One of my favorite Lawrence amenities is our abundance of well-maintained trails, and fall is a prime time to check them out. With cooler temperatures and fewer bugs, our local trails are a wonderful place to enjoy a sunny September afternoon or crisp October evening.
The following fall hikes are all under two miles, and each has at least a few features that are fun for kiddos. Whether you are nostalgically craving the crunch of falling leaves underfoot, or just need an hour excursion to tire your small ones out, these Lawrence trails will have you off in no time for an outdoor, autumn adventure!
DeVictor Park (1100 George Williams Way, across the street from Langston Hughes School)
This less well-known trail has some incredible kid-friendly bells and whistles. You’ll see the first one—a stump and rock-climbing area—right as you enter the park. Veer off slightly to the left and you’ll find an awesome tree house. While you can get a nice walk by following the paved trail that surrounds the park, if you venture onto the dirt trails in the woods you’ll find a suspension bridge, a pretty stream, and an outdoor classroom.
My only caution is to make sure you wear real shoes. This trail is full of sharp Hawthorn branches, which will pierce right through flimsy sneakers or flip-flops.
Baker Wetlands Discovery Center Trail (1365 N 1250 Rd)
If you want to see fall wildlife, Baker Wetlands will be your jam. This easy trail loop starts at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center and runs out over the wetlands via connected gravel and boardwalk trails. Watch turtle heads pop up from the ponds as herons gracefully fish the shallow water's edges.
Baker Wetlands also has a Monarch butterfly tagging event and several stargazing nights in the fall, so be sure and check their Facebook page for dates and times.
Wells Overlook (3/4 mile east of U.S. 59 on the south side of North 1000 Road)
While Wells Overlook does have a short nature trail, the real attraction is the observation tower keeping lookout over the entire Kaw Valley below. On a clear, fall day you can see for miles from the top.
While some of the graffiti on the tower is of the usual senseless variety, some people have also taken the time to make doodles that are quite beautiful.
The park is officially open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. While it seems like it would be an ideal spot for stargazing, local gossip indicates it's not the safest place to hang out after dark.
Prairie Park (2811 Kensington Road)
Prairie Park has everything—woods, open fields, bridges, and a lake for public fishing and kayaking. With a mix of paved and dirt trails, you'll often see kids there on bikes, as well as on foot.
If you get tired of walking and exploring, Prairie Park also has a legendary nature center, which is open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays.
Sander's Mound (Clinton Lake North Shore, trail starts on the west side of the road just before you get to the dam)
Summer, fall, winter, or spring, this is our favorite family hiking spot. We park on the shoulder of the road and follow the paved trail until we get to the bottom of Sanders Mound.
Then, it’s onto a dirt trail that switchbacks up the hill to a park bench and beautiful view at the top. You can walk back exactly the way you came, or follow the trail over the crest of the hill to scramble down to the lake shore and toss rocks in the water.
The only thing to beware of is that—while the bugs aren't horrible on this particular section of trail—ticks are prevalent at Clinton Lake, in general. Be sure to use bug spray and check everyone over carefully when you get home.
Happy fall hiking!
A proud Lawrence transplant, Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in a hundred-year-old house with her sweet husband, two darling kiddos, one puppy, one gecko, and an ever rotating flock of poultry. By day, she's a public defender. By night, she writes, takes photos, knits, and cooks up a storm. She chronicles her adventures on her personal blog, My Bit of Earth.