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Don't go chasing waterfalls in winter (with one exception)

Lu Anne Stephens

If you stick to a lake and a trail, you might stumble upon a picturesque setting.

It may come as a surprise to some, but Kansas has waterfalls.

Several, actually.

The best time to visit most of them is after the spring rains. But there's one that's worth braving the freezing winter weather for. It's at the Chase State Fishing Lake in the Flint Hills, about 75 miles northeast of Wichita.

I visited on a chilly February day. Brent Conan, a public land manager for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, was my guide.

"It's a pretty little lake, kind of nestled down here in the Flint Hills," Conan said.

Lu Anne Stephens

The lake is fairly small and the surrounding land is less than 400 acres. It's used mostly for fishing, hunting and some primitive camping.

Even this time of year, it's a lovely setting, surrounded by the hills with their many shades of brown and gold.

There are a few rough trails, and you can climb the short, steep hills for an amazing view. But we're not doing any of that. Instead, we're taking the short hike to the waterfall.

Conan said the public can park along the edge of the road. From there, it's an easy walk — about a third of a mile — across the dam.

The waterfall, like many in Kansas, is created by a spillway that keeps the lake from flooding after heavy rains. As we cross the dam you can see most of the icy lake, low from the recent drought.

Once across, we turn left and down into the trees.

"You're kind of walking across the Kansas prairie and then you kind of drop down into what kind of reminds me of the Missouri Ozarks," Conan said. "Just kind of a little wooded ravine with lots of rocky outcrops and water.

"Just kind of a neat change just in a blink of an eye."

We head through the woods, down the hill next to the creek bed. There are steps cut into the bank, which I navigate slowly with an extreme amount of caution.

We maneuver carefully to the center of the tiny creek. When I turn around, I see the icicles.

The rocky ledges that form the framework of the waterfall in the spring are now covered in icicles, sparkling in the sun. Water trickles here and there, dripping into pools — bright green with algae and moss. It's magical.

The small creek and the waterfall are fed by some smaller springs — in addition to the spillway — so it has some water all year.

"When I took the job here," Conan said, "there was a game warden that was working in the community at the time, and he'd been here for a long time.

Lu Anne Stephens

"He said, 'Have you been down to see the waterfall yet?' And I said, 'What waterfall?' I had no idea it was here, too.

"So it was just another one of those little side benefit bonuses to the job that you get to kind of help care and see the future of neat little unique spots like this. It's kind of special."

If you want to see the waterfall in its full glory, the best time to come is in the spring. In June, the wildflowers cover the hills, and in the fall, the trees and grass are gold and rust. Most people visit then.

But if you are willing to brave a bit of winter chill, you can see an amazing winter scene, hidden in the woods and only around until the spring thaw. It's worth the trip.

Lu Anne Stephens is KMUW's Director of Content and Assistant General Manager. She has held many positions over many years at KMUW. Lu Anne also produces KMUW’s New Settler's Radio Hour and the Hidden Kansas segment for KMUW’s weekly news program The Range.