Kansas River sandbar west of Topeka.
Photo by Lisa Grossman

One of the most spectacular parts of the Kansas River is a sandbar. It is unlike any other place in Kansas. The sandbars are full of wildlife (look for tracks), remnants of history, and are a beautiful place to watch the sun rise or set on the Kaw. Exploring a sandbar is one of the most magical things to do in Kansas, but understanding how sandbars form and how to find the perfect place to camp are important.

The Kansas River is a dynamic river. The river’s job is to transport sediment and sand so the sandbars are in constant motion as they erode in fast water and build where the water moves slower. Sand settles out of the slow-moving water on the inside of river bends, on the side of islands, and downstream of obstructions. High water moves faster and moves more sand. In addition to the sand movement, the water level itself determines whether a sand dune is part of a beach or part of the riverbed. The river also moves silt, gravel, boulders and trees; this dynamic system creates a variety of sandbars. In is important to understand how sandbars form – they are shallow as you approach and the back side is often deeper where the channel moves. This is important information to know for boating and camping, and also for safety when exploring sandbars. Be cognizant of the deep water sides of sandbars so that you (or others) do not step off that side and into the river. We do recommend life jackets when exploring sandbars.

Kansas River sandbar magic.
Photo by Lisa Grossman

When choosing a sandbar for your river activity, consider the advantages of the different positions and make-up of the sandbars. A sandbar connected to the bank will have more animal activity than one surrounded by water, but it is also more stable at moderate flows and likely sits higher above the river. A sandbar attached to an island will have more shade, more driftwood, and more insects than one that is out in the open. The upstream approach to a sandbar probably has a long, gradual slope. Landing there could mean dragging your boat a long way through shallow water. The sides of a high bar will probably have some deeper harbors about halfway along. The downstream end may have a deep approach, but beware of unstable sand or even sand infiltrated with water that can causes your feet to sink deep.

One of the best ways to connect to the Kansas River is sandbar exploration….enjoy your adventure and let us know how we can help!