Although Hillsdale State Park is home to one of the more recent reservoirs in Kansas, the land has seen its share of history. Both Kaw and Osage Indians regularly hunted in this area. The Santa Fe Trail passed by a few miles to the north. Later, the landscape was marred by the violence of the Bleeding Kansas struggle.
It was not until 1954 that a plan was created for flood control in the Osage River Basin, and not until 1976 that the United States Army Corps of Engineers started work on a dam on Bull Creek. This created a new reservoir, which was finished in 1982. The state government began the process of making arrangements for a lease in 1984 and obtained land from the USACE in 1989. Hillsdale State Park opened in 1994.
Today, all of the wildlife area and recreational facilities are managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. However, KDWPT partners with USACE in managing the lake, which is also the major water supply for the area.
- Follow U.S. Highway 169 south out of Olathe.
- Exit onto 255th Street and head west for about 2 1/2 miles.
- Continue straight ahead onto Lake Road at the intersection and drive another 2 1/2 miles.
- Turn right after crossing the dam to enter the park.
Hillsdale State Park is located in the eastern part of the Osage Cuestas, a transition zone between forest and grassland. Vegetation is diverse in this park.
And diverse vegetation means diverse wildlife. Hillsdale State Park is an outstanding place for birdwatching. Songbirds are scattered throughout the park, while waterbirds frequent the marshes and shores of the lake. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles in the trees in winter. In spring, look for nesting great blue herons in the trees along Rock Creek. Late November brings tremendous flocks of snow geese to the lake. Also watch for mammals, such as deer in the woods and beavers and muskrats in the wildlife area.
Hunting opportunities are rich at Hillsdale State Park. Waterfowl abound, but you might also be able to catch deer, squirrel, rabbit, and quail. Trapping is allowed in the wildlife area.
For the first two days of hunting season, a 9-acre field just a quarter mile west of the intersection between Waverly Road and 255th Street is made available to hunters under the age of 17 and their mentors. Season-long youth hunting is provided north of the lake on North Big Bull Creek. A handicapped hunting area is available in the southwest portion of the park, below the dam.
Also below the dam is Hillsdale Range, where you can practice your shotgun, pistol, or rifle skills by yourself or as part of a class. For archery practice, try the archery range in the Sunflower Day-Use Area on the south side of the lake.
Careful planning in the construction of the reservoir has made Hillsdale Lake one of the top fishing destinations in Kansas. Crappie, walleye, and largemouth bass are the main attractions, some of these reach impressive sizes. However, bluegill, channel catfish, and flathead catfish are also rewarding at this lake.
- Hidden Spring Nature Trail: This trail starts at the Army Corps of Engineers visitor center on the east side of the lake, then loops through the woods for 1 1/2 miles. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you walk.
- ADA Hike/Bike Trail: Five miles of trail connect the Jayhawk Area with the Russel Crites Area, both on the south side of the lake. Enjoy the lakeside views.
- Saddle Ridge Trails: Whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding, this 49-mile trail system is open to you. The trails were designed to accommodate a wide range of experience levels. Trails blazed with blue tend to be wooded, while trails blazed with red tend to showcase native grassland. Please exercise caution in hunting season. The trailhead is located on the east side of the lake.
To learn a bit more about Hillsdale Lake before heading outdoors, consider stopping at the USACE visitor center near the dam. Displays inform visitors about the history, nature, and recreation opportunities available to them. Birdwatchers may also want to look behind the visitor center to see what’s happening at the bird feeders.
One of the popular attractions of Hillsdale State Park is the airfield set aside for remote-controlled model aircraft south of the dam.