The Very Best of Kansas
When you picture Kansas The Wizard of Oz and tornado’s may be all that you can think of but there is much more to this midwestern state. From the vast plains to the rolling flint hills, Kansas has much to see and is a beautiful representation of the Midwest. I have done my best here to highlight the must see spots of Kansas that can be done on a round about road trip. If you hit all attractions on this road trip and spent a couple days in the major cities this would best be done in a couple of weeks. However, you could always split up eastern or western Kansas or major cities if looking for a less time consuming itinerary. Majority of the state is rural so a car is paramount for getting around. Also I will only talk about Kansas City briefly as I am sure this will also be covered in the Very Best of Missouri as most of KC is indeed in Missouri.
The cheapest way to get to Kansas and start your road trip through the state is probably to fly into Kansas City, Missouri then rent a car. Another option wound be to fly to Wichita however Kansas City is usually cheaper. Starting in Kansas City there is plenty to see and do some of which I will casually mention but again will likely be covered more in depth as part of Missouri.
One of the best things about Kansas City is there is literally something for everyone. It is easy to find something for the whole family, adults only, the museum or sports lover. If vacationing with kids don’t worry you will have plenty to keep kids of any age occupied. A few attractions for the whole family are the Kansas City zoo, Union station and union station science center, world of fun and oceans of fun. In contrast, if you are hoping to make this an adults only trip Kansas City is a wonderful place for a weekend or just a night out. Spend a night in power and light which has several bars, a central courtyard and during the summer a weekly concert series. Are you a fan of beer? Take a tour of the Boulevard Brewing Company on the Missouri side.
From Kansas City I would recommend heading next to Wichita. This is about a 2.5 hour drive on interstate. The drive will take you through part of the rolling flint hills which are perfectly lush green during the summer.
Wichita, while not the capital, is the largest city in Kansas. It is the perfect blend of small town and city with a lot to do and see.
Wichita is nothing if not family friendly. Spend a day at the Sedgwick County Zoo or if you are looking for a little different experience visit Tanganyika Wildlife park (https://www.twpark.com). Tanganyika allows you to interact with the animals and even feed them. Next make a stop at the cowtown museum to take a step into the past with this old west town built on 23 acres. Make sure you also visit the exploration place with the kids for fun interactive learning. Lastly, make sure to witness the lighting of the keeper of the plains which occurs at 9pm. Next, whether you are a young adult or an older couple looking to get away for some adult time ,Wichita is more than just a family friendly escape. With microbreweries popping up left and right you will not be disappointed with a stop to this Midwest city. Stop at River City brewing company then take a walk around old town to see the murals, unique shops and eateries. If you are a pizza lover Wichita Brewing Company is for you, with their unique wood-fire pizzas and hearty brews there is something for everyone.
If you still have time additional things to do include visiting the botanical gardens, catching a movie at the old Starlite Drive in theatre, try your hand at axe throwing at Blade and Timber or pickle ball at Chicken and Pickle. If sports aren’t your thing, you can always test your brain at one of the many breakout rooms.
From Wichita make your way northwest to Hutchinson, KS. About an hour from Wichita on the highway this is an easy drive to start your next day.
Hutchison is a moderately sized town with some of the top state attractions. Along the way make a stop in the old Amish town of Yoder to enjoy amazing home made Amish foods. In Hutchinson you should be sure to visit the Strataca salt mines (http://underkansas.org) as well as the Cosmosphere (https://cosmo.org). These are both family friendly activities. This town also hosts the state fair every year so if visiting in late August, September make sure to take in the concerts, animals and unique foods that can only be found at state fairs.
After leaving Hutchinson you will be heading more rurally and away from the more major cities of eastern Kansas.
If you are into old Western history or movies Dodge City should definitely be a stop on your Kansas road trip. Once a town frequented by Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp this town was an epicenter in the old west. See some of the old west figures in wax form at their wax museum before stopping a the Boot Hill Museum and Fort Dodge. Traveling without kids? Get in a little gambling at the small Boot Hill Casino. Lastly, if visiting in July be sure to check out Dodge City Days and one of the best PRCA rodeos.
From Dodge City make your way through Garden City then north toward Scott City. Now don’t let the names fool you while they have city in their name these are no large metropolises and are surrounded by vast rural plains.
Monument rocks are 80 million year old fossils out in the country between Scott City and Oakley (https://www.kansassampler.org/8wonders/8wondersofkansas-view.php?id=12). These unique rock formations attract thousands of visitors to the western plains for their uniqueness. To get here you will have to venture off of the highway onto dirt roads so watch the weather as a small rental car and muddy roads don’t bode well. If you get a chance to see these at sunrise or sunset I would highly recommend this!
From Monument Rocks keep going north to stop in the small town of Oakley. You can stop here briefly to visit the Buffalo Bill statue or stay for the night if you end up here later at night.
While heading back eastward there are several places you can stop along the way if you are looking to see the quirkier side of Kansas. If you are getting short on time or just not into weird roadside attractions skip on to Manhattan, KS. Heading back eastward from Oakley you can stop in Hays and visit the Sternberg museum before heading to Lucas to see the Garden of Eden. This unique attraction has sculptures of religious and political figures and is definitely a quirky attraction. Looking to see some more unique Kansas attractions? Next you can make your way to Cawker City which hosts the largest ball of twine.
Coined the “little apple” Manhattan is the home to Kansas State University (K-State) and is a fun and proud college town. Get outdoors at the Tuttle Creek State Park or Konza Prairie or learn more about the flint hills at the new Flint Hill Discovery Center (https://www.flinthillsdiscovery.org). For the adults there is plenty of night life to be found in Aggieville with a several block stretch of bars and eateries. You can also stop in at Tallgrass tap house for a fresh brew. Grab a bite at Coco Bolos, The Chef or Little Apple Brewing Company for local eats. If you are looking for a fancier dining experience make a stop a Harry’s.
On your way to Topeka, my next recommended stop, you can choose to stop at the small town of Wamego which is home to the Wizard of Oz museum.
The capital city of Kansas may not be the biggest but it does have its charms. Topeka is rich with history and is trying more and more to build up its downtown and things to do. The capital building has a beautiful dome and can be toured for free. Make sure you also take in the history of the Brown vs Board museum where segregation was challenged in schools. If you are looking for a little more fun with the kids or by yourself check out Gage park for its zoo, train rides or beautiful green spaces. Lastly, take in the Topeka art scene with a visit to the quirky NOTO arts district (https://explorenoto.org). This is a few block stretch in North Topeka of shops, eateries and art galleries. Here you will also find great wall murals for photos and the monthly first Friday art walk which attracts thousands.
Some of my favorite places to eat include Blind Tiger Brewery, The Iron Rail, The Wheel Barrel and the Burger Stand.
Lastly on your way back to Kansas City to head home I recommend stopping in Lawrence.
Lawrence is home to KU and the nationally known Jayhawks. This town is one of my absolute favorites in Kansas because it is so quirky and relaxed. I would consider this to the be most eclectic town the state has as it has a little something for everyone. Take a walk down Massachusettes (Mass) Street to take in some of the best food, entertainment and shopping. There are so many amazing food and drink options here you can’t go wrong. If visiting in September make a fun trip out to Grinter Farms (https://www.facebook.com/GrinterFarms) to take in the free sunflower fields.
So there it is…some of the best things to see on your Kansas road trip. Now, if I didn’t live here I probably wouldn’t pick it as my top destination either but there are some amazing things to be witnessed by visiting Kansas. If you are from a city and haven’t been rurally much you will be amazed at the clear starry nights of perfect sunsets you can witness on the plains. The people are usually very friendly and the history of the old west and the days of the first settlers can still be found.
A little about the author
Morgan Martin mostly grew up in rural western Kansas on a 17,000 acre nature preserve and later moved to eastern Kansas for schooling. Now located in the capital city of Topeka she works full time as a physician assistant but has a passion for traveling. Recently starting a travel blog she shares her tips, tricks and destinations to inspire wanderlust in others. While Kansas is where she resides she considers the world her home and loves any chance to see more of it.
Morgan thank you for sharing about Kansas! I should visit there more since I am not too far away! Hopefully we can make a long weekend trip someday soon!