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Trail Bicycling: Camping and Lodging on the Kansas Prairie Spirit and Southwind Rail Trails

The state-town-managed 53-mile Prairie Spirit Rail Trail (PST) runs north-south from Ottawa to Iola in eastern Kansas. At the south end of the PST, the Allen-County-managed 6.5-mile Southwind Rail Trail (SWT) connects to the PST in Iola and runs southward to Humboldt, KS.

Most of the camping and lodging places found here are in the three larger towns of Ottawa, Garnett, and Iola. However, the smaller towns of Richmond and Humboldt also have good campsites. Here’s a summary of what is available in each of the nine towns on the trails.

Ottawa

Camping: free/dry/no-fire behind the Franklin County Visitor Information Center 1½-miles east of the PST on Hwy-68 from the north-end of the old business district. Must call ahead for reservation at (785) 242-1411. Grassy backyard with large shade tree and picnic table. No outside water or restroom. However, two all-night convenience stores are located ½-mile east and 1½-miles west of this site.

Motels: five; one near 17th and Main Streets midtown one block east of the PST. The others are further south near the PST and I-35. $50-90 overnight.

Princeton

No facilities, except for the trailhead w/running water.

Richmond

Camping: Free/dry at Richmond Lake one-mile east of town on Allen Road SE of town. Covered picnic table, grill, chemical toilet, lake. No running water.

Garnett

Camping: Two tent sites on two lakes.

1) Located at the north-end of Lake Garnett one-block east of the PST. This lake is on the NE side of town. Open area with grass and chemical toilets, some shade. Running water and stools 1/4-mile further south in the lake park. $9 overnight.

2) Located on Crystal Lake adjacent to the PST on the south side of town, which is near the town square. Water spigots a short distance west at the electrical hookups. Flush stools on the north side of the lake via a ride/walk-over floating bridge. $9/night.

Bed & Breakfast: One; four-blocks east of the trail on 4th Avenue in town. Six rooms, two baths, two half-baths. $70 overnight.

Motels: two; one 1/4-mile west of the trail on Park-Road and Hwy-59 at the north-end of town. The other one is further east of town on Hwy-169. $50-70 overnight.

Welda

No facilities, except for the trailhead w/running water.

Colony

No facilities, except for the trailhead w/running water.

Carlyle

No facilities, except for the trailhead with restroom and no running water.

Iola

Camping: at RV Camp & Storage Park three blocks west of the PST on the east-west Hwy-54. Grassy areas, water, laundry, and shower at office building. $10 overnight.

Motels: three; one near the PST trailhead at the north end of town on State Street. Another one is 1/2-mile further south on State Street near the PST and Hwy-54. The third one is further east on Hwy-169. $50-80 overnight.

Humboldt

Camping: Free/tent at Hunter Park about one-mile SW of the SWT parking-only trailhead if no electricity is used there. Otherwise, $5 overnight. Grass, shade trees, running water, public restrooms w/showers, pavilion, tables, playground. The town police need to know you’re there, located at NW corner of the town square.

Summary

While stealth camping along these trail corridors is not allowed in most cases, other options exist besides the sites mentioned above. For example, distance riders can inquire about using the small-town parks, where often they are allowed to dry camp free or for a nominal fee. Users can also inquire at nearby farms, B&B’s, and local residents about setting up a tent in the corners of their yards.

As these relatively new Kansas trails are used more often, certain town parks and pavilions could open up to minimized camping. Also, a hostel or two could crop up sometime. A roofed enclosure isn’t a bad thing to have during inclement weather, even if only a covered picnic table. For detailed information about these trails, see the following websites.