Hikers looking for places to see Topeka’s beauty—and in some cases get their boots a little dirty—will find no shortage of prime spots in the county.
Many of these trails are also great for cycling.
Here are some trails the capital has to offer.
“You wouldn’t know if you were in Colorado or Kansas”
Two basic trail types are available: concrete, urban, ADA accessible style, and a single-track style made of gravel, wood chips, or dirt.
“You go down into the woods and you wouldn’t know if you were in Colorado or Kansas at the time,” said Bill Riphahn, former Topeka and Shawnee County Parks and Recreation Planner.
For years, Riphahn, now Shawnee County Commissioner, has been instrumental in paving the way for such an assortment.
The master plan, he said, is to increase the number and length of trails and interconnect them as much as possible.
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“People were walking there 125 feet”
Fond memories of his first such project came flooding back as Riphahn described the creation decades ago of the Shunga Trail. It was a slow process.
“They didn’t do much the first day (pour the concrete). They went 125 feet,” Riphahn said.
He remembers wondering at the time, “Is someone going to come in here and use this?”
“And sure enough, the next day before the contractors got the forms out, people were walking there 125 feet,” he said.
So many people donated money for benches that the trail has one every quarter mile. None were purchased by the city.
Now the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, which took over trail management as part of a consolidation in 2012, oversees more than 80 km of hiking terrain. About 23 of those miles are made up of natural surfaces.
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“It is not known what type of wild animals you will encounter there”
Warren Natural Area, just off the Shunga Trail and east of Felker Park, 2540 SW Gage Blvd., three miles of trails. Hikers can see how runoff water is cleaned of silt in this wetland.
The forest area, owned by the state, is home to many animals.
“It’s unclear what type of wildlife you’ll encounter there,” Riphahn said.
Stacy Jeffress and her 12-year-old shepherd mix, Shiloh, have been roaming the Shunga and surrounding trails for over 20 years.
“We like to go on the dirt parts, but they’re muddy now,” Jeffress said. “Anywhere he likes to sniff. It’s his time, and he likes to sniff.”
Although Shiloh prefers areas like the Warren Nature Trail, they can walk on concrete if necessary, and the trail has water fountains for dogs, although Jeffress pointed out that Shiloh would rather read the “pee” surrounding the fountains.
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‘You just see it for what it is, see the beauty in it’
Azura Trails at 4841 SW Skyline Parkway in Burnett’s Mound has 4.7 miles and four single-track loop trails to meet hikers’ needs. Hikers Ayannah Alvarez and Miguel Ruiz like to hit the trail to find peace of mind and soothing silence.
“You can either be sad or happy or whatever and still find peace no matter what,” Ruiz said.
“You don’t have to think when you come here,” he said. “You don’t have to expect anything new. You just see it for what it is, see the beauty in it and it really calms someone down.”
“It looks like a plate of spaghetti when you look at the menu”
Dornwood Park, 2815 SE 25th, is rated as a moderately difficult route. It has about seven miles of single-track hiking adventure to offer. It also has old dairy buildings to explore.
Several of the trails were created by hikers who left the trail.
“It looks like a plate of spaghetti when you look at the map,” Riphahn said.
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“When it comes to hiking, they like to control the group”
Tom Hammer, Supervisor of Forestry and Natural Areas Development, Parks and Recreation Department, is immersed in nature on and off the job.
“We do a lot of hiking,” he said, referring to his family. “Things look a lot different than when you’re there as an employee.”
Hammer has two young sons who like to explore.
“When it comes to hiking, they like to control the group,” he said.
The Hammer family often hikes along the Shawnee North Nature Trail300 NE 43rd.
Since the boys are in charge, Hammer never knows how they will lead him through the two miles of meadows and wooded areas.
Hammer also recommended Grant Bradbury Prairie Preserve6600 SW Westview Road, south of Pauline.
“The majority of this park is virgin grassland,” he said. “Haven’t even seen a plow there. There’s an amazing mix of prairie plants. It’s a cool place to go, especially in June and July.”
Historic buildings offer the wanderer a view of Kansas’ past
Kansas Historical Society Nature Trails6425 SW 6th Ave., open sunrise to sunset, is 2.5 miles long and has four separate trails.
Wildlife abounds on these trails, which feature 150 types of tall grass and 300 types of wildflowers.
Historic buildings offer the traveler a view of Kansas’ past. And picnic tables allow guests to take a break for lunch.
View of the Governor’s Mansion
MacLennon Park Trails, 1 SW Cedar Crest, is near the Governor’s Mansion and parts of it overlook the Kansas River. Nine miles of urban and single-track styles feature in this hiker and biker’s paradise.
Alvarez and Ruiz said they also enjoy watching sunsets from this location.
The yellow and red trails are moderately difficult.
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“If we’re ever in a rush to need a railroad, we have the trail available”
Landon Nature Trail, a railroad reservation, begins on the causeway of the Brown c. Board, 1515 SE Monroe. It turns into gravel south of 45th Street and is 38 miles long.
“If we’re ever in a rush to need a railroad, we have the trail available,” Riphahn said.
Some sections are completed south of Overbrook, and the trail connects to others, which are rail embankments.
The trail is deemed easy.
Introducing toddlers to hiking made possible by Riphahn’s late daughter
Although not listed as one of the Shawnee County trails, Ward Meade Park, 124 NW Filmore St., is home to several walking trails. Included is a special space created in memory of Riphahn’s daughter.
Anna’s Place Asian Garden is a great place for young children to find their footing as novice hikers.
“People are pretty good at watching themselves”
Proper trail etiquette isn’t usually an issue, but there are a few things to consider.
“People are pretty good at self-monitoring,” Riphahn said.
Hikers and cyclists should keep to the right side of the path, and when passing someone it is polite to let it be known by announcing “On your left”, he advised.
Hammer, the forestry supervisor, advised helping nature by not hiking or biking in an area where it is vulnerable.
“If a trail is really muddy, give it a break for a while,” he said.
Nature lovers should feel free to touch and smell the plants and flowers, but do not pick, damage or remove them.
Pets must be leashed and cleaned up afterwards.
Riphahn also pointed out that the only motorized vehicles allowed are e-bikes and scooters that meet the 25mph speed limit.
And by the way, Riphahn recommended keeping purses and other belongings safe by not taking them or putting them in the trunk or another safe place before arriving at your destination.
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‘These gentle trails, I’ve never seen them used so much before’
Hammer suggested hikers and cyclists bring sunscreen, insect repellent, and water or a sports drink. He also saw bird watchers with binoculars and recommended them.
COVID-19 has had an interesting but positive effect on hiking, he said.
“Our parks in general have had a lot of use. … These soft trails — I’ve never seen them used that much before,” Hammer said. “It was really rewarding to provide something for people to get away from it all and enjoy nature.”
Topeka’s latest development will continue along the levees, Riphahn said, with the Great Overland Station eventually connecting with Sunflower Soccer.
“All in the trees and bushes, I was amazed at how many there were”
On a hike, how about lending a hand to pick up litter?
“We have a lot of great customers on the trails. They obviously spend time picking up trash, and we really appreciate that,” Hammer said.
Any help is welcome, said Kimberly Wolff, partnership development specialist for the Department of Parks and Recreation. She oversees the foundation and participates in volunteer efforts for Adopt-a-Park or Trail, which helps keep trails clean.
“We are only a number,” she said.
“I get a lot of calls from different organizations or businesses in town that would like to volunteer,” she said, “and a lot of them will help us out on the trails, and help pick up trash and trash. debris and things like that.”
She remembers taking a group on the trails at Lake Shawnee. The group split up at Reynolds Lodge and went back and forth.
“The wind isn’t helping,” she said. “And way up in the trees and bushes, I was amazed at how many there were.”
For those wishing to help by picking up rubbish along the way, bins are provided at several locations. If the amount of waste collected is not suitable, it can be left next to a waste barrel.
“Call us to find out which one,” Wolff said.
To report trash left by a receptacle, the county can be reached at its main number (785) 251-6800. Those interested in volunteering can ask to speak to Wolff or Register online.
More information about Parks and Trails from the Recreation Department can be found here.