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Kansas Road Trip: Cowley State Fishing Lake Waterfall

Cowley County State Lake” by photographer Mike Mattal. All rights reserved. Used here by permission.

The waterfall at Cowley State Fishing Lake in Arkansas City (aka Ark City) is a fun place to explore, and not too far from Wichita! Read about our family day trip and get a few helpful tips to make your visit fun and successful.

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When to Go

While the waterfall is open and accessible pretty much year-round, you won’t always find water in the waterfall! When the Cowley State Fishing Lake is low, the falls will be dry. (That could be a good time to look for fossils, though.) So if it’s possible, pick a day for your visit when we’ve had some rain.

How to Get There

The Cowley County falls are approximately 80 miles south of Wichita or 10 miles from Henry’s Candy Co. in Dexter, Kansas (if you are continuing on your adventure from there).

From Wichita, Cowley State Fishing Lake is 16 miles south of Arkansas City, just off Highway 166. It takes approximately 1 hour to get there. The exact address of Cowley State Fishing Lake is: 20467 Us Highway 166, Dexter, KS 67038.

From Henry’s Candy Co., head south on K-15 for 5 miles. Then go west on US-166 for another 4.5 miles. From there, you will see the signs for the lake. There will be a small sign directing you to the west end of the lake where there is a small dirt parking lot above the falls. Because of all the trees, you won’t actually be able to see the falls until you get out of your car. There is only a small chicken wire fence separating you from the waterfall drop off so be careful, especially with young kids.

From here, you can climb down some big rocks and boulders to get down to the bottom of the falls. It is pretty precarious so watch out! If you don’t want to climb down the boulders, you can also drive down a dirt road that runs about 100 feet west of the falls. It takes you to the bottom of the falls but about 200 feet downstream. So to actually see the waterfall, you’d need to walk back to them. There is no paved path or trail. You can walk next to the creek on the baseball and softball sized rocks along the stream.

I would recommend wearing water shoes or old tennis shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy. Once at the bottom of the waterfall, the view is breathtaking. The falls drop approximately 25 feet to a shallow pool below.

Our Family Day Trip to the Waterfall in Cowley County

Read about our visit to the Cowley County State Park waterfall below, and see the video slideshow of our trip!


We went over spring break last year on an unusually warm spring day. The kids had on old tennis shoes and swimsuits. We had a lot of fun climbing on the rocks. The kids also stood in the freezing cold waterfall too. I wasn’t quite that brave, but I did touch the water. That was enough for me! We did stand behind the waterfall and that was a really neat view.

The waterfall is a large horseshoe shape. Since it was early spring when we went, only a part of the fall was flowing. I hope to return again after the rainy season to see the waterfall in all its glory! After playing at the falls, we decided to walk further down the stream. We chose to walk right in the middle of the stream. It was cold, but fun. If you choose this method, be aware that there are rocks and it is very muddy too which makes it slippery. Just remember to go slow and hold onto the hands of small children. For the most part, it is pretty shallow, but there were a couple of spots that got waist deep. At those spots, we chose to walk on the rocks around the stream. There is a lot of limestone in this part of the state and we actually found some really neat shell fossils in the rocks!

We walked as far as the road that crosses the stream. Past that, the water gets really deep and was still. Okay, so some of the older kids actually did go into that part and swam! However, they didn’t stay there long because they stirred up some water snakes. Creek-ing rule number 101 in Kansas: Never go into still water. That’s where snakes and sometimes leeches live! Don’t worry, everyone was fine, but they did run really fast and my son lost his shoe. (See, now you know why I told you to wear OLD shoes!) Even the smallest of trips always turn into an adventure with my family!

After all of the hiking, everyone was tired so we chose to go home. Next time I hope to go check out the lake too. I hear it is really beautiful. If you still haven’t had enough fun at this point, you can also stop at the awesome Island Park in Winfield on the way home.

Also, don’t forget to check out my post on Kansas Road Trip Essentials for a checklist of things to pack when travelling the backroads of Kansas.

Have fun and get out and explore Kansas on the cheap!

Cowley State Fishing Lake Waterfall” by photographer Lane Pearman CC BY 2.0

More Kansas Road Trips

Prather Creek Falls (Chase State Fishing Lake Waterfalls)

Mushroom Rock State Park

Coronado Heights

Kansas Road Trip Essentials

Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Henry’s Candy Co. in Dexter, Kansas

Kansas Sunflower Fields

You-Pick Places near Wichita

Barn Sales, Craft Fairs and Flea Markets in Kansas

Photo Credit: Mike Mattal (Used with permission)
Photo Credit: Lane Pearman (Used with permission.)

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