Clinton State Park, sometimes also called Clinton Lake State Park, is located just east of Topeka, Kansas. The park sits on 1,500 acres of land along the north side of Clinton reservoir, and has a varied landscape of open fields and hardwood forests. There are 23 miles of trails to hike and bike on, and 383 campsites in two different campgrounds, 214 of which have hookups for RVs. As of this post, it costs $16.50 a night for an electric and water site (there are no just electric), and $2 more a night if you want a 50 amp hookup, and there is also a flat $3 transaction fee, whether you stay one night or fourteen. I’d say about 20% of the sites can be reserved in advance, but the majority are first come first served. On top of this fee, there is a charge of $4.50 a day per vehicle for entry to the park, unless you have the Kansas State Park annual pass. It also looks like my travel trailer was charged an entry fee of $0.50 a day. My total cost for staying at Clinton for three nights was $67.50.
I cruise through campground 3 first, having missed the turnoff for campground 1. Where campground 2 is, I have no idea. Between 1 and 3 sits a day use picnic area and the beach (which is closed for the season), but there is no sign for a campground 2. I wonder if the staff may have done this intentionally on a lark to make an already large and confusing camping area more confusing.
None of the sites are anywhere near the water, but my absolute favorite is #154 in Campground 3. This is a Prime site, meaning it has a 50 amp hookup and thus is $2 more than a regular hookup site, it’s also so large that I’m pretty sure I could fit three Cas’ and Berthas (the majority of the RV sites can fit a 40′ rig easy), although there wouldn’t be much space to walk between them. It’s located at the end of the farthest loop from from entry road, and all of the sites at this far end have just a glimpse of water through the trees. They’re surrounded by majestic oaks and also have access points to the two main trails right from their backyards, although the woods behind the sites are dense enough and the trails far enough back that you won’t be bothered by people on them.
I’m too cheap to pay the extra $2 though, so I end up in site 228, also in Campground 3 which has woods behind it, but isn’t surrounded by trees – I think I’ve missed them this summer. Many of the sites are very open and get a lot of sun. Some are like mine, and border the woods on one side, but aren’t really in the trees. A few have a tree or two around the site, which provides partial shade during the day. Most of the sites that are truly wooded are primitive sites.
The RV sites are all gravel, the levelness varies between them. Mine was very level side to side, but sloped off in the back, so I had to leave my front hitch very low to make the RV level. After getting unhitched it was close to 2:30 pm, still plenty of day left to explore!
I moseyed on over to the day picnic area first. It has two covered pavilions located a respectable distance from each other, each with it’s own swing set. A note: the swing sets are large enough for adults to enjoy. I figured in the spirit of thoroughness it was important for me to test this, ahem. There is also a connector to the two main trails from here, I’ll definitely need to come back for hiking fun later.
Clinton Lake is pretty big, and if the signs are any indication there is some pretty good fishing to be found here. I enjoy the sunlight playing over the waves and a gentle breeze moving past early fall color. There’s only one other car parked down here, and they’re no where in sight. But there are other matters I need to attend to today, a drive in to Lawrence to put up a blog post and catch up on online stuff.
Just as predicted on that last post, I do get lost in the campground trying to find my site – yes, the place really is that big. Twice I drive around the loop and get alarmed when I don’t see Cas. At the end of the second pass I stop and turn on a light to peek at the map. Turns out I’m in the wrong loop, whoops. Once I find the right loop, spotting my RV is easy. I feel pretty sheepish, luckily no one is sitting outside to witness my nighttime scenic tour of the campground.
It’s a late start this morning as I pull up the blind over Cas’ large rear window and enjoy the wooded view from my bed as morning sunlight filters through the leaves. Ahh, now this is the life.
The rest of the morning is spent reading and watching the view from my site while my little electric heater plugs away, and thinking about going out and hooking up my water to test if my plumbing is still okay after going through freezing temps up in the Badlands. The high today is in the low fifties, so there isn’t much drive for me to get out.
Eventually I drag my butt outside and get my water hose and filter out of the back of Bertha. I hook everything up on the RV end and discover that I’m inches short of being able to reach the water spigot, which is located on the other side of the electric box, poop. Well I’m sure as heck not going to re-hitch just for that, it’s my vacation after all, so I resign myself to testing it at the next campground, wherever that ends up being.
About half of the bathrooms here have flush toilets, the other half are pit toilets, fortunately I’m closest to the former. Campground 3 also looks like it has three shower houses, but only the one near the entrance is open, probably due to the late season. After the failed water hook-up attempt, I take a walk around the campground and take note of these things, and also get some sample pictures of the various sites.
I wave and say ‘hi’ to a few people who are out and about, but the majority of the campground is quiet. I poke my head inside the shower house that is open and see something I anticipated and yet dreaded – there is only one water knob in the shower stalls, and it’s marked cold. Tomorrow’s high is 70, so I’ll take my shower then, and it’ll be as quick as possible.
Back at the ranch…err, site 228, I hop inside Bertha and drive back down to the picnic area to get on the trails. The map shows that not too far from here is Henry Lake, only 1.1 miles away, seems like as good a destination as any.
The 23 miles of trail at Clinton are mostly in two trails that run parallel to the lake shore and each other, the blue trail being closer to the water on more level ground and the white trail being higher up on less even ground, the difference in elevation between the campground and the lake shore is 80 feet. Both trails are heavily wooded. I take the white trail to Henry lake, besides there being a lot of up and down it’s also very rocky. According to the brochure it’s also a mountain biking trail but I’m not sure how people on bikes could get past some of these rock obstacles.
Henry Lake is… not what I expected. It’s man-made, mowed around, accessible by road, and quite scummy looking – the water levels are low. It’s not the most picturesque place, but the trail leading to it was so I don’t count the experience as a waste. A flock of Canadian geese fly overhead in V formation as I’m leaving the lake, I imagine even though I don’t find it to be all that attractive I bet the wildlife enjoy it, so it’s good that it’s there.
After the quick hike, it’s back to the RV for more reading and then to Lawrence that evening again for more catching up.
Today I drive down to the day use area, outside of the campground complex down a different road entirely.
It’s got another couple pavilions, a big playground area, and another swimming beach which is again closed. It also has the trail head to Saunders mound, a hillock on the shores of Clinton Lake that gives you a good view of the reservoir.
Unlike the wooded hiking of yesterday, this trail is mostly through fields of grass, some of which is taller than I am. Grasshoppers are out in abundance along this trail, hopping and gliding out of my way as I approach and making the familiar chirping noises out of sight. There is a tall bush or short tree that grows in this area too, I’ve seen it in grassy areas of Wisconsin and up in South Dakota as well. It’s got spade shaped leaves that come off on either side of a stem, and gets maybe up to 6 feet tall at max. Most of the year it blends in with everything else, but in the fall the leaves turn bright red, a beautiful contrast to the golden grass.
The view from the top of Saunders mound is well worth the climb. There’s a bench up there where one can get an almost 360 degree view. I sit down on it for a while and enjoy my good fortune, it’s another one of those ‘I could be working a real job right now, but instead I’m out here doing this‘ moments.
From the top of the mound you can climb down to the water’s edge, but the trail is steep, especially near where the higher water marks for the lake are. I spy a makeshift seating area made with driftwood circling a campfire that people have made along the edge of the water. The waves are smaller than they were on Tuesday, there is less wind today. I meander along the lake shore for a while, it’s a mix of sand and small stones, then turn around and retrace my steps back to Bertha.
After that I return to the White and Blue trails, getting on them this time from an access point near my campsite. I hike down to what the map calls crooked bridge, and sure enough, it’s a crooked bridge. By now it’s nearing 70 and very pleasant out with a few puffy clouds gracing the sky. A squirrel chatters angrily at me from a nearby tree for invading it’s space. Leaves that changed early bring some color to the forest floor, it’s a beautiful day. And that means there’s one other thing I need to make sure I get done before it gets too late.
Back at the campground, I eye the shower with trepidation. Even at 70, it’s still chilly to be wearing flip-flops, this isn’t going to be pleasant. I start sponge bathing, and notice that the water really isn’t as cold as I’d feared, maybe this won’t be so bad after all. The water continues to warm, to the point where it’s actually comfortable. The showers do have hot water! Hallelujah.
The forecast calls for rain later this morning, so I go to bed and wake up early, hoping to get hitched up before it starts. Just as I’m pulling up to the park office to check out, the rain starts, do I have good timing or what?
As you all know, I don’t give number ratings to the parks I stay at, I do a thumbs up or thumbs down. Clinton State Park sits on a diverse piece of Kansas wilderness, it’s got a lake, prairie, and woods. The wildlife is plentiful, besides squirrels and geese I saw white tailed deer and turkeys during my stay. The sites are spacious and relatively level, and you’re guaranteed a water hookup if you can find an electric one. It encourages outdoor activities with multiple sheltered picnic areas, a large boat ramp, two swimming beaches, 23 miles of hiking and biking trails, and a large playground. All in all, Clinton gets a thumbs up from me.
I’m on the road by 10:30 and head south on 75 again, quickly leaving the rain behind. I’d picked up brochures for three different state parks south of here, closer to Coffeyville, my final destination. The first is Crawford to the SE which I rule out because it’s described as being on the edge of the Ozarks, which I already got a good taste of last fall in Missouri. I’m looking for a true Kansas experience. El Dorado is to the SW of here, it’s the largest state park in Kansas with over 1,000 campsite in four different campgrounds located around a lake. After the largeness of Clinton I think I’d rather choose a smaller park this time, so I’m driving toward Elk City, which is almost due S of here. It’s going to be about a three hour drive for me towing Cas, that’s not too bad at all.
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I made it safely to Elk City State Park, more to come! To clear up a cliffhanger though, I just wanted to say quickly that it was the place in Florida that got back to me first and I accepted; although Texas sent me an offer too the very next day. I still need to fill out a background release form and a couple other things for the Florida one before I officially have it, I’ll be writing more about that soon as well. Have a good weekend everyone!