The flat, grassy prairies of Kansas provide a very specific and vivid image of American life and history. It was here that many pioneers traveled through the tall grass in their wagons, and chose from wide swaths of land where to build their new lives. Kansas is not a state that is naturally rich in lakes, but over the 20th century especially, many reservoirs were constructed in the state to prevent floods, create power, and provide drinking water for its citizens. Today, there are over 120,000 reservoirs in Kansas, and many of them serve recreational purposes as well as functional. Visitors and locals alike will enjoy the varied lakes stocked with walleye, catfish, and bass, the sandy beaches at their shores, and the massive parks full of trails and wildlife that border these pieces of natural paradise.
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1.Cedar Bluff Reservoir
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Cedar Bluff Reservoir is visually stunning, with tall, blocky limestone cliffs that stand over a hundred feet tall at the lake’s edge. The bluffs offer a great place to watch a colorful sunrise or sunset, and serve as a great hiking point around the lake. The water itself is huge, with plenty of opportunity for boating and fishing for walleye, bass, crappie, wiper, and catfish in the waters of Cedar Bluff Reservoir. The area of the lake is huge, over 10 square miles of water, and on part of its shores visitors will find Cedar Bluff State Park, which is split into two parts: one on the northern shore and one on the south side.
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Located along the Ninnescah River’s northern fork, Cheney Lake is a reservoir that was completed during the 1960s. With nearly 10,000 surface acres of water, and almost seventy miles of shoreline available for recreation and use by the public, Cheney Lake is a great destination for families and groups of friends seeking a natural getaway. Jig fishing is incredibly popular on Cheney Lake, and lucky fishing enthusiasts will find an abundance of crappie, walleye, striped bass, white bass, wipers, and channel catfish in the lake. On the shores of the lake, there is also a plethora of activity options, such as hiking trails, campsites, picnic areas, wildlife watching, and hunting.
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3.Clark State Fishing Lake
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Clark State Fishing Lake lies tucked into the depths of Bluff Creek Canyon, a geographically beautiful place especially when compared to the flat plains that surround it. There are two lovely hikes around the lake area, including the one mile Jay Wood Memorial Nature Trail, and the 2.2 mile loop that is the gravel road from the trailhead to the K-94 highway. On the lake itself, visitors will find a boat launch to get them started on the water, and if they’re lucky, they may find some channel catfish, white bass, crappies, and even walleye in the lake. Hunters will find 900 acres of hunting land around the lake, and camping enthusiasts will find many primitive camping spots in the area where they can relax and observe the wildlife.
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Clinton Lake is a reservoir near Lawrence that occupies a 7,000 acre space. It was built in the late 1970s to prevent flooding of the nearby Wakarusa and Kansas Rivers, and was filled very slowly to allow the natural plants and vegetation to remain. This method paid off, as now this vegetation has created a perfect habitat in the lake, ideal for the fish who dwell there. On the northern shores of the lake, Clinton State Park is a great place for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. There are hundreds of campsites, trails for mountain bikes, and even an archery range at the park, and the marina has launches, boat rentals, and even a floating restaurant.
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5.Crawford State Fishing Lake
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This reservoir, originally a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) project during the Great Depression, is surrounded by a variety of nature, including grasslands and plains as well as green woodlands. The lake area is a great spot for bird watching, as it is home to cardinals, indigo buntings, hawks, Bell’s vireos, and dickcissels as well as many shorebirds at the lake’s edge and on its waters. Fishing enthusiasts may find channel catfish, crappie, bluegill, and largemouth bass. There are also several lovely hiking and nature trails around Crawford State Fishing Lake, ranging from the easy and scenic Spider Leg Trail and Deer Run Nature Trail to the more challenging 7 mile Drywood Creek Trail.
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6.El Dorado Lake
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Just northeast of the city of El Dorado lies the lake of the same name, an eight thousand acre reservoir that is one of the largest in the state of Kansas. Surrounded by the tall grasslands and rolling prairies that Kansas is so well known for, El Dorado Lake has almost one hundred miles of shoreline available for recreational use. Visitors can spot birds like geese, warblers, and even majestic bald eagles in any of the natural areas on the shores of the lake, or look for other creatures like deer, prairie chickens, mink, and vultures. The lake itself is a popular destination for watersports like boating, jet skiing, and waterskiing, and there are plenty of fish in the water to tempt fishermen. Trails around the lake’s edge are suitable for hikers, mountain bikers, or horseback riders, who will spot some beautiful wildflowers in the area depending on the season.
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7.Fall River Lake
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Located in Fall River State Park, near the Flint Hills and the Cross Timbers regions, Fall River Lake is a scenic destination with a lot of activity and beautiful nature to offer its visitors. With green, tree lined shores that turn stunning shades of red and orange in the autumn, Fall River Lake is set on a 980 acre park that offers six hiking trails, a course for orienteering, and cabins for camping. The lake is a calm and tranquil place which is popular for canoeing, kayaking, and other slow boat travel on the still, peaceful waters so visitors can enjoy all the gorgeous nature that Fall River Lake has to offer.
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8.Glen Elder Lake
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Also known as Waconda Lake, Glen Elder Lake is one of the most popular and oft-visited lakes in Kansas. Located in the Solomon River Valley, it is easily accessible via Highway 24, and it is one of the best lakes in the state for fishing. Fishers will find crappie, walleye, and a variety of bass including striped, white, and largemouth in the waters of Waconda Lake, and Glen Elder State Park, on the shores of the lake, offers a great opportunity for swimming, kayaking, and land activities like hiking, hunting, and camping. Campgrounds in the area are modern and diverse, and there are also other amenities for visitors such as nature trails, picnic shelters, educational programs, and even sand volleyball courts near the swimming area.
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Hillsdale Lake is a natural habitat for the bald eagle, the symbol of America. The eagles often join other birds of prey, as well as many human visitors, in hunting for largemouth bass and other fish in the waters of the lake. Hillsdale Reservoir was completed in the early 1980s, and today it is a pretty place to enjoy nature via boat or by foot. Kayaking and canoeing are very popular on the water, as are more adrenaline-pumping sports like waterskiing, tubing, and sailing. On land, visitors can learn about the area the visitor’s center, hike on the Hidden Spring Nature Trail, or hop on horseback and ride the Saddle Ridge Trail, which contains over fifty miles of well maintained trails for humans and horses alike.
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Horsethief Reservoir has a long history for a lake so new. It was first proposed in the 1930s, but the dam was not approved until 2009. Completed in 2010, Horsethief Lake is now a popular spot for visitors, who enjoy boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, camping, and more in the area. Located in Western Kansas, in the town of Jetmore, Horsethief Lake has 450 acres of water, filled with fish and surrounded by a park that measures over a thousand acres. Because the lake is still so new, recreational activities are still in development, but already it has become a busy and fun place to spend a day or a weekend away. All types of watercraft are welcome on the lake, and in fact it has become a popular place for kite-boarding.
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Located near Ellsworth, Kansas, Kanopolis Lake was constructed in the 1940s, which makes it one of the oldest reservoirs in the state. The purpose of this lake is for flood control, so its shoreline varies greatly, from a meager 41 miles during dry seasons to a staggering 135 miles of shoreline when it is full. But regardless of the lake’s changing size, it’s a great destination for recreation, and there are six designated recreational areas around the lake, with hundreds of campsites and marinas with boat launches. Kanopolis State Park is also on the edge of the lake, and there visitors will find over twenty five miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and swimming beaches.
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From an aerial perspective, Kaw Lake is a massive serpentine figure, with three major ‘fingers’ that stretch out in different directions. This 17,000 acre lake was built for purposes of flood control as well as for hydropower, wildlife conservation, and recreation. Around the lake’s 168 miles of shoreline, visitors to Kaw Lake will find hundreds of campgrounds and facilities for both tent and RV camping, as well as two swimming beaches. There are boat launches and marinas for those who wish to spend the day waterskiing, tubing, or fishing, and Kaw Lake is also a popular spot for anglers to try their luck at catching catfish.
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13.Lyon State Fishing Lake
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For a close look at the tall grassy prairies that Kansas is well known for, visitors should heat to Lyon State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area. The lake is well surrounded by grasslands as well as a wooded area full of dogwood, sumac, and elm trees. There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted, from prairie chickens and deer to meadowlarks and mourning doves. The area has restrooms, picnic areas, boat launches, and a swimming beach available for visitor use, and the waters of Lyon State Fishing Lake are full of bluegill, redear, channel catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass. During the hot days of summer, fishers tend to stick to the early morning and late evening to try their luck, but the lake is great for other types of boating and water activities during the rest of the day.
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Located just a 40 mile drive from Topeka, and a slightly longer but still completely reasonable 85 mile drive from Kansas City, Melvern Lake has three swimming beaches perfect for an afternoon spent sunbathing on the sand or splashing in the shallow waters of the shoreline. Melvern Lake is on the edge of Eisenhower State Park, as well as the Melvern Wildlife Area so there is plenty to do on land, from hiking and bird watching to camping. Melvern Lake is home to a bountiful population of fish including sunfish, channel and flathead catfish, bluegill, sauger, large and smallmouth bass, walleye, and crappie, and the lake is popular with boaters for fishing and recreational purposes alike.
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Clocking in with 15,700 surface acres of water, Milford Lake is the largest man-made reservoir in Kansas. There is plenty of opportunity at Milford Lake for water sports like jet skiing, water skiing, tubing, sailing, and boating, and the waters are also perfect for visitors with kayaks, canoes, or paddle boards. Known as the Lake of the Blue Water, Milford Lake also has some lovely sandy beaches perfect for a day spent with friends or family while relaxing and playing in the sunshine and the cool, refreshing waters. Along the 163 miles of shoreline, visitors will find Milford State Park, which has campsites, cabin rentals, marinas, nature trails, picnic shelters, and even a dedicated beach reserved just for jet skis.
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Perry Lake is a local favorite for recreation among residents in northeast Kansas, and it is conveniently located to major cities like Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City. This hidden gem has 11,000 acres of water which are accessible via a number of boat ramps and marinas around the shoreline. Fishing is huge at Perry Lake, with a huge population of sauger and a reputation for providing breeding stock to many other lakes in Kansas. On land, there are miles and miles of hiking trails, as well as a system of trails for ATVs. The area is home to wildlife such as deer, turkey, rabbits, and even bald eagles.
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17.Scott State Fishing Lake
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Lake Scott State Park is a large natural area in western Kansas, with over a thousand acres of land reserved for camping, hunting, and fishing. There is even an original settlers’ house on the property for history buffs, originally owned by the Herbert Steele family who lived on and worked the land for generations before donating it to the state. On this property is Scott State Fishing Lake, a small spring fed lake that is full of walleye, saugeye,sunfish, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and crappie. During trout season, visitors can acquire a permit to fish for trout.
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18.Tuttle Creek Lake
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Located on the Big Blue River in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Tuttle Creek Lake was constructed in the 1950s as a dry dam, but as time went on there became a demand for recreational lakes, so today Tuttle Creek Lake is the second largest lake in Kansas. There are eleven parks along the 100 or so miles of shoreline of Tuttle Creek Lake, and each has something great to offer like campsites, picnic shelters, volleyball courts, and trails for hiking, biking, equestrians, or even off roading. The lake itself, which is 14 miles long, is great for boating, and a sunny day at Tuttle Creek will often find hundreds of day trippers enjoying the water in their boats or kayaks.
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This hidden gem in central Kansas is often called the clearest lake in the state for its still, translucent waters. With a great habitat for growing and thriving, Wilson Lake holds the state records for the size of its smallmouth bass, walleye, and striped bass, so it’s a great spot to try your hand at fishing. There are many other fish in the lake as well, but those looking for a big catch can try for striped bass, which have been known to weigh in at over forty pounds. Over eight thousand acres of land surround Wilson Lake that are often used for hunting, and during the summer, there are plenty of great campsites for those looking to spend a night, a weekend, or even longer away.
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20 Best Lakes in Kansas
- Cedar Bluff Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of Richard - Fotolia.com
- Cheney Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksei - Fotolia.com
- Clark State Fishing Lake, Photo: Courtesy of glebchik - Fotolia.com
- Clinton Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Kristina - Fotolia.com
- Crawford State Fishing Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Tobias - Fotolia.com
- El Dorado Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Rusty Dodson - Fotolia.com
- Fall River Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Nathanael - Fotolia.com
- Glen Elder Lake, Photo: Courtesy of patita88 - Fotolia.com
- Hillsdale Lake, Photo: Courtesy of winyu - Fotolia.com
- Horsethief Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Michael - Fotolia.com
- Kanopolis Lake, Photo: Courtesy of CoolimagesCo - Fotolia.com
- Kaw Lake, Photo: Courtesy of alohapatty - Fotolia.com
- Lyon State Fishing Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Vadim - Fotolia.com
- Melvern Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Elenathewise - Fotolia.com
- Milford Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Tonya - Fotolia.com
- Perry Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Colby - Fotolia.com
- Scott State Fishing Lake, Photo: Courtesy of art_rich - Fotolia.com
- Tuttle Creek Lake, Photo: Courtesy of DmyTo - Fotolia.com
- Wilson Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Forenius - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of batman6794 - Fotolia.com