Maxwell Wildlife Refuge &
McPherson State Fishing Lake

Prairie Vista at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge
The prairie at Maxwell, seen from the observation tower
- All photos by Jim Mason

The 4 1/2 square miles of Maxwell Wildlife Refuge and adjacent McPherson State Fishing Lake provide one of the best viewing opportunities in the state for large mammals.

Today at Maxwell approximately 200 bison and 50 elk give visitors a rare look into the past. The observation tower (red dot on map below) is a good place to scan the rolling hills for wildlife.

Maxwell tower
Observation Tower at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

Visitors on the refuge are not allowed to leave the roadway by vehicle or by foot.  A portion of the road through the refuge is open range.  If bison are near the road, view them only from the safety of your vehicle.

Bison cows and calves
The bison can be seen up close from the tram.

For a modest cost the private group "Friends of Maxwell" offers guided tram rides onto the Refuge to see the bison.  These are available on Saturdays at 10 AM by appointment.  Call (620) 628-4455 or visit their web site listed below for more information.  Also see their special event list.

Bison calf
New calves are rusty brown in color.
They change to the darker adult color by fall.
Calves are born from late April through early June.

One of the most impressive times to experience the elk is during the breeding season, or rut. From mid-September until mid-October the dominant bulls are gathering cows into harems. Their bugling can be best heard on calm mornings and evenings.

McPherson Lake
McPherson State Fishing Lake

The area around McPherson State Fishing Lake (46 surface acres) is ideal for prairie wildflowers. In May and June there are impressive displays of yucca, spiderwort, yellow star-grass, catclaw sensitive brier, purple prairie clover, coneflowers and the uncommon Virginia Tephrosia.  Abundant butterfly milkweed attract insects and butterflies, including the large, rare, Regal Fritillary.

An eastern bluebird "trail" of numerous nesting boxes attached to the fence provides an opportunity to see these attractive birds. While traveling the roads or exploring the prairie be alert for the plentiful ornate box turtles. Lizards such as six-lined racerunners and legless slender glass lizards are also found here. Common snakes include black rat snakes, gopher snakes, and prairie king snakes.

At the southwest corner of the lake is the Gypsum Creek Nature Trail. Watch for white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, fox squirrels, and woodland birds.   Beaver sign is impressively abundant on this trail. If you walk slowly and quietly at night and use a strong flashlight you may gain some insight into the secret life of the largest Kansas rodent.


Picnic tables, Grills, Pit toilets, Boat ramp.

Camping iconPrimitive camping at the lake & 1 cabin (make a reservation online).

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Trail icon Gypsum Creek Nature Trail (3/4 mile one-way)

Click here to get county birding lists for Kansas. Click the icon to find a birding list for McPherson County.

Find nearby Geocaches! Click the icon to locate nearby Geocaches

For more Wildlife Watching sites in the Flint Hills, click here Click here for more Wildlife Watching sites in the Flint Hills!

Map of Maxwell & McPherson State Lake Directions: From Canton (50 miles north of Wichita) travel 6 miles north on McPherson County 304 to Pueblo Road.

Location in Kansas

For a Google Map of this site,
click here.

Ownership: The entity responsible for management of Maxwell Refuge and McPherson State Fishing Lake is the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.  Contact them at (620) 628-4592 if you have specific questions about use or management of these sites.
You may download the KDWPT brochure for Maxwell Wildlife Refuge and McPherson State Fishing Lake from their web site.

2,560 acres

The Friends of Maxwell hosts several special events during the year. 
Here is the 2012 schedule!


June 2 and 9 � Wildflower Tour via the tram, beginning at 10 AM (Adults - $8, Under 12 - $5)
or self-guided tour with flagged flowers.


September 1 and 8 � Wildflower Tour via the tram, beginning at 10 AM (Adults - $8, Under 12 - $5)
or self-guided tour with flagged flowers.


October 5-7 � Mountain Man Rendezvous:
Demonstrations of 1800s lifestyle, primitive camps & traders, buffalo tour, concessions, music.


November 14 - Buffalo Auction, sale begins approximately at 11 AM

Buffalo tours are available year-round by reservation on Saturdays at 10 AM, no minimum group size.
Adults - $8, under 12 - $5  Call 620-628-4455 to make a reservation.

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The Natural Kansas web site © 2011 by
the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.

Re-publication of site content in any form other than for personal use requires written permission.  If you are a Kansas resident, please assist with this and other wildlife viewing and conservation programs by contributing to the Chickadee Checkoff on your state tax form.

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Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism