Keeper of the Plans

The top 20 things to do in Wichita this autumn

Leaves on a red maple tree on South Maize Road. Soon fall foliage will transform the landscape in the Wichita area.
Leaves on a red maple tree on South Maize Road. Soon fall foliage will transform the landscape in the Wichita area. File photo

I think I speak for the many sane people when I say summer has overstayed its welcome.

Bring on the pumpkins, brisk air and hot drinks.

To help you plan your autumn, I’ve compiled – with your help on Facebook – this list of the top 20 things to do in the Wichita area. Most are relatively cheap or free and most are in the Wichita area, but a couple of road trips may be necessary for some of these.

Here it is, the top 20 things to do in Kansas this autumn:

Kayak in a Kansas river

Beautiful tree-leaf colors are one of the highlights of autumn, so what better way to experience those colors than by taking a float trip down a Kansas river? At some places, such as Tuttle Creek State Park, having a kayak is not a necessity – rental kayaks and even guided floats are often available. In Wichita, the Arkansas River Coalition hosts at least one float on the river every month – typically on the last Saturday of the month. On these Saturday floats, participants usually travel 8-10 miles. The coalition has about 20 loaner kayaks it can lend to people, but you’ll want to register early to ensure you get one. There is a suggested donation of $15 when using the coalition’s equipment. To find out when the floats are scheduled, visit www.arkrivercoalition.org.

Wichita Park & Recreation still has a few more weekend sunrise/sunset float tours available, though those end Sept. 23. Registration is $30, which includes equipment and post-tour food and beverages. For more information on that, visit www.wichita.gov/parkandrec.

Cross Timbers State Park ranger Adam Murray talks about the park's Chautauqua Hills trail system, which winds through prairie and mature woodlands, and why he recommends the yellow section of the trail. (Video by Michael Pearce / The Wichita Eagle

Go hiking on a Kansas trail

Kansas is becoming home to an increasing population of hiking enthusiasts. There are a decent amount of quality trails within a short distance of Wichita, which offer the ultimate fall experience in the great outdoors. My colleague at the Wichita Eagle, Michael Pearce, has written extensively about hiking trails near Wichita. He suggests the Chisholm Creek Park Nature Trail near 29th and Woodlawn, Elk River Trail/Table Mound Trail at Elk City Reservoir, the Buffalo Tracks Canyon Nature Trail at Kanopolis State Park and the Chautauqua Hills Trail at Cross Timbers State Park. Another suggestion: the Chaplin Nature Center, 27814 27th Drive near Arkansas City, a lovely nature trail maintained by the Wichita Audubon Society that’s easily hikeable. For more information about that park, visit www.wichitaaudubon.org/cnc or call 620-442-4133.

Wichita Eagle reporter Denise Neil dressed as a zombie and went behind the scenes at Field of Screams. (Oct. 22, 2015)

Visit a pumpkin patch

One of the most quintessential autumn activities is to visit a pumpkin patch, and in the Wichita area, one of the most popular spots is always Walter’s Pumpkin Patch, 10001 NW U.S. Highway 77 in Burns. Walter’s Pumpkin Patch opens for the 2017 season on Sept. 16. Visitors ride a haywagon out to the pumpkin patch area and are allowed to pick their own pumpkins. But there’s more than just pumpkins out there – your admission to the patch also grants admission to the Woodlands Play Area, Graveyard Golf, and jump pillows. For an extra fee, you can ride on the zipline, have s’mores or shoot a pumpkin cannon. For more information, visit www.thewaltersfarm.com.

Experience the Amish life in Yoder

Autumn is perhaps the best time to enjoy a homecooked meal with friends and family. And Yoder’s Carriage Crossing restaurant offers all of that in a quaint, rustic setting. The restaurant, in the town known for its Amish heritage, is known for its homemade pies and menu of good home-cookin’ dishes. It’s at 10002 S. Yoder Road. While you’re in Yoder, you have to try and take a ride in a buggy. The Farm at Yoder, which is open by appointment only on Wednesdays through Saturdays (through October), offers wagon rides and a petting zoo. For more information on that, call 620-465-2604.

Arkalalah festival in Arkansas City

If you’re looking for a small-town fall festival, this event is perhaps the king of them all. It’s the kind of festival that many people from Wichita regularly drive down to attend. This year the festival fatures the traditional carnival, a beer garden, fireworks, street games, parades and light shows. It’s scheduled from Oct. 25 to 28. For more information, visit www.arkalalah.com or call 620-442-6077.

Spend a Saturday in Bill Snyder Family Stadium

This was one of the suggestions that I received on Facebook, and I believe it’s a good one. Regardless of whether or not you’re a K-State fan, there’s nothing that quite compares to the gameday atmosphere of Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan on a fall Saturday. You can also go to a football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, but there’s just something about college ball that’s more appealing to me. Take in the tailgates and enjoy the passionate atmosphere of a Saturday afternoon football game.

Stuff yourself at chili cookoffs

And now in the food category, fall is the best time to get a bowl of chili. This year, there will be two chili cookoff events in Wichita where you can get your bean on. First is the traditional Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff on Sept. 30. It’s held in the 600 block of East Douglas, as the street is blocked off for the event. Admission is $5. Then, about a month later – after you’ve digested the first round of chili – the Kansas Food Bank will sponsor the Empty Bowls Chili Cookoff on Oct. 28 at Wichita State University’s Henrion Hall. Admission is $20, or $10 with a student ID.

The Wichita Wagonmasters held a chili cook off in Old Town Square Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, to raise money for injured Wichita Police Officer Brian Arterburn.

Pick on your favorite bluegrass bands

If you’ve never been to Winfield’s famous bluegrass festival in September, this fall could be the perfect time for you to see some banjo-pickin’ live in person. At least 28 bluegrass artists have been booked for the festival this year, which runs from Sept. 13 to 17 at the Winfield fairgrounds, about 3/4-mile west of downtown on U.S. 160. Tickets range from $15 to $95, depending on how many days you’re attending and whether tickets are purchased in advance. To get the full experience, bring your camper – or at least a tent – to spend the night at the festival’s campgrounds. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are $10 to $19 per night, depending on if the site has electricity. For more information on the festival, visit www.wvfest.com.

Watch indie films downtown

Tallgrass Film Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, and has been steadily promoting the October event all year long. The 15th annual Tallgrass Film Festival is from Oct. 18 to 22 this year, and there are bound to be many up-and-coming filmmakers exhibiting at the festival. Generally you pay for tickets to individual movies or for entire days and watch the films, which are shown at a variety of downtown locations, such as the Orpheum and the Wichita Scottish Rite Center. For more information on the Tallgrass Film Festival, visit its website at www.tallgrassfilmfest.com.

Ingest deep-fried delicacies at the Kansas State Fair

Nothing really compares to the Kansas State Fair when it comes to deep-fried variety. In Kansas, Riverfest is probably the only viable comparison. You can plan an entire day of fun at the fair, checking out the butter sculpture, 4-H competitions and pig races. Make sure to visit the midway as well to win a stuffed prize for your special someone before taking a ride on the Ferris wheel. The fair runs from Sept. 9 to 18 this year. For a full schedule of events, visit www.kansasstatefair.com.

The perennial racing pigs at the Kansas State Fair on September 11, 2015 in slow motion. (video by Jaime Green)

See urban art in Wichita’s North End neighborhood

This will be the fourth year for Wichita’s North End Urban Arts Festival, a celebration of all of the creative talent in the North End neighborhood. There will be live art displays, as well as a market featuring crafters and artists selling their goods. Top it off with some yummy food trucks and live music, and you have a great Saturday ahead. This year, the festival will be on Sept. 30. For more information, visit www.northendurbanartsfest.com.

Attend Wichita’s own ‘Bloktoberfest’

Many cities across the country host Oktoberfest drinking events, but Wichita’s Bloktoberfest was particularly well-received in its inaugural year in 2016. It was so successful that it’s changing locations in 2017, opting for the WaterWalk instead of Union Station. It’s also now a two-day event. KETCH is also folding its four-year-old Burger Battle into the Bloktoberfest festivities, so this is going to be a very packed weekend in Wichita. It’s Oct. 13 and 14 at the WaterWalk. Tickets are $25 to $150 depending on perks included. For more information, visit www.ictbloktoberfest.com.

Hunt for ghosts in Kansas’ most-haunted town

Chances are you’ve heard stories of Atchison’s haunted nature. So why not take a trip up there this fall to see what all the rumors are about? This town in far northeastern Kansas has a reputation for playing host to some of the most haunted places in Kansas – so much so that it’s built a mini-tourist attraction out of itself. Visit Atchison offers Haunted Trolley and Coach tours of these locations, typically for $13 apiece. But for the full experience, go for an overnight stay at Sallie House, an old white-frame house that’s billed as Atchison’s most-haunted house. Overnight stays are $100 per person. For more information, visit www.visitatchison.com.

Watch the birds of fall

You can go bird watching anytime, but if you want some company, the Wichita Audubon Society sponsors a “bird walk” every second Saturday of the month. All you need to bring is a set of binoculars and a sense of curiosity. You don’t need to belong to any birding society to join the walk – you don’t even need to have any prior experience. The walks, which begin at 8 a.m., last approximately 90 minutes. You can catch the next bird walk on Sept. 9; interested participants should meet in the Great Plains Nature Center parking lot near 29th and Woodlawn. For more information, contact Kevin Groeneweg at 316-706-9116 or kgroeneweg@sbcglobal.net.

(FILE VIDEO -- AUGUST 2017) Thousands of pelicans at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, near Great Bend, along with numerous shore birds.

See the fall migration at Quivira

As a wetland, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, near Stafford, plays host to a wide variety of uncommon and rare birds normally, but watching birds in migration at Quivira is an awe-inspiring sight. The Wichita Audubon Society is taking a group to Quivira to see the unique wetland wildlife at 8 a.m. Sept. 16 (meet at the Quivira headquarters and bring a lunch). However, think of Quivira in September as a bed-and-breakfast. By late October and early November, think of it as a convention center, with migratory birds everywhere to be seen. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the ducks and geese there in November can number in the hundreds of thousands. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is open daily from an hour and a half before sunrise to an hour and a half after sunset. For more information on the refuge, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira.

Navigate a corn maze

OK, what kind of fall to-do list would be complete without corn mazes? I know it’s a bit of a cop-out, but really: don’t miss going to one this fall. I never got a chance to go last year and sorely regretted it. Some local corn mazes where you can get lost: Gaeddert Farms, 13209 E. 82nd in Buhler; Bergmann’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, 8401 S. Meridian in Haysville; Cox Farm Corn Maze, 6059 S. Seneca and Walters Pumpkin Patch, 10001 US-77 in Burns. Most corn mazes open in mid-September and remain in operation through late October. If you do a corn maze by night, be sure to bring a flashlight – or a fully charged phone.

Pick apples at a local orchard

Fall is the perfect time for a cold cider – I’ll leave open to interpretation whether or not that means alcohol. If autumn puts you in the mood for ciders and piping-hot apple pies, you’re going to need some apples. Eschew apples from the grocery store this year and pick them at a local orchard instead. If you’re looking for a local orchard, I’d recommend Meadowlark Farm, 11249 SW 160th in Rose Hill. They offer pick-your-own and pre-picked apples, and sell their own fresh-brewed hard cider on site and at local farmers markets.

Visit Lindsborg for semi-annual Swedish festival

Anyone who’s ever been to Svensk Hyllyngsfest knows that there’s nothing else quite like it in the state. The festival in Lindsborg, which is a bi-annual event, is back this year, and is always an autumn highlight in Kansas. It’s a celebration of Lindsborg’s Swedish heritage, and there will be people dancing in traditional Swedish garb, serving Swedish food and selling Swedish gifts. This year the event runs from Oct. 12 to 15. Buttons are $5 in advance and $10 at the gate. One of the biggest highlights of the festival: the Smorgasbord – a Scandinavian feast positively filled with food prepared from old Swedish recipes. Tickets to the Smorgasbord, on Oct. 13, are $25. For more information, visit www.svenskhyllyngsfest.org.

Take in the fall colors

Undeniably, one of the best joys of fall is simply to appreciate the cooler weather and the beautiful foliage – and that doesn’t cost a thing. Pair that with a pumpkin-spice latte and a knit scarf and you are talking one killer autumn day. Here in Wichita, I’d recommend visiting Botanica to see the colors (and the plantings) change, as well as Pawnee Prairie Park. If you’re up for a bit of a drive, Cross Timbers State Park near Toronto is perhaps the most picturesque spot in Kansas autumns. The Eagle’s Michael Pearce wrote a story on this very topic back in 2014. If you have a fall weekend to spare, rent a cabin at Cross Timbers and partake in its hiking trails, fishing spots and kayaking. At the Toronto Point area, there are five kayaks that can be loaned out on weekends for free, on a first-come, first-served basis. While you’re in Toronto, make a reservation at the town’s legendary Italian restaurant, Courtney’s Place at 120 W. Main. Be warned, though, Courtney’s Place does not take credit cards.

Halloween in College Hill

Halloween is often seen as the harbinger of autumn’s end, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. My top suggestion for what to do in Kansas this fall is to take in Halloween in the heart of College Hill. And don’t think that means you can only do this for one night – most houses in Halloween Central start decorating at least the weekend before. What makes it so special? The fine residents of these east-side bungalows deck out their yards and homes in Halloween-themed decor, and many longtime decorators have a different theme each year. But on Halloween night, thousands of children and their parents descend upon the neighborhood in search of treats and a spooky-good time. Some of the most-trafficked areas tend to be between First and Second Streets and between Clifton and Broadview. If you’ve never been to College Hill for Halloween, this is the year to check it out. It’s a Wichita classic, and best of all it’s totally free.

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