If you find yourself with a day to spare and the weather is nice, I highly recommend a road trip that my family calls the Cowley County Loop. From Wichita it is just around 160 miles in the car, but has multiple stops including three unique hikes, our favorite waterfall, beautiful scenery, a small town candy store, and more!
Stop 1: Chaplin Nature Center
Managed by the Wichita Audubon Society, this nature area features over five miles of walking trails including long stretches of woodland tree canopy, wetlands, prairie, and over a quarter mile of Arkansas River sandbar. It really is the perfect place to see all of Kansas’ ecosystems and plenty of wildlife. Trails are open daily from sunset to sunrise. The visitors center is a must-stop too with interactive displays, helpful information, and good bathrooms! No dogs or bikes on the trails.
Pack a picnic to enjoy at Chaplin or stop for lunch in Arkansas City to fuel up before your next hike.
Stop 2: Cowley State Fishing Lake
You’ll have an “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore moment” at Cowley State Fishing Lake’s 26-foot waterfall. To access the waterfall, turn off of US HWY 166 at the signs for Cowley State Fishing Lake and take the road west until it dead ends. There’s no signage, but that’s your trailhead and you should be able to hear or see the top of the waterfall. Flow depends on rainfall, but if you are there a few days after about any amount of rain you’ll be rewarded with a roaring waterfall. The hike down to the falls is short, but fairly steep. Shoes (not sandals) are recommended as broken glass and snakes are common. Swim if you dare. South from the main falls there is a series of smaller falls too. On your drive out it is worth taking the access road east and down by the lake to fish (permit required), or just watch the water, wildlife, boaters and kayakers.
Stop 3: Henry’s Candy Co.
In Dexter, Kansas you’ll find an old fashioned candy store full of classic favorites and delicious treats. Check ahead for seasonal changes in hours.
Island Park is truly a must visit for playground enthusiasts of all ages. There is something for everyone with their castle and farm themed playground on a beautiful park. Across the footbridge from Island Park is the Timber Creek Nature Center with two looped trails coming in at just under a mile. They’re heavily wooded and great for kids.
Our last stop before heading home is usually Shindigs. Built as a railway freight station in 1910, this funky building has been converted to a funky bar & grill with great food and two stories of dining- including a rooftop patio.
This 160-mile day trip is full of so much variety and outdoor fun our family repeats it every year.