Written by MeLinda Schnyder
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.
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 and SUPWichita. On a Friday last summer, 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 my 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. For $35 per person, including equipment and food, this was a fun, affordable way to see Wichita from a new viewpoint.
Wichita Park & Recreation and SUPWichita are offering several Floatin’ on the River tour options again this summer and early fall:
**Wichita has seen large amounts of rainfall this season causing high waters and fast currents to close the river at times. Please confirm program schedule (City of Wichita website or Facebook page) before planning to attend.
Sunset tour is open to ages 12+ and offers kayaks and SUPs. The tour includes a brief stop for photos at the Keeper of the Plains before heading back to the starting point and walking to a barbecue dinner on the patio of the Wichita Boathouse. There are dates on Friday and Saturday nights from June through Sept. Starting time varies based on sunset.
Senior sunset tour for ages 55+ is for kayakers only and offers transportation back to the starting point should you not be able to make it back. The evening ends with a barbecue dinner on the patio of the Wichita Boathouse. Offered once: Friday, July 19 starting at 6 p.m.
Sunrise tour is open to ages 12+ and offers kayaks and SUPs. The tour includes a brief stop for photos at the Keeper of the Plains before heading back to the starting point and walking to a full breakfast on the patio of the Wichita Boathouse. This is offered Saturday, Aug. 10 and participants launch at 6:15 a.m., just before twilight so you catch the glorious sunrise.
Glow tour for ages 16+ is for kayakers only. This is a moonlight trip: you and your kayak will be glowing with lights and glow sticks as you make your way to the Keeper of the Plains to watch the Ring of Fire lighting from the water. There is one date each in June, July and September, all starting at 8:15 p.m.
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. Register online by creating an online account.
Kayak & SUP Rentals
If you’re interested in getting on the water without a tour but you need equipment, Wichita Park & Recreation is coordinating with SUPWichita to offer kayak and SUP rentals from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays from June 15-Aug. 31. They’ll even provide basic instruction on kayak paddling techniques and safety. The cost is $10/hour for kayaks (cash only) and $15/hour for SUPs (cash or credit/debit). No reservations available; first come, first served. You’ll find them at 605 S. Wichita St., which is under Kellogg Ave. at the ramp just south of the Wichita Boathouse. **Rentals are at OJ Watson Park while the river's flow rate is high - please confirm program schedule (City of Wichita website or Facebook page) before planning to attend.
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.
MeLinda 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.