When you are standing on the windy limestone outcroppings overlooking Cedar Bluff Reservoir, it is hard to imagine a time when the lake and the state park were not there. Yet it was once just a river valley inhabited by Indians. Few people cared to traverse the vast prairie without a good economic reason, and those who tried often met with hardship and death as they crept along the Smoky Hill River.
But when gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858, things began to change. The Smoky Hills Trail, following the river which now flows into Cedar Bluff Reservoir, became a major travel route for people heading west. On the heels of the covered wagons came the railroads, and with the railroads came homesteaders.
It was the presence of farmers that created the demand for reservoirs such as Cedar Bluff. A lake would be useful, not only for flood control, but also for irrigation in that thirsty land. Furthermore, it would offer recreation opportunities beneficial to the people of the area and to those who were simply visiting. So in April 1949, construction of a dam and reservoir began.
When the lake filled in 1951, it almost immediately became a favorite attraction, offering opportunities found nowhere else in the region. In 1962, Cedar Bluff State Park was created to meet the needs of the visitors. Even today the park is a favorite, drawing about 250,000 people annually.
- From I-70, about 23 miles west of Hays, take Exit 135 at Ogallah.
- Turn south on Highway 147.
- Drive 13 miles to the park entrance sign.
- Turn right on West Road to enter the park.
Cedar Bluff State Park is about where the High Plains region meets the Smoky Hills. Not surprisingly, the park combines the best of both worlds, including grassy hills and flat stretches of yucca. Plant life is diverse at this park.
Animals abound at Cedar Bluff State Park, too. Depending on the time of year, you may see anything from deer to pelicans. Also keep your eyes open for fast-moving jackrabbits and the stick piles built by wood rats, more familiarly known as “pack rats.” In the winter, eagles nest near the reservoir, and waterfowl species are abundant in the wildlife refuge during migration season. The marshy area below the dam is reputed to provide good birdwatching in general.
Cedar Bluff Reservoir was named for the tremendous limestone bluffs topped with cedar trees. Feel free to climb up to get a better view of the lake, but watch your step. There are no guard rails. While you’re at it, take a look around for fossils. The bluffs have much to offer to rockhounds.
If you are an enthusiast for upland game birds and big game species, Cedar Bluff Reservoir is just the place for you. Whitetail deer, pheasant, turkey, and dove are present and at good levels at this park. With any luck, you may be able to take mule deer, lesser prairie chicken, and quail, as well. Waterfowl hunting is also excellent in the various wet habitats at the park.
For those of you with special needs, the Page Creek Area on the south shore of the lake has a special handicapped-accessible hunting area.
Fishing at Cedar Bluff Reservoir is good and getting better all the time. Some particularly heavy catfish have been reported, and park enthusiasts have high hopes for the future of white bass fishing at this lake. Wiper are reported as good, and crappie and walleye are available. For something a little different, try fishing for rainbow trout below the dam. These fish are stocked each spring and fall.
A covered handicapped-accessible fishing dock is available in the Bluffton Area on the north side of the lake.
Agave Ridge Trail: For a look at the wildlife area, try out the trails beginning in the White Tail Camp Area in the Page Creek part of the park. Both hiking and bicycling are allowed. The views are spectacular, and you are likely to have the trail pretty much to yourself.
Driving the roads around the reservoir is a favorite form of recreation at the park, since the scenery is so beautiful. Just be aware that some of the roads are treacherous when wet. Four-wheel drive is a handy thing to have on some of these back roads!
History buffs have much to explore at Cedar Bluff State Park. A stone marker calls attention to the wagon ruts along the highway near the dam. These tracks are from the Butterfield Overland Despatch, a stage line which followed the Smoky Hill Trail.
Also visit Threshing Machine Canyon, infamous for a massacre which took place around 1857. A wagon train carrying a threshing machine to Brigham Young in Salt Lake City camped in this canyon one night. The Indians surprised the travelers after dark, murdered them, and burned the threshing machine. The remains of the machine have been moved to the Trego County Historical Museum in WaKeeney, but old carvings from the Smoky Hill Trail days are still visible. Threshing Machine Canyon is within the wildlife area. The specific location is not well marked on park maps, so visitors are advised to ask for directions at the park office.
Smoky Hill Trail/Butterfield’s Overland Despatch (BOD)
Information about this interesting piece of history.
Threshing Machine Canyon
Information about the beautiful canyon and its grim story.