Backpacking in Kansas: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in Kansas: Konza Prairie nature trail overlooking Manhattan, Kansas

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Kansas may not be the most renowned or sought-after destination, but it can offer a unique and rewarding experience for those willing to venture into the state’s understated natural beauty.

From the rolling tallgrass prairies to the rugged canyons and buttes of the Gypsum Hills, Kansas offers a range of backpacking adventures for hikers of all skill levels.

In this guide, we’ll share essential tips and the top 5 multi-day trails in Kansas, catering to both experienced backpackers and newcomers eager to explore the state’s underrated natural wonders.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Kansas

  • What to expect: Backpacking in Kansas offers diverse landscapes, from tallgrass prairies and gentle hills in the east to rocky mesas and dry land in the west. Trails vary with surfaces like dirt, grass, and some rock. Since cell service can be unreliable, having good navigation skills is crucial for longer trips.
  • Essential gear: Pack sturdy clothes and a rain jacket with pants. Don’t forget your portable water filter, like a Sawyer or LifeStraw, and bring a map, compass, or GPS due to limited cell service.
  • Wildlife: In Kansas, there’s low risk of encountering dangerous wildlife while hiking. Venomous snakes like copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes are rare, as are ticks carrying diseases. Biting insects may cause irritation, but severe reactions are uncommon. Large mammals like bison and cougars pose minimal risk, with aggression being extremely rare.
  • Wild camping in Kansas is a bit limited. In Comanche National Forest, backcountry camping is allowed with rules. But in state parks and most public lands, you can only camp in certain spots, and backcountry camping is not allowed. Camping in certain recreation areas is allowed, but there may be rules about where and how long. If you want to camp on private land, you need the owner’s permission.
  • Best times to go are spring and fall when the weather is mild and wildflowers and fall foliage offer beautiful scenery. Spring from March to May brings blooming wildflowers while September through November boasts autumn colors.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Kansas

Here are the best multi-day backpacking trails in Kansas:

1. Elk River Hiking Trail

A picturesque view of the winding Elk River flanked along a serene section of the hiking trail

Granger Meador, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 26.5 mi / 42.6 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 977 ft / 298 m
Location: Elk City State Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 3900 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This 15.3-mile moderately challenging point-to-point trail is popular for backpacking, birding, and camping, with primitive campsites every mile or so. Water sources are extremely limited, so carrying sufficient water is essential. The first 3 miles feature minor scrambling, then easing to moderate difficulty. Proper planning and ample water are essential to fully enjoy this point-to-point trek through nature’s beauty.

2. Wyandotte County Lake Loop Trail

A tranquil lakeside scene at Wyandotte County Lake with the sun's warm rays reflecting off the calm waters

Laura Gilchrist, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 10.4 mi / 16.7 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1322 ft / 403 m
Location: Wyandotte County Lake Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 2200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This 10.4-mile loop trail near Kansas City offers a moderately challenging hiking experience through diverse terrain. The popular route demands proper footwear, navigation skills, and provisions like bug spray as the leaf-covered, potentially muddy sections require caution. Despite occasional lack of clear markings, the varied terrain with elevation changes provides a nice experience.

3. Flint Hills Nature Trail: Ottawa to Council Grove

On the Konza Prairie nature trail near Manhattan, Kansas, an expansive field of verdant grass stretches out under a brilliant blue daytime sky

Length: 73.1 mi / 117.6 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1496 ft / 456 m
Location: Ottawa
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 27 400 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This 73.1-mile point-to-point section of the Flint Hills Nature Trail offers a moderately challenging hike or bike through the tallgrass prairie of east-central Kansas. Part of a long rail-trail, it traverses the beautiful Flint Hills ecosystem on a packed gravel surface with gentle grades. While popular, it allows solitude at quieter times.

4. Black Hawk Blue Trail

At the Hundred and Ten Mile Recreation Area, a serene evening view showcases the clear skies and tranquil waters reflecting the last rays of the setting sun

Length: 14.9 mi / 24 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 774 ft / 236 m
Location: Hundred and Ten Mile Recreation Area
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 3800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This 14.9-mile moderately challenging out-and-back trail system winds along the shores of Pomona Lake, offering a secluded escape for backpacking, birding, and fishing. The blue and orange trails allow creating loops like an 8-mile circuit. Despite being a hidden gem, the trails are generally well-marked but can get muddy. With water sources and scenic lakeside campsites available on this lightly-trafficked area, it provides a tranquil nature getaway close to home.

5. Flint Hills Nature Trail: Complete

A vibrant spring prairie landscape blanketed in wildflowers and grasses unfolds across the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area in Kansas

Length: 93.9 mi / 151.1 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1804 ft / 550 m
Location: Osawatomie
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Flint Hills Nature Trail is a 93.9-mile point-to-point hiking route traversing the tallgrass prairie of east-central Kansas. This moderately challenging trail has a packed gravel surface and passes through small towns, alongside rivers, bluffs, farmlands, and prairie wildlife. While immersing you in one of the last remaining tallgrass ecosystems, the lack of frequent campsites and water sources, combined with potentially monotonous terrain, may make it not suitable for everyone.

Annual Weather Averages

Kansas has a consistent climate, with distinct seasons:

  • Spring (March-May): Daytime highs range from 50-70°F, with occasional thunderstorms. Spring brings blooming flowers and green landscapes.
  • Summer (June-August): Warm to hot temperatures prevail, with daytime highs averaging 80-95°F. Summers can be humid, and occasional thunderstorms are common.
  • Fall (September-November): Daytime highs range from 60-75°F, with cooler nights. Fall foliage appears, creating picturesque landscapes.
  • Winter (December-February): Winters are mild, with daytime highs around 30-50°F. Lows can dip into the teens and 20s°F. Snowfall is possible but typically lighter than in northern states.

The Flint and Smokey Hills regions generally have milder weather than western Kansas. Being flexible and ready for anything is key for backpacking in Kansas given the dynamic weather patterns.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Kansas (Tulsa):

High °F505565738088939385746251
Low °F303443526170747264534233
Rain/Snow (D*)6799119778877
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Kansas is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Nebraska and Colorado.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Kansas? 

When backpacking in Kansas, campfires are allowed but have some rules. You can only have fires in set-up fire rings or grates in specific camping areas within state parks, wildlife refuges, and public lands. Check for county burn bans when it’s dry. In some places, you might need to buy firewood or have restrictions on gathering it.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Kansas?

Tell someone you trust about your route and when you plan to be back in case of an emergency. Bring a map, compass, or GPS since cell service might be spotty. Keep an eye on the weather for possible thunderstorms and have extra clothes or shelter just in case. Bring more water than you think you’ll need and a way to purify it if necessary. Be careful around big animals, and be aware of rattlesnakes in some places. Always hike with a buddy or in a group to be safe. If you’re camping in a remote spot, make sure to secure your food properly to avoid attracting animals.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Kansas?

If you come across wildlife while backpacking in Kansas, follow these tips. Deer are common but usually stay away from humans. Stay calm and keep your distance. Coyotes might be alone or in packs but are generally not aggressive unless they feel threatened. Don’t feed or surround any wild animals. Be careful of snakes, like rattlesnakes, in drier areas, and be extra cautious with your hands and feet. If you see a bull bison, slowly back away and find another way, as they can charge if they feel threatened. Never approach wildlife, especially mothers with young. Carry bear spray just in case animals feel threatened.

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At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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