The Elk River Trail is the primary attraction at the Headwaters.
The trail begins as an ancient logging road that winds its way down the Elk River, gradually undulating up and down. The first mile is paved, with the next two miles consisting of packed gravel.
The trail soon becomes single-track, switchbacking up a hill among second-growth redwoods before coming to a brief loop in an old-growth section.
The entire trail is well-maintained and can be hiked at any time of year. In the winter, though, there may be some muddy sections, especially toward the top.
The view is pleasant, but nothing special. Because the canopy hasn’t grown back over the road in most areas, the first three miles of mainline logging routes are usually sunny and open.
There is no road noise or other evidence of civilization on the trail, which is located in a remote, relatively narrow canyon. The Elk River’s dashing is the only sound.
Elk River Hiking Trail Map
On the northwest side of Elk City Lake is the Elk River Hiking Trail. The path is a 15-mile point-to-point track with two trailheads to choose from.
The Northeastern trailhead is located across from the Fish & Wildlife Office, below the dam’s west end. Highway 160 south of Elk City leads to the Southwestern trailhead.
Several gravel roads intersect the route and can be reached from County Roads to the north of the lake.
The route begins near Elk City Lake, about a mile west of Independence and north of US Highway 160.
Highway 101 is about a 10-minute drive from the trailhead. Take Highway 101 south from Eureka.
Take the Elk River Road exit just outside of town (small brown Headwaters Reserve signs point the way).
Turn left onto Elk River Road, cross the expressway, and turn right. This lovely route winds through a lush green valley, passing by two covered bridges on your right.
Continue to the end of the road, where the trailhead and parking lot are located.
Route Description for Elk River Trail
Hiking along the Elk River Trail is a lovely experience. It’s also convenient because there’s just one trail to follow, which leads to Landslide Lake.
Start your trip from the parking lot along the wide trail and climb a few switchbacks to gain a tiny notch.
Descend to the Elk River on the opposite side. The river can be as peaceful as a cucumber or as turbulent as a roaring river depending on the time of year.
Continue up the Elk River Valley on the Elk River Trail, which follows the river in a zigzag pattern.
The Elk River Valley has regenerated and returned to a beautiful region after being logged for the war effort in the 1940s. The ambiance of this trip is simply fantastic, with gigantic trees, amazing mosses, and wonderful fauna.
Two campgrounds are located along the route. Each has a toilet and a bear hang for your food.
They both provide excellent camping opportunities for those who want to split the distances and make this a backpacking trip.
After passing through the second campground, you will reach a wooden bridge that will allow you to cross the Elk River.
On the other side, you’ll come upon a stony slab. Here, turn right and follow the river, keeping an eye out for a large cairn that marks the way.
Switch back up the final steep part of the hike to Landslide Lake to complete the journey.
You’ll ultimately reach the top of the ridge and be at the base of one of the park’s most stunning mountains.
Camping at Elk River Hiking Trail
There are 95 modern campsites with 30 or 50 amp electric and water hookups at the campground.
Sewer hookup, contemporary restrooms with showers, trailer sewage dump stations, group shelter, fishing piers, accessible fishing dock, and playground amenities are all available at the eleven sites.
Camping is permitted in the state park campsite and south of the county road along the Table Mound Hiking Trail. The Memorial Overlook Trailhead near the dam and the state park trailhead both have restrooms.
The trail is rather flat at first, but as you proceed, you will find yourself climbing up and down hills on a regular basis.
The Elk River Trail is 977 feet above sea level, which makes for some challenging hiking in Kansas. The abundance of filterable water was a huge benefit on this trail in terms of water.
That is something you will appreciate if you want to hike the Elk River Trail on a hot day.
We went along the Elk River for about seven miles before setting up camp if you start on the west end of the trail.
There is a densely forested area with fascinating limestone cliffs. There are numerous rustic campsites placed along the trail, making an overnight trip simple.
After around ten kilometers on the path, you’ll reach Elk City Lake. And if the vistas weren’t enough to amaze you before, you’ll love the atmosphere this place has to offer.
It is recommended that you take the last 5 miles slowly to properly appreciate your surroundings. Enjoy the scenery as well as the fauna, particularly the waterfowl.
Tips for Camping
- Wear high-quality footwear. This is rough terrain. Without suitable shoes, the trail’s rocks will wreck havoc on your feet.
- Make sure you bring lots of water. We each brought about 4 liters of water, which was barely enough. It was also a pleasant autumn day.
- Food should be brought. You’ll burn a lot of calories, so you’ll need something to keep your energy levels up.
- According to the trail map at the trailhead, the trip will take 11 hours. We took 8, but we moved swiftly because we knew the sun would drop early.
- Consider backpacking into camp and hiking out the next day if you have the equipment. This is one of the few sites in Kansas where you may go backcountry camping.
- Bring a camera that is well charged and has a large memory card. There are a plethora of natural elements to capture.
- When you’re done hiking, have several full water bottles in your vehicle. There’s a strong chance you’ll have consumed all of your water and will appreciate having more available when you’re finished.
- While trekking, take a break from time to time to look about and be astonished. And keep in mind that this is life in its purest form, right now.