HISTORIC LAKE SCOTT STATE PARK: Where History & Adventure Come Together
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
The oasis of Western Kansas. Historic Lake Scott State Park is a place where history, outdoor adventure, and tranquility work together, giving visitors an experience unlike any other.
To unsuspecting drivers heading south on Hwy 95, taking a slight swerve on a downhill, the road dips into Ladder Creek Canyon, and Historic Lake Scott Park is there to welcome them. More than once I’ve heard others describe Lake Scott as the oasis of Western Kansas. I couldn’t agree more.
Filled with natural springs, groves of trees, steep bluffs, and abundant with wildlife. It's a place where people for centuries have sought seclusion and peace. Today it's an idyllic lake escape, where you can disconnect from the outer world and recharge. A haven.
PUEBLO ON THE PRAIRIE: EL CUARTELEJO
As far back as the 1600s, the area has been a refuge. Documented by the fact a group of Taos Indians fleeing Spanish rule migrated to the region in 1664. Constructing pueblos and cultivating crops on the land - by developing a system of irrigation ditches from a nearby spring. They made their home at the base of the canyon for 20 years, before returning to their homes in the Southwest. The remains of the pueblo are the northernmost known in the United States.
El Cuartelejo or El Quartelejo? The Spanish spelling of the name uses the letter "C", as in Cuartelejo. The anglicized spelling is Quartelejo. From the pueblos came the name El Caurtelejo, meaning “old barracks" or "building.”
While the El Cuartelejo was briefly reoccupied in 1701 when a group of Picurie Indians settled, nature reclaimed the land over the next century and a half. Leaving a slight earth mound where the dwellings stood. Noticed by Herbert Steele in the mid-1890s, H.T. Martin and Prof. S.W. Williston from the University of Kansas were the original excavators of the site. They exposed what remained of the stone walls. Along with the seven-room pueblo, artifacts such as bone tools, ornaments, and pottery were recovered.
This site was designated as the El Cuartelejo Archeological District National Historic Landmark in 1964. Over the next decade, Kansas Historical Society archeologists carried out an extensive program of excavation, restoration, and interpretation of El Cuartelejo. More than 26 archeological sites have been documented in or near the park.
Today, following a short paved, ADA accessible sidewalk, visitors to the park can see the restoration work. There are additional signs interpreting the site around the remains, but those on natural grass terrain. For those wanting to learn more about the site, visit the El Quartelejo Museum in nearby Scott City.
More images of El Cuartelejo
HOMESTEADERS OF THE CANYON: THE STEELES
With the western expansion, pioneers moved across Kansas planting their roots and homesteads on the frontier. One such couple was Herbert and Eliza Steele. Settling in Scott County around 1890. Eliza purchased the land around present-day Lake Scott in 1893 for $225, roughly $6,948.70 in today's dollars.
SIDEBAR: That seems like a steal for the beauty surrounding them. But I cannot begin to imagine the hours of labor and the amount of resources it took to build their lives in this wilderness backcountry.
Nestled in a grove of trees, the limestone home, renovated from an original dugout in 1894, can still be seen at the park today. At times, the park opens the seven-room house museum to visitors. Brick paths, uneven in some spots due to the rugged terrain, lead away from the home. Also on the property is a stone springhouse to the north of the home. Be mindful of where you step. Watch for critters, snakes, and vegetation.
HIGH ON THE BLUFF: STEELE MEMORIAL
Kansas and guests to Historic Lake Scott State Park owe the Steeles a debt of gratitude. Thoughtful stewards of the land, they deeded El Cuartelejo to the Kansas Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, allowing for its preservation in 1922. In the late 1920s, the Steeles began selling their 640 acres of land to the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission (now Kansas Dept. Wildlife and Park). With the stipulation, they could continue to live on the land rent-free. Making their onetime farm now public for all to appreciate. Similar to how the McGuire family made it possible for Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park to be open to park-goers.
After Mr. Steele’s death, residents of the county quickly launched a campaign to honor the Steeles. High on a bluff overlooking the canyon and Steele home, on June 12, 1930, residents held a celebration of the new park and unveiled the Steele Monument.
Getting to the monument
It's a bit of a trek, at least it was for me. As the saying goes, "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line." In this case, the line is straight up. From the Steele home, you'll cross the paved road. The trailhead begins at the wooden stairs. Solid footwear is recommended. When you're 3/4 of the way up, the trail becomes less distinguishable. Some may want to climb up and over the rocky wall, but I opted to walk around to the south a bit and hike up the side. The view is worth it.
More images from the Steele Monument
Adventures around the Park
Listed by National Geographic as one of the country's 50 must-see state parks. Lake Scott State Park is a destination on the Western Visitas Scenic Byway. There are trail opportunities for hikers on foot, mountain bike riders, and those on horseback. Leashed dogs are welcomed on the trails. Trail Markers and park maps designate trail types.
In the sweltering summer heat, cool water of the lake beacons to park goers. The park is home to an adobe beach house with an accompanying swimming beach. Kayaks and paddleboats are available to be rented. Boats are allowed on the water for fishing, but no-wake speed is allowed.
An avid wildlife viewer or naturalist will find themselves in paradise. The park, and the 60 acres of wildlife area west of the lake, is flourishing with wild turkey, bobcats, beaver, white-tail, and mule deer are all common to observe. If you prefer to cast a fishing line, you might just reel in a sunfish, bass, and saugeye.
STATE PARK DETAILS
Location: 14 miles north of Scott City on U.S. 83, then 3 miles northwest on K-95.
Park Office Address: 101 West Scott Lake Drive Scott City, KS 67871
Phone Number: 620-872-2061
Days & Hours: The park is open year-round, 24/7 unless weather conditions require closure. There is a park office - call for more information and office hours.
Park Pass: A day vehicle permit ($5) or annual park passport ($25) per vehicle is required. Day permits can be found at the kiosk inside the park. Follow the directions and make sure your permit can be easily seen by park rangers, like on your dashboard, to prevent getting a ticket.
Camping, RVs & Cabins
Primitive Camping: Over 100 campsites in 10 different camping areas about the Lake.
RV Hookups: 51 sites with water & electricity hook-ups, 4 with full hook-ups.
Shelters & Showers: Three shelters, three showers with restrooms
Marina: No, stock up in Scott City.
Amenities: Playground, concessions, fish cleaning stations, boat ramps, docks & dump stations
Dogs Allowed: Yes, but dogs need to be leashed.
Horses Allowed: Lake Scott Park allows horses on designated trails.