County Highpoints of Western Kansas

Stanton County

Morton County

The tri-state marker
(Morton County)

Snake Hill
(Seward County)

Driving south of the Greeley
County highpoint. Kansas is
to the left, Colorado to the right.
The tilt of the land
is evident in this image.

Lonely field
(Sherman County)

Prologue: The National State Highpointer's Club held its annual convention in Kenton, Oklahoma, in 2002. I attended, then took one of the days to visit a pile of easy county highpoints in the southwest part of the state. In 2004, I came back briefly to visit two more.

Not surprisingly, Kansas is flat, but some of the highpoints presented challenges such as sandy roads, posted property, ennui, weather and a particularly fat rattlesnake.

There is a quasi-statistical "proof" illustrating how flat Kansas is. According to Lists of John, not one hill or mound in the entire state has as much as 300 feet of prominence. Even other nearby states have a few (For example, Iowa has 3, Illinois about 10, Indiana about 6). However, Kansas is not flat like a dry-lake bed. It has low rolling hills, bluffs and undulations, just nothing very tall. Western Kansas is pretty in its own way.

South of Saunders
• Highpoint: Stanton County

Date: September 21, 2002 • Elevation: 3,711 feet • Distance: 0.6 mile • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 20 feet • Conditions: Sunny and pleasant

Today, a bunch of us convened to visit a few county highpoints, some in southeast Colorado, some here in Kansas, and one more in Oklahoma.

We were successful on the ones in Colorado, and from there we entered Kansas near the community of Saunders. From Saunders, we went south a mile on a local road, east a little over a mile, then south again. We were supposed to find a two-track trending west about a mile after our last turn, but we overshot it, probably because we were not paying attention. We backtracked and found it, and drove in. It was overgrown, but we were able to get in a half-mile. Even the passenger cars made it.

The highpoint is a broad brush-covered "hill", barely discernable, another quarter-mile west from where we parked. We all took off west toward the top, marked by farm implements. The brush was about shin-high and snakes were on my mind, but I saw none. Dave Olson and I arrived first and the rest followed shortly. Some in the throng used sight-levels to verify our position. It certainly was an odd feeling to be with about two dozen people in the middle of a Kansas field. We walked back to the vehicles and had lunch, before heading south into Morton County, which was next on our agenda.

KS-CO-OK Tri-Corner Area
• Highpoint: Morton County

Elevation: 3,690 feet • Distance: 1.5 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 40 feet • Conditions: Pleasant and sunny

Morton County is the southwesternmost county in Kansas. Its highest points are spread out over 13 separate areas, each enclosed in a 3,690-foot contour. The big group of us drove south and visited the first area, a small rise of land along a dirt road one mile south of state route KS-51, on the Colorado-Kansas state line. The rise was barely discernable. We took a few minutes to step on berms and anything "high".

The other 12 areas are in a clump of sandy hills near the southwest corner of the state. Coming in from the town of Elkhart, we situated ourselves south of the grouping of hills. Immediately, we could see some of the areas were higher than others. We all took off in a loose aggregate, walking northeast about 3/8 of a mile to top out on one hill. From here, we walked from hilltop to hilltop, zig-zagging southwest back to our cars. In this way, we visited all the strong contending highpoints and ignored the ones that clearly were not as high.

The point at which Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma meet was also of interest. There's a fake windmill nearby, and witness markers point to the actual point, but the marker at the tricorner was dug up long ago.

From here, we continued south into Oklahoma, then back to Kenton.

Yucca Hills
• Highpoint: Stevens County

Date: September 22, 2002 • Elevation: 3,335 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 1 hour • Gain: 100 feet • Conditions: A good start to the day

I planned to spend today driving the lonely highways and farm roads of western Kansas, visiting as many county highpoints as possible. I got a pre-dawn start from my campsite in Kenton (OK) and drove US-54 through Boise City and Elkhart (KS). North of Elkhart, I turned right onto County Road C, and followed it for 15 miles into the rising sun, placing me near the Yucca Hills, which comprise the Stevens County highpoint. These would require some actual hiking.

The Yucca Hills are a complex of brush-covered sand dunes. Six separate areas are enclosed within 3,335-foot contours, and any one of these could be the highest point. I'd be obliged to visit all six. Roughly speaking, five of the six areas are clumped within a square mile, two miles east of Road C, east of the county line. I visited the easternmost area first, a walk of about 500 feet round-trip from the road. That took just a few minutes.

Driving a mile west, I parked at a crest in the road, where four more areas are clumped on both sides of the road. I visited all four in a single outing, a looping one-mile walk. No one hill stood out as higher than the others. I had to breach two fences along the way, but I saw no posting notices and no one was around, so far as I could tell. The buzz from a nearby oil well provided background noise.

The last area is about two miles north, and I was able to get close to it by following a road to a gate near an oil well. I hopped the fence and made a quick run to the hill and back. I spent about an hour visiting all the areas, hiking about 2 miles total. The roads here are sandy and I needed 4-wheel drive in a couple spots to power through the soft sand.

Back to Road C, I continued east into Seward County and a near run-in with a local rattlesnake.

Snake Hill
• Highpoint: Seward County

Elevation: 2,995 feet • Distance: 1 mile • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: 35 feet • Conditions: Sunny and clear above, partly snakey on the ground

Getting to Seward County was easy, but getting near the highpoint hill was confusing. It's easy to lose track of distances in this flat grid of roads. Not all junctions have road signs, and navigation demands careful attention to the map and the odometer. Suffice to say, I wasn't paying attention, and trying to peg my location took a few minutes. Anyway, I was able to get myself oriented after awhile.

The highpont is a hill 1.5 miles south of the junctions of Roads B and 5, about seven miles west of the city of Liberal. The hill is surprisingly well-defined, with about 30 feet of prominence. It is sandy, and covered in shin-high scrub. I parked near an oil well and started the short walk. I arrived on top of the hill after 10 minutes. So far, so good.

The second area is a small bump about 100 feet away, and I walked over to it. Just as I was to set my foot down onto the top, I spied a fat rattlesnake sunning himself, not coiled. I almost stepped on the damn thing! Somehow I launched myself over him, landing nearby, now suddenly concerned about snakes. I was amped with adrenaline.

Only now I realized that hiking in shorts in this snakey scrub was not a great idea. I had to get myself back to open ground, and the hike out was quite interesting as I tried carefully to find open patches to pass through. I made it, but realized I was damn lucky not to get a souvenir snake bite out of the journey.

In honor of the snake at the summit, I dub this highpoint "Snake Hill".

Mertilla Township
• Highpoint: Meade County

Elevation: 2,828 feet • Distance: drive-up • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: none • Conditions: Could be worse

Driving north from Seward County, I entered into Meade County. After my snake encounter and still skittish with adrenaline, I was pleased to note that the highpoints of Meade County are two areas along county roads, so no actual hiking would be necessary.

One area is at the intersection of Roads A and 1, on the northwest corner of the county. The other area was about three miles southeast. The likeliest highest points were closer to the first area, but everything looked flat and indistinguishable to me. Yay, highpointing in Kansas.

I moved on to more adventures...

Northwest Corner
• Highpoint: Grant County

Elevation: 3,220 feet • Distance: drive-up • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: none • Conditions: Clear and of sunny disposition

I backtracked west into Grant County, then discovered I had left my map behind. I would have to go from memory. I knew the highpoint was at the northwest corner of the county. I drove to the western edge of the county and then followed Road A north and south, getting out at any crest along the road. However, Road A does not go all the way to the northwest corner.

To get to the northwest corner meant a detour of nearly 20 miles. Finally, I passed into Grant County at its northwesternmost point, then drove a half-mile to a rise, this being the presumptive county highpoint. Only later, when I returned to Kenton, was I able to verify I had been to the correct spot.

The signs on the fencing on both sides of the road were emphatic about no trespassing, promising all sorts of bad things to those who dare, but I stuck to the public rights-of-way. Nothing bad happened to me.

West Hubbard Township
• Highpoint: Kearny County

Elevation: 3,436 feet • Distance: 0.1 mile • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: 10 feet • Conditions: Calm, cool and collected

So far, today was going well, with four county highpoints visited, one snake, and no mishaps. Next up was Kearny County. Like its brethren, the highpoint is in its northwest corner, a large area enclosed within a 3,435-foot contour. I was able to follow local roads to where one crested within this rise of land. I got out and walked the immediate area, covered in low grass and random dirt. No one point seemed higher, so after a few minutes, I called it good and continued on my way.

This one was so memorable that I could not really remember it after I had finished it. I took some notes while there, but the actual highpoints all kind of mush together after awhile.

South Ladder Creek Bluffs
• Highpoint: Greeley County

Elevation: 3,950 feet • Distance: drive-up • Time: 10 minutes • Gain: none • Conditions: Not too shabby

I drove north to Wichita County, but I was running low on gas. So I drove west into Tribune, the seat of Greeley County, to top off the tank and get a bite. A nearby community called Horace is about five miles west of Tribune. Put it all together and you have Horace Greeley, the famed owner of the N.Y. Tribune, famous for his "Go west, young man" mantra. Or you have Tribune Horace, owner of the less-famous Poughkeepsie Greeley, famous for his "stay home, play video games" mantra.

Greeley County's highpoint is (surprise) on its northwest corner, straddling the Colorado boundary. I followed Road D to Road 1, which runs along the state line. Driving north on Road 1, I found the highpoint area easily. The road to here actually drops into and out of South Ladder Creek, where for a few moments, the road was actually steep, a rarity for Kansas. I spent a few moments here, eyeballing the area and walking around.

It was now 2 p.m. and Kenton was over 200 miles away. I wanted to be back in time for the night's main festivities, so I started my return drive, visiting one more county highpoint on the way.

Davis Benchmark Area
• Highpoint: Hamilton County

Elevation: 3,843 feet • Distance: 1 mile • Time: 1 hour • Gain: 10 feet • Conditions: Pretty decent

I drove south, mostly on gravel county roads, which were traffic-free and so well-tended I could usually average 50 miles per hour. After an hour, I was nearing Hamilton County. Its highest points are spread out over three separate areas.

I came to the nothernmost area first. I parked at a junction of two roads and walked about a quarter-mile into low scrub, putting me within the first area. This land was part of a public hunting area. The second area was a mile to the southwest, and another short walk into a fallow farm field was sufficient.

The third area was two miles south and west, and there were low hills (perhaps 5-10 feet of gain) south of the road. I used Davis Benchmark, which sits within Colorado, to help me gauge my location. I walked this large area and felt I had given it sufficient attention. I'd vote that this southernmost area to be the likeliest highpoint candidate.

I continued the long drive south. Along the way I passed through the town of Coolidge, which was supposedly the setting for the farmhouse scenes from the movie National Lampoon's Vacation (In truth, those scenes were filmed closer to Pueblo, Colorado). I passed through the town of Holly, then west into Springfiend, Colorado, where I showered at a truck stop. The last segment of the drive was south into Oklahoma, through beautiful mesa country, and finally, into Kenton, where I arrived in time for the Highpointer Convention's memorable dinner, awards ceremonies, feting of notable individuals including Jack Longacre (founder of the club), and general merriment.

In May 2004, I returned briefly to Kansas, part of a larger expedition in the High Plains of Nebraska. I flew into Denver, visited a couple easy county highpoints in the Colorado plains, and since I was so close to Kansas, I entered into the state and visited two more county highpoints, which are the two most northwest counties in the state. The weather was foggy and misty, but I was pleasantly surprised to see actual rolling hills and vertical relief up this way. This isn't quite the Sand Hills, but it's close.

McPherson Township
• Highpoint: Sherman County

Date: May 18, 2004 • Elevation: 4,000 feet • Distance: 1.2 miles • Time: 25 minutes • Gain: 20 feet • Conditions: Gray skies

I started today crammed into my rental SUV, where I had "camped" along a farm road in the plains of eastern Colorado. I slept poorly for a few hours. Today started cold and misty, like it was going to rain but wasn't sure.

I drove a few miles and visited a county highpoint, that of Yuma County, in Colorado. It was barely 6 a.m.. I then got onto Interstate-70 and drove to Burlington, on the Colorado-Kansas state line, where I stopped for a breakfast with all the truckers.

My goal today was to visit a bunch of county highpoints in Nebraska, but there were two here in Kansas, both on or near the Colorado boundary, that I wanted to tag while heading north. First up was the highpoint of Sherman County.

On I-70 inside Kansas, I exited at Exit 1, went south 10 miles, then carefully followed lesser roads shown on the topographic map to place myself west of the highpoint. I parked at a corner of two fencelines, in the middle of nowhere, about 500 feet back inside Colorado. With the mist, it was unbelievably quiet.

The two regions lie about a half-mile east inside Kansas. I hiked to the first area quickly, as it sits on the state line. I used the fence itself to gauge the highest area, and tagged it. This part was easy. The second area was reached about 5 minutes later, in another field. I was able to sense some rise to the land, so I paced the ground for a few minutes, then returned to my vehicle. I was gone less than a half-hour.

Jaqua Township
• Highpoint: Cheyenne County

Elevation: 3,810 feet • Distance: None • Time: Few minutes • Gain: None • Conditions: Misty and cool

From the Sherman County highpoints, I retraced my route back up to the Interstate, passed through the little town of Kanorado and went north up County Road 3 and other local roads to the northwest corner of Sherman County. I was able to get myself to the corner of County Roads 2 and 80 (or 88, as my handwriting was sloppy). The highpoint is west along a small (and I stress "small") rise in the road.

This road sits on the Sherman-Cheyenne county line, so I got out and stepped around on the north side (Cheyenne side) of the road, while some local steers watched me. That was it. I was done with Kansas for this trip, and now headed to Nebraska for the Sand Hills. It was 9 a.m.

(c) 2002-2019 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.