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Explore Crawford State Park in Crawford County, Kansas

Crawford State Park is a Southeast Kansas treasure and is one of the earliest Kansas state parks. Crawford County is on the edge of the Ozarks, and mature trees surround the park’s reservoir. The park provides numerous great outdoor recreational opportunities, including fishing, swimming, motorboating, kayaking, jet skiing, hiking, and just being. Appreciate the wildflowers and redbud trees in the spring and fall colors in the autumn. 

Explore Crawford County sponsored my visit, but all opinions are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

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The 500-acre park is an hour northwest of Joplin, Missouri, and two hours south of Kansas City. It surrounds the 150-acre lake with a maximum depth of 48 feet. All vehicles must have a park permit, and campers need an additional camping permit.

Roxie’s reliable report: The locals often refer to the park as Farlington or Farlington Lake, from the nearby small town of Farlington.

Four band members play during a music event at Crawford State Park.
The J3 Band plays during Music on the Patio.

During a perfect evening, I visited the park when the Lake View Café was holding a Music on the Patio event. The café hosts the event every Friday during the summer months. Lake guests could sit inside the café or bring chairs to the lawn. Wait staff brought our orders from the grill inside. The regional musicians perform for tips.

Related: Visit Girard, 15 minutes south of the park, for additional dining options. Pittsburg offers even more.

During the concert, someone talked about a butterfly garden. Of course, I investigated as soon as the event ended. Then, I stood on my cabin’s private boat dock and watched the sunset. I watched the sunrise in the morning and walked the trails. You could do this, too.

Look for these six park activities.

1. Enjoy the Crawford State Park marina

The café sells convenience items, bait, and ice from Friday through Sunday, with restaurant service beginning Friday breakfast through Sunday lunch. One of the park’s courtesy docks is on the marina’s east side with a fish feeder nearby. Picnic on one of the two covered picnic tables. The marina also stocks bird feeders with titmice, orioles, cardinals, and hummingbirds as the most frequent visitors.

The swimming beach, park office, playground, and dump station are also in the area.

2. Fishing at Crawford State Park

Crawford has a reputation for excellent fishing opportunities. Popular fish include largemouth bass, wiper, crappie, flathead catfish, channel catfish, saugeye, and bluegill. The state provides a fishing forecast with tips for anglers. The park staff have added fish habitat in recent years. Check the bathymetric map (PDF) for the best depth and habitat conditions for varying fish species. Anglers older than 16 must have a fishing license. Check creel lengths and limits before you go. The park appreciates those who catch their crappie creel limit to reduce the number in the lake.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Make an appointment to view the Farlington Fish Hatchery. April and June are the best times to visit.

Three kayakers on the lake at Crawford State Park with a background of trees.
Paddling on the peaceful lake.

3. Water sports at Crawford State Park

Something about boating makes a person feel happy. The wind in your hair, the sun turning the water into sparkles, and the sound of the engine combine to craft an exhilarating experience. Lake Crawford is friendly to boats, personal watercraft, and water skiing. Choose one of two boat ramps, one on the north end near the dam and the other below the Shady Rest Campground on the lake’s southwest fork.

All watercraft must be registered and use the required equipment checklist to ensure legal compliance. Clean, drain, and dry your boat, bait buckets, and recreational watercraft before and after launching your boat. Remove your watercraft’s drain plug on departure to drain live wells and water inside your boat. 

A bee lands on a white moonflower in the butterfly garden at Crawford State Park.
Two bees seek pollen on a moonflower blossom in the Butterfly Garden.

4. Visit the Butterfly Garden

Monarchs are the only butterflies to migrate two ways. They head north into Southeast Kansas in mid-June, then return to the state in late September. However, the butterfly garden attracts all pollinators. When I visited, bees swarmed around the moonflowers, and hummingbirds drank nectar from their feeders. I felt all tension drain away as the light faded in the west.

A statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps stands near the CCC Memorial trailhead. His pedestal is surrounded by flowers with flagpoles behind.
A brawny CCC worker stands on a pedestal along the CCC Memorial Trail.

5. Hike the trails

Two of the park’s three trails discuss its early history, while the third displays its natural history. All three loop trailheads are near the park entrance.

• The Spider Leg Bridge Trail is a half-mile with an interesting tale to tell. It passes by remnants of an old military post on Drywood Creek. Two-room cabins once stood there with a caboose. The hiking trail gets its name from the “spider leg bridge” the soldiers guarded. The spider’s legs were long poles.

The Cherokee people received Southeast Kansas land in compensation for their stolen Georgia property. However, squatters had other ideas about property ownership. They tried to claim it, but President James Buchanan authorized Fort Scott soldiers to chase them out. The lands lay abandoned during the Civil War.

After the war, the Cherokee sold the land. Settlers wanted to buy it, but the Secretary of the Interior sold it to James F. Joy, who wanted to fund a railroad. The unhappy settlers threatened to burn the railroad’s construction materials. Joy induced the government to defend the railroad’s interest against the settlers. The soldiers came from Fort Scott, but they established posts along the line, including one in the future park.

Related: Fort Scott is 20 minutes north of the park.

• The paved quarter-mile CCC Memorial Trail explains how the park came to be. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the park in the 1930s, and a CCC worker’s statue stands at the trailhead. Interpretive panels explain the CCC’s story, the times in which they lived, and the building of the reservoir.

During the terrible Great Depression, people had to “make it do or do without.” The interpretive trail’s flagpoles pay tribute to this ethos. Their bases are made from pipe fittings. A small museum tells more of the story. The CCC camp injected much-needed funds into the local communities.

Related: The CCC also built Alabama’s Gulf State Park.

• Deer Run Nature Trail: Deer Run is a three-quarter-mile hardened self-guided nature trail with interpretive signs. Watch for wildlife, especially white-tailed deer.

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The moon above the lighted Shady Rest Cabin, taken from the backyard.
The patio area at Shady Rest Cabin.

6. Camping in Crawford State Park

Crawford’s six campgrounds provide 28 primitive sites plus modern campground amenities. Find 38 electric hookups-only sites, 25 50-amp sites with water hookups, and 20 30-amp sites with water. Enjoy a spectacular lake view from each site’s picnic areas. Most of the sites are reservable. Bring the family reunion to Lakeview Group Use Area’s 10 electric sites on the lake’s southern shore. The group picnic shelter and large fire ring are perfect for other large group activities.

I stayed in one of the park’s five lakefront rental cabins. The full kitchen had pots, pans, utensils, and dishes, but I had to bring bedding and towels. 

All the cabins’ front rooms provide a twin-size Murphy bed and a sofa. The Shady Rest cabin has three full-size beds, two twin beds, and a bunk bed. The other three have one bedroom with a full-size bed and a futon. Each offers a grill, a fire ring, and a picnic table. They are all ADA-accessible and open year-round. 

Roxie’s reliable report: See the camp host for the keys to your cabin and to pay your deposit. Reserve your cabin, but remember that the park requires a four-day stay over Memorial Day Weekend and three-day stays on the Independence Day and Labor Day weekends.

Crawford State Park in Kansas is a gem. You’ll enjoy your stay.

Related: Experience more state parks near WaKeeney and Wilson.

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