Last summer, my sister and I packed up the kids and went on some fantastic day trips from Wichita.On our first Kansas road trip of the summer, we visited Mushroom Rock State Park and Kanopolis Lake State Park.
Mushroom Rock State Park
Our first stop was Mushroom Rock State Park. At only 5 acres in size, it is the smallest state park in Kansas.
But don’t let its size deter you. It is considered one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography and has some wonderful and unique rock formations.
Admission to Mushroom Rock State Park is FREE!
The park is located approximately 20 miles SW of Salina off Highway 140. (The actual address of the park is: 200 Horsethief Road in Marquette, KS.)
It is about 100 miles NW of Wichita – a 1 1/2 hour drive.
When you are almost there, you must drive on about 2 miles of dirt roads which can be hard to drive on after a bad rain or if there is snow and ice, so plan your trip accordingly.
As soon as we arrived, the kids immediately wanted to run and climb on the rock formation closest to the road.
The rock formations are actually Dakota sandstone concretions, three of which look just like mushrooms, stem and all!
The main 3 formations are on land where the grass has been mowed. There are even more rocks outside of the mown area, but as tempting as it may be, I would not recommend going further back in the weeds and the small winding dirt paths that are overgrown with weeds.
Our kids ran ahead to this area to climb on other rock formations. When my sister and I caught up to them, we immediately realized that some of the weeds the kids were running through was poison ivy! Luckily, we were able to wash them off quickly and no one had a reaction to it.
You do want to make sure you go across the little bridge that spans a dry creek bed on the other side of the road from the three main formations.
At first, you won’t see much except grass and a well-worn dirt road with high walls.
Keep walking about 100 yards further and you will see two well-formed mushroom-shaped rocks as well as several other “mushroom top” shaped rocks that lost their sandstone bases long ago. These smaller rocks are lower to the ground and fun to climb around on.
The main mushroom formations are neat to look at close up. While it makes me sad on the one hand to see all of the names and drawings carved into the base of the rocks, it is also a way to look back in time. Some of the names are dated from the early 1900’s.
We also found a handprint-shaped carving that the kids enjoyed comparing with their hands.
We arrived close to the noon hour. Being mid-summer, it was already pretty hot so we made sure to drink lots of water. We also kept hydrated with fruit and tried to wear hats to shade our heads. (Let’s be honest, it’s hard to keep hats on kids sometimes!)
After exploring the rocks, we took a group picture in front of the official “Mushroom State Park” wooden sign and had a picnic lunch. Some of the kids sat on a bench with a shade awning, while others sat on the blanket we brought for just such an occasion.
After lunch, we made sure the kids used the restroom before we loaded up for the next leg of our trip.
I must warn you that the “restroom” at Mushroom Rock is really just a covered outhouse. There is no running water and no toilet paper! Luckily, we were prepared!
When you are traveling in rural Kansas, ALWAYS make sure you are prepared for anything!
See my list of Kansas Road Trip Essentials when you are going on a Kansas road trip. I never leave home without these items when traveling the backroads of my home state.
Kanopolis Lake State Park
Refreshed from lunch, we hit the road for the next leg of our journey: Kanopolis Lake State Park.
Just the mere mention of the word “swimming” got the children’s attention.
Luckily, they didn’t have to wait long. The lake is less than 15 minutes south of Mushroom Rock State Park via KS-141 South.
Admission to Kanopolis Lake is $5 per vehicle at the park office or $6 online. If you have a Kansas State Parks Passport, there is no additional charge for entrance into the park.
Check out our post Save on Kansas State Parks Annual Pass to find out how to get a discounted park pass.
We cooled off at one of the designated swimming areas near the dam. It was a windy day so the waves were pretty big, which always makes me nervous with kids, especially since the lake water in Kansas is muddy.
On this particular trip, I only brought lifejackets for my youngest kids. Lucky for us, there were a few lifejackets available for public use at the Kanopolis Lake swimming area. These are free to use on a first-come, first-serve basis.
We swam for a couple of hours and played in the sand on the beach. We also had planned on going hiking after our swim, but the strong winds soon brought a summer storm our way.
We used the nice shower and restroom facilities near the swimming area to wash off before our trip home.
If you have time on your trip and if the weather cooperates, I would definitely recommend taking the time to hike any of the numerous trails at the lake while you are there.
On a previous trip, we did take the kids on some of the Prairie Trails. They are narrow hard red dirt trails that traverse the high prairie and Red Rock Canyon.
As the terrain goes up and down, there are plenty of rocks to climb on, lizards to see crossing the path and hawks to watch on the horizon as you look out across the prairie.
Horsethief trails are also very popular.
To see a detailed map of the lake and hiking trail locations, visit the Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism website.
This part of Kansas has a lot to see including, but not limited to the Maxwell Wildlife Preserve, Coronado Heights, and the town of Lindsborg. I will be talking about some of these other places in my future Kansas Road Trip articles. I hope you have enjoyed our little adventure. What are some of your favorite things to see in Kansas?