Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Park and State Historic Site is both a museum and a nature park. The historic site has been preserved to give you a sense of what life was like in the 1870s. The 100-acre park itself offers a bike trail, campgrounds, swimming beach, trails, and a lake area where you can sit and enjoy the clean waters of Watkins Mill Lake. You can also view the abundant wildlife, such as deer and wild turkeys, and see a variety of bird species, some that are only native to northwestern Missouri.
The park is not too far from Kansas City at all, so it makes a great day trip from either Western Missouri or Eastern Kansas. I would highly recommend it for the peaceful lake setting, as it isn’t too crowded and is far away enough from the big city that you don’t hear cars on a nearby road or planes flying overhead. It’s also a great excursion if you are visiting nearby Excelsior Springs.
Getting There: When searching for the entrance to the park, be careful what you enter into your smartphone. It’s better to key in Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site or the Mill itself rather than just Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Park because you might end up on the outskirts on the equestrian trail. It will have a single sign that says Welcome to Missouri State Parks beside a rocky road. That’s the wrong one.
Look for the historic site itself and you will see an actual open gate for you to pass through. You might see some adorable horses but will find yourself at a place with no outlet except for a walking trail. If you find yourself at the Horse Trail Parking area, circle back, follow Eadsley Road west to 162nd street (turn right when you get back to Eadsley Road) and go up to RA Highway. You will see a Park Entrance there. You can also turn left and follow Eadsley Road, and it should take you by the trail near Mt. Vernon Church. Maybe. Not that I did that or anything…twice. Siri and I had words.
A three-story woolen mil is the only 19th-century textile mill in the United States with its original machinery intact. You can also view the agricultural practices of the period and visit the historic Watkins homestead, called Bethany, for a glimpse of the family that moved to the early in the early 1800s. The woolen mill was built in 1861 and housed more than 50 machines that produced fabrics, blankets, shawls, fine yarns, and batting that was used locally and shipped to places such as Chicago. Other buildings around the mill include the restored summer kitchen, icehouse, and smokehouse.
A visitor’s center operates on the site provides exhibits, artifacts, and videos that give an overview of the place. The farmstead is also a living history museum, with various breeds of time-appropriate livestock and plants and seeds from the time. Another neat bit is also to visit the nearby restored 1871 Mt. Vernon Church and the 1856 octagonal one-room Franklin School Octagonal Building Schoolhouse that was used by the Watkins family. You can find signs for these places as you are heading to the mill from the beach and lake area.
Williams Creek Lake has over 100-acres that you can use for swimming, fishing, or just sightseeing. As you are driving into the park, you will begin to see signs for the lake access. You can park (for free) down near the beach or by the sitting area near the lake. The sand swimming beach at the north end of the lake is open May 25th through September 3 (for 2018). There is also an area for just sitting and enjoying the lake without having to deal with the sand (and the crowds). It is to the south of the beach and near the parking lot. There is also a 3.75-mile Lake Trail that you can follow either on a bike or foot. Picnic areas with tables and barbeque grills are set up along the path.
Here are 7 minutes of relaxing at the lake on the bench (not the beach; this was in the shade).
When to Visit?
The Visitor Centers have different hours during the summer and winter months. You can play it safe by visiting between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturdays. The Williams Creek Picnic Area, however, is open year-round, so you can go sit and enjoy the lake, even when the beach itself is closed. The North Gate entrance (closest to the farm site) is open from 7 a.m. to sunset year-round. If you want to stay overnight, the park has 96 campsites, and you can make a reservation online to reserve one of the campsites. The wooded campground near the sound end of the lake even has two restrooms with hot showers and a coin-operated laundry.
Want to find more to do in the area? Visit Excelsior Springs
Where to find it (Map)