This story was first published in KCUR’s Adventure! newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.
Kansas and Missouri aren’t really known for marvelous beaches. It’s not our fault: We’re landlocked. We make the best of what we have.
Although there’s no oceans to access, Missouri and Kansas are still home to hundreds of lakes, some of which are accessible to Kansas City.
If you want to feel like you’re (kinda) at the beach without having to catch a flight or drive for hours on end, check out these local spots for swimming.
Shawnee Mission Park Lake
Shawnee Mission Park Lake, located in Johnson County, has a large, sandy beach and recently constructed beach house.
The beach features a sand volleyball court, a shaded concessions area, and an off-leash dog beach. It’s Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12-4 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6 p.m. Be sure to check their website for dates when the schedule is modified.
Admission starts at $4 for Johnson County children and seniors and is $6 for adults. Admission for residents who don’t live in the county is $2 more.
For swimmers who want to improve their skills or train for a triathlon, the Johnson County Park and Recreation District offers open water swim lessons that start at the beach. If you’re interested, register online.
Longview Lake and Blue Springs Lake
Longview Lake, located in Jackson County near Grandview, and Blue Springs Lake, located in Lee’s Summit, both offer beaches with sand volleyball, picnic areas, and certified lifeguards.
They’re open on weekdays from 1-7 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. There are some dates where hours vary, so be sure to check their website before you make a trip.
Beach admission ranges between $7-9. A group discount and season passes are also available.
Just off the beach at Longview Lake, there is an inflatable obstacle course and playground to enjoy. Admission fees vary but are separate from beach admission.
Also at Longview Lake, Jackson County Parks and Rec. hosts “Sand Cinema” nights where they air family movies on the beach. Admission is $10 per car. Keep posted on movie nights by checking the Jackson County Parks and Recreation’s Facebook page.
Kill Creek Park Beach
About a 30-40 minute drive from Kansas City, Kill Creek Park Beach is surrounded by lots of other outdoor attractions, like hiking at the Russell and Helen Means Observation Tower.
Located in Olathe, Kansas, near the Kill Creek Marina, the small, sandy swimming beach opens Thursdays and Fridays from 12-3 p.m. It is a cash-only facility and admission ranges from $4-8 depending on age and residency.
Lake Olathe swim beach has a lot to offer patrons – like the Aqua Park, a floating obstacle course that costs only $10 an hour (in addition to beach admission).
Beach admission ranges in price from $4-12, and it’s free for children ages 2 and under. Lake Olathe’s beach also has a Mobi-mat RecPath, so people with walkers, strollers, or wheel-chairs can access the beach.
The beach and Aqua Park are open Thursday-Sunday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.. For people with small children, there is also a fun splash pad near the beach that’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The sprayground has three areas for children of different ages and is a great way for your little ones to interact with the water.
Smithville Lake, located in Clay County about 40 minutes from Kansas City, has two great swimming spots: Camp Branch and Little Platte Beaches, both sand beaches. Picnic tables and grills are stationed nearby, so you can pack some food and cook out. Park passes start at $6 per car.
The beaches are open 8:30 a.m. to sunset until September 15.
Note: Water from both beaches have recently tested high for E. Coli, a naturally-occurring bacteria. There is currently a swim advisory. Water is tested biweekly. Check their website or social media for updates.
A little further away…
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park
Located on the southeastern edge of Mark Twain National Forest in the St. Francois Mountains, Johnson’s Shut-Ins are about a five-hour drive from Kansas City. But they’re worth it, with clear water and breathtaking rock formations.
Shut-ins are a natural rock formation found in streams in the Ozark Mountains. The water cuts through softer limestone and dolomite and leaves behind the tougher igneous rock, creating deep pools, rivulets, and rapids. They’re called “shut-ins” because the formation is closed in by a canyon or narrow valley.
While there are some shallow places in the river, Johnson’s Shut-Ins can be dangerous because the water is strong and moves fast. It is recommended that people wear sturdy shoes and life vests, and it is probably not the best place for small children.
Castor River Shut-Ins
The Castor River Shut-Ins are the only known pink-granite shut-ins in the state of Missouri. Like Johnson’s, the Castor River Shut-Ins are also located along the St. Francois mountain range, and are about a six hour drive from Kansas City.
These salmon-hued shut-ins are a little calmer and not as deep as Johnson’s Shut-Ins because the river is smaller, but you will still want to be cautious (especially if you have small explorers with you). Castor River Shut-Ins are a part of the Amidon Memorial Conservation Area near Fredericktown, Missouri.
The Fugitive Beach
Located in Rolla about four hours from Kansas City, the Fugitive Beach is a classic Missouri swimming spot. It has some natural features, but is man made — an abandoned rock-quarry turned beachy water park.
Other than its beautiful rock formations and bright turquoise water, Fugitive Beach offers sandy beaches, a water slide, cliff jumping, an inflatable water swing, and outdoor games. If you get hungry, there is an on-site bar and grill.
Although the park is equipped with lifeguards in some areas, lifejackets are required for children 10 and under when they are in the water. They are also required for everyone using the waterslide or when cliff jumping or for people who chose to swim in the deep areas past the buoys. If you don’t have a life vest, you can rent one from the park for $6 a day.
A day pass to Fugitive Beach costs $15 for adults and $13 for children 10 and below, seniors, veterans, and first responders. Children 2 years or younger are free. The park also offers season and group passes.