Backpacking in Kansas: Tips & Trails

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

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

Backpacking in Kansas offers a variety of scenic hiking trails that wind through its diverse landscapes like prairies, forests, rivers, and hills.

Popular spots like Flint Hills and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve boast miles of trails in rolling tallgrass prairie. State parks like Clinton and Perry offer wooded paths along cliffs and streams. In southeast Kansas, the Ozark Plateau provides rocky trails with elevation changes.

In this post, we’ll explore the realm of ultralight backpacking in Kansas, providing essential details for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We will highlight the TOP 5 trails in Kansas across two categories: day hikes under 25 miles, and multi-day trips with opportunities to resupply every couple of days.

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: Camping in the wild 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: The best times for hiking in Kansas 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 Day Hikes (Under 25 Miles)

Discover the best day hikes that are greatly enhanced by using ultralight gear:

  1. Elk River Hiking Trail (15.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Shawnee Mission Park Violet and Red Trail (6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Wyandotte County Lake Loop Trail (10.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Gary L. Haller National Recreation Trail (13.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Konza Godwin Hill Loop Trail (6.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Top multi-day trails for backpacking in Kansas with resupply options every two days:

  1. Flint Hills Nature Trail (93.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Prairie Spirit Trail (54.4 miles).
    See on Hiking Project.
  3. West Flint Hills Nature Trail (75.3 miles).
    See on Hiking Project.
  4. Perry Lake Trail (26.5 miles).
    See on Hiking Project.
  5. Flint Hills Nature Trail: Ottawa to Council Grove (73.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

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):

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

FAQ

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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