When the United States Army Corps of Engineers began construction on El Dorado Lake in 1973, there were already two lakes on the proposed site—Bluestem Lake and the original El Dorado Lake. However, for improved flood control on the Walnut River, the two lakes were combined. The Bluestem Lake dam was breached and the waters allowed to cover old El Dorado Lake to create a new El Dorado Lake. It was not until 1981 that construction of the new lake was finally finished.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks received permission to set up El Dorado State Park in 1984, and the park has been thriving ever since. El Dorado State Park is the largest state park in Kansas, and also usually the most popular, frequently drawing at least a million visitors annually.
- Take U.S. Highway 54 east out of El Dorado to SE Bluestem Road.
- Turn north on SE Bluestem Road and drive north for about a mile.
- Turn right on Parallel Street.
- Veer left on NE Bluestem Road.
- Continue straight ahead for a little over half a mile to the park office (on the right).
El Dorado State Park is typical of the Flint Hills region. Prairie and farmland are major features, but woods and wetlands are also present for habitat diversity. Wildflowers are abundant.
A good mix of wildlife is present at this park. Birds in particular are easy to find. Besides songbirds, keep your eyes open for turkeys and prairie chickens. Deer and smaller mammals also can be spotted away from the campgrounds.
Good hunting opportunities await in El Dorado State Park. Possibilities include dove, quail, waterfowl, prairie chicken, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and deer. A recent addition to the park is an archery range.
El Dorado State Park is nationally renowned for its superb fishing opportunities, fostered by an abundance of underwater shelter for fish. Dead trees provide cover for crappie and largemouth bass. The dam and an old railroad bed attract walleye. For flathead catfish, try fishing in former Bluestem Lake on the southeast side of current El Dorado Lake. Other fish include bluegill, wiper, white bass, smallmouth bass, and flathead catfish.
In the winter, park staff offer a special opportunity—trout fishing. Trout are regularly stocked in the outlet area from November through March.
- Teter Nature Trail: For a quick 3/4-mile walk, try this loop near the east side of the dam in the Walnut River Area. A prized diversity of plants are showcased there, ranging from tallgrass prairie to woods.
- Walnut Ridge Trail: Another 3/4-mile walking path in the Walnut River Area. This one winds through the trees along the Walnut River, frequently offering wildlife viewing opportunities.
- Cross Country Course: A one-mile loop in the eastern part of the Bluestem Point Area. This path offers scenic views of the Flint Hills. It is open to hiking, but it was mainly designed for walking and running competitions and may not be maintained year-round.
- Double Black Diamond Trail: This trail is located in the Walnut River Area, near the beginning of the Walnut Ridge Trail and the path to the Linear Trail. A challenging two-mile loop for hikers and bikers. Both woods and Flint Hills uplands are features here. The trail is narrow and some of the hills are steep, but the views are rewarding.
- Walnut River Trail: Yet another trail in the Walnut River Area, this one is 2 1/2 miles long and offers both hiking and biking. Its main purpose is to allow visitors to get acquainted with the campground.
- Linear Trail: This paved six-mile trail connects the woods of the Walnut River Area with the city of El Dorado. Hiking and biking.
- Boulder Bluff Horse Trail: For hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, 12 miles of trails meander through the Boulder Bluff Area on the west shore of the lake. Native prairie is the highlight.
History buffs might enjoy seeing the remnants of Bluestem Lake. You can get a good look at the old dam from Picnic Area #1 in the Shady Creek Area. Part of it is now a parking lot.
El Dorado State Park boasts a large number of events in season. Concerts, festivals, triathlons, and fishing events are just the beginning.