Sand Hills State Park was created in 1974 through a series of land acquisitions carried out by the Kansas Park and Resources Authority. Between two purchases and a donation of land from the Dillon family of Hutchinson, a park was crafted to preserve and showcase a unique ecosystem called sand prairie.
For many years the park was minimally developed, but more recently work has been done to create a place for visitors to stay. Camping is now available, and plans are being made to add cabins to the list of park offerings.
- Take Kansas Highway 61 northward out of Hutchinson.
- Exit onto East 56th Avenue and drive east for about a mile.
- Watch for the campground to your right, or use one of the two parking lots on your left.
Sand Hills State Park is the only Kansas state park located in the Arkansas River Lowlands region. Much of the land is covered with relatively sparse stands of big sandreed, sand bluestem, little bluestem, and switchgrass. Low-lying marshy areas allow the growth of rushes and woody shrubs, most notably sand plums. A few strips of woodlands cross the park.
This park is a good choice for viewing wildlife. Ducks and geese are attracted to the ponds on the east side of the park, as are frogs. Lizards are present throughout the summer. Mammals range from deer to muskrats to pocket gophers.
For those who like to contemplate geological phenomena, take a look at the sand dunes (no climbing allowed). The dunes were probably created by wind blowing sand out of the Arkansas River valley. Some of these sculptures reached the height of 40 feet! Now, however, the dunes are relatively stable thanks to the roots of sand prairie plants.
Hunting opportunities are limited at this park and are allowed only with a special permit. Your choices are upland bird hunting or archery deer and turkey hunting.
A fishing pond has been created at the new campground south of the main park area. Channel catfish are the main attraction.
- Cottonwood Trail: For a half-mile interpretive walk through the woods and maybe a little birdwatching, try this trail. Pick up a brochure at the trailhead at the northwest parking lot.
- Dune Trail: Since off-trail dune climbing is not allowed, this mile-long hiking trail is the best way to get an up-close look at the dunes. Stand on top of a 40-foot dune and take a look around. The trailhead is at the southwest parking lot.
- Bluestem Spur Trail: An alternative route on the Rolling Hills Trail, this trail is about 1-1/4 miles long. You will get a good idea of what sand prairie looks like, but the trail is tough. Hiking and horseback riding allowed. Biking is also allowed, but is not likely to be enjoyable because of the loose sand.
- Pond Trail: The best wildlife-viewing opportunity at the park, this trail starts at the northeast parking lot and loops around several ponds. Take advantage of the observation blinds to spot waterfowl and other animals. The trail is 1-1/2 miles long and is available for hiking and horseback riding. Biking is also allowed, but is very difficult because of the sand.
- Prairie Trail: This trail is just under two miles long and is for hikers only. You will see a mix of the habitats that the park has to offer on this moderately difficult trail. The path is a loop that connects the Dune Trail with the Cottonwood Trail.
- Woodland Trail: The easternmost trail in the park, this one is about 2-1/4 miles long. Watch for birds in the trees. Hiking and horseback riding allowed. Biking is also allowed, but is difficult.
- Tallgrass Trail: Starting where 56th Avenue ends, this trail loops across a prairie setting for 2-1/4 miles. Hiking and horseback riding allowed. Biking is also allowed, but is difficult.
- Rolling Hills Trail: A long loop across the middle of the park, this trail offers varied views of woodlands, sand prairie, and sand dunes. The route is over 3-3/4 miles long and is not for the faint of heart. The trailhead is located at the southwest parking lot. Hiking and horseback riding allowed. Biking is also allowed, but is far too grueling to be enjoyable for most bikers.
Scheduled events are sometimes held at this park. Some focus on healthy fun, while others are competitive trail rides, designed to test the manners and endurance of horse and rider.