When Prairie Dog State Park first opened, it did not contain a single prairie dog. Several subsequent transplantation attempts failed. Finally, a colony of these furry little critters took root. Today, the hundreds of animals at Prairie Dog State Park may be the highlight of your visit, especially with a visit to Prairie Dog Town.
There are lots of other activities here as well. Some historic buildings remind people what life was like in remote western Kansas not too many years ago. The huge Sebelius Reservoir provides plenty of fishing, boating, and other water recreation activities. The nearby Norton Wildlife Area provides lots of wildlife viewing opportunities such a white-tailed deer and rabbits. And, the park has lots of hiking trails and other recreational opportunities. History buffs will enjoy seeing the remnants of an old room school house and adobe house from the 1800s.
RV camping is also a treat at Prairie Dog State Park. There are roughly 100 hookup RV sites for campers who enjoy their creature comforts. There are also about 100 primitive sites, if you prefer roughing it. All of these campgrounds have lots of amenities. So whether you are stopping by in your rig for the night or a week Prairie Dog State Park is an excellent place for a Kansas vacation.
For the most part, northwestern Kansas is a network of small towns that sit upon vast grasslands. The Norton/Lake Sebelius area is one of the notable exceptions. While by no means a large town, Norton is at least a little bigger than some of the surrounding communities. Moreover, Keith Sebelius Lake is the largest body of water in this area, and one of the largest lakes in the state.
To reach Prairie Dog State Park, most people take U.S. Highway 283. This road is wide, straight, and normally well-maintained, even in winter. Highway 283 is a north-south between east-west Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Interstate 70 in Kansas.
Inside the park, there is lots of large vehicle parking near the boat launch/fish cleaning station area, as well as Prairie Dog Town itself. Parts of these parking lots may be closed in the winter, especially the areas near Prairie Dog Town. There aren’t as many visitors to this part of the park during winter. Most prairie dogs don’t like the extreme cold any more than most people.
The park’s signature RV campground has 52 reservable developed RV sites. 10 offer full hook ups, 30 have water and electric hookups, and 12 are electric hookup only. This campground, which is very close to the beach, is open year-round. All the back-in sites are shady and level with pretty good views of the lake. Campground amenities include a very nice restroom and shower area that’s next to a large parking area.
This reservable campground is light on amenities and heavy on scenery. Most of this campground’s 30 primitive sites are along the lake shore. There is plenty of space in this part of the campground. A few are located a little further inland closer to a sheltered picnic area. If you like being closer to your neighbors, this inner loop is probably the place to be. Vault toilets are available year-round.
Six of this campground’s 46 sites have water and electric hookups; the rest are primitive RV sites. The most isolated RV campground also may have the most amenities. They include a very nice restrooms, a shower area, and RV dump station. This reservable campground is close to several sheltered picnic areas, as well as the park’s archery course.
This mixed, walk-in RV campground has 14 water and electric hookup sites and eight primitive sites. If you want a developed campground that’s close to the swimming area and closer to the water than Prairie Dog, park your rig here. Vault toilets and flush toilets are available year-round, as is a sheltered picnic area.
The only RV campground at Prairie Dog State Park that’s closed during winter has 20 primitive walk-in sites. This campground is on either side of the cove that bears its name. Each part of the campground is near a boat launch. Campground amenities include several restroom areas and vault toilets.
Much like Cottonwood, this 30-site primitive walk-in campground is divided between a shoreline area and an inland loop. Vault toilets are available.
Considering it originally had basically no native fish population, Keith Sebelius Lake is a pretty good fishing spot. There are a number of very good angling opportunities here. Crappie tend to concentrate in sheltered areas, like underwater brush and fishing piers. Use jig bait and minnows to reel them in. In 2019, park rangers added about a half-million walleye to Lake Sebelius. To catch them, work the areas around the dam and Leota Cove with any kind of live bait. Catfish are fairly plentiful in the western part of the lake, if you use stink bait. Honorable mention goes to wiper and smallmouth bass. These fish are around, but they are not as plentiful. So don't forget your fishing gear in your campervan or trailer.
History buffs will love to stop their rig at this state park. The two vintage buildings at Prairie Dog State Park are very well-preserved and in very good shape. Outside, they give visitors a good idea about what it took to build structures like these essentially by hand. On the inside, they are more like living museums. There is a one-room prairie schoolhouse not far from the park office. That’s definitely something you do not see every day. An adobe house is nearby. It dates back to around 1890, so it’s one of the oldest private homes in Kansas. A well-maintained, all-weather road connects them, so it’s fun to hike in this area during winter.
The Norton Wildlife Preserve is southwest of Lake Sebelius. So, the western part of the park is the best part to see wildlife as they come to the lake for a drink. Look for whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and mule deer. In the skies overhead, look for pheasants, geese, and waterfowl. There are even more birds here during the spring and fall migratory seasons. To enhance the experience, look for the park’s waterfowl refuge areas and food plots.
The hot summer months are the best time to see prairie dogs. But even then, it’s a bit hit or miss. Sometimes, seemingly all 300 prairie dogs will be out frolicking around, and they are a sight to see. To reach this area, which is in the northwestern corner of the park, you can either drive there or hike there. However you travel, take a picnic lunch and get there early. One of the nicest, and smallest, sheltered picnic areas is just outside Prairie Dog Town. Most of these animals are pretty tame, so get ready to interact with them.
The swimming beach is located next to Prairie Dog Campground. This huge beach has plenty of room for all kinds of activities. Play near the water’s edge, relax on a beach blanket, or play a pickup beach volleyball game. Several large trees ring the swimming beach, so the wind is not too bad and there’s also some shade here and there. Several shaded picnic areas are available as well. Lots of people like to swim across part of the lake to another and smaller swimming beach. No lifeguard is on duty, but watch out for motorboats and the occasional lake riptide, and you should be fine.
There is a boat launch on either side of Leota Cove. The one on the west side is larger and designed for motorboats. It’s adjacent to a large paved parking area. The east side boat launch is more for unpowered craft, like canoes and paddleboards. It’s adjacent to a smaller unpaved parking area which may be inaccessible when the weather is bad. But if the weather is bad, you probably won’t want to go out on Lake Sebelius in a kayak anyway. So, it’s all good. Lake Sebelius is a very good boating lake. There’s lots of open water, and there are also lots of little coves and inlets to explore. The wind is usually pretty gusty but not overpowering.