Many small towns in Kansas take great pride in their local parks, and offer them up for free to travelers to stay in overnight.
A few of these parks contain commercial-quality RV-style campsites complete with utility hookups, but most offer only primitive camping capabilities, making them perfect for bicycle tourists.
Many times, camping in these small-town city parks is completely free, though they are not usually advertised as such, or even signed. In cases where there is no signage specifically permitting camping in a park, check with the local police (or fire department), and they will be able to tell you whether or not you are permitted to camp in the park, and whether there are any fees, rules, or restrictions you need to be aware of.
The small Kansas towns along the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail are well-known among touring cyclists for offering free camping. Here are a couple of quotes:
For me what really put Kansas over the top was the policy of allowing touring cyclists to camp for free in the city parks, and also to allow us to use the pools and showers for free, but that's not all! Just like people's front doors, their WIFI signals were unsecured, which combined with power outlets in the city parks made for some great online connectivity! ~Victor Weinreber
The camping arrangements were great too. In almost every small town, where the people are proud to be on the bike route, they allow free camping in the park right next to the city pool. And most never charged us to shower or use the pool. ~From Sea to Shining Sea By Bicycle
Towns in Kansas That Allow Bicyclists To Camp For Free
The following are some of the Kansas towns that have been seen mentioned in bicycle tour blogs, as having free or low-cost park camping:
- Beloit: Chautauqua Park
- Cottonwood Falls: Bates Grove Park and Swope Park
- Fort Scott: Gunn Park
- Hill City
- La Crosse: Grass Park
- Liberal: Mary Frame Park
- Marquette: Marquette City Park
- Marysville: Marysville City Park
- Ness City
- Parsons: Marvel Park
- Pittsburg: Lincoln Park
- Rush Center
- Scott City
- St. Francis: Roadside Park
- Stockton: Stockton City Park
- Ulysses: Frazier Park
Of course, there are no guarantees attached to this list; check with local authorities to make sure it's OK to camp in any park.
Also, this list should not be seen as comprehensive – there are likely more Kansas towns that allow bicyclists to camp for free in their parks. If you know of another town that should be added to this list, let me know!
Unfortunately, not all Kansas towns are friendly or enlightened enough to allow bicyclists to camp in their city parks, and actively prohibit the practice. See Kansas Towns That Prohibit Camping.
City Park Camping Etiquette and Tips
This should be obvious, but here are a few rules and suggestions to follow when camping in city parks:
- Check in with local law enforcement before assuming that park camping is allowed.
- Consider yourself a guest, and treat your hosts (the townspeople) with the utmost courtesy and respect.
- Don't litter. Pick up your trash. If there are no trash bins in the park, pack up your rubbish and dispose of it at the next one you find.
- Don't damage any city property, including any plants or trees.
- Don't start a campfire, unless posted rules specifically allow it, and fire rings are provided.
- Many parks have rules against alcohol possession or consumption.
- Earplugs are a good idea, in case the park is popular with late-night partiers.
- Any locals that approach you are likely just curious, but be aware of the possibilities for mischief. Lock up your bike at night, and secure your tent and gear as well as you can if you leave the park.
- Pick an out-of-the way location in the park if you can. Don't hide, but be inconspicuous.
- Purchase food and drink from local stores or restaurants as a way to interact with the local people, and pay back, in a small way, their hospitality.
- If inclement weather threatens, look for picnic shelters. If the weather is severe (or if you hear tornado sirens), seek shelter at local community centers, churches, schools, or homes.
- If local law enforcement officers come to check up on you, cooperate, be respectful, and if asked to move along, do so.
- If you have the chance to thank someone before you leave – city workers, law enforcement, shopkeepers, etc. – do so. Appreciation can go a long way towards making townsfolk welcoming to the next bicycling strangers that pass through!