Elk River Hiking Trail

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Elk City State Park

Elk River Hiking Trail is a 14.1 mile heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located near Elk City, Kansas that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Distance: 14.1 miles Elevation Gain: 866 feet Route Type: Point to Point

dogs on leash

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

nature trips

bird watching

running

forest

lake

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

bugs

muddy

rocky

scramble

The Elk River Hiking Trail is located on the northwest side of Elk City Lake. The trail can be accessed from two main trailheads. Primitive campsites are located all along the length of the trail. The Elk River Hiking Trail offers panoramic views from the tops of the many limestone bluffs on the northwestern shores of Elk City Lake. The trail crosses several small streams and ravines and winds through narrow canyons and under rock overhangs. The trail has blue trail blazes and mile markers for traveling both directions.

hiking
flooded
muddy
off trail
8 days ago

Started on the west side at end. Walked about 3/4 mile. Walked around the flooded river, then walked a bit further around and were stuck. So headed back to car. Parked at 9 mile trailhead. Headed East it was flooded maybe 1/4 mile in. Turned around to go west. We walked around the flooded trail and got to about the 12 1/2 mile marker. There we saw a mama beaver who looked pregnant. Also saw a copperhead. The trail was flooded here as well, so we turned around to head back to the parking lot. We camped slightly past the parking lot. Great spot right off the trail and a fire pit. Saw a couple armadillos at night. Had to walk quite a bit off the trail due to flooding. I’m sure it is absolutely beautiful as others had described. We will be back to explore when it’s less flooded.

May 22nd - 24th. Had a great two night backpacking trip Memorial Day weekend. Started at the east trail head and went west as far as I could then hiked back. This is the best trail I’ve found in Kansas and reminds me of the Ozarks. Called the ranger and he said the lake was 10ft higher than normal so expect some detours that add about 3 additional miles. I encountered 3 detours between mile markers 6 and 8 I believe, and another around mile marker 11. There is bushwhacking and finding your own way involved with these detours which makes this trail even harder than normal. A more pleasurable experience would be when the lake is much lower. I hiked as far as I could past the small water fall along the gravel road past the weird house on the west end until it went under water. It’s best to start on the east end or at the road around mile marker 13. Found two nice camp spots but I wish there were a few more established spots to pick from. Also please remember leave no trace principals; I was disappointed by all the trash I saw. Second time hiking the whole trail and I’ll be going back for sure, preferably when it dries up some. Lots of wildlife, interesting terrain, and a challenging hike!

muddy
washed out
13 days ago

started on east side, trail is 3 feet under water after .4 miles. might want to wait a few days before tryjng

hiking
rocky
14 days ago

Started on the west end and hiked 3.5 miles out before turning around. Awesome hike! I had read other reviews of losing the trial in a cow pasture and we did the same thing. About 2.5 miles in you come down a slope to an opening where the path follows a creek. The trail crosses the creek but the worn path makes it seem as the trail continues along it. The trail is very generously flagged so if you go 20-30’ without a blue mark, you’re off the trail. Good mix of scenery and ruggedness. Will definitely be going back this summer when I can do the whole thing.

17 days ago

Ran a fun 50K trail run on The Elk River Trail last weekend. Best place in Kansas in my opinion for trail running. The conditions are similar to trails in the Ozarks that I have experienced. This isn't a smooth gravel trail. Be prepared for numerous large rocks and scrambling up short but steep slopes. These slopes can get slick when wet. It is a real challenge. Epic views of the lake, cliffs, meadows, creeks, and more along the way. Even a surprise or two (at one point I stepped in a seemingly insignificant spot of mud and sank nearly up to my knees). I'm not sure how quickly the trail typically dries off, but I had few problems with mud (except for the above mentioned), and creeks were not as high as I expected given recent rains. Still, the creeks were flowing enough for filtering if needed. Be sure to get out here for some legit hiking/camping/trail running. You'll be glad you did.

hiking
muddy
29 days ago

hiking
1 month ago

Update. Again a great hike. Wife and I did 3 day 2 night out and back from the West. Currently more mud but passable with some footwork. Snakes and tics as well. I’ve seen a wide variety of descriptions of this hike. Depending on fitness and comfort with variable styles of terrain, this can be an easy but not fast hike or a major project. Novice. (Day pack and running shoes and a water bottle). Be prepared for rocky terrain that at times requires short but steep segments and slippery surfaces. Kids and dogs may have some trouble. Poles and hiking tread shoes will help. Pants a good idea to fend off brush. You will need to filter water from streams or you will be in trouble in 2 hours (4 miles). Backpacker (overnight gear albeit heavy stuff). You will go slower than you anticipate for Kansas. Some of it you just can’t do fast with much weight on you back. If your pack is 30 lbs or heavier 2miles an hour will be good for most, even fit people. Lots of stone fire pits mark good camping sites close to streams and at mile markers. Ultra lighters. Great 30 mile out and back for technique and shakeout gear check!!!!

hiking
muddy
1 month ago

I’m not sure what trail they are describing but they got it wrong. Sign at the entrance says 15 miles not 14 and it’s not a moderate trail. It’s rugged. I would also say that if you are going to take a dog and planning on going all the way thru, be warned, there are some pretty steep and rugged inclines. This was our first time on this trail and we did get lost in a cow pasture because we missed the blue markers lol. Just following the trail or so we thought. So if you end up in the middle of a mess of cow pies, turn around! Great trail just wish this app would have gotten it right.

hiking
rocky
1 month ago

Review of 2 nights 3 days on the trail. 2 of us started on the West side at 7 pm and hiked in about 4.5 miles over 2.5 hours. A little night time hike was fun and we set up camp. Not much camping till mile marker 12 or so (markers run east to west). A few camp sites (rocks and flat area) every mile from about 12 to 2 mile marker. You can venture a little off the trail and make your own. Streams this time of year a plenty to filter, and a hydrant at East trail head. No toilets so be prepared. Lots of rock formations to walk around, beside, on top of, and even through. River and Lake views are beautiful and trail is well marked with blue paint and some reflective tape that was nice at night. Overall, it is like no other hike in Kansas that I’ve done, and would stand up with some of my favorites around the world. 30 miles with gear took us about 14 hours of hiking. Often technical enough to make good use of poles and to watch closely where you step. Come enjoy this gem. Day hike a little or 30 mile loop it with gear and have a blast.

hiking
rocky
1 month ago

Under 2 hours from Wichita, this is our new favorite hike in the state of KS! We only trekked the first 3.1 miles in from the west trailhead, and can’t wait to go back for more ASAP... hopefully for some backpacking! You get a little bit of everything along this trail - Sun & shade, wildlife, flowers, bluffs, rock formations & caves, some great views and yes even some elevation change (for a change). Challenging enough to get a sweat going, but still great for any age and any level of hiker. The trail was clearly and generously marked blue throughout. There was one spot that might be a little tricky to get past depending on how wet it is, but at the same time one of the most beautiful stops along the way. It was a large bowl-shape carved out waterfall unexpected find! Just take your time passing and you’ll be fine. You follow the river most of the way which provides some great open views, and some great little creek crossings home to frogs and fish. Early on there is a small bridge with a lagoon that is home to dozens of largemouth bass! (Glad we always pack a telescoping fishing pole) We stopped after just 3 miles in partially due to daylight, but mainly because of finding the high-point to end on, having just meandered through a quarter mile of huge rock formations and crevasses. We could have spent an hour just going back and forth here, climbing and traversing - it’s as if you were in another state or even continent. So cool! There is a stretch where it seems a herd of cattle must own the place, leaving thousands of hoof prints along the trail, as well as a few “pies”. No biggie though. We did actually run into a half dozen of them on our way back toward the trailhead. They seem harmless and took off before we ever got close. We can’t wait to go back, and tell as many people as we can about this gem of an adventure!

backpacking
1 month ago

This is a nice trail. I live in KC and this is a good change of pace from having to drive a minimum 4 hours to the Ozarks every time to backpack. I would classify it as easy since there is very little elevation change. The All Trails map counts the miles backwards from the markings on the trail, which really isn’t that big of a deal. Seems like most start the trail from the east side. If you start from the west side it’s pretty flat for the first 5-6 miles. Make sure to watch out for stray cattle on the west side. Here you follow the river along nice rock formations in and out of the woods. As you make your way to the lake there are bluffs with nice lookouts. This is also where what elevation change you have occurs. There are great camping spots along the trail, especially at mile markers towards the east side.

hiking
muddy
1 month ago

hiking
2 months ago

Great trail, lots of wooded areas with bluffs and beautiful lake views. Was extremely muddy and slick from all the rain. The bridge was out near the trailhead as well, so a little complicated to cross the creek with 3 kids and a dog, but we made it. We did find a few ticks on us as well, but none had stuck in yet. We had hoped that march was early enough to go with no ticks.

hiking
rocky
3 months ago

One of the best hikes in Kansas!! Started at the East side trailhead and hiked to the 4 mile marker. Great views of the lake for the majority of the hike as well as awesome rock bluffs and a couple creek crossings. Saw a couple armadillo rustling around. I would also suggest making sure there is not any races going on. It can be challenging trying to avoid multiple runners while hiking.

hiking
muddy
rocky
3 months ago

hiking
3 months ago

We love this trail and make the two hour drive from Wichita as often as we can. We start at both the Mile 1 trailhead and the Mile 9-ish trailhead. Well-marked. Lovely and diverse scenery. The trail is well-maintained with some great backpacking campsites. We recently hiked there Jan. 2, 2020 and again later in the month. So great!

hiking
rocky
4 months ago

hiking
5 months ago

Did 9.44 miles of trail on 12/27. Trail is in good shape, KDWP did a great job of clearing drift wood from Rains of 5/19.

5 months ago

Excellent trail. Finally found the time to complete this trail with my son. Didn't expect to do it this late in the year, couldn't go into 2020 without doing it. Can't wait until things are blooming and sprouting in the spring!

backpacking
5 months ago

Great backpacking trail! Couldn't believe I was in Kansas. Hiked this with a large group and camped at about the half-way mark. Plenty of spots to pitch a tent along the way though- some right off the trail with fire pits, some off the beaten path and some beautiful grassy meadows that looked perfectly comfortable. There's a road about 2/3 of the way from the East trailhead that crosses the trail where you can park if you want make the trip shorter or cache water. Water really wasn't that scarce though, but call ahead to make sure. The trail is mostly high up on the limestone bluffs, so access to the lake is not really practical. Lots of rock formations and very nice scenery of the lake and shoreline. Had to scramble up and down a steep embankment in order to avoid the dangerously slippery, algae coated, shut in part of the trail, but more fun than annoying. Certainly will be muddy after a rain and can be tricky in the Fall with or without wet leaves. Yes it's rocky, yes a little rugged - so you should have good boots, but then again- it's backpacking. Look for the wildlife and listen to the coyotes at night and have a great time like we did!

backpacking
muddy
rocky
6 months ago

Hiked from west trail head to about 7.5 miles in set up camp and hiked back out the next day. It was raining so trail was muddy. Great camp site mile 7.5 and another at mile 10. Will be back again to finish the trail and to test my gear for the OHT.

hiking
rocky
scramble
6 months ago

hiking
bugs
8 months ago

Start is a bit hard with many rocks. Trail is long and need 1 day to walkthrough it.

backpacking
8 months ago

Sept 14-15. There were 4 in our group; all first time visitors to this trail we’ve heard great things about. We were not disappointed! The Kansas Trails Council has done an outstanding job of getting the trail cleared. We found the trail both challenging and rewarding. Hiking west to east, we set up camp about halfway through. Trail is very well marked. Looking forward to a return trip.

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