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As big as you think™
Seven highways in Kansas are designated as state scenic byways: the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, the Post Rock Scenic Byway, the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, the Frontier Military Scenic Byway, the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, and the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway. Each offers travelers an opportunity to experience a small portion of Kansas’ unique landscape or to follow the route of an historic military trail.
Before the days of interstate highways, travelers wanting to drive cross-country followed fabled Route 66. Many travelers are surprised to learn that the “Main Street of America” passes through the southeastern corner of Kansas. Although Route 66 through Kansas is only 13.2 miles, the flavor of the route is still alive in the three small towns along the way – Galena, Riverton, and Baxter Springs. Although interstates have created a faster way to travel cross-country, Route 66 is still a popular route for travelers ready to experience a little small-town nostalgia.
On the other hand, when vacationers hit the open road many find themselves traveling Interstate-70 in Kansas. While most people think of an Interstate as a way to quickly travel cross-country, those who take their time will discover that Interstate-70 is a road to explore in Kansas. From the wickedest town in the West to a commune of rare and endangered animals, a wealth of top museums, breathtaking scenery, and charming towns are just an exit ramp away along the 423-mile roadway.
Natural and Untouched
In a few special places, the Kansas landscape is much the same as it once was – largely natural and untouched. Visitors wanting to experience natural Kansas can walk through wildflowers in prairies undisturbed by civilization, view wildlife in their natural environments, or discover some of the best geological finds in the world.
Regardless of the season or interest, the wild beauty of Kansas offers wonderful travel opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast. Two magnificent options: visitors can see most of America’s remaining virgin prairie at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the heart of the Flint Hills. And in south central Kansas, the Gypsum Hills (or Red Hills) feature flat mesas, deep canyons, sharp high hills, and red soils.
Garden of Delights
A diverse selection of botanical gardens and arboretums can be found in Kansas. Themed gardens, prairie gardens, and gardens representing the extreme environments of the desert and the tropics are a few of the gardens open to the public. Some of the most beautiful gardens can be experienced during private garden tours. The most impressive and dramatic of all the private gardens is the Binkley Gardens. This 3-acre garden features over 35,000 tulips and 12,000 daffodils. Historic neighborhoods in Topeka and Fort Scott also offer tours of their special private gardens.
Hit the Trails
For the active traveler, Kansas offers hikers and mountain bikers a wide variety of terrain featuring beautiful landscapes. Prairie trails include 24 miles of trails at Kanopolis State Park featuring a fantastic view of a sandstone canyon and 19 miles of trails that parallel the Santa Fe Trail in the Cimarron National Grassland. In contrast to the prairie trails are the wooded Mined Land Wildlife Area trails. Reclaimed from strip pit mining, the area features numerous pockets of small lakes and ponds. The Prairie Spirit Rail Trail, a 33-mile hiking/biking trail, follows an abandoned railroad route.
Many of the trails in Kansas are multi-purpose trails that also allow mountain biking and horseback riding.
Where the Buffalo Roam
Kansas is home on the range for hundreds of bison, also known as buffalo, found at the many state wildlife refuges. Hunting to near extinction caused bison herds to rapidly diminish in the late 1880s. In 1871, one bison herd in southwestern Kansas was estimated at four million head. Just eight years later, the last wild bison was reportedly killed near Dodge City, fatalities of the Westward expansion frenzy that swept the state.
Now, visitors to two of the state’s wildlife refuges, the Sandsage Bison Range in Garden City and the Maxwell Game Preserve in Canton, can gain an up-close look at these majestic creatures by taking a guided tour into the prairies where the bison roam.
Golf Scores Big
Miles of open land means plenty of room for more than 260 golf courses in Kansas. The state’s beautiful diversity offers endless options, from traditional tree-lined fairways and links style courses in the rolling Flint Hills to rolling sand hills in western Kansas.
The vast majority of the courses permit public play, with fewer than 100 for members only. Kansas boasts over 349,000 golfers in the state, about 13% of the population, leaving plenty of room for visitors to take to the greens for some great golf. The Terradyne Resort Hotel and Country Club, in the Wichita suburb of Andover, is considered the best representation of Scottish golf in the United States. Featuring some of the top courses in the country, like Lawrence’s Alvamar, Manhattan’s Colbert Hills and Garden City’s Buffalo Dunes, it is no wonder that Kansas is the home to legendary golfers like Tom Watson.
The Fast Lane
Though Kansas’ history is rooted in the Old West, the pioneer wagons of the past have been replaced with fast paced cars racing at more than 36 motorsports tracks and speedways located throughout the state. At the $200 million Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, you can experience the excitement of the state’s largest tourist attraction, while Heartland Park in Topeka offers a fantastic motor sports entertainment complex and the largest sports car competition event in the world. If you like dirt better than asphalt, get your thrills at Salina Speedway or Wichita's 81 Speedway. And harking back to the days of drag racing, you’ll still find the best hot cars and cool fun at drag strips in Wichita, Manhattan, Arkansas City, and Great Bend.
Cemeteries reveal much about the heritage of an area and many communities provide information on the historical significance of their cemeteries. Gravesites of political leaders, frontier settlers, travelers on the Oregon Trail, and cowboys and outlaws can all be found in Kansas cemeteries. There is also the unusual … the Davis Memorial has eleven life-sized figures, and the Trooper Monument at Fort Riley is the gravesite for the government’s last cavalry horse, Chief, who was buried standing upright.
Dreams of Flight
With the wide-open skies as inspiration, Kansas is taking off with many top-rated aviation and aerospace attractions. Major aircraft companies such as Boeing, Cessna, Raytheon, and Bombardier Learjet, as well as new aircraft entrepreneurs, have made Kansas a leader in aviation manufacturing. Innovative aviation pioneers, designers, and pilots from Kansas are known throughout the world. This rich heritage has inspired numerous aviation-related attractions to open around the state, including the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, the country’s fifth largest general aviation museum, the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, and the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, a prestigious affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and one of the most comprehensive space museums in the world. These are just a few of the aviation attractions in Kansas.
The Lewis & Clark Expedition
In 1804, the Lewis & Clark Expedition set off to explore the length of the Missouri River. When Lewis and Clark spent two weeks traveling through what is now Kansas, little did they know what an impact they would have on future travelers following in their footsteps 200 years later. The expedition arrived in what is now Kansas on June 26, 1804, and camped three days near what is today Kansas City, Kan. The Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth features exhibits on the expedition. Near Atchison, the members of the expedition celebrated the first Fourth of July west of the Mississippi River. At White Cloud, the northernmost town in Kansas along the Missouri River, the Lewis & Clark Lookout offers a spectacular view of the four states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa.
Photos and wording courtesy of the Kansas Department of Commerce, Travel & Tourism Division