Want to #ChooseYourOwnAdventure with a VanLifeKC Camper or trailer but you aren’t sure where to go? We can help! This is the first of a series of blog posts about camping for in and around Kansas City for residents and visitors. 
This was from an an incredible family trip to Mark Twain National Forest in Colorado where we were off grid for about a week. This will be featured in the longer trip post that we will write up later.
This is out in Western KS and will also be featured in an upcoming post. We were driving “Orange You Glad” and just happened to meet up with our renters who had “Vanadium” at Monument Rock!

We rent camper vans and trailers for people who want to camp in Kansas City and beyond and one of the most frequent questions we get is “Where can you go camping around here?” Oh wow, do we love that question!

We have a lot of renters, friends, and family who ask us about camping in and around the KC area for when they want to take our campers out for a spin, so we thought that we would go ahead and write up some of our favorite spots that we have been to as well as those that are on our radar to hit in the near future. We will continue to add to this as we discover more amazing places in the near future.

Protip: You know what we do every time before we head out camping? Get a dozen tacos from one of our favorite places on the KCK Taco Trail! We just finished with the whole trail and will have another blog soon sharing our favorite tacos and lessons learned from eating tacos at over 50 places in KCK! Big thanks to Visit Kansas City, KS for cross-posting this blog on their website.

This blog series will be organized into three parts:

< 2 hours away and good for a single night - long weekend camping trips with Kansas City as your base of operations (THIS post),

< 5 hours away for longer trips (Part II),

and longer but common trips for people in the KC metro to make (Part III).

~2 hours or less away from KC:

Unbeknownst to many in the area, there are a great deal of primo camping spots less than 2 hours away from the KC metro on both the Kansas and Missouri Side:

Camping Spots in increasing order of travel time from the KC metro:

Blue Springs Lake Campground, Lake Jacomo Campground, & Longview Lake Campground (~25-30 min from downtown)

These three campsites in Jackson county are a short jaunt to get your camp on. We haven’t camped at any of these yet, but have enjoyed day trips to get away from it all with friends and family. The nightly rate is a bit on the high side compared to state parks and other options, but if you want a super short drive, start here. The websites don’t offer a lot of information so we will update after we have some more intel. 

Smithville Lake (~40 min from downtown)

Smithville is one of our favorite places to camp around Kansas City. We may be partial to it because we stayed here for the 2017 eclipse and had an amazing time but the swimming beaches (open May 1st through September 15th) are really enjoyable so I know it isn’t just nostalgia.

“Smithville Lake is a 7,200 acre lake and has more than 175 miles of shoreline. The lake includes: 2 swim beaches, 777 campsites, reservable shelters, 2 full service marinas including boat rentals, 1 sailboat only marina, 2 public 18-hole golf courses within the Paradise Pointe Golf Complex, 4 disc golf courses, great fishing whether from shore or by boat, 25 miles of walking/biking trails, 11 miles of single-track mountain biking trails, 26 miles of equestrian trails, home to Kansas City Trapshooters Association, public hunting that includes managed goose hunts as well as youth and ADA white-tail deer and wild turkey hunts, and an aggressive 2,300 acre native grassland revitalization project.”

Wallace State Park, MO (~40 min from downtown)

Wallace is one of the most beautiful fall camping experiences that we have experienced as a family. It has a great lake, beautiful hiking trails and some nice camping sites that are well-sized and the bathrooms are the nicest I have used in a state park.

“Wallace State Park is an island of serenity. Visitors can fish in the park’s 6-acre lake or hike one of four scenic trails with benches along the way for relaxing. Picnic sites that are shaded by trees are scattered throughout and the family-oriented campground includes modern restrooms and hot showers.”

They have reservations from April 15-Oct. 31 but you can camp year round.

We took our Element Micro-camper and Astrid the trailer out to Wallace with friends and loved our time there.

This was my favorite view from the trip. I would just look up and felt sooooooo relaxed.

Watkins Mill State Park (~40 min from downtown)

Watkins just feels like you are in the wilderness despite its proximity to the metro. Lots of hiking and fishing to be had around the 100 acre lake. It is also right by the Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site which is like travelling backwards in time to another century or two.  

“A 100-acre lake with a paved bicycle path around it, plentiful fishing, a picturesque campground and a choice picnic spot make Watkins Mill State Park an ideal place for an afternoon or longer. Located near the Kansas City area, the park has ample fishing opportunities and an abundance of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys to watch. The park is adjacent to Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site, a National Historic Landmark.”

They have reservations from April 1-Oct. 31 but you can camp year round.

Clinton State Park, KS (~45 min from downtown)

Clinton lake is a wonderful state park just outside of Lawrence and not too far from KC or Topeka. It makes a great weekend (or longer) camping trip from KC and has lots to do in and around.

Clinton Lake boasts: “25 mile hike/bike trail, 5 mile cross country ski trail, archery range, 18-hole disc golf course, swim beach, sand volleyball court, mountain bike skills course, 3-acre trout pond, 1-acre children’s fishing pond, fish cleaning station and 2 fish feeder.

A reservation is not necessary unless you prefer a specific site and it's one that can be reserved. Reservations for stays between October and March can only be made by contacting the Park Office 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon - Friday 785.842.8562”

Weston Bend State Park, MO (~45 min from downtown)

Weston is a wonderful state park and has some nice camping spots that are basic, electric, and they also have some fun family sites that have two camping pads. The hiking and biking trails are really nice and the lookout is just beautiful all 4 seasons.

Fall of 2020 from the Weston Park lookout.

They have reservations from April 15-Oct. 31 but you can camp year round.

In fact, my favorite camping here is in the winter where we use the site as our base of operations for doing some snowboarding and skiing at Snow Creek in Weston. Weston is a delightfully charming town with some incredible food, drinks, and shopping.

“Winter camping????” You may be asking. Oh yeah! We have three vehicles that are set up to camp and be comfy in all the seasons! Check out more at vanlifekc.com

This is from the lift at Snow Creek!

“Weston Bend State Park offers secluded picnic sites, a campground and sweeping views of the Missouri River from trails and a scenic overlook accessible to persons with disabilities. A 3-mile paved bicycle trail takes hikers and bikers through the park's woody terrain.”

Lewis & Clark State Park, MO (~50 min from Downtown)

We haven’t made it here yet, but just you wait… We are coming for you Lewis and Clark!

“The Lewis and Clark Expedition headed west in 1804 and encountered a lake that William Clark described as “full of Geese & Goslings.” Today, that lake is Lewis and Clark Lake, which is bordered by Lewis and Clark State Park. The park’s broad open spaces make it a favorite for families who take advantage of the scenic picnic areas and playground. Bird watchers come to Lewis and Clark to watch geese, great blue herons, eagles, swans and snowy egrets flock to the oxbow lake throughout the seasons.”

They have reservations from April 15-Oct. 31 but you can camp year round.

Perry State Park, KS (~60 min from downtown)

Perry state park is just northeast of Topeka and this is next on my list to go play some disc golf and camp.

“Extensively forested rolling hills offer shaded camping at Perry Lake. 25 miles of horse trails and 20 miles of biking/hiking trails wind through the upland forest providing visitors a great outdoor experience. Lake Perry also offers excellent channel catfish fishing on 11,000 acres of Perry Reservoir with 160 miles of shoreline.

Hike along the lakeshore and through the woods. The nearly 11,000-acre wildlife area includes about 1,000 acres of marshes, making it a great place to watch and hunt waterfowl. Quail are usually abundant. The reservoir is known for its excellent crappie and channel catfishing. Whether you’re just camping or want to use the area as a base for fishing, hiking, hunting, or other activities, Perry offers a scenic location in the wooded region of northeast Kansas.”

Hillsdale State Park, KS (~60 min from downtown)

The Reservoir is popular for campers in the area and that is for a good reason. It has lots of camping sites and activities to choose from. 

“Hillsdale offers outdoor recreational opportunities to campers, anglers, boaters, hunters, swimmers, horseback riders, model airplane flyers, hikers, naturalists, picnickers, photographers, sightseers and those just out to enjoy our natural environment. Approximately 4,500 acres of water and 51 miles of shoreline are open to fishing. Roughly 7,000 acres are open to hunting at Hillsdale within the wildlife area and state park.

Common wildlife includes whitetail deer, bobwhite quail, squirrel, rabbit, beaver, muskrat, and a variety of waterfowl. Birdwatchers will see bald eagles, shorebirds, finches, warblers, sparrows, and hawks.

The Saddle Ridge equestrian area on the east side of the reservoir has about 32 miles of marked trails available to horseback riders.”

Knob Noster State Park, MO (~70 min from Downtown)

I’m not going to lie… I giggle every time I say Knob Noster… its just so weird to say. That being said, we have been out in the area before visiting the military base but not the park yet. Don’t worry… we will make it soon and let you know how we liked it. 

They have reservations from April 1-Oct. 31 but you can camp year round.

“Knob Noster State Park is a tranquil retreat of open oak woodland with a few patches of prairie along both sides of the meandering Clearfork Creek. It’s a place for fishermen to wet a line, for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders to get some trail time, and for families to spend quality time together. The park also features an oxbow slough, which has been officially designated as Pin Oak Slough Natural Area.”

Pomona State Park (~75 min from downtown)

“Pomona State Park is known for its rural atmosphere, shady campsites and a great family atmosphere. The 490 acre park is developed for a wide range of outdoor pursuits. Recreational opportunities include camping, 142 utility and 200 non-utility campsites, cabins, picnicking, swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, disc golf, playgrounds, basketball, volleyball, horseshoe pits and many annual special events and activities. A pleasant mixture of plant life is found in prairie grassland, woodland, and lakeside environments, offering enthusiasts the opportunity to view a large variety of wildlife.

This 490-acre park on the shore of 4,000-acre Pomona Reservoir features scenic beauty as well as an abundance of wildlife. Well-known by northeast Kansas residents for shady campsites and a great family atmosphere, Pomona State Park is in a transition zone from prairie to eastern woodlands and also offers great wildlife viewing. The park is nestled in an area with historical connections to the Santa Fe Trail, as well as easy access to several metropolitan areas.

The lake is popular with water skiers and anglers. Visitors can expect good crappie, catfish, white bass, and wiper fishing.”

Eisenhower State Park, KS (~90 min from downtown)

We haven’t made it here yet, but it is high on our list for a weekend jaunt. If you want a nice leisurely trip to Wichita, Eisenhower is about halfway between there and KC for some nice camping on the way there and back.

“Eisenhower State Park has 1,785 acres. It features 1,000 acres of tall-grass prairie, 440 acres of woodland and a complete range of recreational facilities in addition to the 6,930 acres of Melvern Lake.

There is a playground, swim beach, horseshoe pits, basketball court,18-hole frisbee disk golf course, kayak/canoe and boat slip rentals, hiking, biking, & equestrian trails, 2 9-lane boat ramps, day use picnicking/shelters and a Ike's shelter house for your family gatherings. Wi-Fi is available in the office parking lot. Visit our interpretive room in the park office to see live snakes, fish, turtles and much more.

Eisenhower is also home to a burgeoning trails system for horseback riding, biking, hiking and archery. Crooked Knee Horse Trail offers equestrians a 20-mile excursion through the undeveloped west side of the park. Biking and hiking is available on the horse trail. The bike trail and 19 target walk through archery trail head is located in the Five-Star campground.

Wildlife include white-tailed deer, eastern wild turkey, bobwhite quail, squirrels, furbearers, and waterfowl. Anglers seek walleye, crappie, sauger, white bass, and channel catfish. Two nine-lane boat ramps offer excellent access to Melvern Lake.

A reservation is not necessary unless you prefer a specific site and it's one that can be reserved. Reservations for stays between October and March can only be made by contacting the Park Office 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday 785.528.4102.

Big Lake State Park, MO (~90 min from Downtown)

As of the original posting of this blog, Big Lake is closed due to flooding damage. When we become aware of a change we will go visit and update the blog.

Bonus: If this list didn’t give you enough ideas, then check out more to explore below:

Scenic Byways
Hipcamp Kansas City Sites (Searchable) - For example, there are some good spots near the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. (Double Bonus: Here is $10 off your first HipCamp Booking: hipcamp.com/i/pezmart)
KS State Parks 
MO State Parks
MO State Parks in the KC Metro Area