Camp Horizon: Woods, Rock Walls, and Steep Inclines

Camp Horizon offers a different perspective on Kansas hiking. The terrain provides for a more challenging opportunity with 1000 feet of elevation change possible throughout the hike. If you’re looking for lots of ascending, descending, rocky pathways, the chance to climb a few boulders, some steep inclines, and some incredible views – you’ll really enjoy this hike. There are very few places like it in Kansas!

A sunset view from the bluffs, available in our Dreamscapes collection! Copyright hiking mojo.

Camp Horizon is located at 30811 Horizon Dr, which is about seven miles east of Arkansas City, Kansas. When you arrive, the welcome center and a small parking lot will be on your left. Camp Horizon is a Great Plains United Methodist Youth Camp, offering summer camp programs for children. They also host family retreats and special occasions throughout the year. The trails are open and free to the public for hiking and biking (they do accept donations, if you are so inclined); they ask that you stop to check in at the welcome center upon arrival.

The main camp area is made up of several cabins, various buildings, a swimming pool, and other outdoor recreational spaces. The nearly nine miles of trails surround the main camp and offer several points of entry, which makes is easy for you to manage the length of your hike and to access facilities should you need them; they have a very nice restroom facility at the welcome center that even includes a shower.

There is a trailhead at the parking lot which will offer you access to the North Woods Trail. This is a beautifully wooded trail with a little elevation change here and there. Once the leaves cover the ground during the fall, it can become difficult to determine whether your next step is in a sturdy and safe place. For this reason, I always bring my trekking poles with me when I hike here.

Upon leaving the North Woods, you connect to Lyle’s Loop which offers a walk through an open prairie area with a view into Oklahoma. Lyle’s Loop will then take you back towards the main camp as you descend into a valley and climb back out of it. The climb out will get your blood pumping! There are some rocks which will require you to take a short climb up or down at times, and there are some underground streams in the area which leave some places on the trail wet and slippery, so be cautious and alert.

Your final climb up the trail and out of Lyle’s Loop will bring you to Inspiration Point – a lookout atop the trail and near the main camp. From there, you’ll have a chance to catch your breath and take in the awe-inspiring view of the Arkansas River and everything beyond for many miles. It’s simply breathtaking! At this point in the hike, you’ve completed a couple of miles and may or may not decide to continue hiking and climbing. If you’re ready to take off for the day, it’s a quick walk across the camp on gravel roads to get back to your car. What’s extra nice about that is, if you ever want to come out and take in a spectacular and unique sunset, you can access this area from the main camp and parking lot.

A view from the chapel near Inspiration Point. Copyright hiking mojo.

If you want to hike the western side of the camp, which is home to most of the trails and coolest sights, hike back down the trail you came up to reach Inspiration Point to connect with several trail entry points. Another option is to take the concrete staircase from the large building (Inspiration Lodge) that sits right next to Inspiration Point. Any of the trails will lead you down towards the river at the bottom of the valley on the western side.

A view of the woods in the river valley on the western side of the camp. Copyright hiking mojo.

The trails are well-maintained most of the year, but it can be difficult to determine which way you are going, to which trail you are connecting, and how long it’s going to take you to complete your hike. Just remember, up is out – so if you start to feel lost and need to wrap things up, start heading up.

Here are some really cool things you’ll encounter on the west side of the camp:

  • Several outdoor chapels – natural and so beautiful
  • A boulder “wall” you can climb up or down; you’ll need to use the attached ladder for one part of the climb
  • Access to the river
  • An old cement factory
  • A rock quarry with a huge rock wall (signs are posted advising visitors not to climb the rock wall); there is a steep pathway along the south side of the quarry available for hikers and a trail system to the north, both offering access up to camp or down to the river valley floor
  • Cardiac Hill – a perfect name for this beast, and a great place to train for higher-elevation hikes

During the summer months, the western trails become so overgrown that I tend to avoid visits (and the ticks and spiders) until the brush begins to die off. During the rainy season, expect flooding on the river valley floor and standing water or mud on many of those trails. Of course, standing water brings mosquitos, so you’ll have that to contend with as well. I feel the best time to visit Camp Horizon is during the fall after the brush has died back, the winter, and the drier times of spring.

It’s important to be safety-minded on any hiking adventure; however, on this one you’ll want to be extra aware and cautious. There are many areas along this hike where you could slip and fall or take a big tumble – so be super careful, and please hike with a partner in case you do get hurt. Also, once you’ve made it down to the river bottom, it may take you longer than you expect to navigate your way back up to the main camp. You’ll want to pay attention to how much daylight you have left, and make sure you watch the weather so you don’t get caught in a storm.

There’s an urban legend about a lady (certainly not me! >insert wink<), who went to Camp Horizon alone in hopes of hiking and beating the forecasted storms. She hiked the eastern trails, then headed down into the river valley on the western side until she reached the base of the rock quarry. That’s when she heard thunder - a full hour ahead of the forecasted time. She checked the radar and saw a massive, raging storm about to come right over the top of her. Legend has it that this is the moment she realized it probably wasn’t the best idea to be out there alone. She also quickly registered two more things: she had not seen another single soul on the trails that day, and she suddenly noticed many trees that looked like they’d been hit by lightning.

Fighting the urge to panic, she determined she had two real options: head south towards the river and the boulders with the ladder to climb up and out of the valley (most direct route to the car), or head north through the cement factory and then up Cardiac Hill towards the camp. She thought for a moment about her intense fear of heights, heard more loud thunder crashing, and began her run south towards the ladder; it began raining as she reached the ladder. She pushed down thoughts that she was going to fall to the bottom, not be found for days, and possibly be eaten by wild animals, and she began to careful and quickly climb the ladder, the boulders, and finally the staircase up out of the valley.

She made it back to the car just in time to see the storm roll in over the river valley. I hear it was quite beautiful. The moral of the story is, Camp Horizon is awesome, scenic, challenging, and a great workout, and it can be dangerous if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Always bring your emergency kit, just in case. If you need help determining what to add to your kit, read our blog article!

As far as wildlife, I’ve seen turkey vultures, a large red centipede, a brown tarantula, a tree covered in butterflies, and copperhead snakes. The location is literally on the river, so I’m sure there is much more wildlife in the area to be observed.

Camp Horizon is a rare find in Kansas, offering climbing challenges and more opportunities for gaining some elevation during your hike. Since the trails all surround and lead back to the main camp and have multiple entry and exit points, visitors can really choose how long, short, or challenging to make their hike. Be sure to bring your camera to capture some of the amazing views and moments from your hike!

For more information about the activities offered at Camp Horizon, click here. For a trail map, click here.

Be safe, and happy exploring!

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