Lake Escapes!

Photography by Jeremey THeron Kirby.

Looking for a Lake Escape that isn’t a day’s drive away? 

We’ve found a dozen spots to help you enjoy the great outdoors without having to fill a tank of gas. 

Imagine the smell of hot dogs cooking on the grill, the anticipation of s’mores around the campfire, and kids capturing fireflies in a grassy meadow or getting their feet wet in a cooling stream. These are a few memories you can make this season when you pack up your swimsuit and flip-flops, fill a cooler with your favorite snacks, dust off your tackle box, grab your fishing pole and invest in some short-distance travel time. 

To simplify your decision about where to start, we’ve curated a list of popular recreation spots that are easy to get to (about an hour or less away) and will have you communing with nature in no time.

Lake Jacomo 
Photography by Jeremey Theron Kirby.

Location: Blue Springs, Missouri

Distance: 20 miles, 25 minutes

Within the Blue Springs community and adjacent to Blue Springs Lake is the breathtaking nine hundred and seventy-acre Lake Jacomo, one of Jackson County’s premier recreational areas. Its name is an acronym for Jackson County, Missouri. The lake was a gift from President Harry Truman, who wanted to create a resort for the county’s citizens.

Jacomo is known for its colorful sailboat regattas, slow-moving pontoons and paddle boats. This lake is tranquil due to the limited horsepower regulation for boaters, making for a more peaceful, laid-back visit. Lake Jacomo’s marina is the largest in the area and provides concessions, lakeside gasoline, tackle, bait and dock fishing. For boater convenience, Jacomo has three easily accessed boat ramps.

Anglers will find the lake stocked with crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, carp, catfish, hybrid striped bass and walleye.

If you have energy to spare after a day of lake fun at Jacomo, check out Missouri Town’s Living History Museum, where you’ll experience old Missouri as it was on the eve of the civil war. Take a self-guided tour of more than twenty-five original buildings as old as the 1820s while living history interpreters in period attire tell you the story of what life was like then.

Blue Springs Lake
Photo provided by Blue Springs Lake.

Location: Blue Springs, Missouri

Distance: 17 Miles, 20 minutes

Blue Springs Lake is one of a series of beautiful Missouri reservoirs. It is situated on the eastern edge of Jackson County and covers seven hundred and twenty acres with its crystal clear waters and stunning natural scenery. Blue Springs Lake and Lake Jacomo are both in Fleming Park.

One of the most striking features of Blue Springs Lake is its bluish color due to its unique composition. The lake feeds from nearby natural springs that filter through limestone, creating a clear and stunning blue hue.

The lake has plenty of options for water sports. You’ll likely see jet skis, power boats, kayaks and canoes. Both motorized and non-motorized boats are permitted here. Anglers love the lake for its bass, catfish and crappie. There is a dedicated beach just for swimming, sunbathing and picnicking. 

In addition to its natural beauty and recreational opportunities, the lake is home to several campgrounds and intertwining hiking trails. It’s part of the extensive Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department.

Smithville Lake 

Location: Smithville, Missouri

Distance: 30 miles, 35 minutes

Twenty miles north of downtown Kansas City is the area’s largest public lake at Smithville. It is also one of the most popular local destinations for fishing, boating and camping. This lake covers more than 7,200 acres and one hundred seventy five miles of shoreline, with a maximum depth of sixty feet. Little Platte Park and Camp Branch are two parks adjoining the lake. Among the parks’ amenities are nicely maintained on-site campgrounds, two eighteen-hole golf courses, picnic and shelter areas, many miles of blacktop and dirt paths for hiking and biking, equestrian trails and two full-service marinas with boat rentals.

With various hungry fish, including bass, crappie and catfish, the lake is excellent for fishing. Smithville has two swimming beaches with crystal clear water for a refreshing swimming experience.

Nearby park attractions include Paradise Pointe Marina, Paradise Pointe Golf Complex and the historical sites Woodhenge and Akers Cemetery.

The Jerry L. Litton Visitor Center near the dam tells the area’s history and houses memorabilia about Missouri’s sixth district Congressman Litton, who died in a 1976 plane crash along with his entire family. The group was heading to a victory party on election night after Litton won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

Lake Shawnee

Location: Topeka, Kansas

Distance: 63 miles, 1 hour, 2 minutes

Lake Shawnee in Topeka, Kansas, is a popular outdoor recreation destination and a jewel in the crown of Kansas travel lakes. It attracts more than a million annual visitors, and it has been recognized twice by the tourism industry as one of the top travel destinations in Kansas. 

The Kansas Department of Wildlife regularly stocks the lake with prime fish. There are several fishing docks and piers around the lake for fun and easy ways to cast a line and reel in the big one.

The lake allows for a range of boats, from small electric motors to larger gas-powered watercraft, and there are plenty of ramps for simple launch and boat retrieval.

Lake Shawnee offers several hiking and biking trails for those who prefer to enjoy the area by land. The trails wind through the park and provide stunning views of the lake, the breathtaking tulips, beautiful rose and Japanese gardens, and the surrounding countryside.  

There are more than one hundred and twenty well-cared-for gravel campsites within proximity to the lake.

There is a good-sized swimming area monitored by lifeguards during the summer and several well-maintained picnic areas with grills and playgrounds for climbing located throughout the park, making the slightly longer distance worth it. 

City Lake

Location: Pleasant Hill, Missouri

Distance: 30 miles, 30 minutes

City Lake may be on the small side, but it has a mighty big heart and a lot to offer in the way of beautiful scenery, a peaceful atmosphere and abundant recreational activities.

City Lake covers around fifty acres with a maximum depth of twenty-five feet. It is home to several fish species, including bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill, making it a popular spot for a quiet afternoon of fishing. The lake has a small marina with watercraft rentals, several fishing piers and a boat ramp to make it easy for visitors to access the water for a quick fishing expedition. The lake is a no-wake zone for a serene fishing experience.

For those who prefer to stay on land, City Lake is the perfect setting for hikers and bikers. The lake’s rural location is excellent for birdwatching and wildlife viewing, and you’ll regularly see deer, raccoons, turkeys and geese.

There are four single-path undulating dirt paths to explore the shoreline and forest, and they are usually within eyesight of each other, hugging the shoreline and weaving in and out of the woods. The paths provide a tranquil setting where you may be the only person on the trail as far as the eye can see. Looping the entire lake is three and a half miles of trail paths.

While there is no swimming or wading at City Lake, there are several picnic areas, shelters and many areas for kids to play around the lake, making it a delightful spot for families with children. For adult playtime, there is a lakeshore disc golf course for fast-paced golf fun with a view. 

Clinton Lake
Photography by Shawn Brackbill

Location: Lawrence, Kansas

Distance: 51 miles, 51 minutes

Located just a short drive west on I-70, Clinton Lake draws outdoor enthusiasts from a wide range of disciplines. Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice swimmer, Clinton Lake has something for everyone. It is an ideal destination for a quick getaway to commune with nature or for families looking to spend a long weekend of quality time together. 

Visitors enjoy stunning landscapes while hiking or biking the many trails around the lake. You can rent a boat or a kayak from one of several rental facilities around the lake, which is also home to numerous campgrounds, several cabins for rent and picnic areas. You’ll want to take in every detail of the wildlife and pristine air because these are scenes you won’t experience in the city. The lake is family friendly, featuring several playgrounds, a swimming beach and wide-open spaces where children can play and safely explore. Clinton Lake is home to several species of wildlife, including deer, foxes and birds, making it an excellent place for children to learn about nature.

Wyandotte County Lake & Park

Location: Kansas City, Kansas

Distance: 21 miles, 24 minutes

One of Kansas City, Kansas’ most surprising hidden treasures is Wyandotte County Lake and Park. This pristine destination encompasses one thousand five hundred acres of wooded areas, rolling hills and a four hundred-acre lake with a marina.

Even if you don’t get out of your car, it’s a great place to take in the beauty of nature during your scenic drive around the larger lake. Getting out of your vehicle allows you and your family a better way to enjoy the pet-friendly environment featuring a kids’ fishing pond, a large playground for lakeside play, boat rentals, concessions, a bridle trail, a decent-sized off-leash dog area, an archery range, well-kept picnic shelters and a single-track trail for biking and hiking.

The lake is regularly stocked, so depending on the time of year and weather conditions, anglers can usually score bass, catfish, bluegill or walleye. The University of Kansas rowing team has a partnership with the lake, and if you get there at the right time, you may witness one of many rowing competitions that happen throughout the year.

The lake comes alive with a Christmas in July celebration, bringing food vendors, a bevy of boats decorated for Christmas, a fishing derby, a boat parade and fireworks. This year the event will happen on July 22.

The Korean War Memorial at the entrance to the park is also an excellent spot for scenic views.

Hillsdale Lake
Photo provided by Kansas Tourism

Location: Paola, Kansas

Distance: 30 miles, 30 minutes

One of the newest local reservoirs, Hillsdale Lake covers more than twelve thousand acres of park and wildlife areas, forty-five hundred acres of lake and fifty-one miles of shoreline. It has become known for its breathtaking views in every direction and dense wildlife population.

For land explorers, Hillsdale offers miles of scenic trails, with two unique intertwining trails that wind their way through the natural prairie. There are many shady, covered picnic areas and a broad, well-cared-for beach. The new eighteen-hole disc golf course is a popular activity and provides two tee boxes. 

Brush up on your fishing skills at this well-stocked lake where you can catch bass, catfish, walleye or crappie. Much of the standing timber was left in place, making it an ideal habitat for a growing fish population.

There are two hundred and forty-two provisional campsites for both RVs and camping sites. You’ll have no trouble finding a spot that offers excellent lake views and good access to facilities.

Watkins Mill Lake 

Location: Lawson, Missouri

Distance: 32 miles, 40 minutes

Watkins Mill State Park features a one hundred-acre lake surrounded by one thousand acres of picture-perfect gardens, trails and landscapes.

Anglers can expect to catch crappie, catfish, bass and bluegill, among other species. The lake is stocked regularly with fish by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Visitors are welcome to bring their boats or rent from the on-site marina. There are no horsepower restrictions on the lake, so boaters can enjoy waterskiing, tubing or slow cruising. There are several boat ramps and docks, making launching and landing boats a breeze.

Watkins Mill Lake has several hiking trails ranging in difficulty and length. One popular path is the paved 3.75-mile bike trail that circles the lake, providing stunning views of the water and surrounding landscape. This trail is perfect for walkers, runners and cyclists.

Campers will find several campgrounds within the park that range from primitive tent spots to campsites for RVs with full electric hookups. All campers have access to showers, restrooms and picnic areas.

In addition to its recreational opportunities, Watkins Mill Lake is a great place to learn about Missouri’s history. The Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site is adjacent to the lake and offers tours of the historic woolen mill, built in the mid-1800s. Visitors can learn about the history of the mill and tour original facilities.

Longview Lake 

Location: Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Distance: 17 Miles, 24 minutes

There are plenty of fun things to do at this local favorite. Surrounded by lush forests and sprawling meadows, Longview Lake is a picturesque nine hundred and thirty-acre lake covering sixteen miles of shoreline. The lake’s close proximity and many amenities make it a great day trip.

The lake is fed by The Little Blue River and is home to various fish species. Several fishing tournaments are held here throughout the year, including the famous Big Bass Bash, attracting anglers from all over the Midwest.

There is a designated swimming beach, and boats are available to rent at the marina, which also boasts slips for watercraft, making it easy to launch and dock your own boat.

Longview Lake has miles of trails and nature areas to explore by foot or bike. A six-and-a-half-mile, mostly gravel path along the shoreline is a great way to experience the lake’s natural beauty and wildlife.

Along with the lake, there are baseball fields, sand volleyball courts and an eighteen-hole golf course. Completely renovated in 2009, the challenging course features concrete cart paths from tee to green. Don’t have time for eighteen holes? There’s also a nine-hole course.

There are several campgrounds, including RV and tent options. Several picnic areas and shelters are also available for rent.

The lake is host to several special events, including Sand Cinema, which plays first-run family-friendly movies on a giant inflatable screen, along with children’s games and a concession stand.

Perry Lake 
Photo provided by Kansas Tourism

Location: Perryville, Missouri

Distance: 40 miles, 1 hour, 5 minutes

Nestled in the forested hills of Northeast Kansas and just northwest of Lawrence is the 12,500-acre Perry Lake and State Park. Its proximity to the city has made Perry a popular destination for Kansas Citians, who often call it “Paradise on the Plains.”

Perry Lake is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-operated reservoir with one hundred and sixty miles of shoreline. Whether anglers fish from the expansive shoreline or a boat, they’ll find a lake stocked with crappie, walleye, bass and catfish. 

Adjoining the lake is Perry State Park, which offers upland, intertwining trails renowned for rugged terrain. These trails are designed specifically for horses, although hikers are also welcome.

Perry Lake provides a variety of cabins and campgrounds suitable for both tent campers and recreational vehicles. Campers and visitors enjoy spectacular views of the lake and can launch their boats at one of two marinas offering a full assortment of marine services. If sailing is your boat experience, set sail with your catamaran from the Hobie Cove campground. The Perry Wildlife area offers extensive wetlands that attract waterfowl each fall. The wildlife area is perfect for bird watching, hunting and exploring the prairie’s natural landscape.  

Pomona Lake
Photo provided by Kansas Tourism

Location: Pomona, Kansas

Distance: 60 miles, 60 minutes

Constructed in the 1960s with the primary purpose of flood control on the Marais des Cygnes River, Pomona Lake has become one of the most popular recreational areas for locals and traveling tourists.

The Pomona Reservoir is a four thousand-acre crystal-clear lake perfect for boating, fishing and water sports. It adjoins Pomona State Park, where you’ll find an abundance of wildlife and scenic beauty.

It is also an excellent spot to catch more than a dozen fish species. There are several fishing docks and boat ramps around the lake for boaters’ convenience. The park is home to several trails and campgrounds, the latter which offer a range of amenities including electricity, water and fire pits. If you’re into a more rugged experience, there are more primitive campsites, too. The eleven-mile scenic Pomona Lake Trail is the most popular, rated moderate in difficulty. It is open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders and offers stunning views of the lake and the majestic landscape. 

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