You wouldn’t think that you could see sand dunes in Kansas, but when you enter Sand Hills State Park, just a few miles north of Hutchinson, Kansas, you will see dunes up to 40 feet high and more sand than you can find in some deserts. The park is a sand prairie at the north edge of the Hutchinson Dune Tract exhibiting shades of yellow, red, green, lavender and gray. At the end of the Ice Age, wind deposited sand from the Arkansas River at the site, and the sand prairie grass roots stabilized it, creating the sand dunes for which the park is famous.
Sand Hills State Park is Kansas’ 22nd State Park, established in 1974 with the acquisition of 640 acres of land from the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory in Hutchinson. A donation from the Dillon Family of Hutchinson added 320 acres that were adjacent to the park. Federal Land and Water Funds allowed the Park and Resources Authority to acquire an additional 163 adjacent acres to give the park a total of 1,123 acres. The park is located at 207 E. 56th, Hutchinson, KS. To reach the park, take K-61 highway north out of Hutchinson, and turn east on either 56th street or 69th street. The south parking lot on 56th street is less than ½ mile from K-61, and there are two parking lots on 69th street. The letter “H” on a gate signifies access for horses. There is a small parking fee at the park, but the charge is lower during the off-season, and seniors get a discount all year.
Nature lovers will enjoy spending a day at Sand Hills State Park, a natural area preserved for its 10 to 40 foot high sand dunes, wetlands, grasslands and woodlands. Visiting the park will bring you back to nature because you won’t find modern conveniences there yet. At the present time, facilities consist of two vault toilets, and they are not ADA compliant. However, plans for improvements are in place for the near future. A new campground and cabins for visitors to rent should be available soon. This site will give you updates about the progress of construction on the campground and cabins: http://www.kdwp.state.ks.us/news/State-Parks/Locations/Sand-Hills/Park-News. If you want information that is more specific, you can contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at 316-683-8069.
Horseback riders, hikers and joggers enjoy the fourteen miles of trails that wander among the sand dunes, around ponds and through grasslands and trees at Sand Hills State Park. The 8 trails in the park include horseback riding trails, hiking trails and interpretative trails.
The ½ mile long Cottonwood Interpretive Trail provides information about local plant life and wildlife. Pick up a brochure at the kiosk in the parking lot, and enjoy an educational walk that takes you through mostly wooded areas, so you should have plenty of shade to keep you cool if the day is hot.
The Pond Trail is 1 ½ miles long and goes deep into the interior of the park to a pond where you can see a variety of ducks including divers like common mergansers during their migration. In the summertime, Canada geese and green herons visit the park, and in the spring, you can hear the western chorus frogs make their unique music there.
If you are not immune to poison ivy, don’t wander off the mowed trails because there is an abundance of that annoying weed in the park. However, there are scores of harmless plants in the park including a large diversity of wildflowers and grasses along with woody shrub thickets of Sandhill Plum bushes among other varieties.
Whether you like to hunt with a gun or a camera, you will find plenty of wildlife at Sand Hills. The park is home to hawks, owls, coyotes and deer. You may see badger holes and small mounds that the plains pocket gophers make. The summer months bring out a number of varieties of lizards. Bird lovers will enjoy watching for mourning doves, bluebirds, blue grosbeaks, orchard orioles, Bell’s vireos, yellow-billed cuckoos, quail and pheasant.
Sand Hills State Park is a good place to go when you just want to spend a relaxing day in the country. However, when you want to add some exercise, you can go horseback riding, jogging, hiking, hunting or bird watching there. Visit http://www.naturalkansas.org/sandhill.htm to see a map and some photos of the park’s scenery.