Ladder Creek, also known locally as Beaver Creek, was named by a surveying party "who found a ladder imbedded in the grass by the creek, almost hidden. When they tried to pull it out, it broke to pieces. It was a great mystery what use a ladder could be to any one out there. The rounds or steps had been tied to the sides with rawhide. There were notches around the steps and also around the side poles. This was such an important find that the surveying crew called the stream Ladder Creek."
Ladder Creek rises in the High Plains region of the Great Plains and generally flows east. Its source lies just south of Firstview, Colorado in central Cheyenne County in the far eastern part of the state. The river flows east into western Kansas, turning southeast in southern Wallace County and then east again in north-central Wichita County. Finally, in Scott County, it turns north, joining the Smoky Hill River at Elkader, Kansas in southwestern Logan County.
In 1664, a group of Taos people fleeing Spanish rule built a small pueblo on the west bank of Ladder Creek in what is today north-central Scott County, Kansas. The site was occupied intermittently until it was finally abandoned in 1727. University of Kansas archaeologists excavated the site in the 1890s, and it became known as El Cuartelejo, the northernmost pueblo ruins in the United States. In 1928, the Government of Kansas acquired El Cuartelejo and the surrounding land to create a state park. The following year, it dammed Ladder Creek a few miles north of the ruins to create Lake Scott, and the park became known as Lake Scott State Park.