There’s an abundance of lakes in Kansas that you can explore with minimal funds.
The awesome thing about going on nature trips across the country is that they’re not as expensive as visiting Disneyland or following an itinerary for touristy cities like NYC or Miami. Or in the case of Kansas, attractions like Safari Zoological Park or SEA LIFE.
15 Must-Visit Lakes in Kansas
If you’ve been feeling the Kansas heat and want to cool off without spending a ton of money, check out any of these 15 Kansas lakes:
1. Kanopolis Lake (Ellsworth County)
- Address: 200 Horsethief Rd, Marquette, KS 67464
- Fishing: Walleye, crappie, wipers, white bass, channel catfish
- Activities: Boating, swimming, hiking, picnicking, birdwatching, horseback riding, overnight camping
This manmade reservoir is located inside Kanopolis State Park (Kansas’ oldest park) and is embraced by lush greenery and rolling hills.
Kanopolis Lake welcomes water recreational activities like swimming, boating, and fishing, then its nearby land allows guests to hike along the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway, go spelunking or be in awe at the early Indian rock carvings at Horsethief Canyon.
2. Wilson Lake (Sylvan Grove)
- Address: 3 Wilson State Park Rd, Sylvan Grove, KS
- Fishing: Walleye, flathead catfish, channel catfish, smallmouth bass, and striped bass.
- Activities: Kayaking, boating, swimming, waterskiing, hiking, overnight camping, hunting, cycling, wildlife watching
Wilson Lake is the cleanest lake in Kansas.
It is located amidst the Smoky Hills of Central Kansas and is spread across four state parks with Wilson State Park being the largest and the most popular.
This particular lake has everything you need to cool off from the Kansas heat, whether you plan to just swim and go boating in the waters, or go on an adventure with the many nature trails and fishing spots Wilson Lakes offers.
3. El Dorado Lake (El Dorado)
- Address: 220 E 1st Avenue El Dorado, KS
- Fishing: White crappie, rainbow trout, channel catfish, blue catfish, walleye, white bass, and wiper.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, waterskiing, kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, picnicking, horseback riding, camping.
Located at one of the best state parks in America, El Dorado Lake is another manmade reservoir that flows along the Walnut River.
This south-central Kansas lake offers spectacular views no matter which of the four areas of El Dorado State Park you decide to visit.
It’s a favorite lake for many local and visitor birdwatchers wanting to spot tree swallows, warblers, Canada geese, prairie chickens, and bald eagles.
4. Tuttle Creek Lake (Manhattan)
- Address: 5020 Tuttle Creek Blvd Manhattan, KS 66502
- Fishing: Bluegill, trout, catfish (flathead, channel and blue), green sunfish, crappie, saugeye and largemouth bass.
- Activities: Kayaking, boating, swimming, waterskiing, camping, hiking, biking, nature photography, wildlife viewing.
Tuttle Creek Lake is the second-largest lake in Kansas with its 100-mile shoreline and 12,500 surface acres of water.
It is located in the beautiful Flint Hills and is home to an artificial beach with volleyball courts, hiking trails, biking spots, picnic areas and campsites if you plan to stay a day or overnight.
5. Lone Star Lake (Douglas County)
- Address: Marion County Park and Lake Campground, Marion, KS 66047, USA
- Fishing: Channel, sunfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, white crappie, blue catfish and flathead catfish.
- Activities: Kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, boating, camping (first come, first serve), nature photography
Lone Star Lake and Lone Star Lake Park (where this 185-acre lake is located) are owned and operated by Douglas County since it was built in 1934, rehabilitated in 1981, and again in 2000.
It is one of the most peaceful lakes in Kansas, so if you’re soul-searching and want to be one with nature, Lone Star Lake could be the right choice.
6. Milford Lake (Milford)
- Address: 3612 State Park Rd Milford, KS 66514
- Fishing: Walleye, catfish, crappie, bluegill, largemouth/smallmouth bass, spotted bass, sunfish and white bass.
- Activities: Boating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, jet-skiing, hiking, birdwatching, and camping.
This is the biggest lake in Kansas and also one of the clearest with blue waters, a scenic backdrop that looks phenomenal in the fall, and 163 miles of shoreline.
There’s also the family-friendly Nudie Beach (which ironically is NOT clothing optional), several boat ramps, a private yacht club, a beach for jet-skiing, and a marina.
And if you’ve enjoyed all the water activities you can do at Milford Lake, the park offers several trails for you to hike or watch for birds.
7. Waconda Lake (Glen Elder)
- Address: Waconda Lake, Glen Elder, Mitchell County, Kansas
- Fishing: Walleye, crappie, catfish, white bass, striped bass and largemouth bass.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, nature photography, camping and wildlife watching.
Also known as Glen Elder Lake, this manmade reservoir is located in north-central Kansas.
Waconda Lake is set in a picturesque location with plenty of opportunities for capturing the sunsets and watching wildlife.
Aside from all the water activities you can enjoy at Waconda Lake, you can also golf and hike to your heart’s content.
8. Fall River Lake (Severy)
- Address: 2381 Casner Creek Rd Fall River, KS 67047
- Fishing: Crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, white bass and walleye.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, kayaking, water skiing, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, camping.
Fall River Lake is located in the Fall River State Park, surrounded by the Flint Hills valleys and ridges.
This spot is a favorite nature getaway for sunset chasers, anyone looking for an ideal birdwatching location, and campers who want to enjoy the lake and the gorgeous backdrop Fall River Lake providers.
You can choose to rent a cabin or rough it out at campsites by the southern shore of the lake.
9. Elk City Lake (Montgomery County)
- Address: 4825 Squaw Creek Rd Independence, KS 67301
- Fishing: Wipers, saugeye, largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, white crappie, white bass and sunfish.
- Activities: Waterskiing, boating, swimming, hunting, hiking and camping
The lakes in Kansas all have amazing vistas, but the Elk City Lake doesn’t just offer a beautiful backdrop for your weekend swimming and other water activities.
You also have the option to explore one of the six trails ready for anyone looking to hike, or hunt turkeys or deer when in season.
Camping and boating facilities are found at the eastern side of Elk City Lake.
10. Big Hill Lake (Labette County)
- Address: 19000 Rd Cherryvale, KS 67335
- Fishing: Crappie, bluegill, largemouth/smallmouth bass, channel/flathead catfish, and walleye.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, camping, hunting, horseback riding, picnicking
Big Hills Lake is a beautiful southeast Kansas lake, situated about 5 miles from Cherryvale.
It offers clear waters by the beach, relaxing views with tall trees and a TON of space to enjoy all kinds of land and water activities.
If you’re here for an adventure, be sure to try the 17-mile long Big Hill Lake Horse Trail.
11. Perry Lake (Ozawkie)
- Address: 5441 W Lake Rd Ozawkie, KS 66070
- Fishing: Crappie, channel catfish, white bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, walleye, and sauger.
- Activities: Sailing, swimming, boating, water-skiing/jet-skiing, hiking, camping
Known by locals as the “Paradise on the Plains,” the pristine Perry Lake is located in the state’s northeast region.
It is surrounded by scenic vistas, and wildlife just roaming around for visitors to marvel at.
If you’re always up for a good hike, there’s the -30-minute Perry Lake National Recreational Hiking Trail, which runs along the eastern shore of the lake.
12. Hillsdale Lake (Paola)
- Address: Marysville, KS 66071, USA
- Fishing: Catfish, walleye, crappie, and bluegill.
- Activities: Boating, kayaking, swimming, sailing, tubing, birdwatching, hiking and camping.
What makes this east-central Kansas lake unique to others in the state is the presence of dozens of bald eagles gliding over the lake to catch fish.
This spot is a perfect place for nature photographers interested in a good shot.
Of course, there are plenty of water activities to be had at this v-shaped Hillsdale Lake from chilling in the water to boating and everything in between.
The state park, where the lake is located, has 4 campgrounds with day-use areas and boat ramps for you to use. You can also go on a hike and explore the woods by following the Hidden Spring Nature Trail.
13. Clinton Lake (Lawrence)
- Address: 872 North 1402 Road, Lawrence, KS 66049
- Fishing: Bluegill, blue catfish, channel catfish, white crappie, smallmouth bass, and white bass.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, biking, hiking, camping, birdwatching
Clinton Lake is one of the younger lakes in Kansas.
You can find it in the southwest corner of Lawrence, just about northeast of Kansas.
It’s a favorite among hikers and wildlife enthusiasts as visitors can see tons of squirrels, rabbits, quail, wild turkey, and more. Do note that Clinton Lake only has one marina, and it’s a private one.
14. Cedar Bluff Reservoir (Ellis)
- Address: 32001 147 Hwy Ellis, KS 67637
- Fishing: Crapper, channel catfish, black bass, white bass, crappie, and wipers.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, jet skiing, hunting, biking, camping
Cedar Bluff Reservoir welcomes anyone in search of a spot for relaxed swimming, fishing, and other water sports.
This west-central Kansas lake is located along the Smokey Hill River, where you’ll be mesmerized by multicolor wildflowers and prairie grasses.
The park also features a beach, boat ramps, camping spots, the historic Threshing Machine Canyon, and hundreds of rock carvings dating back to the 1800s.
15. Council Grove Lake (Township 2)
- Address: 1268 Highway 177, Council Grove, Kansas
- Fishing: Saugeye, crappie, white bass, wipers, saugeye, channel catfish, and flathead catfish.
- Activities: Sailing, swimming, boating, tubing, hiking, camping, and skiing.
Council Grove Lake is an east-central Kansas lake that flows along the Neosho River.
Built and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it is used for flood control, recreation, and water supply.
Here you can also enjoy boating and camping facilities, picnicking spots and many birdwatching areas. Hikers have the Pioneer Nature Trail and other scenic trails to explore within the park as well.
Beyond the Lakes of Kansas
If you’re looking for more nature destinations in Kansas, you can check out the marvelous Botanica at the Wichita Gardens, the IG-worthy Keeper of the Plains, and the 8 Wonders of Kansas, which include:
- The Monument Rocks aka Chalk Pyramids at Oakley
- Strataca (Kansas Underground Salt Museum) in Hutchinson
- Cheyenne Bottoms/Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
- Big Well Museum
- Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
- The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center (in Hutchinson)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower museum
- Cathedral of the Plains – St. Fidelis Catholic Church
For those in search of the arts and sciences, there are the Spencer Museum of Art, Oz Museum, The Museum of World Treasures, and Exploration Place to visit.
Historical buffs would enjoy a trip to the Old West’s Boot Hill Museum, Fort Larned National Historic Site, Evel Knievel Museum, and the Flint Hills Discovery Center. If you’re visiting with someone who loves car racing, go to the Kansas Speedway.
If you really need to coof off, Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts can be a good alternative to the lakes of Kansas.
And for those chasing some of the best lakes in the country, check out my features about the Arkansas lakes, lakes in Colorado, Oklahoma lakes, lakes in Texas, Illinois lakes, lakes in Connecticut, Virginia lakes, lakes in Oregon (as well as the Cascade Lakes), South Carolina lakes, and Alabama lakes.