20 Top Things to Do in Kansas
Like its endless-sky sunsets, the Sunflower State expands horizons with urban exploration in Wichita; treks through OZ and otherworldly rock formations; and cultural experiences in Topeka, Salina, Dodge City and beyond. Top off your adventures with saucy barbecue in Kansas City, Swedish cuisine in Lindsborg or nostalgic eats along Route 66.
Roam Free in the Flint Hills
Though cattle and cowboys still roam these pastoral lands, there's no need to saddle up to experience this last big stand of tallgrass prairie in North America. Get oriented at the interactive Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, then hike the nature trails that crisscross nearby Konza Prairie Biological Station. In the heart of the Flint Hills, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve immerses visitors in its 11,000-acre prairie with ranger-guided tours and Southwind Nature Trail hikes to bison pastures and scenic overlooks. Continue your adventure along the 47-mile Flint Hills National Scenic Byway.
Marvel at Wichita Museums
Five of Wichita's culturally rich museums make their home along the Arkansas River, and a riverfront walkway provides easy access. Actors in costume recapture Wichita's frontier days at the Old Cowtown Museum. See a miniature version of 1950s Kansas with more than 50 animations at Exploration Place, then observe some of the 10,000-plus works of American art at the Wichita Art Museum. The most popular piece of art along the river, though, is the 44-foot-tall Keeper of the Plains by local artist Blackbear Bosin. See more of his work at the Mid-America All-Indian Museum.
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Make a Splash in Kansas Lakes
Red sandstone cliffs and pillars interrupt the shoreline of Wilson Lake, the self-proclaimed Clearest Lake in Kansas. Within Wilson State Park, lake lovers fish, paddle, boat and swim while mountain bikers conquer the 25-mile Switchgrass Trail that snakes through Smoky Hills canyons. Steady breezes draw a seafaring following to Cheney Lake, one of the nation's top sailing and windsurfing lakes. In Lawrence, fish Clinton Lake's clear waters for channel catfish and walleye. A one-stop marina with 590 boat slips and rentals provides the perfect launch point for fun on the water.
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Salute Eisenhower in Abilene
Abilene's star attraction, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home received a major upgrade in 2019 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day. In exhibits using multimedia, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower tell their life stories in their own words, sharing how the hometown boy became a war hero, Army five-star general and president of the United States. A young Ike likely heard tales of Abilene's cattle town days, re-created in Old Abilene Town, where make-believe gunfights erupt in the street. Next to the historic depot, the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad embarks on trips through the Smoky Hill River Valley.
Rock Your World in Northwest Kansas
For decades, travelers would speed right past Kansas' best natural secret: the state's largest Niobrara chalk formation, tucked in a valley between Scott City and Oakley. Today, this mile-long treasure chest of 100-foot-tall rock faces and pillars is Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. Hike a scenic rim trail around the towering city of stone. At Monument Rocks, a surrounding sprawl of shortgrass prairie makes these 70-foot-tall Niobrara chalk pillars and arches look taller than they are. In the far northwestern reaches of Kansas, the yucca-studded gullies of the Arikaree Breaks sprawl for more than 30 miles. Stop at Lookout Point for the best views.
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Uncover History in Topeka
Topeka's Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, formerly Monroe Elementary School, recalls the 1954 Supreme Court desegregation case. Engage with park rangers, powerful photos and videos, plus the restored kindergarten classroom, to understand the landmark decision triggered at this school. Head across the street to see a 130-foot-long mural that depicts the legacy of the case. The nearby State Capitol soars 17 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol in D.C. Tilt your head up for a dazzling view of the inner dome, featuring 256 glass panels and a 900-pound chandelier.
Soak Up the Beauty of Kansas Gardens
Open year-round, Wichita's Botanica celebrates the seasons with flower festivals, concerts and the illuminating finale: gardens aglow with 2 million holiday lights. Sculptures, water features, 4,000 plant species and a restored 1949 carousel accent more than 30 themed areas. Once a rarity on the treeless prairie, the wooded Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine (30 minutes south of Wichita) flourishes a century later with flowering pathways and a rich pastoral spirit. Robin Macy, a founding member of the Dixie Chicks, tends the haven and its events, beginning each April with Art at the Arb set amid 40,000 tulips.
Catch a Game or Sports Event in Kansas City
Game on! Catch a Sporting KC soccer match under the canopy roof of Children's Mercy Park, voted one of the most intimidating to play in all of Major League Soccer. (The fans are passionate.) Be a spectator at Kansas Speedway or get behind the wheel yourself during the NASCAR Racing Experience, which lets adrenaline fiends take an exhilarating ride along the oval track. In 2021, the T-Bones of the American Association of Professional Baseball became the Monarchs, honoring the KC team that dominated the old Negro Leagues for decades. Watch them knock one out of the park at Legends Field.
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Cruise Kansas Route 66
The 13 miles of Route 66 that clip southeast Kansas come pre-packaged with vintage delights. In Galena, a 1951 Hudson Hornet modeled after Doc Hudson's character in Cars sits near the 1939 gas station housing Gearhead Curios. Tow Tater, the inspiration for Tow Mater in Cars, welcomes visitors to Cars on the Route, a 1934 service station. Continue the nostalgic trip by pulling a glass-bottled soda from a red metal cooler at Nelson's Old Riverton Store. At 98 years old, it predates the Mother Road itself. Leave your mark by signing the guest book walls at the Kansas Route 66 Visitors Center inside a 1930s-era Baxter Springs gas station.
Get Schooled in Lawrence
The city of Jayhawks hums with energy both on and off the University of Kansas campus. Exhibits on dinosaurs, bugs and mammals win the KU Natural History Museum national recognition. The museum gallery at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics displays the world's largest stained-glass American flag. And KU's Spencer Museum of Art holds 45,000 works spanning eras and continents. Not far from campus, pedestrian-friendly Massachusetts Street buzzes with indie shops, hotels, restaurants and bars. Try Neapolitan-style pies made with Kansas flour at Limestone Pizza Kitchen Bar and sip highbrow cocktails at John Brown's Underground.
Dig into Kansas Barbecue
Kansas City crowns itself as the Barbecue Capital of the World for having more than 100 places to savor slow-roasted meat in the metro area. Hungry visitors line up outside a former gas station to try the signature Z-Man brisket sandwich at Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Q. In a small house-turned-restaurant, Woodyard Bar-B-Que lists chili topped with burnt ends among its specialties. With more than 30 barbecue restaurants in Wichita, the intoxicating smell of meat cooking over smoldering wood is never too far away. Seasoned with 14 spices, the spareribs at Bite Me BBQ cook 16 hours for juicy, fall-off-the-bone tenderness.
Savor Swedish Heritage in Lindsborg
Visitors from Scandinavia say Lindsborg feels more Swedish than Sweden with all of its traditional festivities. Get the lay of the land from atop Coronado Heights, a 300-foot-tall bluff with a castle-like stone shelter. Then feast like royalty at Crown and Rye, a bar and restaurant serving Köttbullar (meatballs with egg noodles in a beef cream sauce). Another Swedish tradition is the Dala horse, inspiration for a herd of Wild Dala Horses found around Lindsborg. To locate the painted wooden creatures, grab a guide in town or online. If you like the look, take home a personalized Dala-shape house sign from Hemslöjd.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz
At Wamego's OZ Museum, learn how a children's novel about a Kansas farm girl swept up in a tornado became one of the most-watched movies of all time. A whimsical facade invites visitors inside to see more than 2,000 artifacts, including L. Frank Baum books, photos signed by the stars and 1939 movie production artifacts. Dorothy herself leads your whirlwind tour at Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz in Liberal. Meet up with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion on the magical yellow brick path to the Wizard, plus tour Dorothy's farmhouse and an Oz memorabilia display.
Experience the Wild West in Dodge City
Long before Gunsmoke fame, Dodge City defined the Old West, triggered by a stream of Santa Fe Trail voyagers. Proof remains in trail ruts carved across grasslands west of town. Follow a walkway and interpretive signs to view some of the most clearly defined wagon ruts along the trail. Relive Dodge City's notorious heyday at the saloon, jail and general store, as well as through gunfights on Front Street at Boot Hill Museum. At the interactive exhibit hall, feel the floor shake during a simulated buffalo stampede. Time your visit right, and you can enjoy rodeos, a longhorn cattle drive and a Western parade during Dodge City Days.
See Kansas Sunflowers
No place says "Sunflower State" like Grinter's Sunflower Farm near Lawrence. For more than 50 years, the Grinter family has grown 40 acres of sunflowers for the public to stroll (sunup to sundown). Social media and word of mouth have helped the farm's popularity go supernova. In late August, thousands come to enjoy the petals' two-week peak. Avoid crowds by visiting on a weekday or early weekend morning. Feel free to cut blooms, though a $1 donation is encouraged for each stem. The Sunflower General store offers souvenirs and homemade baked goods on weekends.
Blast Through Mines and Space in Hutchinson
A double dose of world-class attractions takes you above and below ground in Hutchinson. At Cosmosphere, the Space Race relaunches at the largest combined collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts. Kansas' only Smithsonian-affiliated museum boasts a flown craft from the first three human-carrying space programs—Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. It's not just another day in the salt mines at Strataca. A 6-ton hoist drops you 650 feet down through a frozen aquifer and layers of rock to a museum in a former section of a salt mine. Explore detailed underground exhibits and learn about the types of things stored underground, including movie memorabilia.
Ride Along the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway
Flat mesas, deep canyons and buttes complement green cedar trees and prairie grasses along this 42-mile route through the rusty Red Hills. Ride horses, assist with livestock chores, catch a fish, take a hike through hilly pastures, or just enjoy the view before turning in for the night at the Gyp Hills Guest Ranch. Four miles away in Medicine Lodge, learn about the hatchet-wielding temperance leader who smashed law-breaking saloons at the Carry Nation Home. Travel west to Lake Coldwater to cool off with swimming, boating and fishing. Keep an eye out for wintering bald eagles, migrating white pelicans and ospreys.
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Celebrate Humboldt's Revival
A small but devoted team of entrepreneurs has launched an effort to update this small eastern Kansas town in big-thinking ways. Scandinavian-inspired rental cabins perch around a large fishing pond at Base Camp. Guests can rent bikes and hop on the adjacent Southwind Rail Trail, or extend their journey along the 51-mile Prairie Spirit Trail. Order a flat white or chai latte at Humboldt Mercantile and browse a selection of Kansas-made goods while the barista fixes your drink. And be sure to snap a selfie beside the mural of the town's notable water tower, with the motto "Life is fine in Humboldt."
Observe Wildlife Around Great Bend
Along North America's most important bird migration route, arrive at sunrise to watch a pod of pelicans take flight off the waters of Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. The massive marsh hosts hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds in spring and autumn. A stop at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center explains the international importance of this inland freshwater marsh (the largest in the country). Swoop through Great Bend Coffee for a latte before flying south toward Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a rare-in-the-Midwest inland saltwater marsh where trails lead to closer views of ducks, geese and several endangered species.
Be Immersed in the Art of Salina
Even longtime locals are likely to find something new each time they visit Salina's booming downtown. A revitalized streetscape continues to bring fresh eats, attractions and murals to the city's core. The 100-foot-tall Mural at the Mill by Australian artist Guido van Helten wraps around three sides of a flour mill, and it's the first of many murals coordinated by the Salina Kanvas Project. Twenty sculptures dress up downtown sidewalks on the city's SculptureTour. Works change every spring and pedestrians vote for their favorite. A 1931 art deco showpiece, The Stiefel Theatre hosts live performances beneath a restored neon spire.
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