Cross Timbers State Park was once the home of the Osage tribe. Settlement was slow in this region because the homesteaders realized that it was unsuitable for farming, thanks to thin, dry soils.
Toronto Lake, the reservoir showcased by this park, was authorized under the Flood Control Act of 1941, as were many other Kansas lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the lake beginning in November 1954 and ending in February 1960. The lake began to fill about a month later. In 1964, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks was licensed by the Army Corps of Engineers to open a state park on the shores of the reservoir.
- Follow U.S. Highway 54 west out of Yates Center.
- Turn left onto Kansas Highway 104.
- Follow Highway 104 east through Toronto, then south.
- Stay on Highway 104 as it turns west around the lake (follow the park signs).
- The park entrance will be on your right, just after crossing the dam.
Cross Timbers State Park has the distinction of preserving a piece of the Chautauqua Hills and its unique mix of forest and prairie, known as the Cross Timbers. Much of the park is heavily wooded, covered by trees estimated to be nearly 300 years old. Oak trees are the highlight, but hackberries, hickories, and ashes also have their place. In fall, the colors are particularly beautiful.
If you enjoy wildlife watching, you will find much to like at Cross Timbers State Park. An impressive variety of birds call the park home. Campers report that coyotes provide music on most nights. Reptiles also abound, including turtles, lizards, and snakes—including copperheads.
Hunters will have many good opportunities to try their skill in Toronto Wildlife Area, containing 4,700 acres of public hunting area. Common species include quail, dove, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and deer. Furbearers, such as raccoon, are also present.
Archery is allowed seasonally on the trails in the Toronto Point Area on the north side of the lake.
Toronto Lake has earned a reputation for excellent fishing. Species include crappie, bluegill, green sunfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish. The main attraction, however, is the bass, particularly the white bass. The fish in this reservoir can reach impressive sizes.
A handicapped-accessible fishing pier is available in the Toronto Point Area on the north side of the lake.
- Oak Ridge Trail: Located in the Holiday Hill Area on the southwest side of the lake, this half-mile loop is a relatively easy way for beginning hikers to become acquainted with the forest characteristic of the region. With any luck, you may also spot animals along the trail. Oak Ridge Trail is open to biking in dry weather.
- Ancient Trees Trail: This one-mile trail in the Toronto Point Area is open to hiking only. As the name suggest, the old-growth forest characteristic of the Cross Timbers is the feature here. Interpretive signs estimate the ages of some of the trees and place them in the context of American history. Nature lovers of all stripes will also enjoy the wildlife and geology along the trail.
- Blackjack Trail: Another great way to see Cross Timbers plants, including blackjack oaks. This trail is a one-mile loop in the Holiday Hill Area. Fall is often considered the best time to enjoy Blackjack Trail. Open to hiking, but biking is also allowed in dry weather.
- Blue Water Trail: For something completely different, how about an interpretive canoeing and kayaking trail? Maps and signs guide paddlers on a mile-long route through Mann’s Cove on the northeast side of the lake. Enjoy the nature of Cross Timbers State Park from a new perspective. If you don’t have a canoe or kayak, borrow one of the park’s watercraft.
- Overlook Trail: This loop in the Woodson Cove Area on the southeast side of the lake is 1 1/4 miles long. Open to hiking, bikers will also find this trail to be a worthwhile challenge (please bike only in dry weather to avoid damage to the trail). Beginning with a scenic view of the lake, Overlook Trail winds through ravines and near rock outcroppings, showcasing the diverse vegetation of the Chautauqua Hills along the way.
- Chautauqua Hills Trail: Four loops offer guests a total of 11 miles of trail around Toronto Point Area. If that’s too much for you, either take one of the shorter loops or enjoy backcountry camping on the red and yellow loops. All of the loops offer a good way to view the Chautauqua Hills region firsthand. This trail system is for hiking, but biking is also allowed in dry weather.
Most of the recreation at Cross Timbers State Park centers around nature. Park staff provide weekend interpretive programs seasonally.