Elk City State Park, reservoir and wildlife area is five miles northwest of Independence. Its forested hills and wooded shores will remind you of the Ozark Mountains (in miniature).
Its trails offer some of the best all-day hiking opportunities in the state.
You can camp, park your RV, have a barbecue or go fishing, boating, swimming, off-road biking, you name it.
There are access fees to pay for using the lake or camping, but it's free to park at the trailheads and scenic overlook.
Heading southwest out of Independence on Hwy 75 you'll see the turn for the Little House on the Prairie, near the site where a very young Laura Ingalls Wilder spent a couple years while her family homesteaded.
She later wrote a series of books about growing up on the frontier and these earned worldwide renown in the 1970s thanks to the TV series starring Michael Landon. The TV show brought her books to a huge audience, but the show itself was filmed in California and took inspiration from Laura's later books, like Little Town on the Prairie.
A tiny log cabin like the one Laura's father would have built is here, along with the original post office for the nearby village of Wayside and an old one-room schoolhouse dating from the 1870s. An old farmhouse on the site has a small shop and other visitor amenities.
My folks live behind the Little House, at the end of the dirt track that runs west of the schoolhouse. Stop in sometime, tell them I sent you and they'll be glad to sit a spell with you and some iced tea.
The small town of Independence, Kansas is home to one of the houses of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family. Independence is where Laura's sister, Carrie, was born on August 3, 1870. Visitors can tour the houses and see artifacts from the time period in which the Wilders lived here. It's a great place to visit, especially for those who enjoy the Little House on the Prairie, which took place here in Independence, Kansas!
Catherine Hauber, author of the Hiking Guide to Kansas, praises the trails around Elk City Lake as among her favourites in the state.
'Outside' magazine named the 15-mile Elk River Hiking Trail as the best in Kansas. It's a strenuous trek along the north shore with bizarre rock formations, tremendous (for Kansas) waterside cliffs and thick oak groves filled with wildlife. I remember my first attempt at a long distance hike was here on a high school biology class field trip and we only made it halfway. Maybe it also didn't help my biology teacher was menopausal at the time? If you want a quick taste of what the trail has to offer, at least hike the first mile. After a steep climb you soon enter a network of rock chasms and caverns.
You can take the kids on a quick excursion into the woods on the Post Oak Nature Trail which loops around the top of Table Mound from the Memorial Overlook parking area. There are impressive limestone cliffs with lizards scurrying around the rocks.
Neewollah is a yearly festival that is held the last week or so of October every year. It's a pretty big deal for Independence. There's always a musical that is performed, a small travelling carnival sets up in town, there are a couple of parades, and food stands line downtown's sidewalks. It's a lot of fun to go to.
See where Pa and Ma Ingles lived with their author daughter, Laura Ingles Wilder and her sister Mary. Younger sister, Caroline, was born here. The Little House on the Prairie is just outside of town off route 75.
There's an old-timey carousel (a nickel a ride), a tiny train that leaves from its own station for a trip that costs one shiny quarter and a miniature golf course that will set you back 2 bits (25 cents). There's also a lifesize dinosaur statue, an old steam locomotive for the kids to climb on, a rose garden, a fountain that's the centerpiece of a nighttime light display, a band shell where there are free summertime concerts...and of course, teeter-totters, slippery-slides and swings!
Right next to the park is the Ralph Mitchell Zoo. You can't miss Monkey Island, a stone castle surrounded by a moat and inhabited by dozens of monkeys. Monkey Island was home to Miss Able, the first monkey sent into space by the Americans. There's also an aviary, a pool with ducks and geese and swans, a rabbit warren, and local Kansas animals like a bobcat, owls and hawks. Down in the ravine you'll find bears and big cats and bald eagles. There's also a wildlife preserve you can drive through to see bison, camels, antelope and longhorn cattle.