Great Plains Wondering: Visit Ford County State Fishing Lake and ride the trails

Brandon Case
Pratt Tribune
Brandon Case

For Kansas trails lovers, Ford County State Fishing Lake, located northeast of Dodge City, has 10+ miles of trails. The trails were built by volunteers from Golden Belt Bicycle in Great Bend. Today they are maintained by the Kansas Trails Council.

While many prefer to walk the trails (on our Saturday, early November visit we saw around 10 people, two groups, hiking and only a pair cycling), this trail system is definitely designed for off-road cyclists. With its numerous switchbacks, the idea was to maximize use of available space and hence provide as much two-wheeled fun as possible.

Whether cycling or hiking, those who explore the trail will experience varied topographical conditions—from flat, mostly open prairie that weaves through the mixed grasses (some of which were at least four feet high) to wooded areas that features multiple trail routes crisscrossing each other (which I christened the “make it up as you go” section of the ride). As you follow the switchbacks north and east, you’ll eventually end up on the west side of the lake, which is a great place for wildlife watching and animal track identification. We mainly saw deer and raccoon prints, as well as evidence that possibly a bobcat had experienced some fine dining here (wild turkey feathers were strewn about in one location). Toward the north end of the trail there is a rocky drop off which one twentysomething cyclist we met called “scary,” after we asked whether or not he had ridden down it. He was joined by a female riding companion, and we caught occasional glimpses of the two weaving back and forth through the switchbacks during the remainder of our five hour hike,

One area of the trail you shouldn’t miss (the most challenging perhaps) is an old gravel pit at the south end that offered numerous short but steep hills that were a challenge even to hike. One leg of this section climbed up a wall that had a 60 or 70 degree angle (for the gonzo riders).

Overall, the trail at Ford County State Fishing Lake was better than I expected. It offered some varied topography that made our hike fun, not to mention the wildlife/tracks sightings.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for anyone wanting to check out this public land will be finding the trailhead. It’s not a state park, so there are no signs indicating its location. To get there, turn north off of Highway 50 on 116 Road (it’s the road just east of Koch Ag and Energy solutions; look for the plume of steam rising up into the air). Then go about two and a half miles on 116 Road, keeping an eye out for a parking lot to the right (east) that has wooden posts set back about 100 or so feet. This is the parking lot and trailhead. If you end up at the nearby Mandan Scout Camp and Training Center, you’ve gone too far.

The best time to visit the Ford County Fishing Lake is in the winter or fall, as one online comment I read said that the trails are not as well maintained in the summer.