Scenic Drives in Kansas | Midwest Living
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Scenic Drives in Kansas

Kansas highways and byways take travelers to historic sites, breathtaking river views, small towns and more.

Eastern Kansas

Glacial Hills Scenic Byway

From Leavenworth north through Atchison, Troy and White Cloud, forested bluffs and stunning Missouri River views star along the 63-mile Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, also designated as the official route of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. Atchison, a graceful bluff-top town, charms with grand 19th- century homes lining steep brick streets. Tour the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, where the aviation pioneer was born and raised. Trace the steps of explorers Lewis and Clark from Riverfront Park, where biking trails hug the swift-flowing Missouri River. Browse downtown shops for irresistible finds. North along K-7, you can savor the spectacular rolling hills to Troy. There, you’ll find sculptor Peter Toth’s 27-foot-tall Tall Oaks Indian Monument, located on the Courthouse Square. At the byway’s northern end in White Cloud, climb the gravel road up the bluff to take in the stunning view of the mighty Missouri River at the Four State Lookout. Glacial Hills Scenic Byway

Missouri River at White Cloud.

Missouri River at White Cloud.

Frontier Military Historic Byway

Journey through Civil War history with a visit to Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site, one of many notable historic areas along this 168-mile route from Leavenworth south past Baxter Springs to the Oklahoma line. Discover the history of Kansas’ first city with a self-guided, interactive wayside tour in downtown Leavenworth’s Landing Park. Then, you can sip a Green River soda or pair a burger with  a thick hand-dipped malt at The Corner Pharmacy’s old-time soda fountain. The C.W. Parker Carousel Museum offers rides on a beautifully restored 1913 carousel. Keep your photo I.D. handy for a visit to Fort Leavenworth, home of the Buffalo Soldier monument, dedicated in memory of cavalry regiments composed of African-American soldiers who helped settle the West. Frontier Military Historic Byway

The Buffalo Soldier in Fort Leavenworth.

The Buffalo Soldier in Fort Leavenworth.

Route 66

Though not a designated scenic byway, Route 66 remains one of the country’s most legendary roads. Roughly 13 miles of the Mother Road cross Kansas’ southeastern corner, passing through Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs. In Galena, snap a shot with the rusty celebrity and inspiration for the character Mater from the movie Cars. Riverton’s Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store, an icon since 1925, stocks Route 66 souvenirs. On the way to Baxter Springs, see the restored historic Marsh Arch Rainbow Bridge, the only one of its kind remaining on Route 66. Route 66 in Kansas

 

Central Kansas

Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway

If you think Kansas is all wheat fields and prairie, think again. From Coldwater to Medicine Lodge (75 miles southwest of Wichita), this 42-mile byway cuts through the dramatic heart of a rugged and remote 20-mile-wide swath of buttes, spires and red hillsides covered with cedars, yuccas and sagebrush. Plan to hike, bike or horseback ride a network of backroads for up-close looks at wildlife. In Medicine Lodge, visit the home of 20th-century Prohibition crusader Carry Nation. Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway

Gypsum Hills.

Gypsum Hills.

US-36 Treasure Hunt

Stringing across north-central Kansas, this rural highway ties together friendly towns, out-of-the-way shops and quirky eateries. In Belleville (71 miles north of Salina), The Feathered Nest showcases art and garden accessories and hosts cooking classes. Pinky's Bar & Grill in Courtland serves cold beer, chicken-fried steak and French-fried green beans. In Phillipsburg, local businesses line the courthouse square. Shepherd's Mill spins yarn from 44 states and sells blankets, scarves and throws. US Highway 36 Association

Post Rock Scenic Byway

On the virtually treeless High Plains, innovative frontier homesteaders and ranchers hewed their fence posts from underground beds of native limestone. Along the 18-mile byway, you can still see long rows of these post rocks from Wilson (45 miles west of Salina) north to Lucas. Stop for dinner at Wilson's historic Midland Railraod Hotel. Lucas is a tiny town known for 'outsider art." Self-taught artists show works made from recycled materials at the Grassroots Art Center. Civil War veteran S.P. Dinsmoor started the grassroots movement more than 100 years ago. He built his home, Garden of Eden, from concrete. Others like Florence Deeble followed. She began re-creating postcard scenes of famous U.S. landmarks such as Mount Rushmore in her yard. Post Rock Scenic Byway

Garden of Eden in Lucas.

Garden of Eden in Lucas.

 

Flint Hills region

Flint Hills Scenic Byway and Emporia

In central Kansas, the  Flint Hills Scenic Byway (K-177) twists and dips for 48 miles through rock-ribbed hills and the largest remaining tallgrass prairie. Council Grove, with some two dozen historic Santa Fe Trail sites, anchors the northern end. To get a sense of the history and personalities that shaped this region and the state, start your Flint Hills exploration in Emporia, best-known as the hometown of legendary newspaper editor and opinion-maker William Allen White. In 1895, he bought the Emporia Gazette for $3,000 and promised that “the new editor hopes to live here until he is the old editor.” He kept that promise, and in the nearly 50 years before his death in 1944, he also won two Pulitzer Prizes. During that time, five presidents and many prominent Americans visited the so-called Sage of Emporia at his imposing home. The 1888 house now is the centerpiece of the William Allen White House State Historic Site. Also allow time to explore the retivalized downtown, with some shops, cafes and the restored Granada Theatre. Flint Hills Scenic Byway

William Allen White State Historical Site.

William Allen White State Historical Site.

Emporia's Granada Theatre.

Emporia's Granada Theatre.

Along US-36

There are a faster ways to travel across the state, but US-36, which runs along the northern border, can be lots more fun. The highway rambles through friendly little towns and a pretty, pastoral landscape along the route taken by the Pony Express. Museums in Seneca, Marysville and Hanover chronicle the short-lived mail service and its intrepid riders. A stone barn in Marysville houses the original stables where the steamy horses refueled. It’s the 11th of about 180 stations along the 2,000-mile route. Of course, it wasn’t only “wiry, under-18 orphans” (the Pony Express job requirements according to a newspaper ad of the day) who stopped in Marysville. Thousands of 19th-century pioneers camped along the Big Blue River where the Oregon, California and Mormon trails and the Overland Stagecoach Route converged. Just west of town, Historic Trails Park has a full-size replica of a pulley-operated rope ferry wagon that trains used. In 1846, high water delayed the Donner-Reed party; they carved their names in Alcove Springs. The group then reached the mountain pass at the same time as the big snows. US Highway 36 Association

Native Stone Scenic Byway

Buildings and fences of native limestone endure along this 48-mile route from Dover, home of 1878 Sage Inn and Stagecoach Stop and the Dover General Store, west to Alma, where you can join tours of the Alma Creamery, in business since 1946. Native Stone Scenic Byway

Western Kansas

US-36 Northwest Meander

In 1878, the last Kansas Indian Raild occurred near Oberlin (70 miles northeast of Goodland) when Cheyenne warriors killed 19 settlers near town. Fifteen historical buildings can be found at the Last Indian Raid Museum off US-36, which links small towns and historic sites for 70 miles west to the Colorado border. Near St. Francis, the prairie fractures into the Arikaree Breaks, a breathtaking canyon sculpted out of 9,000-year-old loess hills. US 36 Highway Association

Windmill at Last Indian Raid Museum.

Windmill at Last Indian Raid Museum.

Smoky Valley Scenic Byway

Yucca and sage mingle with colorful wildflowers along this 60-mile loop off I-70 at WaKeeney. Dramatic limestone cliffs rise above Cedar Bluff Reservoir. Historic sites include a one-room school and two churches. Smoky Valley Scenic Byway

Western Vistas Historic Byway

The state’s first historic byway links seven National Historic Sites and six museums along a 102-mile route that also features spectacular scenery and opportunities to view wildlife. Common sightings include deer, buffalo, turkeys and prairie dogs. Scott City anchors the byway (90 miles northwest of Dodge City). North of town, see impressive displays of fossil finds at Keystone Gallery and Museum. Owners Chuck Bonner and his wife, Barbara Shelton, offer guided fossil hunts. The drive continues through Oakley, where Buffalo Bill forged his legend; Sharon Springs; and Wallace, with its restored Pond Creek Stagecoach Station and Clark Robidoux House. The 1880 Victorian-style home was built by H.A. Clark and later owned by Peter Robidoux, a merchant. Also along the route, explore the El Quartelejo Pueblo ruins, walk among the towering Monument Rocks, browse the Butterfield Trail Museum, and climb the gentle slope of Mount Sunflower, which at 4,309 feet is the highest point in the state. Western Vistas Historic Byway

 

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