The Keeper of the Plains in downtown Wichita is among the most photographed spots in all of Kansas. The iconic sculpture is beautiful when you see it against a bright blue sky full of puffy clouds. It’s striking during the nightly Ring of Fire lighting of the firepots.
Add another way you need to see the 44-foot-tall steel sculpture by Blackbear Bosin: from a kayak or paddleboard floating on the Arkansas River.
Boats & Bikes
If you’re interested in getting on the water but you need equipment, Boats & Bikes is an outdoor fun rental company operating from a 240-foot public dock on the Arkansas River near the Douglas bridge.
The operation is run by Wichita State University’s rowing program and among their offerings are youth and adult paddleboards, pedal boats, kayaks and rowing shells. Rentals start as range from $10 to $30 per hour depending on the equipment. Also, be sure to check out their season passes, group discounts, and special events. Reservations are suggested and can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 316-265-9359.
Boats & Bikes is open daily from Memorial Weekend through October, and by reservation outside those dates. Hours of operation are subject to change due to encumbering weather or special activities in the area. Hours may also change to accommodate peak and down-times of the rental equipment. Watch their social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter) for updates on hours of operation.
Wichita Park & Recreation
Wichita Park & Recreation also coordinates seasonal kayak rentals from at 605 S. Wichita St., which is under Kellogg Ave. at the ramp just south of the Wichita Boathouse. The cost is $10/hour and it’s first come, first served. This year, these are available June 26 through September 5 on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wichita Park & Recreation is offering several Floatin’ on the River tour options again this summer and early fall. All tours cost $35 per person and pre-registration is required. Space is limited so sign up early and get on a waiting list if your preferred date is full.
- Floatin' on the River: Sunrise Tour - Launch just before twilight into the stillness of the morning and catch the glorious sunrise. The morning will end with a full breakfast on the patio of the Wichita Boathouse.
- Floatin' on the River: Sunset Tour - Set off on a leisurely paddling tour from the ramp just south of the Wichita Boathouse, to the Keeper of the Plains and back. Enjoy a barbeque dinner after the tour while relaxing to the sounds of soothing music.
- Floatin' on the River: Glow Tour - Enjoy a moonlight trip along the river with the stars shining overhead! You and the kayaks will be flowing with lights and glow sticks as you make your way to the Keeper of the Plains. Enjoy desserts and light snacks afterwards.
- Floatin' on the River: Senior Tour - Spend some time learning kayaking basics and then set your course towards the Keeper of the Plains at a relaxed and easy pace. The evening ends with a barbeque dinner on the patio of the Wichita Boathouse. For ages 55+.
Always check current river conditions; rainfall can cause high water levels and fast currents that close the Arkansas River to recreational use. The City regularly updates the River Status.
MeLinda Schnyder is a Wichita-based travel writer who also has explored the Arkansas River on a raft near Cañon City, Colorado. She is a member of SATW and the Midwest Travel Journalists Association.
"My husband and I don’t own a kayak or paddleboard and we wanted to see the Keeper of the Plains at sunset from the water, so we signed up for a tour offered by Wichita Park & Recreation. On a summer Friday evening, we headed downtown after work and met others who had pre-registered for the Floatin’ on the River Sunset Tour. About a dozen people chose kayaks and another dozen were on paddleboards, each group getting a brief training before launching into the water from the ramp just south of the Wichita Boathouse.
It’s just a mile to the Keeper of the Plains, but remember there can be wind that makes this more strenuous than it sounds. I think those of us in kayaks had it easier than those on SUPs on this particularly windy evening, but nobody on either type of vessel took a dip in the water!
There were several guides along the route to answer questions about the river, the area and to offer kayaking tips. They also just let you paddle on your own if that’s what you preferred. They timed it just right to get us to the Keeper in time for photos with the sun nearing the horizon for a spectacular backdrop. Guides took photos of friend and family groups, and there was plenty of time to take your own photos of the sculpture, the dramatic outline of Exploration Place and the Wichita skyline before paddling back to our starting point.
The entire trip lasted about 75 minutes. Once back on land, we walked over to the Wichita Boathouse and enjoyed a barbecue dinner on the patio that was part of the $35 per person tour price. With equipment and food included, this was a fun, affordable way to see Wichita from a new viewpoint."
Enjoy a National Water Trail
The Arkansas River is one of the longest rivers in the country, starting near Leadville, Colorado, and flowing nearly 1,469 miles through four states to its confluence with the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas. A 192-mile section of the river – from Great Bend, Kansas, to the Kansas/Oklahoma border – is designated a National Water Trail by the U.S. National Park Service. This stretch meanders through prairie, pastures and farmland, and passes through small towns as well as Wichita, the state’s largest city.