Take a hike

Wes O'Neal, a 24-year-old Kansas University student, hikes a trail along the Kansas River with his Siberian Husky, Freya. O'Neal tries to go hiking at least once a week.

Sure it’s a monster haul up Mount Oread, but you’re young with energy to burn.

So if you’re looking for an alternative form of entertainment – one that doesn’t involve beer bongs, togas and Jell-O shots – we have a suggestion:

Take a hike.

Before you say, “Wait a second … Kansas is flat,” you should know that you don’t need to be in the Rockies to reap all the benefits of a good, rugged walk.

“It’s not mountains, but it’s still fun,” says Wes O’Neal, a 24-year-old Kansas University student who hits the trails around Douglas County at least once a week. “There’s a bunch of stuff you can do. Clinton, Lone Star and Perry all have great trails around them, and there’s great kayaking and canoeing on both.

“I think people don’t realize that you can go out and hike for five hours out at Clinton and not really see anybody and just kind of be out and feel like you’re really away.”

That’s great news for guys like Justin Glenn. The 21-year-old KU senior lives with about 60 other fellas at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house.

“I like to have my alone time,” he says, laughing. “I usually go (hiking) by myself. It’s just kind of peaceful, you know, to go out there and get away from everything.”

O'Neal gears up his dog with a pack to carry her food and water.

Glenn was an Eagle Scout who grew up at a lake near his hometown of Russell, which makes him something of an outdoors expert. But you don’t have to be a scouting prodigy to hit the trails. You just have to know where to go and what to take with you.

But first thing’s first: What exactly is the difference between hiking and simply taking a walk?

“Anytime you’re on the same path as roller bladers and jogging strollers and bikes and runners, that’s more urban than hiking,” says Dan Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 802 Mass. “I think of hiking as being on a nonimproved surface.”

Turns out there are plenty of “nonimproved surfaces” in Douglas County. The most-often cited by Lawrence enthusiasts are at Clinton Lake and along the Kansas River. Also recommended are paths at Lone Star Lake, Mary’s Lake and Perry Lake, which lies north of Lawrence in Jefferson County.

Gear for the trek

As for what to pack for your journey, it all depends on how far you want to go.

“If you’re just going on a day hike,” Glenn says, “really all you need is water.”

Cheap Gear and other resources

The most readily available and affordable outlet for Kansas University students to rent hiking and camping gear is through recreation services at KU. The phone number is 864-1366.

The Web site, www.recreation.ku.edu, includes photos and prices for all equipment available for rental. Included are two-person to six-person tents, sleeping bags, stoves, canoes, lanterns, headlamps, cooking sets and chairs. Prices start at $6 for up to three days for a two-person tent.

Other resources:
¢ Kansas Trails Council: www.kansastrailscouncil.org
¢ “Hiking Guide to Kansas,” by John Young and Catherine Hauber. This title is out of print, but Sunflower Outdoor has a store copy, and it can be checked out at area libraries.

When Hughes advises first-timers what to take on the trail, he draws a line between necessities and toys. On the superfluous side, he places items like binoculars, digital cameras, GPS equipment and water treatment devices.

On the essential side, he lists quality footwear, water, food, map and compass, bug repellent, sunscreen and appropriate clothing.

“You want some sort of clothing that’s going to move moisture away from skin, something synthetic,” Hughes says. “Steer away from cotton. It acts like a sponge.”

Of course you’ll need a pack for carrying all that gear. For short hikes, Hughes says, a lumbar pack (also known as a fanny pack) should suffice.

“As you move up in things you want to take, you’ll want to go to a backpack because it distributes the weight between your shoulders,” he says.

A good pack runs between $40 and $100, Hughes says. And hiking boots range from $70 to $200.

If you can afford the investment, O’Neal says it’s worth the money.

“It’s a good value because everything you get lasts a while,” he says. “You can spend $130 on a pair of boots, but you’re going to have them for 10 years.”

That might be OK if you’re planning to become an avid hiker. For the more casual – and broke – among you, KU’s Student Recreation Center rents hiking and camping equipment, from backpacks to lanterns to tents.

“My suggestion is to call us as soon as you know you’re thinking about planning a trip,” says Jason Krone, associate director of programs for KU’s recreation services. “If you need our equipment to go on it, you need to know whether it’s available. We take reservations months in advance.”

Hiking ‘boomlet’

KU graduate Jeannie Houts has been hiking as long as she can remember. She recommends the trails at Mary’s Lake for beginners. She also suggests some of the shorter trails at Clinton Lake, which can be accessed from a trail head just south of the visitors center, where free trail maps are available for visitors.

“It’s just a nice way to get away from everything,” Houts says of hiking. “Usually, where we go hike, it’s quiet. You just kind of get back to nature. You can just walk and listen to the sounds around you.

“It makes you feel good because you’re getting exercise, you’re with nature, and it’s peaceful.”

Which should make it especially enticing for collegiate types.

“Generally, students have a pretty stressful load between work and school and everything,” says O’Neal, who’s working on a degree in anthropology. “I mean, going to bars is fun, but you don’t really get your heart going and relieve a bunch of stress. It’s nice to get out and get a workout – and a tan.”

His advice for beginners: Take a lot of water, dress comfortably and don’t overdo it.

“The more comfortable you are, the more willing you’re going to be to go out and do it again,” he says. “And you don’t necessarily need to go out and say, ‘I’m going to hike all day today’ if you haven’t ever done it because you might get tired and turned off to it.”

For his part, Hughes is hoping O’Neal, Glenn and others their age continue to express interest in hiking.

“I think there’s a nice little boomlet happening,” Hughes says. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll lure some people away from their PlayStations. If they want to take their iPods with them, that’s fine.”

Area trails

Clinton Lake
(Free trail maps available at Overlook Park visitors center and online at www.nwk.usace.army.mil/ clinton/trails.htm)
¢ North Shore Trail: About 7 miles long. Runs along the north shore of the lake and passes through oak and hickory forests as it follows the lake shore. Surface is packed earth with occasional steep slopes and obstacles. The trailhead is located at Overlook Park, which is just south of the visitors center at the north end of the dam. Primitive camping is allowed in one area of the state park.
¢ George Latham Hiking Trail: About 4.5 miles; can be hiked in a little more than two hours. Meanders through forest, open fields and along the shoreline before returning to the trailhead, which is located at the Woodridge Primitive Camping Area. Surface is packed earth. Camping is allowed anywhere in the Woodridge area at least 100 feet from the trail.
¢ South Shore/Rockhaven Trails: Consist of many trails that total about 50 miles. Wanders through forests, past open fields, along the lake shore and over the top of rocky hills. Surface is packed earth, except on hillsides, where it may be slightly rocky. Campsites are at the trailhead, which is located in the Rockhaven Public Use Area on the south shore of the lake.
¢ Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 S.W. Harper St.: A paved, wheelchair accessible trail leads down to Mary’s Lake from the nature center. The entire loop is about 1 3/4 miles long. A couple of packed earth trails start on the main path and wind through wooded areas.
¢ Perry Lake Trail: The 28-mile trail offers a range of terrain, from easy, gentle slopes in the south to rugged, varying elevations in the north. Head north out of Lawrence on U.S. Highway 24 to get to Perry, where the trail is accessible from various points along Ferguson Road. Camping along the trail is not allowed; designated camping areas are marked on a map available at www.perrylaketrail.net.