Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve

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Tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres of North America. Less than 4 % remains, mostly in the Flint Hills of Kansas. On November 12, 1996, legislation created the 10,894 acre preserve, which protects a nationally significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem, while containing a unique collection of natural and cultural features from the American Indian to present.

Outdoor Activities

Catch-and-Release Fishing

Three preserve ponds are open to the public for catch and release fishing under the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Park's Fishing Impoundments and Stream Habitats (F.I.S.H.) program. The fishing program is available during daylight hours from March 1 through October 31. A valid Kansas fishing license is required for anglers between the ages of 16 - 65.

In addition to a valid Kansas fishing license for those aged 16 to 65, anglers will need to have in their possession a free Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve permit. These permits must be completed per the instructions located at the kiosk in the parking area prior to fishing. Anglers are limited to worms and artificial lures and may fish from the bank only. Additional fishing regulations are posted at the parking area kiosk.

The fishing ponds are located northeast of Strong City. From Strong City, travel east on U.S. 50 for 1.5 miles, turning north on U-Road at the Kansas historic marker. Travel approximately one mile on gravel road. The parking lot is on the west side of the road. The ponds are accessible via a short hike from the parking area.

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Frontcountry Hiking

Two Frontcountry Hiking Trails - Open daily during daylight hours

Two frontcountry day hiking trails allow visitors to experience the tallgrass prairie first-hand. No permit is required to hike the frontcountry trails. Enjoy your hike by following these important safety rules.

For Your Safety Please Follow These Rules:

  • No Smoking on trails
  • Foot traffic only on hiking trails. No bikes, horses, or motorized conveyance.
  • Pets are allowed on the frontcountry trails only. Pets must be leashed at all times.
  • Hunting, firearms, and projectiles prohibited.
  • Please do not harass the wildlife. All wildlife is protected.
  • This is a natural area. Watch for snakes, poison ivy, and wild animals.
  • Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
  • Please enjoy the trail by staying on the path.
  • No camping is available at the preserve.

Southwind Nature Trail is open daily during daylight hours. A leisurely stroll across hill and valley, watercourse and prairie grassland, gives visitors a close-up look at what makes up the preserve. Named for the Kansa Indians, the People of the Southwind, this 1.75 mile trail presents marvelous vistas as well School and Southwind Nature Trailas an opportunity for a detailed view at the prairie ecosystem. Two overlook areas afford visitors a chance to experience the scenic beauty of the prairie.

The trail winds across rolling hills, over a spring-fed stream lined with cottonwoodand hackberry trees, and through a fascinating array of grasses and flowers. Along the way is evidence of the insects, birds, and mammals that make the prairie their home. Take your time and notice the gray and white rock, the limestone and steel-tough chert, commonly called "flint," that was formed between 200 and 300 million years ago and gives the name to the resulting hills. Hike all the way to the little one-room school house on the hill and then back to the ranch headquarters. This photo was taken along the trail.

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Bottomland Trail is open daily during daylight hours. The trail is complete with an information trail head, 5 interpretive waysides, benches, overlook areas, and fully wheelchair accessible trail loops. Choose from two trail lengths- 3/4 or 1/2 mile loops. Cloud Family admiring wayside.A brochure has been developed to assist you as you travel the trail. You may receive one at the ranch headquarters or you will find one in the brochure box at the trail head kiosk. A comfort station is also available. This trail was made possible through a generous donation by the Cloud Foundation in memory of Roger Cloud who was an avid lover of the Flint Hills.

This trail provides visitors with an opportunity to experience a future bottomland prairie restoration, while gaining an cardinal flowerunderstanding of its rarity as a natural plant community and its importance in the human history of the Flint Hills region. The area will be restored to bottomland prairie and will be viewed through this website as it develops. The restoration has already began as seeds will be planted in the spring.

Throughout its lifespan, this area has displayed many uses. One of the earliest and also most recent, the area has seen agricultural use. An area adjacent to rivers and streams, known as bottomland, is prime agricultural land for farming, due to the amount of sediment runoff from the nearby streams.

Backcountry Hiking

Backcountry Day Hiking Trails- By free permit
Open daily from 9 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. May - October
Open weekends from 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. from November - April

Visitors may experience the backcountry of the preserve through three new backcountry day hiking trails. During the main tour season (May through October) visitors may hike daily from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Permits are required and may be picked up in person at the preserve the day of your visit. You may also reserve a permit up to 4 weeks in advance by calling the preserve at 620-273-8494. There is no charge for the permit.

Visitors must pick up their permits and a trail map in person at the visitor information desk before entering the backcountry. The information desk is located in the barn at the historic ranch headquarters during the summer months and on the back porch of the house during winter. A short introductory training session will be given to each individual or group before hiking into the backcountry. Visitors are encouraged to wear appropriate clothing and hiking gear, bring plenty of drinking water, use sunblock and insect repellent, and stay on the designated ranch roads and hiking trails. No smoking or pets are allowed in the backcountry.

Winter Backcountry Day Hiking Program Hours - From November through April, visitors may continue to hike the three backcountry day hiking trails on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Free hiking permits and maps must be picked up on the back porch of the ranch house during the off-season. Backcountry day hiking will be canceled during times of adverse weather conditions and controlled burns in the spring.

All backcountry day hiking trails are moderately difficult and range from 3.8 to 6.4 miles. The Scenic Overlook Trail, the 3 Pasture Loop Trail, and the Red House Trail each offer visitors a different and unique perspective of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Scenic vistas, prairie grasses, wildflowers, wildlife, and rugged terrain may be experienced along the new backcountry day hiking trails.

Operating Hours & Seasons

The preserve is open year-round from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

  • May - October - Visitor information desk is located in the historic limestone barn. The limestone barn is not climate controlled.
  • November - April - Visitor information desk is located on the back porch of the limestone ranch house. Exhibits, brochures, and a 10-minute audio visual program are available at each location year-round.

Visiting After Hours - The parking lot gates and buildings close at 4:30 p.m. Please remove your vehicle outside the parking lot gates to the circle drive if you are visiting beyond 4:30 p.m.

The Southwind Nature Trail and ranch headquarters area are open until sunset and accessible via the parking lot area through walk-through gates and self-guiding walking tour brochure located in the kiosk at the base of the driveway.

Pets on Leash - Pets must be on a visible leash no more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) long and are welcome in the ranch headquarters, Southwind Nature Trail, Bottomland Trail, and Lower Fox Creek School areas. Invisible or remote training devices do not allow other visitors to see that your pet is restrained.

Pets must be attended at all times. They may not be tied off to any structure at the preserve or to vehicles in parking area. Biting animals pose safety threats to other visitors. Even the best trained animal will bite if their safety is endangered.

Be kind to your pet. Do not leave pets inside vehicles, as temperatures heat rapidly in summer months.

Pets are not allowed in any of the buildings, in the backcountry area, or on the buses.

Why?

  • Historic Preservation - The furniture, architecture, and even the floors of the historic buildings are protected.
  • Respect for other visitors - Not everyone enjoys sharing small spaces with animals.
  • Wildlife - All park wildlife is protected and even well-behaved dogs are curious. Let the prairie's native wildlife live free from harassment by our pets.
  • Prairie damage - Dogs can dig up grasses and vegetation.
  • Your pet's safety - Wild animals strike back when their safety is threatened.

Please respect other visitors by picking up after your pet. Pet waste disposal bags are located on the Welcome Information Kiosk located at the base of the driveway and at the Bottomland Trail. Dispose of pet waste bags in any trash can at the preserve, but not in the portable restrooms. Thank you.

Contact Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve

Write to
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
P.O. Box 585
Cottonwood Falls, KS 66845

Phone
Ranch Headquarters Visitor Information
(620) 273-8494

Administrative Headquarters
(620) 273-6034

Fax
(620) 273-8950

 

Source: National Park Service
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