The Prairie Spirit Trail is likely the best-known and most popular long-distance rail-trail in Kansas. It follows the old LL&G (Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad) line from Ottawa in the north to Iola in the south, a distance of about 51 miles.
Unfortunately, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism does not allow camping anywhere in the Prairie Spirit Trail State Park — not on or along the trail itself, nor at any of the trailheads.
However, if you’d like to camp near the Prairie Spirit Trail, you do have some options (see map):
The city of Ottawa does not allow camping in their city parks, but the Franklin County Visitor Information Center recently instituted a policy that allows overnight tent camping on their property. The center is located on the eastern edge of Ottawa, along K-68 Highway, an easy 1.5-mile ride from the northern terminus of the Prairie Spirit Trail, at the Old Depot Museum (with easy connections to the Flint Hills Nature Trail heading either east or west). Please note that while camping at the center is free, they do require a reservation, and few amenities are provided.
The city of Richmond does not have any in-town camping (and the V&P RV Park in Richmond does not allow tent camping), but they do allow tent camping at the Richmond City Lake. Camping at the lake is free, and there are shelters, picnic tables, trash bins, and fire rings, but no water or electricity. The lake is located a little over a mile east of the trail, and access is via a gravel road (not much different than the trail itself).
Garnett has two camping options to choose from:
North Lake Park is located on the northern edge of Garnett. It’s a historic park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The cost is $9 per night for what the city refers to as “wilderness” (tent) camping, via self-pay stations in the park. Restrooms are provided.
The other option is Cedar Valley Reservoir, which is located several miles west and south of town. The cost there is also $9 per night for “wilderness” camping, via a self-pay station. Camping at Cedar Valley Reservoir, while not as easily accessible from the trail, should be quieter and more remote.
Iola is at the southern end of the Prairie Spirit Trail. The only tent camping option in Iola is Iola RV Park and Storage, which is, as the name implies, primarily an RV park, but they do provide some tent sites, for $10 a night, with some additional amenities, such as showers and laundry facilities, that are not available at most of the other sites.
Humboldt offers Camp Hunter Park, which provides facilities for both RV parking and tent camping. Amenities include electricity, restrooms, showers, water, shelters, picnic tables, trash bins, and free Wi-Fi Internet. Tent camping is free, but campers need to check in with the Humboldt Police.
Chanute offers the Santa Fe Safari Campground, located in Santa Fe Park on the southern end of town. Again, it’s primarily an RV campground, but they do allow tent camping, at no charge.
The Prairie Spirit Trail has become a major tourist attraction in southeast Kansas, and having convenient and affordable places for visitors to camp can only improve the trail’s reputation and accessibility.
If you know of any additional tent camping opportunities along the trail (or anywhere in Kansas), please let me know!