20 of the Best (and Free!) Campgrounds in Kansas

Oct 6, 2020 |

20 of the Best (and Free!) Campgrounds in Kansas

By Nathan Paul Swartz

Yes, it’s true that much of Kansas consists of long, flat drives through endless cornfields where one begins to negotiate with Aladdin’s genie that your three wishes, to be immediately granted, will be 1) a bend in the road, 2) any type of gas station and 3) a second bend in the road, please.

But like all stereotypes, Kansas is ready and willing to break the mold we’ve plastered it into within our minds.

The Four Best Campgrounds across Kansas

Not interested in trying to cover all 410 miles of the Jayhawker State in one go? Kansas is riddled with five-star camping that’ll give you plenty of options, east to west, north to south, to pull off of the Interstate and rest for the night — or maybe even explore a backroad or two and discover something new. The current and clear winner for favorite RV park goes to Ellis Lakeside City Campground, where cottonwood-shaded waters ready for the fishing and easy access from I-70 bring in travelers galore for $20 or less.

The top runner up is Gunsmoke RV Park, just outside of Dodge City and well off of the freeway’s beaten path, where you should expect friendly service and whispers of the Old West still drifting along the train tracks that have been rolling westward since Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were running the show in these parts. Marysville City Park will also get you into the “real” Kansas, while the popular Salina KOA serves as the perfect midway point for those just looking to put some freeway miles behind them.

Camping in Lawrence, Kansas

This burgeoning city is one of the Wheat State’s finest, if not the premier destination for all things young, vibrant and cultural in this stretch of the Great Plains.

A handful of breweries, the town’s Riverfront Park, golf courses, and eclectic restaurants–especially those along Massachusetts Street–provide plenty to do outside of your campsite, and if you’ve traversed the ample miles of cornfields headed west to east along I-70, it’ll no doubt put the silver lining in your wide-open thunderstorm. Your style of camping, and which side of town you prefer to be on, will best inform which of the two campgrounds in town we’d recommend. If a short walk to the river, where you can hoof it a few miles into the city nightlife, is on the agenda, then the Kansas City West / Lawrence KOA should be right up your row of corn. If a little more space–and a longer drive to town–suits your farmer’s tan, then snag yourself a reservation at Clinton State Park.

Kansas Best State Parks

Should state parks be your thing, Kansas comes correct with several in the five-star camping department. For the outdoorsy type looking for some of the state’s best natural offerings, Chase State Fishing Lake is not just a destination unto itself, replete with lakefront spots, a spillway and of course fishing, but also near Tallgrass Prairie, where but a sliver of what was once hundreds of millions of acres of prairie stretching across Middle America is still preserved.

Across the state, and perfectly positioned those taking the sleepier US Highway 24, Sheridan State Fishing Lake offers free waterfront camping with some basic amenities–like picnic tables, fire rings and vault toilets–to suit those campers who long for wide-open spaces and low, low prices.

Another destination-park, Wilson State Park–less than a carton of egg’s worth of minutes north of I-70 in the middle of the state–features some 30′ sandstone pillars that would seem to be more at home in Utah than here in the Great Plains. Or if you just want to lay your eyes on one of the cutest sites that were nearly wiped from the face of the United States, Prairie Dog State Park is home to hundreds of the little buggers who, after having wandered in after the state park was given its name, have setup prairie dog towns galore.

For anyone who has made up their mind that Kansas has but one view to offer, the state park system is doing everything it can to change minds, one camper at a time.

9 Free Places to Camp in Kansas

If we haven’t convinced you yet that this stretch of the Heartland is worth exploring extensively simply for its own merits, and you’re dead set on rushing the miles away, well, what if we told you that even that endeavor could be done completely free? Kansas has plenty of free camping, much of it on some of the most beautiful terrain the state owns.