Like it or not, most Kansas state parks are defined not by natural features, but by massive, man-made reservoirs. They are generally built for flood control and water supply, but recreation serves a secondary purpose. Just north of Manhattan is the second largest of these, Tuttle Creek Lake. It stretches 15 miles long, covers 12,500 acres, and was formed from the damming of the Big Blue River. With my usual travel partner trekking her way through Europe, I planned a solo voyage across Tuttle (long-ways) to see what was out there.
I launched my kayak Saturday morning around 5AM from Tuttle Creek Cove, a couple miles north of the dam. About 20 minutes into my three-day trip, a thunderstorm came ripping through. I got off the water and set up a quick shelter using my boat and tarp and waited, wondering if my voyage across Tuttle was going to end right there. Luckily it didn’t last long and amazingly that was the only bad weather of the entire trip. I got back on the water as the sun was coming up and continued.
I spent the next two days slowly paddling up the lake, exploring coves, inlets, and any other nooks and crannies I could find. Instead of describing it play by play, I’ll let my map and pictures show what I did.
- It’s been raining around here a lot. The water levels are way above what they normally are. There are huge amounts of drift wood everywhere on the lake that was washed in from flash flooding on rivers to the north. I spent a lot of time plowing through big rafts of debris. The water level continued to rise throughout the entire trip – at one point I fell asleep on the shore and woke up with my feet in the water. I was relieved to see that my car wasn’t submerged when I got back, although some parking spots were no longer dry so be careful where you park!
- It was hot out and there is absolutely no shade on the lake. To avoid the beating sun, I would wake up and start paddling before the sun came out. Around 11, I would look for some shade on the shore and I would walk around or read a book until 1 or 2. Then I’d paddle until late evening. Along with the heat came swarms of insects.
- For camping, I just found secluded coves or hid in the woods. To stay discreet, I left the tent at home and just had a ground pad and sleeping bag with a tarp in case it rained. There are several distinct parks along the lake shore with designated campsites that cost money. But there is also a small buffer of land around the entire shore owned by the Army Corp of Engineers. I’m not sure if it’s legal to camp on it, but there at least shouldn’t be any angry shotgun-bearing land owners.
I enjoyed the trip and would recommend it to anyone that has a strong interest in exploring the waterways of Kansas. Be prepared for heat, bugs, open water that takes a long time to cross, choppy waters, strong winds, and unexpected thunderstorms.
On Monday morning, I arrived at Fancy Creek State park where a group of 9 Prairie Fire paddlers met me. This group paddle was somewhat self-serving as I organized it primarily to get a ride back to my car after crossing the lake. But it turned out to be a cool group and included some new faces that will hopefully be back for more trips. We drove up to the Swede Creek Marsh boat ramp on the Big Blue river to launch. The river was flooded as well, allowing us to plow right over the normally twisting, turning waterway and take a pretty straight-line route back to Fancy Creek (about 6.5 miles).
My total mileage for the weekend: about 35 miles.