5 to Try: Post readers pick the best trails in Johnson County 🥾

Johnson County offers a ton of hiking opportunities for the amateur and adventurous. Above, one of the many trailheads of the Gary L. Haller National Recreation Trail. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

Welcome back, readers, to our ever-popular 5 to Try series! This week, let’s step off the beaten path (pun intended) and look at some of the best trails you recommended for hiking around Johnson County.

Before we dive in, let’s take a pause and talk about ethical trail usage. As the weather warms up and this part of the Midwest goes through a freeze-thaw period heading into spring, the soft-surface trails will become muddy. That means some trails will be closed so they don’t get damaged by trekkers.

Look for trail closure signs like these. Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

With the (arguably) unseasonably warm weather we’ve had this week following the snowstorm the week before, we strongly encourage you to check trail conditions before treading forward. While hiking is delightful, we want to discourage folks from damaging the hard work of volunteers at Urban Trail Company who diligently create and maintain the sprawling network of dirt and semi-dirt trails throughout our community.

To find out if a trail is open, follow these tips:

  • Watch for formal signage at park entrances and trail access points
  • Check for temporary closures at JCPRD.com
  • Access current information on the smartphone app RainoutLine (same data as JCPRD site)
  • Follow Urban Trail Co on Twitter, @KcTrailsStatus

While we have you here, check out this feature we posted a while back on one of these (literal) trailblazers who helped forge a new trail in Cedar Niles Park in Olathe. P.S. That trail and others inside Cedar Niles Park earn an honorable mention from our readers as a go-to for adventurous hikers and bikers.

Also, since we limit this list to the top 5 picks by our readers, check out this comprehensive, functional list of hikes around the Kansas City metro area compiled by Blue Valley North junior and Girl Scout Lizzie Place. Thanks for sharing your Gold Award project with us, Lizzie!

And now, onward to our list!

Prairie Center Trails

Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

Are you looking to escape suburban life and explore the prairie? The Olathe Prairie Center trails offer some of the best hiking in the Johnson County area. This 300-acre site is essentially a nature preserve featuring some remnant and reestablished prairie land and woodlands.

Hikers can enjoy the wildlife, plenty of fresh air and, pretty soon, new wildflowers in the spring. With all it has to offer, it’s no wonder our readers recommend this place as a top hiking destination.

Post reader Mary Rack “definitely” recommends the trails at Prairie Center.

“The trails go through prairie, woodlands and wetlands,” Rack said. “Most are easy, a few spots are challenging.  Every visit is unique, as flora and fauna are continuously changing. In addition to the trails, the center features an archery range and a fishing pond with dock.  Only drawback: To protect wildlife, no pets allowed.”

Located at 26235 W. 135th St., Olathe (just south of Cedar Niles Park), Prairie Center is just west of Olathe West High.

Lexington Lake Park

Photo credit Leah Wankum.

This somewhat secluded 465-acre park in De Soto is certainly worth the drive, according to our reader recommendations. There’s plenty of hiking in and around Lexington Lake, which is also a prime fishing spot.

Even better, the park offers a paved path around the 27-acre lake and nine miles of hiking trails.

“JCPRD’s Lexington Lake Park at 9000 Sunflower Road in De Soto has a lot of trail miles,” said Lizzie Place. “Indigo Loop is one of my favorites, with its long, beautiful stacked stone wall. It’s also more challenging than you might expect.”

Take K-10 Highway to the Lexington Avenue exit to get to this park at 9000 Sunflower Road.

Indian Creek Trail

Photo credit Leah Wankum.

This paved trail snakes through Overland Park and Leawood into Kansas City, Missouri, to offer some of the prettiest views tucked inside suburban settings.

It’s an excellent place to hike during wet and muddy conditions, and more conveniently located for our Shawnee Mission area readers looking to escape somewhere nearby.

“Along OPKS’ 10 miles of Indian Creek Trail (also paved), there is a very pretty waterfall along the loop behind Founders Park in Corporate Woods, at 9300 Indian Creek Parkway,” said Lizzie Place. “There is road noise from the highway, but the waterfall is worth it. And there are huge old trees that are amazing. Great easy hike for families/kids, and good in any weather because it is paved.”

Access points are dotted all along the trail, but trailheads are located at Indian Creek Recreation Center, Corporate Woods Founders Park, Indian Valley Park and Sykes/Lady Overland Park Golf Course.

Gary L. Haller National Recreation Trail

Photo credit Leah Wankum.

This 17.5-mile multi-use trail begins in Olathe and runs north through Lenexa and Shawnee. Our readers love it for its scenery and reclusiveness from the hustle and bustle of Johnson County. This trail begins near 124th and Northgate and ends at the Kansas River.

“Yeah, it skirts some residential areas as well as some businesses, but it’s easy to forget you are in the midst of a bustling Johnson County suburb along much of the trail,” Post reader Joan Anderson. “Many trail heads, easy access, well maintained. Just a delight to ride (walk…run) any or as much of it as you’d like on a sunny day.

“The creek it follows provides all sorts of other interesting stuff (deer, birds, waterfowl, turtles, snakes…but not scary…just …”nature-y” snakes). Makes you feel all the more like you’ve had a day in the great outdoors. For close and easy, you can’t beat it!”

Access the Gary L. Haller Trail from a variety of points, from 1700 Northgate Street (east) of Woodland Avenue) in Olathe all the way up to 19425 Wilder Drive in Shawnee.

Shawnee Mission Park

Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

And of course, we would be remiss to leave out one of Johnson County’s major recreational amenities: Shawnee Mission Park.

Beloved by our readers for so many reasons, this 1,600-acre park overlapping through Shawnee and Lenexa offers something for everyone in the way of hiking and recreation. Johnson County Park and Recreation District notes that Shawnee Mission Park is the most visited park in Kansas.

“Violet and Red Trails, you can piece together a 10 loop hike,” said Lil’ Buddha on Instagram. “It has elevation, and rolling hill views.”

Katherine Kashka on Facebook agreed.

“The red trail at Shawnee Mission Park is great!!” Kashka said.

Shawnee Mission Park can be accessed at 79th and Renner Road.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct an error. The Gary L. Haller Trail ends at the Kaw River.