Here are 5 reasons to take I-70’s Exit 206 and head south two miles into Wilson or north five miles to Wilson Lake:
#1: Midland Railroad Hotel, Wilson The 1899 three-story limestone hotel, built as a stop for travelers on the Union Pacific Railroad, still pampers guests in 28 restored period rooms. A tavern serves comfort food like meat loaf, burgers and chicken-fried steak. In a nod to the town’s Czech heritage, kolaches (sweet dough with fruit filling) and locally-smoked sausages come on the complimentary breakfast buffet. In front of the hotel, trains whiz through town but don’t stop anymore, their whistles a reminder of the hotel’s roots (midlandrailroadhotel.com).
#2: Wilson’s Czech heritage The “Czech Capital of Kansas” and its 780 residents go all-out Czech the last weekend of July. The After Harvest Czech Festival includes polka bands, Czech dancers, beer gardens, an hour-long parade and church dinners serving jaternice (Czech sausage), dumplings, roast pork, kraut and kolaches. If you don’t happen to visit then, you can still see the town’s 20-foot-tall, hand-painted “world’s largest Czech egg” in a Wilson gazebo (wilsonczechfest.com).
#3: Grandma’s Soda Shop & Diner, Wilson Chalkboards list the dozens of soda, ice cream and topping flavors, and a friendly “jerk” behind the counter mixes up dreamy desserts. Order a brown cow float, black cherry soda, chocolate malt or ice cream in a crispy waffle cone to go with your homemade bierock (pastry pocket sandwich), burger basket, sliders or stone-oven pizza. (785) 658-2200
#4: Kansas Originals Market & Gallery Just north of the I-70 off-ramp on the Post Rock Scenic Byway, travelers looking for souvenirs or gifts browse showrooms brimming with wheat weavings, limestone post rock name signs, sunflower art, wheat flour, jellies, honey, books, homemade soaps, paintings, quilts, wood and metal art by some 200 Kansas artisans and food producers (kansasoriginals.com).
#5: Wilson Lake Five miles north of I-70 along the Post Rock Scenic Byway, Wilson Lake offers a 9,000-acre oasis in the Smoky Hills. Red sandstone outcroppings create cliffs and pillars along parts of the shoreline. Visitors enjoy swimming beaches, camping, boating, fishing, hunting, cabin rentals and a network of both paved and gravel trails. Avid bikers get a workout on the rugged 25-mile-long Switchgrass Bike Trail that twists through red sandstone canyons (ksoutdoors.com).