25 Best Places to Visit in Kansas
Situated right in the heart of the United States, Kansas is not only brimming with attractions to entice visitors, but is also perfectly situated as a springboard to the neighboring states of Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Whatever itinerary you choose for exploring Kansas, you can be assured there will be something of interest for everyone. Here are the best places to visit in Kansas. Photo: Michael Vorobiev/Fotolia
Wichita ticks all the boxes for anyone looking for an action-packed city getaway destination with attractions to suit all ages. To make things easy for culture-vultures, five of the city’s 33 museums are situated along the banks of the Arkansas River. Here you can visit Exploration Place, Old Cowtown Museum, and the impressive Wichita Art Museum.
Garden lovers should not miss Botanica (also along the river), which comprises over 18 acres of themed landscaped gardens, while art enthusiasts should time their visit for the final Friday of the month, when art museums and galleries offer free admissions. Shopaholics can head to the historic Delano District for specialty stores or the two large malls at Towne East Square and Towne West Square.
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Lawrence is waiting to welcome visitors with warm Midwestern hospitality, plenty of attractions, and some great restaurants. You can learn all about the city’s pioneering history at the Watkins Museum of History, the Black Jack Battlefield Park, and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area in downtown.
While you are in downtown, you can visit the Lawrence Art Center, which hosts regular exhibitions and is home to the Black Box Theater, where you can watch live musical and theatrical productions. Outdoor enthusiasts can visit the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center, the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center, and Clinton State Park, where you can go boating, water-skiing, camping, hiking, and picnicking.
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Kansas’ state capital Topeka is a vibrant city just about bursting at the seams with attractions for everyone. You can kick-start your visit at the impressive Kansas Statehouse, which features a very beautiful cupola, before walking in the footsteps of the prairie pioneers at Old Prairie Town on the Ward-Meade Historic Site – you can visit the peaceful Ward-Meade Botanical Garden while you are there.
Motor racing enthusiasts head to Yesterday’s Motorbike Museum and the Evel Knievel Museum (opening 2017) at Topeka Harley-Davidson or watch drag racing at Heartland Park Topeka. Children can have fun riding the 1908 vintage carousel and the mini-train at Gage Park and get hands-on at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center. There are plenty of wide-open green spaces where you can go hiking, biking, and nature-watching. Read more
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If you fancy a taste of the real Wild West, you need to put Dodge City on your vacation wish-list. Here you can watch the thrilling Dodge City Rodeo or get transported back to the 1800s on Main Street in the Boot Hill Museum – if you visit during the summer, you have a good chance of watching a gun fight and seeing some can-can girls in action. You can get a great overview of Dodge City on the Historic Trolley Tour or do a self-guided walking tour.
The United Wireless Arena hosts regular world-class entertainment and art lovers can visit the Carnegie Arts Center and the Depot Theatre Company. Outdoor activities include playing golf at the Mariah Hills Golf course or visiting Long Branch Lagoon Aquatics Park and Dodge City Zoo.
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Cottonwood Falls is small Kansas town located in the Great Plains in the scenic Flint Hills on the banks of the Cottonwood River. For millennia, the area was a home to nomadic Native Americans until, in the 16th century, it was claimed by the Kingdom of France. In 1762 France ceded it to Spain, then Spain gave it back to France until the United States bought it from France and it became a part of the Kansas Territory. Today’s Cottonwood Falls has a charming, peaceful downtown dominated by the beautifully restored Chase County courthouse, built in 1873 in the French Renaissance style. The Flint Hills are home to one of the country’s last large tracts of tallgrass prairie, which once covered the entire Great Plains. The prairie is protected within the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The best place to learn about the town’s history is the Chase County Historical Museum. The Flint Hills Gallery features the works of Judith Mackey, the renowned painter of the Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie. 25 Best Places to Visit in Kansas - Photo: Harris Shiffman/Fotolia
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Manhattan offers visitors a great mix of historical, cultural, culinary, and outdoor activities to fill every moment of your visit. Learn about the city’s history as you tour the Riley Country Historical Museum, Goodnow House Museum, and Wolf House Museum. The whole family will enjoy a visit to the interactive Flint Hills Discovery Center, Sunset Zoo, and the Lazy T Ranch, which features hayrides and chuck-wagon suppers.
If you are longing to get out into the wide-open prairie, you can head to Tuttle Creek Lake for boating and hiking or go for a walk through the K-State Botanical Gardens. You can visit the Liquid Art Winery, go zip-lining at the Wildwood Outdoor Adventure Park, or try out one of the city’s four golf courses.
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»Places to Visit in Kansas: Salina
Salina is widely known as an artistic hub and is home to a thriving arts community where you can enjoy a variety of museums, concerts, and live theatre performances all year round. The highlight for art lovers is the First Friday Live Art Walk in Oldtown Salinas, when galleries and studios stay open late to enchant visitors.
However, if you miss First Friday, you can still enjoy public art installations, the Salina Art Center, and the Salina Sculpture Walk in spring. Outdoor enthusiasts will be pleased to discover over 700 acres of green space offering excellent opportunities for fishing, swimming, hiking, and biking. Family-friendly attractions include the wonderful Rolling Hills Zoo and the Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park.
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Olathe (meaning “beautiful” in the Shawnee Indian language) is situated just 20 miles southwest of Kansas City and can be reached along the historic Oregon-California and Santé Fe Trails, which were once utilized by wagon trains and stagecoaches. You can learn a bit about the history of the city by visiting the Ensor Park and Museum and the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm, which once provided a welcome watering-hole for up to 600 wagons each week.
Art enthusiasts can take a walking tour of the Downtown Outdoor Sculpture Exhibits, while outdoor enthusiasts will find a great selection of parks and green spaces where you can enjoy walking, hiking, running, and biking. All the museums and cultural attractions of Kansas City are just at your doorstep.
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»Places to Visit in Kansas: Hutchinson
Hutchinson has been home to salt mines since the late 1800s and one of the city’s prime attractions is Strataca, where you can take a trip deep below the surface of the Earth to get a glimpse of the working conditions in a real salt mine.
Once you have learnt all about salt mining, it’s time to visit Cosmosphere, a fascinating museum dedicated to tracking America’s Space Program, past and present. For a complete chance of pace, you can go walking, hiking, or fishing in the Dillon Nature Center, visit the Yoder Amish Community for a horse and buggy ride (don’t miss the farmers market every Friday), or take the kids to the Hutchinson Zoo.
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»Kansas Attractions: Monument Rocks
Monument Rocks (aka Chalk Pyramids) are a group of interesting rock outcrops situated just off US 83 in western Kansas. Anyone who is remotely interested in geology and fossils should definitely take the 6-mile detour off the highway to see these striking, 70-foot sedimentary shapes that were formed over 80 million years ago, when Kansas was covered by an enormous inland sea.
You can get directions and see some brilliant fossils at the nearby Keystone Gallery, where art and ancient fossils rub shoulders. If you travel a little further on, you will come to the Little Pyramids, where you can take a stroll around the slightly smaller rock formations and possibly even find a fossilized shark tooth.
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»Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area
Situated in the heart of the central Kansas prairies, Cheyenne Bottoms is a huge (41,000-acre) natural land sink comprising 15,000 acres of wetlands. Bird watchers and wildlife photographers will be happy to know that Cheyenne Bottoms is directly beneath the narrowest portion of the Central Flyway and is visited by millions of migratory birds each year.
Some stop briefly to rest, but others will mate and breed in the wetlands. The onsite Kansas Wetlands Education Center has some great exhibits and can give you a driving tour map and birding checklist. You can walk to the observation platform, where naturalists are on hand to answer your questions, drive through the preserve, or book a guided tour.
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»Places to Visit in Kansas: Sedgwick County Park
Sedgwick County Park is a large and lovely outdoor recreational area situated in northwest Wichita just west of Wichita Zoo. You can pack a picnic basket and come and spend a few hours or an entire day enjoying all the facilities. If you enjoy fishing, you can try to catch your supper (or, preferably, practice some catch-and-release techniques) on the four lakes, where children can have fun feeding the ducks and geese.
Hikers and bikers can set off to explore over 4 miles of paved trails through open areas and woodlands filled with wildlife. Other facilities you can enjoy include barbecue grills, open and closed picnic shelters, tennis and volley ball courts, and children’s playgrounds.
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»Arkansas River Trail
The Arkansas River Trail in Kansas is situated along a 10-mile stretch of the Big Arkansas River in Wichita. You can walk, jog, or cycle the paved trail that runs mainly along the southwest bank of the river, with two separate paths along the west bank.
Along the way, you can stop to admire the Keeper of the Plains, a 44-foot tall statue of an Indian warrior, who stands guard over the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Big Arkansas rivers. If you time your walk correctly, you can watch the evening “Ring of Fire” light show. The trail also offers beautiful sunset views and you can easily access museums, the stadium, the ice rink, and the Wichita Zoo from the trail.
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»Deep Creek Waterfall at Pillsbury Crossing
You can find the Deep Creek Waterfall in the Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area, just 7 miles southeast of Manhattan, Kansas. Although the waterfall is just 5 feet high, it can stretch to an impressive width of 60 feet when the river is flowing strongly.
Besides bringing a picnic to enjoy surrounded by the beautiful scenery, you can also explore the area on foot along a short hiking trail. When the water levels are good, you can canoe and kayak along the stream or have a go at fishing – Pillsbury Crossing is one of the few areas where spotted bass can be found and channel cat-fishing is rumored to be good both upstream and downstream of the waterfall.
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»Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Covering over 300 acres dedicated to the preservation and showcasing of no less than eight natural ecosystems, the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is a source of inspiration to all nature lovers and garden enthusiasts.
You can easily spend a day in the park admiring the many themed gardens, which include a 1-acre replica of Monet’s garden, a delightful water garden, and the Legacy Garden, which is filled with plants traditionally found around Kansas homesteads. There are picnic shelters, a café, and over 5 miles of hiking paths for the energetically inclined. Children can have hours of fun exploring the Children’s Discovery Garden and the magical Train Garden, which features a miniature railway.
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»Drinkwater and Schriver Flour Mill, Cedar Point
The historical Drinkwater and Schriver Flour Mill is a focal point in the small hamlet of Cedar Point in Chase County, Kansas. The mill has an interesting history – in 1867 it started life as a wooden sawmill on the banks of the Cottonwood River, where a log dam had been constructed to power the water wheel. In 1870 it was decided to use the mill to grind wheat for local bakeries, and construction of the current three-story stone structure commenced in 1875.
The mill was in use as a grist mill until 1941 and was later used to grind animal feed before it was abandoned around 1961. Currently, it is not safe to enter the building but plans are underway to restore it to its former glory.
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»Kansas Attractions: Kanopolis State Park
Nestled in the scenic Smoky Hills just 33 miles southwest of Salina, the Kanopolis State Park offers visitors an enormous playground for just about every kind of outdoor activity. You can pack a picnic and come and enjoy the facilities as a day-visitor or bring along your tent or RV to enjoy the park for a few days – there are both primitive and serviced campsites spread over several campgrounds.
You can go hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding along more than 30 miles of trails or launch your boat at the marina and enjoy excellent fishing on the 3,500-acre Kanopolis Reservoir. Other activities include hunting and wildlife watching.
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»Places to Visit in Kansas: Lake Scott State Park
Situated 14 miles north of Scott City in western Kansas, Lake Scott State Park is definitely a must-see destination for visitors. Here you can enjoy a large variety of outdoor pursuits as well as explore some of the best archeological sites in the state, against a backdrop of impressive scenery, dotted with natural springs, towering rock outcrops, and deeply carved gorges.
Hikers, bikers, and equestrians can enjoy several trails or you can rent a canoe or paddleboat to enjoy the lake. There is great wildlife watching all over the park and you can spend some time visiting the remains of the northern-most Native American pueblo – El Cuartelejo, which is a National Historic Landmark.
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»Cheney State Park
Situated 20 miles west of Wichita, the 1,900-acre Cheney State Park has long been a popular destination for all outdoor enthusiasts. The park is spread out along the shores of the Cheney Reservoir, which is one of the premier sailing lakes in the USA.
The park offers two marinas where you can launch your boat – either to go sailing or fishing – and there are also four designated swimming areas on the lake. You can bring along your tent or RV – there are over 400 serviced campsites that can be reserved in advance. Giefer Creek and Spring Creek Nature Trails offer good wildlife viewing and there is also a 5-mile trail for walking, hiking, or biking.
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»Kansas Attractions: Wilson State Park
Scenically nestled in the heart of the Smoky Hills, Wilson State Park beckons all nature lovers to come and play in one of the most beautiful state parks in the country. You can have the time of your life enjoying water sports on the lake – canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, skiing, windsurfing and sailing are all popular here, and there are two swimming beaches.
The lake has crystal-clear water that is also great for scuba divers. There are five campgrounds with serviced campsites where you can pitch a tent or park an RV to get really close to nature. You can go hiking along several challenging trails or opt for a short and easy nature walk. Seasonal hunting is allowed and there is good wildlife watching all year round.
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»Veterans’ Memorial Park
Dedicated to those brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their country and their freedom, Veterans’ Memorial Park is situated on the east bank of the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita. You can access the park from the Wichita Riverwalk and take a quiet stroll down the winding riverside paths that will lead you to each of the park’s seven memorials.
There are benches for quiet reflection and at the end of your walk you can see the memorial to the USS Wichita, which received 13 battle stars for service during World War II. Once you have paid your respects to the veterans, you can continue a short distance along the Riverwalk to the famous Keeper of the Plains statue.
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»Geary County State Park
Situated south of Junction City, Geary State Fishing Lake and the surrounding Geary Country State Park provide an excellent recreation area for all fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts. The 99-acre lake has a boat ramp where you can launch your own craft and is well stocked with several varieties of fish to provide you with some great fishing opportunities.
The lake is also an important stopover area for migrating water birds, so bird watching is especially good. The lake is surrounded by public hunting land and there are primitive campsites for those who would like to get back to nature. You can take a hike to the 35-foot Geary Lake Falls (only active in spring or after heavy rains).
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Extending from Marshall County in the north to Cowley County in the south, the Flint Hills were formed by the erosion of limestone and shale during the Permian over 240 million years ago, when the entire area was covered by ocean. Today these rolling hills are covered in native prairie grassland and form one of the last remaining tall-grass prairies in the country.
The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway will lead you through this surprising and intriguing sea of grass and introduce you to several of the little pioneer towns along the route. You can get all the info you need at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, where you can watch a multimedia presentation that explains the origin of this very special ecosystem.
25 Best Places to Visit in Kansas - Photo: Flint Hills
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25 Best Places to Visit in Kansas
- Wichita, Photo: Courtesy of ricardoreitmeyer - Fotolia.com
- Lawrence, Photo: Lawrence
- Topeka, Photo: Courtesy of sframe - Fotolia.com
- Dodge City, Photo: Courtesy of Wendy Kaveney - Fotolia.com
- Cottonwood Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Harris Shiffman - Fotolia.com
- Manhattan, Photo: Manhattan
- Places to Visit in Kansas: Salina, Photo: Salina
- Olathe, Photo: Olathe
- Places to Visit in Kansas: Hutchinson, Photo: Hutchinson
- Kansas Attractions: Monument Rocks, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Vorobiev - Fotolia.com
- Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, Photo: Courtesy of Rusty Dodson - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Kansas: Sedgwick County Park, Photo: Sedgwick County Park
- Arkansas River Trail, Photo: Arkansas River Trail
- Deep Creek Waterfall at Pillsbury Crossing, Photo: Courtesy of Carbonbrain - Fotolia.com
- Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Altin Osmanaj - Fotolia.com
- Drinkwater and Schriver Flour Mill, Cedar Point, Photo: Courtesy of laurac111 - Fotolia.com
- Kansas Attractions: Kanopolis State Park, Photo: Courtesy of patita 88 - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Kansas: Lake Scott State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia.com
- Cheney State Park, Photo: Cheney State Park
- Kansas Attractions: Wilson State Park, Photo: Courtesy of karenkh - Fotolia.com
- Veterans’ Memorial Park, Photo: Courtesy of Jorg Hackemann - Fotolia.com
- Geary County State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Rusty Dodson - Fotolia.com
- Flint Hills, Photo: Flint Hills
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Michael Vorobiev - Fotolia.com
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