Of all the places we have visited so far on our RV travels, Western Kansas is probably the most surprising of all. It might not be well known for its spectacular landscapes like Bryce Canyon or Yellowstone National Park, but it definitely has some features that are sure to make this part of the state worth the visit. Get ready because we are about to share our three favorite natural spots to stop and enjoy in the west part of the state. Luckily, they are all relatively close to each other, so you can enjoy them all in just one day.
Whether you are just passing through the area, or you are planning to stay for a while, Lake Scott State Park is a fantastic place to park your camper. We "discovered" it looking for a place to camp on one of our trips out to Colorado one year. Since that trip, we have kept it on our ‘go-to park list’ ever since.
So, what's so great about Lake Scott?
You've been driving for hours across a good chunk of Colorado and Kansas after leaving the beautiful Rocky Mountains and some gorgeous alpine lakes. Fields of corn and wheat are all you have seen on your drive for what seems like, practically, forever. Then, you see a sign for Lake Scott State Park after turning down another country road surrounded by corn. You are starting to get a little worried about where you will be camping for the night. Is there really a lake out here? Will it be decent?
Suddenly, the road starts to slope downward, and you start to descend into a bowl. Everything changes. The miles of corn fields are replaced with an oasis of tall trees and green grass surrounding a beautiful, spring-fed lake. You also see interesting historic buildings scattered throughout the park along with wildlife everywhere. You now realize you made a smart decision.
We feel the campgrounds at Lake Scott State Park are reasonably spaced and plenty have water and electric hookups. You'll also find a playground for the kids and a beach area.
There are a couple of major camping areas to choose from for RVs: one with plenty of tall trees and one with very few but with better views of the lake. As you might already have guessed, if you've read any of our other articles, we prefer spots with fewer trees to do some astrophotography. Both areas are very nice and scenic in their own ways regardless of which you select.
Located 15 minutes north of the small town of Scott City, the state park is far enough away from major light pollution for you to enjoy some dark skies. They are classified as Bortle Level 2, so you are sure to see lots of stars out there. Each time we have visited the park, we have been treated to some seriously fantastic stargazing right on the lake. We just walk a couple of hundred feet to the picnic benches near it, or just grab our chairs and sit out.
What really makes the night skies even more amazing is that Lake Scott still has fireflies. You might already know this but seeing them is becoming even more rare as time goes on. Fortunately, you can actually find lightning bugs here at night in the summer. If you have never experienced it before, seeing fireflies and stars outside at the same time is truly a magical experience! Head over to the lake when the sun has gone down to experience this but try not to get scared when you hear the frogs croaking near the shoreline.
Don't forget to check out some of the historic sites at Lake Scott and near it. This park is home to both Native American history and later American settlers of Kansas you can find scattered throughout. Around the lake, you'll find evidence for the most northern Pueblo structure ever discovered (it's a National Historic Landmark) in addition to the Steele home where some of the early settlers lived. Although all that remains of this pueblo, El Cuartelejo, is the foundation of the seven room building, it's still so neat to see and reflect on this history. And I have to say, they really did pick a great spot to make a home.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
If you're craving a return to Badlands National Park, but you don't feel like driving all the way back to South Dakota just yet, this park might just be what you need. It won't completely remove your craving for the amazing canyons, spires and fossil beds, but it will certainly help. We found that Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park can be enjoyed over just a couple of hours since it's just about 332 acres large.
What's so great about Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park?
One day when we were planning out one of our summer trips, we saw that Little Jerusalem was near Lake Scott, so we figured we could check out two parks on one leg of the adventure. It turns out the two work well together since they are around 20 minutes apart. If you are staying in Lake Scott State Park, we really recommend you don't skip Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park.
We decided to check out Little Jerusalem early in the morning on our trip to try and capture some pictures of the landforms with some nice lighting. We quickly realized, you can't go wrong with this location at sunrise, and it's especially pleasant without anyone else around.
Of course, as avid hikers, we decided to do the two hikes the park offers.
The first hike called Life on the Rocks is the longer of the two. It takes you along a very well-maintained trail along much of the rim of the park. You'll make your way through the prairie grassland to multiple overlooks with views of small, chalk canyons. We found it to be memorable and very cool to be able to see the different layers of rocks in the pink and orange morning light on this hike.
As you make your way along the trail, you'll dip somewhat into the canyon and then back out until you reach the overlook at the end. The views of the landforms are definitely the best in the park, so make sure to complete this short hike of about 2 ½ miles. There's very little elevation gain on the trail, so you will probably finish it in an hour or less.
Near the trailhead of the Life of the Rocks Trail is the short Overlook Trail. If you are on a time crunch, this trail is a great option. It's a quick ½ trail that will give you a different perspective of the park's interesting landforms. In the summer months, it's a beautiful walk along the trail with native sunflowers lining the sides.
Once you get to the end of this relatively straight trail, you'll be greeted with a nice view of the chalk formations. The views are decent from this side, but if you want to see the real beauty of the park, we highly recommend you do the Life on the Rocks Trail, too.
Wondering what else there to do at Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park?
In addition to exploring two hiking trails, that's about all there is to do in this small state park. But, you can always relax for a while at the pavilion near the trailhead or at one of the benches close to the chalk formations. You can also try and spot some ferruginous hawks flying overhead or pronghorns walking around, but we found Little Jerusalem to be a quick visit, but SO worth it for the views.
After visiting Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, we recommend checking out the Kansas Chalk Pyramids (also known as Monument Rocks.) It's another short visit to some more chalk landforms we feel you shouldn't miss if you are in the area. It's a relaxing drive down some country dirt roads to see this site.
Once you arrive at the Chalk Pyramids upon completion your bucolic drive through farmland and cattle grazing fields, you'll see two different areas to explore. Both are very interesting, so make sure to explore each one. One thing to note, the Chalk Pyramids are located on private property, but the owner allows access to the landforms. With that being said, remember to practice "Leave No Trace" principles while visiting. You'll also see signs not to climb on the delicate chalk rocks since they are very easily destroyed.
Chalk Pyramids? Really?
YES! These natural monuments are made of chalky limestone and shale that was once under an ancient sea. We actually saw plenty of evidence of this as we walked around the landforms for a while. Looking up and down the layers of rock, we noticed shells and fossils embedded at different levels.
Many state and national parks don't always offer you the opportunity to see all sides of their landforms. With Monument Rocks, the story is a little different.
You can actually walk all the way around the features taking in the beauty from every angle to enjoy. You'll get to see several arches from numerous perspectives, which we really appreciated. Also, there is room to drive around the rocks. So, if you don't feel like leaving your RV for 10 minutes to explore, you can see just about all of it from the comfort of your vehicle. We do recommend you get out and see it all by walking for a bit.
We hope we have inspired you to stop by this part of the state either as a short, one day visit or as a part of one leg of a longer trip. Don't miss this area when driving through the middle of the U.S. heartland. To us, it's the perfect pit stop in West Kansas!
And remember there's a trove of valuable RV insights awaiting you on the Jayco Journal. From practical tips to destination recommendations, our community is here to fuel your wanderlust. And when you're ready to make those travel dreams a reality, think about the comfort, reliability, and adventure that come with Jayco RVs. Your journey to more unforgettable experiences continues, so dive into more stories and envision yourself hitting the road in a Jayco, all set to embark on new horizons. Safe travels!