The Little-Known Joys of Cruising in Kansas

The sun sets over Clinton Lake, one of Kansas’s most popular destinations for sailing. Photo by Marciana Vequist

When we tell folks we sail in Kansas, they are never quite sure if they should believe us. With deep roots in America’s Old West, Kansas is more likely to be associated with prairie schooners—a nickname for covered wagons—than schooners with keels and masts. Nonetheless, amid the endless miles of wheat and grazing cattle, the Sunflower State is also home to two-dozen lakes and reservoirs worthy of a weekend sail.

Boats snug in the marina on  Perry Lake

They don’t call it the “Windy Plains” for nothing: Dodge City, Kansas, is the windiest place in the United States. However, the best lakes are farther east, near Emporia, Lawrence and “the Little Apple”—Manhattan. We sail our Hunter 26 on Melvern Lake, a 6,930-acre reservoir between the small college towns of Ottawa and Emporia that was created by Melvern Dam in 1970. Other nearby lakes, like Clinton Lake in Lawrence and Perry Lake near Manhattan, also offer great open water for sailing. Both host several regattas each year, welcoming everything from cruising sailboats to catamarans to windsurfers.

A breezy day aboard the author’s Hunter 26

When I think about cruising Melvern Lake I recall feeling very different from the people around us. Just because you can sail in Kansas doesn’t mean that many do, and my family and I were often aboard the lone sailboat in a sea of speedboats and jet skis. As young newlyweds, my husband and I spent many weekends out on the boat, escaping the sweltering summer heat during a sailing season that runs from April to November. Although Melvern provides 10 miles of open water, we would often lounge for hours in land-locked coves, sundrenched and at peace, save for the occasional water skier.

A typical view of shore from the water

Even in Kansas, things can get exciting. Sometimes on a hot, humid day, typical of a Midwest summer, we would go for a sail in an attempt to cool down. The wind would suddenly change—also typical—and before we knew it, we’d be heeled well over, bracing ourselves in the cockpit as cocktails went flying. Grinning from ear to ear, we’d make our way back to the marina, feeling like seafarers a thousand miles from the sea. Afterward, at our local hole-in-the-wall, Whitey’s, where you can find the best pizza in town, we’d share sailing stories with the locals who could hardly believe we even owned a sailboat. After an icy cold beer or three, it was clear why even for the sailors in Kansas, “There’s no place like home.”

Editors note: We’re happy to report that 1,500 of SAIL’s faithful subscribers reside in Kansas


The breeze kicks up on Melvern Lake

Photos by Kelli White and

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4 comments on “The Little-Known Joys of Cruising in Kansas

  1. Jimmer711

    You left out the best sailing lake in Kansas.  Cheney Reservoir west of Wichita has more sailboats and open water.  A great lake that has lots of wind and wave.

  2. Herbcatalina

    Years ago,  we sailed our Snipe on Lake Shawnee in Topeka, Kansas and were members of the Shawnee Yacht Club.     At that time, the Club had a large membership and the regattas were fun and sailing was competitive with weekly races.   I hope that the Club and lake are going strong.  In 1978 we moved to Georgia and sold the Bahama Mama to some lucky lady.

    We changed from Snipes to a Catalina 30 Tall Rig and sailed on Lake Martin, Alabama for years until selling our boat last year.   When people asked how a KSU & KU couple learned to sail they couldn't believe our story about a Yacht Club in Kansas yet enough there being enough water to sail on !




  3. bwoellhof

    The largest lake in Kansas is Milford Lake just northwest of Junction City, Ks.  The club at Milford Lake is the Southwind Yacht Club and has approx. 40 sailboats from 22' to 36' with great winds.  Also Lake Perry is east of Topeka, Ks. and has a lot of racing.  Tuttle Creek Lake is by Manhattan, Ks and hosts Kansas State Sailing Club.

  4. Azzarac

    Are you sure you're from Kansas? Perry is East of Topeka and the last time I was at Clinton we didn't see a single sailboat. There were plenty of college kids partying on shore and aboard powerboats and personal watercraft however. That, coupled with the poor lake access was enough to convince me not to return to Clinton for sailing. Perry is a beautiful sailing lake even though the water is loaded with sediment. You will be scrubbing your hull even if you just spend a few hours on the lake.

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