Located in Scott County, Lake Scott State Park is a unique and beautiful scenic and recreation attraction in Western Kansas. Located 14 miles north of Scott City, Scott County State park is just a few miles west on Kansas Highway 95 from U.S. Highway 83, between Scott City and Oakley.
Like an oasis in the desert one would hardly know this beautiful and historic location existed if it were not for the signs pointing the way off of U.S. Highway 83. The spring fed lake and rough canyons stand in stark contrast to the flat farmland that one normally finds in the plains of Western Kansas.
Established in 1928, Lake Scott State Park, covers 1,280 acres of rugged land surrounding Lake Scott, a 100 acre spring fed lake. The park is open year round and offers many recreational and photographic opportunities. It is an area rich in history and unique to this part of Kansas.
There are two entrances to the Lake. The southern entrance is about 14 miles north of Scott City where you will see a sign pointing the way. This entrance will take you through a local landmark known as “Devils Backbone” where K-95 Highway cuts through a ridge that surrounds the lake and park area. The passage way was originally cut to allow trains to take visitors to this area but now the highway has replaced the train tracks. Just before you go through “Devils Backbone” is a dirt road that heads west a short distance to Battle Canyon or what is locally known as “Squaws Den”. This was the sight of the last Indian battle in Kansas and an important historical site.
Heading north through “Devils” Backbone” you will see an old “one room” school house on the west side of the highway and a little further off on the east side is a grave marker known locally as “white woman’s grave”. A little further along you can turn west to enter the State Park and enjoy a scenic trip around the lake or you can continue on Kansas Highway 95 passing along the east side of the lake, past Camp Lakeside, a Methodist Church Camp and Retreat Center, eventually climbing up out of the valley and back to U.S. Highway 83.
For those traveling south on U.S 83 from Oakley, Kansas you can reach the park through the northern entrance. Turning west on Highway K-95 you travel a few miles through the flat high plains until come across the Lake area dropping down into the valley. Here you have the option of turning west on a road that leads you to Camp Lakeside and then on a sanded road that winds around the East side of the Lake. This offers you a great view of the Lake including the “Beach House” a Spanish styled building located next to the swimming beach. This historic building can be a busy place on a hot summer day and serves as place to pick up some bait for fishing, grab a snow cone or some other snack or just enjoy a place to get in out of the hot Kansas sun.
Scott County Lake covers 100 acres and is fed by several springs as well as Ladder Creek, also known locally as “Beaver Creek”. The largest of the springs is Big Spring which you will see on the west side of the highway that takes you through the state park. Big Spring is one of the largest springs in Western Kansas, producing more than 300 gallons of water per minute.
There are several historical sites in the State Park for one to see. One of the first you will see is the Steele Home which is a native stone house once lived in by Herbert and Eliza Steele and family. They settled alongside of “Beaver Creek” around 1888. Originally living in a dugout the Steele’s built the sandstone house that still stands today in 1909. Today the house is maintained by volunteers who have restored it and often have it open for visitors. Be sure and stop there and visit if it is open and donate to this group that is dedicated to preserving this historic house. At the Steele home you can see their old smoke house and there are some short walking trails that can be explored on this historic homestead. Just across the road from the Steele House on top of the hill is the Steele Memorial, a small stone, open windowed building that you can climb up to for a great view of the lake and valley below. The Steele’s wanted to preserve this area and sold 640 acres to the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission in 1928 for use as park and recreation area.
Continuing on into the park you will come across the El Quarelejo or El Cuartelejo Indian ruins. Built in the 1600’s by the Taos Indians the ruins of this Pueblo can be seen just a short walk from the park road. The ruins are listed on the National Register of Historic places and are another of the many unique features found in the Scott County State Park. As the farthest north examples of Pueblo Indian ruins they serve as a window into the importance of this area and a glimpse into the original inhabitants of the area. Herbert Steele first uncovered the ruins in 1898 and the site has been excavated and studied many times over the years. Other possible sites of similar value have been identified but none are accessible to the public.
Continuing on into the park you will find some excellent campgrounds and picnic area. There is also a swimming beach and although it is currently closed you can see the “Beach House” which with its southwest architecture is a great photographic stop. When open one can rent canoes and paddle boats and enjoy exploring the 100 acre lake.
The canyons surrounding the lake have names like “Horse Thief Canyon” and “Timber Canyon”. Be sure to check out “Suicide Cliff” before leaving the park and if you are adventurous enough you can follow a trail to the top. Both “Horse Thief Canyon” and “Timber Canyon” were popular spots for family reunions, school picnics, etc. If you plan on exploring much be sure to watch for poison ivy and poison oak. Also be sure to use some type of insect repellent to help protect from ticks.
As you continue around the park on the paved road you come to the spillway where the road will change to a well-maintained dirt road that will take you by the dam and around to the east side of the Lake and eventually back to pavement and highway K-95 again. Leading north out of the park is a public dirt road that takes you onto private land. Following this road north several miles you will come across the Little Pyramids another Niobrara Chalk formation similar but smaller than the more well-known Monument Rocks.
Besides the many historical sites in and around Scott County State Park this area is also rich in wildlife and offers some good fishing. Wild turkeys are common to his area as are white tail and mule deer. Beavers can still be found along ladder Creek and many other animals as well.
There are many opportunities for families to climb some of surrounding hills with the most popular ones being the climb up to the Steele Monument on the west side of the lake and the one to McBride Monument east side. Visitors need to be sure and were good shoes for climbing as the yucca plants and prickly pear cactuses are sharp reminders of what this rugged country is like. Also be aware that rattlesnakes are common in this part of Kansas and the rock ledges and outcroppings provide good places for them to sun on a hot Kansas day. As always use caution and common sense and be aware of your surroundings.
Other activities include fishing, boating several walking and equestrian trails, and some great picnicking areas.
Designated by National Geographic Travel magazine as one of the top 50 parks to visit in the United States and a finalist in the “Eight Wonders of Kansas” contest, Scott County State Lake is a must see stop for those traveling through this area.
Scott County State Park Map