Exploring Manhattan’s best outdoor spots

The Scenic Outlook along Pillsbury Drive is three miles south of Manhattan on K-177. Built in 1997, the outlook lets you see the Kansas River Valley. (Alex Shaw | Collegian Media Group)

Manhattan is home to many wonderful natural spaces only a short drive away. With a few short weeks left before classes begin, take advantage of everything the area has to offer by visiting these beautiful (and free) public areas.

Pillsbury Crossing

In high water, Pillsbury Crossing is home to the Deep Creek Waterfall, a 60-foot long ledge of limestone pouring water onto jagged stones. Currently, the water level is lower, and the falls have dried up, leaving the rocky river bottom free for exploration. On the opposite bank, the river opens up under the canopy of trees. This place is perfect for swimming, and one of the larger trees is home to a precarious rope swing over the deeper waters of the river. This is a very good place to look for frogs, especially with the water as low as it is, just listen for their calls and follow the sound.

Top of the World

No, it’s not really the top of the world, but it is a pretty nice hill for Kansas. There’s a lovely view of an idyllic midwestern landscape from all around and a few defined trails that you can explore. It’s a short venture, perfect for hanging out in the back of a car, enjoying ice cream and watching an amazing view of a sunset melt into the glow of the city after dark.

Pottawatomie State Lake 2

The name is a mouthful, so people call this place “Pott 2” for short. This lake is the result of a land donation of 247 acres of land in 1953 intended to become a recreational lake and park. Since then, the smaller lake has been a welcoming place for fisherman and campers enjoying the protected land. There are multiple inlets into the lake, perfect for fishing or skipping rocks, with numerous flat rocks present. Multiple fire rings for campers sit a ways up the shore from the lake, perfect for hosting a classic summer campfire. Since it’s not far from campus, you can enjoy all the fun parts of camping without actually sleeping on the ground.

Scenic Overlook

Coming into Manhattan from the Bill Snyder Highway, a few signs signify a small scenic overlook, a small road circling a structure visible from the highway. The views here are naturally the best at sunrise and sunset, with the sun-drenched Flint Hills rolling as far as the eye can see. But, there are even better views for the stargazers. Since the overlook is just far enough away from the light pollution in the cities and there aren’t trees to impede your view, heading out on a clear night offers the most incredible view of stars around. Bring a blanket and a playlist of chill music, and trace the constellations dotting the sky.

Konza Prairie

The Konza Prairie is a native tallgrass prairie reserve, part of an ongoing effort to restore the diverse grassland ecosystem across the state. The area is a biological research station, since it is home to many unique species of grasses and other wildlife. Because of this, most of the area is inaccessible to the public. However, plenty is visible from dawn to dusk on the Konza’s many nature trails through the grassland. Visiting the Konza Prairie in the summertime lets you see all the magnificent wildflowers dotting the landscape, a sight difficult to come by outside of preserves like this. This place serves as a beautiful reminder of the importance of preserving our environment for the future.

Tuttle Creek Park

Another spot for camping around Manhattan, Tuttle Creek Park centers around the second largest reservoir in Kansas, built by the Army Corps of Engineers for the purpose of flood control. If boating is your thing, this is the place to do it. Canoes and kayaks are welcome on the over 12,500 acres of water accessible through Tuttle Creek Park. There are also excellent bike trails here for the days you want a little more scenery during your ride. If you’re tired of the cramped confines and chlorinated water of swimming pools, try going for a swim here for a bit of added adventure.

Hi there! I’m Leah Zimmerli, community desk co-editor, relentless optimist, and lover of big and small dogs. I’m a junior in political science and journalism from Overland Park, Kansas. I hope to bring you pieces that challenge you, that broaden your mindset, and help you learn more about your K-State community.