Tucked away in a wooded valley about twenty minutes west of downtown Kansas City are one hundred and fifty-three acres of secluded wildland ready to be explored.
Known as the Hollis Renewal Center, the private Lutheran camp in Kansas City, Kansas, has five miles of hiking trails free to the public—no need to be an overnight guest or part of a retreat to experience this unique outdoor landscape.
“Our personal philosophy is we are not complete until the next guest comes,” says executive director Dave Mareske, who adds that the trails are accessible to every age and ability. Each visitor brings valuable qualities and experiences, adding to the friendly atmosphere of the camp, he says.
Seven trails of varying lengths and difficulty weave their way through the camp acreage, criss-crossing the East Mission Creek that runs north to south. The trails total five miles altogether.
The longest, the Sycamore Trail, is a one-and-a-half-mile, moderate to difficult trek dotted with several bridges that will take about forty-five minutes to complete. The moderate Cedar Trail is slightly shorter, at one mile long and about thirty-five minutes in duration. For an easy to moderate hike, The Hickory Trail is about three-quarters of a mile long, takes about twenty-five minutes and has several benches along the way. Also three-quarters of a mile in length is the moderate but steep Redbud Trail, which has secluded areas set aside for peaceful mediation. Then there is the easy to moderate Walnut Trail, a half-mile trek that takes about twenty-five minutes. Lastly, there are two very easy, meandering trails: the half-mile Oak Trail that leads to an outdoor chapel and the quarter-mile Meadow Trail.
The Hollis Renewal center was founded by Lutherans in 1988 to promote spiritual reflection through nature. The sporadic placement of trail benches, meditation spots and a prayer labyrinth meant to be a sacred, still place for introspection is in concert with the center’s goal. Every trail winds through the woodland oasis, offering a chance to commune with nature. Animals can be heard quietly rustling through leaves while bluebirds sing in the canopy of trees above. As you make your way through the trails, expect to see lush natural greenery and an array of wild animals. The valley is home to a few hawk families and woodpeckers as well as deer and turkeys. If you’re lucky, you might even see a fox slinking through the woods.
According to Mareske, there is no bad time to visit. Each season offers something unique. The trails are generally well-marked and easy to find, but there are also map boards and online guides to help hikers along their journey. The trails are perfect for long walks or quick runs. Although the dirt path makes it difficult to push a stroller, small children are able to walk alongside family members.
Mareske does warn against riding bikes through the terrain unless you are a skilled rider. The dirt paths have some steeper parts, so trying to take a bike through certain areas could prove difficult. Motorized bikes are not allowed to protect the trail and its quiet atmosphere. Dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed, and owners are responsible for their animals.
Hollis Renewal Center is a unique nature experience in Kansas City, suitable for any hiker. The public is welcome and admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Hikers are asked to check in at the Welcome Center first.