A couple of summers back, I was camped on Havilland Lake in southwest Colorado and, upon discovering that I was from Kansas and likely noticing the bike strapped to the back of my RV, the guy in the campsite across from mine mentioned that the biking trails at Lake Wilson were totally rad, some of the best in the country. In fact, he’d purposely stopped there on his way to Colorado from Kentucky. Hmmm. “Lake Wilson?” I asked. “Uh, like, the Lake Wilson that’s in Kansas? THAT Lake Wilson?” He gave me a puzzled nod and I knew he’d begun to doubt the seriousness of my biking and exploring skills. The feeling was mutual and I sheepishly retreated to my RV to google Lake Wilson.

The sad truth is that while all this rad biking was right in my proverbial back yard, I had no idea it existed. Frankly, I had no idea about much at all at Lake Wilson, even though it’s just 79 miles from my home in central Kansas. This left me wondering, what else don’t I know about Kansas? What other things have I overlooked, dismissed or just ignored? I bought an RV three years ago to explore all the incredible natural spaces this country has to offer, but had I ever really explored the natural spaces in the state I’d called home for decades?

What else don’t I know about Kansas?

While I didn’t realize it that night on Havilland Lake, these questions would ultimately shape many of my weekends in 2019, when I (and my man-friend, Rick) made an unofficial goal to get to know Kansas, one dirt road at a time.

Over the year, we put some serious miles on Rick’s old blue Chevy truck. Packing our hiking shoes, cameras and assorted snacks (#priorities), we took a year-long series of day trips to some of the most scenic spots in the state. We visited state parks, waterfalls, county lakes, rivers. We checked out rock formations and old dilapidated farm houses and the limestone fence posts of Post Rock Country.  We saw both the world’s largest ball of twine and the world’s largest Czech egg. Seriously. We encountered amazing wildlife – buffalo, elk, deer, rattle snakes, hawks, and more – and became totally enamored with a pair of bald eagles nesting at Kanopolis State Park. We watched many stunning sunsets along wild sunflower-lined dirt roads.

Bull Elk at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge
Bull Elk at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

When I look back through my photos, I’m still a bit amazed by it all. It turns out I’d overlooked quite a bit in Kansas. When I look at a map, I realize there’s still so much more to see. For me, the lesson here is not that Kansas is amazing (but it is), it’s that there’s value in thinking smaller when it comes to travel and exploration. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of thinking that travel is supposed to be a big long vacation to an exotic far-away location with lots of dramatic, instagram-ready backdrops. But for a lot of people, this kind of travel simply isn’t possible on the regular. I suspect that no matter where you live, you’ve left places around you unexplored. Go see those places. In my experience, there are instagram-ready backdrops everywhere. For anyone afflicted with wanderlust like me, small day trips allow you to add adventure to your day-to-day life when personal and work commitments may otherwise keep you grounded and close to home. These trips are easy to plan and often cost only a tank of gas. Getting out and exploring your little corner of the world may give you a better appreciation for it and make you feel lucky to live there instead of stuck and stir-crazy. 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of my photos and experiences from my favorite Kansas spots. I hope you’ll be inspired to get out there on the road too, no matter what town or state or country your road takes you through.

Sunset at Milford Lake
Sunset at Milford Lake, Milford State Park, Kansas