In the 1850s, Waltus and Mary Ann Watkins settled on this land to raise their family, a farm, and some sheep. Shortly afterward they built a woolen mill, even creating their own bricks, in order to process the wool from their sheep and turn it into fabric. Over 100 years later, the structures that they built were dedicated as a Missouri State Park and State Historic Site, restored to their former glory, and given the name Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site. The mill that the Watkins built is currently the only woolen mill from the 19th century to have its original machinery intact and it is well worth the visit for any RVers who are interested in history.
The land surrounding the woolen mill is a beautiful example of the nature that is found in the Missouri area, complete with creeks, forests, and a wonderful lake for fishing in. A 3.5-mile trail winds it’s way around Watkins Mill Lake, giving nature enthusiasts a wonderful opportunity to view the lake in all its glory, spot new and exciting animals and plants, and get a little exercise in the sun. The campsites are clean and well-kept with plenty of room for even larger campervans or trailers, and there is a good amount of privacy that is offered by the lush trees in the area.
Watkins Woolen Mill State Park is a wonderful historic park that is situated a little over 30 miles southeast of Kansas City. Seven miles to the east is the town of Kearney, MO, and just under five miles to the northwest is the town of Lawson, MO. The drive to Watkins Woolen Mill State Park is picturesque no matter which direction you are coming from. If you are entering the park from the north, you will likely be guided to travel down Watkins road, which will curve west and go over a railroad track. The turn southward turn into the park from the east is just a hop down the road from the railroad tracks, but it is very sharp.
If you are driving a big rig or a difficult-to-maneuver camper, there is a parking lot just a little further down on the north side of the road that will allow you to turn around so you can approach that southward turn from the west instead. The main entrance to the park can be approached from the south, with clearly marked signs posted at the turn at the corner of NE 161st and State Highway RA.
There is a combination of both paved roads and gravel roads throughout the park, and there are several paved parking areas large enough to accommodate most RV’s along the west side of the lake. The gate to the campground is locked after 10 PM, so you will want to give yourself plenty of time to arrive in order to avoid being locked out of the campground.
Camp out any time of the year and stick close by the Kansas City area’s hottest attractions with a stay at Kansas City East/Oak Grove KOA. Pull-through sites can accommodate RVs up to 105 feet and offer 50-amp electrical service. Accommodations can also be made to lodge in a tent site or cabin. Spend time as a family in the seasonally opened saltwater pool, playing mini golf, or give your pooch a chance to stretch all four legs out on the dog run or dog walk. Cable TV, Wi-Fi, propane and firewood are available anytime at your convenience.
The Watkins Woolen Mill State Park Campground has 97 sites available to reserve. Around three-quarters of these sites have electrical hookups, but there are no sewer or water hookups available. A minimum stay of two nights is required on in-season weekends, typically April through October, with a maximum stay of 15 days at a time. Each campsite is well-shaded and is equipped with a fire ring and a picnic table. There is plenty of room between sites, giving each site a little quiet and privacy, and a few family-style sites that have enough room for two RVs to share a larger site, each with their own electrical hookup.
While there are no water or sewer hookups at the campsites, there are showers and coin-operated laundry facilities available during the summer months and a sanitary dumping station that is available for registered campers. Wood can be purchased in the evening at the woodlot on the premises. During the off-season, which is generally November through March, many of the sites are closed and the shower houses, laundry facilities, and dumping station are turned off as well.
Up to two pets per campsite are allowed as long as they are on a 10-foot or shorter lead under human control or they are fully contained in the camper or a crate. There are a large number of raccoons that live near the campgrounds, and they are not particularly shy, so it is important not to leave any sort of food out unattended.
You will find that there is an abundance of beautiful images to capture on film if you bring your camera along in your campervan. Along with the beautiful old buildings that have stood in this spot for over a century, the landscapes themselves often make stunning photographs. You can also capture shots of a large variety of birds and other wildlife, such as the herons, ducks, and coots that frequent the lakeside, the deer, squirrels, and wild turkey that roam the woods, or the large number of migrating warblers who visit the area in the fall and spring.
The visitor center and museum is an experience worth the trip all by itself, and entrance to the facility is free of charge. There is a 25-minute orientation film available that explains the history of the Watkins Woolen Mill as well as the history of the Watkins family who first developed the property in the mid-1800s. The museum houses a large variety of antique objects and equipment that shows what life was like living on a flourishing farm in the 19th century. Modern restrooms and a climate controlled environment are available in the visitors center, as are tickets to the guided tours.
There is a wonderful hiking and biking trail that loops around Watkins Mill Lake giving you ample opportunity to spot the local wildlife and take in the stunning scenery. You are likely to see waterfowl like ducks, coots, herons, and geese on the lake itself, and there are many deer, raccoons, squirrels, and wild turkeys that may stop by to quench their thirst. The trail is between three and a half to four miles long and has a number of twists, turns, and dips. Dogs are allowed on the trail, so go ahead and bring your canine companion along in your trailer, just remember to bring along plenty of extra water for them and to keep them on a 10-foot or shorter lead.
Watkins Mill Lake is a great spot for catching some fish to cook for supper in your rig, or to take home with you. There is plenty of plant life growing on the bottom of the lake along with many fallen trees and branches in the water, providing excellent cover for the crappie, catfish, and bass that are plentiful in this lake. The cover allows the fish to feed safely and grow to respectable sizes. There isn’t much in the way of clear shoreline to fish from, but the on-site fishing pier is a decent spot to drop a line in the water. The quality of the lake really shines when anglers choose to go out on the lake in a boat where they can more easily tempt the larger fish that prefer deeper waters.
The Watkins Woolen Mill and Watkins Home were built and run by Waltus and Mary Ann Watkins and their many children. During the busy season, costumed staff members can be found in several places around the Watkins Woolen Mill State Park on weekends. Not only do they give you a feeling of being a part of history, but they also give demonstrations that offer visitors a chance to see how a well-to-do family like the Watkins might have worked, lived, and played in the 19th century.
You can explore the historic buildings in one of two different ways. Unguided walking tours are free and will allow you to explore the buildings and farm areas at a leisurely pace from the outside. You can also purchase guided tours for a small fee that are led by experienced and knowledgeable guides.
The house tour allows you to go inside the fully equipped 1850s Watkins home, as well as visiting the summer kitchen, the smokehouse, icehouse, and fruit dry house. The mill tour takes you through the family’s three-story woolen mill, the only 19th century woolen mill that still has the original machinery intact in the United States, with the guide explaining the wool making process all the way from the shearing of the sheep to the final product, including information about the weaving and dying of the wool.
While leashed dogs are allowed on the roads and pathways of Watkins Woolen Mill State Park, they are not allowed in any of the historic buildings.