Pitch a tent or park your RV at Lake Scott State Park in western Kansas and you'll be joining an ancient parade of travelers who've taken refuge in 1,200-acre Ladder Creek Valley, an oasis of natural springs surrounded by sandstone walls and a sea of buff-colored grass.
The valley, along US-83 about 30 miles south from the Oakley exit of I-70 (180 miles west of Salina), has a storied past. Long before Europeans arrived in North America, migrating Native Americans camped there. In 1680, a short-lived pueblo was built along the creek. The El Quartelejo Pueblo ruins, believed to mark the northernmost pueblo settlement in America, are now a National Historic Landmark. You can visit the ruins at the park and learn more about the pueblo at the El Quartelejo Museum in Scott City, 15 miles south of the lake.
A dam built across the valley 71 years ago created the 110-acre spring-fed lake. Visitors can swim, boat and fish in the cool waters. Rent a paddleboat or canoe at the bathhouse. Hiking and equestrian trails fan out from the lake, past cattail marshes and up yucca-studded slopes.