Did you know you can enjoy a National Water Trail in downtown Wichita? 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 it passes through small towns as well as Wichita, the state’s largest city.

The Arkansas River that flows through Wichita offers an unexpected haven for kayaking enthusiasts and water sports lovers. This urban waterway, rich in history and scenic beauty, provides a unique setting for various aquatic activities, making it a hidden gem in the Midwest for outdoor recreation.

A man and woman kayak on the Arkansas River near the Keeper of the Plains

River Adventures

Kayaking is a great way to explore the Arkansas River. Whether you're a novice paddler or an experienced kayaker, the river provides a variety of experiences to suit all skill levels.

For beginners, the calm stretches near downtown Wichita are perfect for getting acquainted with the basics of paddling and maneuvering. The river's gentle flow in these areas makes it an ideal spot for families and those looking to enjoy a leisurely time on the water. For more experienced kayakers, the Arkansas River presents a bit more of a challenge further upstream and downstream from the city center.

Boats & Bikes

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 (available to rent after taking at least one rowing lesson).

Rentals 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 boatsandbikes@wichita.edu 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 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.

A man rents a Kayak at a kiosk in Wichita

Watercraft Rentals

You can bring your own non-motorized watercraft to enjoy the Arkansas River in Wichita. You also can rent equipment right on the river. The Arkansas River Path, a scenic trail running along the river, provides easy access for kayakers and paddleboarders to launch their vessels. Always check current river conditions; rainfall can cause high water levels and fast currents that close the Arkansas River to recreational use.

Locals and visitors 18 and older can also get on the river via Wichita Park & Recreation’s year-round self-service kayaks and kayak equipment. Rentals include a life jacket, paddle and kayak and are facilitated through the Rent.Fun app. Users will scan a QR code on the cage to reserve and pay for a kayak then use the app to unlock the cage to return the equipment. There are two stations on the Arkansas River ($15/hour) at the Ralph Wulz Riverside Tennis Center and near the Kellogg bridge, plus a station at O.J. Watson Park ($10/hour). Find out more at facebook.com/WichitaParkandRec.

ICT River Rides

If you are looking for an option to get out on the river – one where all you do is sit back and enjoy the sights – check out ICT River Rides. These 15-minute leisurely boat rides depart from the east bank of the river at the Douglas Ave. bridge. The cost is $5 per person and the boat holds six passengers. Check Facebook for up-to-date operating hours, but generally they run 5-10 p.m. Friday through Sunday from May 1 through Oct. 1.

A photo taken at sunset of the Keeper of the Plains

Keeper of the Plains

One of the best aspects of exploring the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita is seeing the Keeper of the Plains. It is among the most photographed spots in all of Kansas and celebrated its 50th anniversary in May 2024. The iconic 44-foot-tall steel sculpture by Blackbear Bosin is beautiful when you see it against a bright blue sky full of puffy clouds, gorgeous at sunset and striking during the nightly Ring of Fire lighting, too.

When kayaking from Boats & Bikes or other downtown launching points, there will be plenty of time to take photos of the sculpture, the dramatic outline of Exploration Place and the Wichita skyline before paddling back to your starting point.

Several people explore the Arkansas River on pedal boats and kayaks rented from Boats and Bikes

Whether you're a local resident or a visitor looking to explore Wichita's natural beauty, the Arkansas River promises an unforgettable adventure on the water. Don’t miss exploring a portion of the Arkansas River National Water Trail while in the Heart of the Country, and see what other outdoor adventures there are to enjoy in Wichita.