One of the best Kansas getaways (if you love the great outdoors) is Monument Rocks Chalk Pyramids and Lake Scott State Park. We visited one year in early July and it was a great family experience. It’s not exactly a day trip from Wichita, but it would be a terrific weekend getaway or maybe even an overnight trip.
In western Kansas, the farmers harvest their wheat during the summer. It is apparently a big undertaking, and when we visited in early July one year, the harvest was so plentiful they were running out of room to store it. We passed huge mounds of wheat piled up alongside the road as we passed.
From Wichita, the drive to Monument Rocks is about four hours – longer if you keep asking your husband stop so you can take a bunch of pictures of wildflowers and cyclists along the way.
Bike the U.S. for MS cyclists happened to be taking a break at the “Artesian Well Pulloff” on NE 140th when we were there.
Fortunately for them (and us), this July weekend was cloudy and cool, which made the temperatures really pleasant – not at all the typical summer heat you would normally expect in Kansas.
My first-ever glimpse of Quivera Wildlife Refuge was during this trip, and I made up my mind we would explore it further on a future family day trip. (Which we did!)
Where to Stay
Because we were visiting farmer friends in Tribune, we decided to stay in a hotel in Scott City. It was clean and modern and reasonably priced (Best Western El Quartelejo My affiliate link if you want to check it out.)
Many others who visit the Monument Rocks area come in from I-70 and choose to stay in Oakley or another of many hotels (affiliate link) along the interstate north of Monument Rocks and Lake Scott. That’s another option for you.
Scott City is located at one end of the Western Vistas Historic Byway, which goes north along U.S. 83 and west along U.S. 40.
As soon as possible we headed out to find Monument Rocks. The first place we stopped (and I highly recommend doing this) was Keystone Gallery. It’s run by two fossil hunters who are experts on the area. The gallery displays impressive fossils and they sell unique merchandise and souvenirs. (We bought our Monument Rocks mug and postcard there.)
Although we got some great souvenirs and browsed the gallery, our primary purpose for stopping at Keystone Gallery was to get information. I had heard that the dirt road to Monument Rocks is sometimes impassable during rainy days – and it was a slightly wet weekend when we went – so we wanted to ask the proprietors of Keystone Gallery if they thought we would make it in our little Honda Accord.
Thankfully they said yes (with the caveat that we take it slow and avoid any deep mud, which we were enthusiastic to do). So after browsing the store, purchasing our little souvenirs, chatting with the owners and taking a dozen pictures of the shop and the beautiful landscape surrounding it, we set out for the chalk pyramids.
Monument Rocks Chalk Pyramids
The road was narrow and rutted because there had been some light rain, but we didn’t run into anything impassable. We were very cautious because getting stuck out in the middle of this area would mean a long, long wait for a tow. (So you should be cautious too. Read Emily’s list of Kansas Road Trip Travel Essentials for more tips on traveling to natural/scenic areas in Kansas with your family.)
Note for other city folk like me: Before you leave the town you’re staying in, have breakfast, gas up the car, and make everyone go to the bathroom. You’re about to visit a natural area. There aren’t any public restrooms, restaurants, or gas stations out there!
Monument Rocks is situated on Gove 16, and there are a few ways to get to it. (I’ve added some directions below.) Once on Gove 16, as long as you’re on the correct dirt road, there’s no way to miss the rocks! We drove right up to them, snapping pics along the way.
Once you get there, you’ll note signs letting you know how to take care of this natural treasure.
You shouldn’t climb on the rocks, and definitely don’t leave any litter. The area is closed after sunset, so plan your trip in time to leave before it closes. Monument Rocks is actually on private property, so it’s a privilege that we get to visit it. Please be super respectful of their rules. According to this article on the KU website, these chalk formations may have been formed 80 million years ago when Kansas was a seabed. I certainly don’t want to be one of the people who ruin them!
They are as stunning in person as they are in photos.
We exited the area a different way than we came, which took us along a country road and past several farms. We saw this little calf who had gotten separated from his herd running along the road outside the fence.
We thought we might call someone to let them know, but had no service on our cell phones. (That’s another tip about traveling in Kansas. There are still some dead zones, so plan accordingly. i.e. your Google maps program might not function correctly.)
Lake Scott State Park
After our visit to the rocks, we grabbed a fast food supper and headed back to the hotel for some swimming time in the indoor pool. The next morning we set out for Lake Scott. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, even though I had done some research online beforehand.
You’re driving through this vast, wide-open farmland and then turn onto the road that leads to the lake, right? And then suddenly it looks like you’re in Colorado. The road starts to wind through a canyon, and on one side are these large bluffs of orange-colored stone. The area also becomes more wooded. It was really the most unexpected part of our trip, seeing this geography that really looks out of place in Kansas.
The lake was also fantastic. It’s in a State Park, and has bathrooms, showers/changing areas, and boat and kayak rentals. It also has a large sandy beach area that’s somewhat a rarity at Kansas lakes.
Boat rental was really affordable, so we spent some time fishing and floating (and getting sunburned). We also stopped to see El Cuartelejo, the remains of a Native American pueblo, and the Steele home, which is the cabin of one of the original settlers in the area located right in the park. And we drove all through the park to enjoy the stunning views. I had thought Monument Rocks would be the geographical wonder of our weekend trip, but Lake Scott State Park was equally wondrous and such a surprise.
How to Get to Monument Rocks and Lake Scott State Park
U.S. Highway 83 is the north/south highway that will get you to both Monument Rocks and Lake Scott State Park – either from Oakley to the north or from Scott City to the south.
Directions to Lake Scott State Park
To get to Lake Scott State Park, turn off onto KS State Highway 95 and follow it until you see the entrance for the park. This is very easy – you can turn onto KS 95 in either of two places and the highway just makes a big loop back to U.S. 83.
Directions to Monument Rocks
To get to Monument Rocks, you have a couple of choices. Both of them eventually bring you to Gove 16 (a county road). During rainy/wet weather, there is a strong possibility of getting your car stuck in the mud, so try to plan your visit for a nice dry weekend! (Getting stuck means trying to find a tow service willing to pull you out, and that may not be the easiest thing to do with no cell service and no town for miles and miles!)
That said, here are two possible routes – including the one we took. Thanks so much to Jim Talbert Photography as well as Chuck Bonner and Barbara Shelton, the owners of Keystone Gallery (there’s a map on the website), for their assistance with these directions!
- From Scott City, you can take U.S. 83 north to Dakota Road. It will turn twice (and both times there’s only one way to go) before you reach Gove 16. Turn north (left) and it will take you straight to Monument Rocks.
- From Oakley/I-70, take U.S. 83 south to Jayhawk Road. Turn east (left) onto Jayhawk Road, which turns into Gove J. Turn right onto Gove 14, which will turn east and then south until it becomes Gove 16. You’ll drive straight to Monument Rocks on Gove 16.