Admittedly, there is not much to see on the West Kansas plains. But there is the occasional gem. Cheney State Park might be the brightest jewel in the half of the Sunflower State.
Lake Cheney is huge. It spans two Kansas counties about 20 miles west of Wichita. The lake is big enough to be two parks in one. The western shore is devoted mostly to boaters, particularly sailboaters. The Ninnescah Sailing Association, which launched in 1965, has facilities here. The eastern shore is primarily for anglers. One of the few ADA-accessible fishing piers in the Midwest is located at Cheney State Park.
Further inland, there are lots of activities as well. The Cheney Wildlife Area is adjacent to the state park. And, since wildlife often ignore border signs, there are lots of animals to see at Cheney State Park.
Last but not least, we must touch on this park’s huge RV campground. It is almost big enough to qualify for its own ZIP code. There are over 200 motorhome electric and water hookup sites for your rig.
Cheney State Park is not just fun and big. It’s also accessible. If there is a Main Street USA, it might be Interstate 35. This highway changes names and direction a few times. But mostly, it runs north-south parallel to the Mississippi River from the Canadian to Mexican borders. And, Cheney State Park is only about a half-hour drive from Interstate 35 (or the Kansas Turnpike, as it’s called in these parts).
As you turn west off the Turnpike and navigate the checkerboard pattern of Kansas state roads, just look for the big lake in the middle of the grassland. You cannot possibly miss it.
Inside Cheney State Park, there is ample large vehicle parking near the marina facilities and boat launches, fishing jetties, and trail heads.
This campground near the west shoreline has 53 electric and water hookup RV sites. All of them are large back-in sites which accommodate rigs up to 70 feet long. This campground does not have as many good lake views, but it you have a big rig or want lots of space, this is the place to be. Nearby amenities include a restroom and shower area and RV dump station.
These 20 RV sites are between a boat launch and a Day Use area on the east shore. All these sites have electrical and water hookups. The camp is smaller and more intimate than some other Cheney State Park RV campgrounds, both in terms of the size of the campground and the size of individual back-in sites. So, if that’s the atmosphere you want, this is the place to be. The lake views are outstanding as well. As always, an RV dump station and restroom and shower area are within easy walking distance.
These 20 motorhome parking sites are almost exactly like Lakeview. They are even next door to Lakeview. About the only difference is that Marina’s sites are clustered around a fishing area. Additionally, a day use area is very close to these sites which are directly on the water.
Not far from Sailboat Cove, there are 42 water and electric hookup sites. These sites are also designed for large motorhomes. This campground is also very close to a boat launch. So, if you plan to spend a lot of time in an unpowered watercraft, make your reservation for the North Loop.
The largest RV campground at Cheney State Park (51 back-in sites) is centrally located on the west shore. It’s also near a boat ramp and Day Use area. All these large RV sites have electricity and water hookups.
With 45 water and electricity hookup sites, South Loop is almost as large as Smarsh Creek. Rather predictably, the South Loop is just below the North Loop. It’s adjacent to several fishing jetties and a beach campground.
The west shore has two open boat launches which are primarily for motorboats. They are well apart, so traffic does not back up at either launch, even on a weekend like July Fourth. The west shore also has a sheltered sailboat launch near the Ninnescah Sailing Association’s area. Paddled craft, like canoes and kayaks, typically use the sailing launch as well. On the water, motorboats usually head out to open water and unpowered craft usually stick near the shore. But that’s just the informal right of way.
Lake Cheney is a very good fishing spot if you know how to approach it. It’s also a very relaxing fishing spot if you just like to be near lapping water. Channel catfish usually go for shad bait on the windy side of the lake. For blue catfish, which are usually a little bigger than channel catfish, try the flats near the old river channel. Crappie usually stick to shallow water. So, if you fish from a pier, you may catch a lot. Pull out to open water to find walleye. They like the deeper water. No matter where you fish on the lake, you want to make sure you pack your fishing gear in your campervan or travel trailer.
Most birds love open water, because they like drinking. Most birds also like a combination of open meadows and tall trees. Rolling meadows generate air currents and trees make good nests. All these things are at Cheney State Park. Later in the year, look for lots of migratory waterfowl. In the fall, birders often see hundreds of rare Franklin’s Gulls and pelicans. Lots of native birds, such as sandpipers, herons, egrets, grebes, ibises, yellowlegs, curlews, and snipe, often nest in the cottonwood trees near the lake shore. IN the fall and winter, look for bald eagles.
Cheney State Park has a number of hiking trails, and most of them basically hug the lakeshore. So, they are flat and pretty, making them more like nature trails than hiking trails. Nonetheless, they are ideal for hikers of all skill levels in addition to mountain bikers. The short Spring Creek Wildlife Observation Area is mostly a raised boardwalk. It goes past some beaver dams and some other cool nature sights. The half-mile Paved Nature Trail is on the opposite side of the lake. It’s not on a raised boardwalk, but it is basically an unpaved and slightly winding sidewalk. Finally, the half-mile, family friendly Spring Creek Path is a great place for very young children to walk from campsite to campsite without dodging cars.
The Cheney Lake area is excellent for wildlife viewing and hunting during the fall and winter. During hunting seasons, there are lots of game animals in this area, such as pheasant, rabbit, quail, dove, and turkey. During other parts of the year, racoons, foxes, skunks, and other fur-bearing animals are very common as well. Note that the area around the Cheney Wildlife Refuge, which includes the borders of Cheney State Park, are closed between May and September.
Cheney State Park has seven day use areas. Three are on the boating-based west shore and four are on the fishing-based east shore. These areas are usually a bit higher up than the lake itself. So, they offer sweeping views of the water and the surroundings. Sunsets are especially nice. Most Day Use areas include picnic tables, barbecue grills, and a recreation facility, like a small wading beach or a horseshoe pit.