The area of Scott State Park has a particularly rich heritage. It was once the home of the Apache tribe, but various Pueblo Indians fled to its remote expanses to escape the tyranny of the Spaniards of New Mexico. Later it became the home of French troops contesting the right of Spain to the Great Plains.
The departure of the French in the 1760s marked the beginning of a relatively inactive period of history. Plains tribes roamed over what is now a state park, but otherwise the landscape was quiet for over a hundred years.
But things changed again with the arrival of the Steele family in 1888. These pioneers took advantage of the natural springs and the irrigation ditches left many years before by the Pueblos to start a thriving garden. But their interests were not strictly agricultural and commercial. The Steele family, evidently fascinated by the archaeological significance and natural beauty of the area, eventually dreamed of sharing their home with others.
In 1928, the Steele family donated their homestead to the Kansas Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission. A dam was constructed the next year to create a recreational lake, and in 1930 a monument was erected to honor the homesteaders.
Unfortunately, after a little initial excavating, the archaeological remains left by the Pueblos were allowed to crumble for several decades. Interest revived when the ruins of their adobe structure were listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1964. Restoration began several years later.
This unique and historically important park has received due recognition in more recent years. It was an 8 Wonders of Kansas finalist, and was also chosen by National Geographic as one of America’s “50 must-see state parks.”
- Take U.S. Highway 83 north out of Scott City (about 9 3/4 miles from the intersection with Kansas Highway 96).
- Turn left onto Kansas Highway 95 and continue for 3 miles.
- Turn left onto West Scott Lake Drive to enter the park (watch for the signs).
Scott State Park showcases the dry prairie scenery of the High Plains. But yucca and shortgrass species are not all that you will see—natural springs and streams provide just enough water for woodlands. As a result, the flora is surprisingly diverse. Be sure to take some time to enjoy the wildflowers.
An impressive diversity of wildlife calls Scott State Park home. Mammals include everything from ground squirrels to beavers to swift foxes to pronghorn antelope. Also stop and see the buffalo pasture on the east side of the park. Birdwatchers will enjoy the challenge of spotting yellow-breasted chats near the trails, rock wrens along canyon walls, and black-billed magpies in a variety of locations within the park. But don’t overlook the smaller forms of animal life, either—the incredible wildflower display attracts an equally interesting mix of butterflies. And that’s not all. Big Springs, not far from the park entrance, is the one and only habitat in the world where the endangered Scott riffle beetle has been found. This little beetle lives underwater, carrying its own oxygen supply in the form of an air bubble.
Rockhounds and photographers alike will love the geological features of Scott State Park. Take some time to enjoy the scenic bluffs. Also take a look at the natural springs, all fed by the Ogallala Aquifer.
Hunting is restricted to the wildlife area west of the main park area. This is a relatively small space, but you still have a fair chance at shooting waterfowl, turkey, or deer.
The most abundant species of fish in the lake are bluegill and sunfish. However, fishing for channel catfish is usually productive, and with luck you might reel in a crappie, walleye, or largemouth bass. For something different, try trout fishing in Big Springs in the winter.
- Big Springs Nature Trail: This quarter-mile walking path circles one of the largest natural springs in Kansas. Big Springs has a flow rate well over 300 gallons per minute and attracts some unique wildlife, including the Scott riffle beetle and a variety of birds. Hiking only.
- Multi-Use Trail: A seven-mile trail takes visitors all around the lake. Enjoy breathtaking vistas and fresh air. Short on time? Stick to the west side of the lake—you’ll find better views and less poison ivy. Available for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Families with children who love the great outdoors but have limited opportunities to enjoy nature may appreciate the events occasionally organized at this park. The focus is on hunting, but presentations of live snakes are usually provided, as well.
If history is your interest, you might enjoy looking at the restored foundation of El Cuartelejo, the home of the Pueblo Indians who attempted to escape Spanish rule by taking refuge in Kansas. This structure was made of adobe and had seven rooms. Archaeological evidence suggests that the majority of the pueblo may have been destroyed by fire.
The sandstone house built by the Steele family 1909 is also located in the park. Although mostly unaltered, it has been converted into a museum to introduce visitors to the daily life of early 1900s homesteaders. Tools and furniture are on display. Nearby is a monument to the Steele family.
El Cuartelejo: A Place of Refuge
More on the history of this unique landmark.
Scott Optioservus Riffle Beetle
More about this rare insect.