Pawnee Prairie Park: Wichita’s Hidden Gem
There are so many things that make this park exceptional. Over the past few years, I have spent more of my free time at this nature park than anywhere else; it is truly a hidden gem. Whether you are out for a short walk or a day hike, and whether you prefer paved paths or dirt trails, you’ll find something to love about Pawnee Prairie Park!
The park is open from dawn until dusk. The main parking lot is located at 2499 S Tyler Rd in Wichita, and there is a second entrance and smaller lot just east of Pawnee and Maize Rd. If you'd prefer to stick to paved walkways, a concrete sidewalk runs between the two parking lots; it’s about 1.1 miles one way. If you’re ready for an off-the-concrete adventure, there are numerous trail access points available from either park entrance.
Prairie grasses found near the Tyler Rd entrance. Copyright hiking mojo.
I’m not here to take you step-by-step through the entire park, because part of the fun at Pawnee Prairie is discovering and exploring for yourself! There are miles upon miles of walking opportunities with limited facilities, so all you really need to do is properly prepare for the length of your hike and the amount of time you have, and then just get out there and enjoy it! Read “Hiking Basics for Beginners: Short Hikes” to help prepare for shorter walks and “Day Hiking Essentials: A Guide for Beginners” if you are heading out for the day!
There are drinking fountains (for you and your pooch!) and restrooms next to both parking lots; however, they are only open during warmer months of the year. When I head out to the park, I always bring everything with me that I’ll need for my hike.
Pawnee Prairie Park is nearly 625 acres in size, making it the largest park in Wichita. One of the very special things about it is how rugged and wild it remains. It’s very wooded, full of wildlife, and the Cowskin Creeks twists and turns throughout the length of the park. While you can stay on the sidewalk and/or the crushed concrete paths if you prefer or need to play it safe, the dirt pathways offer you a chance for a little adventure – all while not even leaving the city, though you will certainly feel like you did!
The creek divides the park into east and west sections, and there are several bridges throughout the park to aid in crossing the creek. One of the main crossings is a concrete footbridge that connects the sidewalk running between the two parking lots. If the water level in the Cowskin is up due to rain, then the bridge may become submerged and crossing there will not be possible. During these times, it’s almost certain that there will be lots of mud and standing water on many of the dirt trails. When this occurs, you can either stay on the sidewalk, or you can choose to get a little dirty! Like I always say, “A little dirty never hurty!”
Walking in the woods is very different from walking at busier city parks or in your neighborhood. It’s quiet. It’s scenic. You don’t think about the distance of the walk; a mile just doesn’t feel as long in the woods. You get to see cool stuff, like animals, unique trees, the creek, and the way the light shines through the trees. Even the wind is somehow different in the woods. The trees provide shade in the summer and act as a wind block in the winter, making the park a great place to visit year-round. Each season brings a new perspective of beauty and distinctiveness to Pawnee Prairie.
One of the many trails that meanders through the woods at Pawnee Prairie. Copyright hiking mojo.
As you would anywhere else, you’ll want to take some basic safety precautions while hiking at Pawnee Prairie. First, when it’s windy outside, you’ll want to make sure to watch for falling branches from the trees. Second, use trekking poles when it’s muddy to provide some added stability. Next, remember that there are limited facilities, which are only available during the warmer months of the year, and even when they are open you can be a couple miles from the nearest facility or parking lot during certain points of your hike; bring your first aid kit just in case.
The city does a nice job of keeping the park and its trails well-maintained; however, in the thick of summer you should expect to encounter areas where the brush along the dirt trails becomes overgrown. When you walk through this brush, you’re very likely to become the not-so-proud owner of a tick (or a village of ticks) if you fail to wear bug repellent. The morale of this story is, wear your insect repellent, reapply as necessary, and check for ticks often during the summer after walking through any brush. If it all becomes too overgrown in the summer for your liking, there are plenty of paved and crushed concrete paths to keep you busy until fall when the brush will either die off or get mowed back.
Dogs are allowed anywhere in the park and must be kept on a leash, which is the safest thing for your pet for several reasons. A few of the hiking paths in the park are also open to horse riders and bicyclists. You don’t want your pooch to startle a horse or get hit by a cyclist; leashes help keep dogs and people safe. There are information kiosks at each parking lot and a map available online if you’d like to check ahead to see which paths allow horses and bikes.
In addition, you’ll want to be extra aware with your pooch around the creek drop offs within the park (some have quite a drop, and I’ve seen a dog jump right over the edge of one!), and you’ll want to be on the lookout for coyotes. I love seeing coyotes roam through the park, along with lots of other wildlife, such as deer, owls, hawks, bunnies, racoons, beavers, turkeys, and more. While it’s neat to see, you’ll want to be sure your canine family member is close to you and safe, especially near dusk.
Lastly, we’ll discuss ways you can incorporate some added fun into your walk. First, if you’re a Pokémon fan – you’re in luck; the park is home to several stops and gyms! Also, if you like to geocache, there are numerous hidden caches out there just waiting to be found. If you follow hiking mojo on Facebook, you can take part in our scavenger hunt! The game involves finding mojo caches near certain landmarks throughout the park. Every couple of weeks (starting in mid-December this year), we’ll post a new landmark picture and challenge you to get out there and find the mojo cache. Explorers who take part in the fun will be entered for the chance to win free stuff from hiking mojo!
Interesting landmarks can be found throughout the nature park. Copyright hiking mojo.
Pawnee Prairie Park is the most unique place for hiking in and around Wichita. If you have the ability to leave the concrete paths and see where those dirt trails lead, I would certainly encourage you to do so. You never know what you might find out there in the woods. Who knows --- if you’re feeling a little lost, maybe you’ll even find yourself! It’s a great place to clear your mind, reconnect with the earth, and reawaken your inner peace. As an added bonus, if you go often enough you may find yourself in better physical shape too! Inner peace and smaller pants – yeah, I’m in!