Hiking Trails + Prairie

Nearly six miles of paved and wood chip hiking trails wind their way through the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.

The easiest of strolls are on the paths and sidewalks throughout the gardens. There are benches along the paths and walkways that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility.

The trails cross Wolf Creek, a major tributary of the Blue River, with two 75-foot bridges.

The Arboretum also offers visitors a chance to view and experience a variety of ecosystems and local plant species in 180 acres of open prairie area.


8909 W. 179th Street
Overland Park, KS 66013




Sunday-Wednesday | 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday | 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday | 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Last entry 30 minutes before closing.


Children ages 5 and under are free.
$2 ages 6-17
$5 ages 18+


Each trail showcases a wide variety of tree species, native woodland plants and unique vegetation.

Karen's Path

Karen’s path is a 0.3-mile natural hiking loop, featuring views of Wolf Creek, a native grass meadow, lower woodlands and a stunning Sycamore grove.

Cottonwood Trail

The cottonwood trail is a 0.4-mile mulched trail consisting of a gradual slope. This trail is named for the towering cottonwood trees near the east bridge. The cottonwood trail also features a bird watch area.

Sculpture Garden Trail

The sculpture garden trail is an easy half-mile asphalt walk through the Arboretum’s sculpture garden.

West Trail

The west trail is a one-mile natural hiking trail that runs along the north bank of Wolf Creek before traversing the lower woodlands and a native grass meadow.

Bluff Loop Trail

The bluff loop trail is a one-mile natural hiking loop with stunning limestone bluffs and mossy rock landscapes. The upper section of the trail features natural rock crossings while the lower section provides panoramic views of Wolf Creek.

Rocky Ridge Trail

The rocky ridge trail offers a one-mile, end-to-end, trek through the upper woodlands, passing limestone bluffs with rock fissures along a natural gorge. Cross footbridges over meandering streams. Two of the trail’s southernmost points stretch into the prairie, and visitors are welcome to explore the prairie on their own.

Whitetail Pass

The whitetail pass is a 1.5-mile natural hiking trail consisting of many gradual slopes and natural rock crossings over streamways. This intermediate trail offers unparalleled views of Wolf Creek and western limestone bluffs.

Ecosystems of the Arboretum

Dry Oak-Hickory

The dry oak-hickory forest is a common ecosystem for this area, as well as for much of eastern and central North America. This ecosystem contains Post Oak, Black Oak and Shagbark Hickory trees as dominant species as well as rock outcroppings and rock layers at the surface. Dry Oak Hickory trees are examples of deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves every fall and winter and grow all new leaves in the spring. 

Interesting Facts:  

  • For centuries, Native Americans used oak bark as anti-bacterial medicine.
  • Acorns and hickory nuts were important food sources for Native Americans, early settlers, domesticated animals and wildlife.  
  • White oak acorns and shagbark hickory nuts are valued for their sweet flavor.   
  • Kansas lies at the western end of the oak and hickory forest complex, stretching east to the Atlantic Ocean. 
  • Oak and hickory forests make up 55 percent of the acres of timberland in Kansas.
Riparian Woodland

Riparian woodland ecosystems are areas along bodies of water that exist in the areas between water and land ecosystems. Woodland streambanks remove excess nutrients and sediment from surface runoff, helping to keep Kansas waters clean. The Arboretum’s Riparian Woodland ecosystem lies in the floodplain created by Wolf Creek. Floodplains are low areas next to streams and rivers that are created as the moving water erodes the stream banks over time.  Flooding is visible and the soil is completely soaked at various times of the year. The Arboretum has experienced flooding events along Wolf Creek, usually about twice a decade. 

Interesting Facts:  

  • European-Americans settled in eastern Kansas which had riparian trees growing along the rivers and in nearby valleys.
  •  The original settlers in eastern Kansas cleared off much of the original riparian forest cover for agriculture, building materials, fencing, and fuel.
  • Riparian trees and shrubs shade nearby streams which reduces water temperature and provides a better environment for many stream animals, fish, plants and insects. 
Dry-Mesic Prairie

A dry-mesic prairie is a special grassy area with native Kansas grasses located on flat or slightly sloping land. Much of the Arboretum was originally prairie. Primarily located in temperate climates, prairies are big fields consisting of mostly grass instead of trees. The northeast entrance of the Arboretum and around Margaret’s Pond were once prairie, prior to the land being farmed. People plowed the land, grazed animals, and planted crops, so some plants that aren’t native to the area are currently growing there.

Since 2002, volunteers and Arboretum staff have been returning these old plowed field acres to their original natural prairie condition. The prairie is managed by a three-year rotation of reseeding, cutting, and burning to simulate grazing by wildlife and buffalo and mimic wildfires regularly burning the prairie.  

Interesting Facts:  

  • Fire plays a critical role creating and maintaining prairie ecosystems. Fire maintains species diversity by promoting seed germination, creating small places for seedlings to sprout, and releasing and recycling important plant nutrients.  
  • Native Americans intentionally set fires to clear brush, make land more passable, increase productivity of berry crops and agricultural fields, and to improve hunting.  
  • Without frequent fires that kill off woody vegetation, trees and shrubs quickly grow and shade out prairie grasses, converting the area into other more wooded ecosystems. 
  • Ants play an important role mixing and aerating prairie soils as they build and abandon mounds. Other important species contributing to soil mixing and aeration include moles, mice, skunks,and badgers. 

A Woodland ecosystem is a wooded area where the treetops hide 30 to 100 percent of the sky overhead. Breaks in the canopy allow sunlight to penetrate between the trees, reducing ground  shade. A greater amount of available light reaching the ground means the ground is dense with trees and shrubs, climbers, perennial herbs, bulbs, grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens. Canopy trees have large, spreading crowns, especially in more open, dry areas. No other local  ecosystem contains such a wide range of plants as a Woodland ecosystem.  

Interesting Facts:  

  • Woodlands provide us with clean water, wildlife habitat, stabilized stream banks, recreational opportunities and beautiful landscapes. 
  • Woodlands, like savannas, prairies and glades, were historically kept open by regular disturbances, especially fire. Fires didn’t kill the largest woodland trees, kept the woody understory from forming, and encouraged the growth of grasses and other ground plants under and between the trees.  
  • The difference between a woodland and a forest is the amount of open canopy present in a woodland. Forests have a closed canopy with deep shade underneath the trees.  
  • Before European settlers arrived in Kansas in the 1800s, woodlands and forests made up 4.5 million acres of the state. By 1936, forest land in Kansas was reduced to 1.2 million acres. 
  • Kansas woodlands and forests are at risk due to pests and diseases that are not native to Kansas. 
  • Currently almost 94 percent of woodland and forest land in Kansas is held by private landowners. 
Mesic Oak – Hickory Forest

A Mesic ecosystem retains moisture most of the year. This forest is dominated by a mixture of oak and hickory trees, with white oak being the most common. Red oak, black oak and mockernut hickory trees are also found in this ecosystem.  

Interesting Facts

  • Water in a Mesic area can come from streams and their offshoots, wet meadows, springs, seeps, irrigated fields, and high elevation habitats. 
  • The number of mesic forests has been much reduced by repeated logging and invasive introduced weeds. 
  • Canopy trees in a Mesic forest include northern red oak, white oak, sugar maple, basswood, black walnut, white ash and bitternut hickory.
  • Gray squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, wild turkeys, and white-tail deer are found in Mesic forests.. 
  • Mesic forests are threatened by changes in land use, invasive non-native insects and diseases, overgrazing by deer, fire suppression and air pollution. 
Wooded Draws

A Wooded Draw ecosystem is a wooded ecosystem that has a natural drainage feature, carrying water from higher to lower areas. It contains steep-sided channels or gullies formed by soil washing away. Draws are often associated with forest, grassland, and desert ecosystems. 

Interesting Facts

  • Woodland ecosystems with draws create biodiversity, improve water quality and soil health, and create wildlife habitats  
  • Some woodland draws have many cone-producing trees like pine and Douglas fir, while others have a mix of cone-producing and leaf-dropping (deciduous) trees.
  • Woodland draws are home to many species of animals, including insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 
  • Woodland draws resist climate change because they can tolerate dry conditions. 


Visitors can take the bluff loop and rocky ridge trails onto the prairie, where they may explore the beautiful landscaping on or off of the paths.

In addition to the rolling fields of big and little bluestem, switchgrass, prickly pear cactus and various native wildflowers, areas of interest on the Arboretum prairie include the old duck pond, two waterfalls, a cedar grove and a bluff overlook of Wolf Creek.

Arboretum staff and volunteers manage the prairie with a three-year rotation of reseeding, haying and burning to simulate grazing by wildlife and wildfire burning of the prairie.