or Ozark Trail, Montgomery County is lucky to have the native trees, limestone bluffs and overall relief provided by the Elk City area.

“It’s a wild place unlike anything else in Kansas,” he said. “And to have it a short walk from a parking lot is simply wonderful!”

The state park itself offers plenty of hiking opportunities within the 857 acres it occupies. The Post-Oak and Green Thumb Nature Trails are easy hikes for families and folks of any age. The 5.6 mile Table Mound Hiking Trail offers an experience between those family hikes and the Elk River Hiking Trail, while the South Squaw Recreation area offers an off-leash dog area.

“We have a real variety of trails for everyone,” said Guiot. “There are handicap-accessible, exercise trails and more epic adventure trails.”

State Park, Reservoir & Wildlife Area

Alternative trail use can be found at the Elk City State Park, such as the Eagle Rock Mountain Bike Trail. Although 2019 floods did some damage, the trails are ready to go now, said Guiot.

“Thanks to the Eagle Rock Shredders, the trails have been maintained to the point where they are usable,” he said.

The 12,000-acre Elk City Wildlife Area is managed for fishing and hunting. The 4,500-acre Elk City Reservoir within the wildlife area’s boundaries offers boating, waterfowl hunting and fishing. The state record Flathead Catfish, at 123 pounds and 61 inches long, was caught in the reservoir.

Unique Outdoor Recreation

Taken as a whole, the Elk City area is a perfect outlet for visitors, said Guiot.

“For those who live nearby, the outdoor recreation and unique geology are just a short drive from the city and a perfect way to relax after a long week at work,” he said. “And the trails we have are excellent examples of how scenic Kansas is.”