Healthy Outlook: Get R&R in nature with this area trail guide
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
Sometimes, you just need to get away.
Any longtime Lawrence folk can tell you that although this town may not have quite the hustle and bustle of a big city, life can get hectic here in suburbia. If you’re experiencing a Thoreau-esque transcendental itch and need to escape into nature for a bit, here are some of the best options in the area to do so.
I asked the Friends of Lawrence Area Trails for some help on this article and have compiled their answers via social media and email. I used a spreadsheet to add up mentions of the trails by category. Here’s how they rank, and following the rankings is a list of resources for more information.
(One side note: A lot of these trails and locations seem to have several names or colloquial descriptors, and many lack specific addresses. I’ve done my best to curate the most accurate, commonly used and search engine-friendly information for this article.)
Best spots for beginning cyclists:
I just recently learned how to ride a bike … at age 27 … but I know there are a lot of other folks out there who will benefit from this answer, too — and most of them will have a couple of decades more than me to experience these trails.
Leading the ranks here is the Lawrence Levee Trail.
Parking for the levee trail is available at Riverfront Park, which is at the intersection of North Second Street and Highways 24 and 40, or at the south end of North Eighth Street, just south of Oak Street in North Lawrence. It’s “flat and totally car-free for 5 miles in two directions,” writes Marilyn Hull, a member of FLAT.
The Lawrence Loop came in a close second place.
“The flat areas would be along the Burroughs Creek trail, from the movie theater to Clinton Lake, and from Rock Chalk Park to Queens Road,” Karrey Britt, communications coordinator at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, writes of the loop.
Some other mentions: Burcham Park Trail, 200 Indiana St.; the trails at the Lawrence Rotary Arboretum, 5100 W. 27th St.
Best spots for those seeking a challenge:
Head to Clinton Lake to get to work. The blue and white trails on the lake’s north shore pose quite a challenge — especially the white one, according to the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club. Remember the Cliffs of Insanity from “The Princess Bride”? That’s probably only a slight exaggeration.
En route from central Lawrence to the lake is another challenge: the shared-use paths from Iowa Street and Clinton Parkway west to the lake, which Hull describes as “hilly.” No joke — some spots along the path have a grade of more than 10 percent.
There are also some great gravel road rides north of Lawrence, writes Kate Dinneen, chair of FLAT.
I initially separated this category into suggestions for cyclists and hikers, but the answers were the same.
Best spots for beginning hikers:
Answers were all over the place for this category, but some of the top mentions were the Baker Wetlands and the Lawrence Loop.
Some other mentions: Mutt Run dog park; the trails at the University of Kansas Field Station; the Outside for a Better Inside trails at Sandra Shaw Park, 110 Maine St.; the Woodridge Public Use Area on the west side of Clinton Lake; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center Nature Trails, beginning behind the center at 872 North 1402 Road
Safest and most accessible trails:
For those who may be concerned about staying close to roads in the event of an emergency, some of the safest spots are Burcham Park, the Burroughs Creek Trail and the Lawrence Loop.
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
Dot Nary, a KU professor who has advocated for accessibility both locally and nationwide, writes that the best trails for wheelchair users include the Lawrence Rotary Arboretum trail; the Baker Wetlands boardwalk, near the Discovery Center at 1365 North 1250 Road; sections of the Lawrence Loop, particularly near Burcham Park; and the Burroughs Creek Trail, although she said parking can be difficult.
Some other mentions: The Outside for a Better Inside Trail has a wheelchair-accessible spot for fishing, Hull said. She also mentioned the Haskell Rail-Trail, which runs south from where it meets the end of the Burroughs Creek Trail near 23rd Street to East 29th Street, along the eastern side of the Haskell Indian Nations University campus.
Best spots for families with kids:
There were several different answers for this category, too, but first up is Burroughs Creek Trail and Linear Park. As the name implies, the 1.7-mile trail runs from its northernmost point just east of Hobbs Park, 702 E. 11th St., south to 23rd Street. It connects to the Haskell Rail-Trail to form the easternmost edge of the Lawrence Loop.
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
This trail has several fun stops along the way. Hobbs Park is home to a basketball court, baseball field, playground and picnic area. Near 13th Street is the Lawrence Community Orchard; along the trail, there are “Hike Through History” panels detailing events and locations from the city’s past; and there is a playground between 14th and 15th streets, just south of which is another basketball court in Parnell Park. Stop for a snack at Sunrise Coffee, 1501 Learnard Ave., and visit their free, you-pick community garden, writes Suzan Hampton, a member of FLAT.
The Rotary Arboretum trails, especially the ones encircling the pond, are another option. Mutt Run dog park, 1330 East 902 Road along the Wakarusa River, offers “lots of interactions with friendly families and their dogs, plus a destination waterfall bonus” about a half-mile in, Hampton writes; plus, it gives good puppies a chance to get off their leashes for a while.
Some other mentions: The levee trail is another popular option in this category. It also has a close-by option for snacks: The Levee Cafe, 239 Elm St.
Most beautiful spots; best places to soak in nature; and best places to catch a sunrise or sunset:
I combined these categories, also, because there were so many answers in common.
First on the list: the trails at the Baker Wetlands, where wildlife is abundant. These trails also got the most votes for best places to watch the sunrise.
The levee trail was also a big winner for these categories, and it came in second for sunrise views. The trails of the KU Field Station were also highly ranked. Those are northeast of the Lawrence Municipal Airport, ending at the northernmost point of the Armitage Education Center, 350 Wild Horse Road. Find more information about those, and detailed maps, online at biosurvey.ku.edu.
Clinton Lake sounds like the place to be to catch a sunset.
Hampton writes that there are several country roads with few cars, such as those between Lawrence and Eudora, east of North Lawrence and toward Vinland south of town, that offer “beautiful sky and landscape views. Wild turkeys and migrating birds in the fields are highlights during the late winter months.”
Some other mentions: Sanders Mound on Clinton Lake’s north shore and Wells Overlook, about 3/4-mile east of U.S. 59 Highway on North 100 Road (County Road 458), offer great views, contributors say. There’s also Mary’s Lake and the Prairie Park Trail, 2811 Kensington Road; the George Latham Trail at Clinton Lake; the Rock Chalk Park trails by Sports Pavilion Lawrence, 100 Rock Chalk Lane; and many more.
“It’s a good way to learn what county roads are safer than others,” Britt writes.
• The Lawrence Mountain Bike Club has great information about the Kansas River Trails, Clinton Lake North Shore trails and the Perry Trails northwest of town. This group also has many recurring rides. Find them at lawrencemountainbikeclub.org.
About Healthy Outlook
Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.
Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:
- Facebook/Facebook messenger: mclarkljw
- Twitter: @mclark_ljw
- Instagram: @mclark_ljw