When I heard about Lake Scott State Park, my curiosity was peaked. The park was described as a surprising oasis amid the high plains of the prairie with archaeological remains, hiking, and abundant wildlife. We have wanted to better explore the state parks within a weekend-able trip, so we picked Memorial Weekend to make the trek out to Western Kansas to visit this surprising little oasis.
Boy, were we surprised.
The lake sneaks up on you as you stare at what seems like endless miles of waving wheat and meandering cows wondering where this lake could possibly be hiding until you turn a corner and find yourself descending into a craggy canyon that is an unusual blend of desert-like bluffs, lush vegetation, and cottonwoods that surround the narrow 100-acre lake. Every picture failed to sufficiently capture the wondrous expansive vista before us. I felt like I had slipped into another state, a western one filled with history that was richer than the border raids of bleeding Kansas and the despair of the dust bowl. This was the West that hard lured those struck by wanderlust to drop their lives and move, move, move to bigger and better opportunities!
Many of the park’s central features also have a manifestly Western feel. For example, the park boasts the only remains of a pueblo in Kansas—the farthest North and East that a pueblo has ever been located. As far back as the 1640s (and likely much earlier), the park was home to various Native American tribes, including the Taos, Picuris, and Apache. The park was probably so popular due to its plentiful water resources. Big Springs flows at a rate of 300 gallons of water a minute, which puts to shame many of the springs which we had visited in the Sierra Mountains on our leg of the Pacific Crest Trail. Eventually, the water-rich land was home to a pioneer family, the Steeles, whose original 1909 home built with local sandstone still remains standing. Unfortunately, the home has been marred by visitors carving their names into the stone; the damage is extensive and piteous.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay, though we were plagued by an intense evening of thunderstorms on our first night and some of the more inconsiderate Memorial-Weekend Campers we’ve ever experienced on the second. We took a long bike ride around the lake and then headed north of the park for some more wide open landscapes, a visit with a curious but standoffish cow, and a local driving his four wheeler with his two boxers and his one collie all smiling as he drove on past. Yep, Kansas.
The park would probably be better suited for people who love bird-watching or fishing. We saw a wide variety of birds, some with striking flashes of color, that I could not name if my life depended upon it. The fishing seemed to be good, judging from those near us who spent the day casting their poles and nets into the lake. The “hiking” that the park advertises, however, is not how I envision a day on the trail. The trail is multiuse for horses, mountain bikes, and hikers, and it is rarely more than 30 yards away from the main road that encircles the lake. Pass. Another downside to the park is that it lacks a sufficient day-use area near the lakefront. This results in day visitors traipsing through your campsite to get to the lakefront. I imagine this is less an issue on less busy weekends, but I was shocked by how much traffic the park received.
Still, the park was lovely and unexpected. We would definitely visit again midweek or perhaps on a less busy weekend. Bonus: It’s near Monument Rocks, which is worth the short detour for a visit on the way home.