The Kansas ‘Bucket List’ guide to summer fun

Remember that 2007 movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman called “The Bucket List”? The actors played terminally ill men with a list of things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket.

We’ve created “The Kansas Bucket List”: things every Kansan should experience at least once.

Some of the following places are quintessential Kansas, our favorite places to go on a whim.

Some are historic, others wacky. Most are off the beaten path.

The best thing about Memorial Day weekend is that there are 83,000 square miles of Kansas and three months of summer ahead of us to explore.

Our Wichita bucket list

Wichita River Festival

Famous for its concerts, festival food and a never-ending list of activities, the Wichita River Festival has become an annual tradition for many. From June 1-9, fair-goers can enjoy a hot-air balloon ride or a ride on the zip line. For the less brave, the Sundown Parade is June 1, the River Run is June 2, and the West Bank MusicFest featuring Kellie Pickler is June 3. To join the fun, buy a $5 Riverfest button.

Go to or call 316-267-2817.


Mark your calendar for the Perseids meteor shower Aug. 12-13.

Get away from the city lights to view the meteors. Take lawn chairs and bug spray. And then, just be patient.

The best night for viewing will be the evening of Aug. 13. If you want company, try the Lake Afton Observatory, 25 miles southwest of Wichita. The observatory will be open from 11 p.m. Aug. 12 through 2 a.m. Aug. 13. Call 316-978-3191 or 316-WSU-STAR (978-7827). Lake Afton is open to the public every Friday and Saturday evening. Regular hours are 9 to 11 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12; children under 6 are admitted free. The observatory is on MacArthur Road at 247th Street West in Lake Afton County Park, north of the lake.

Starlite Drive-in

“Starlite Drive-in gives you more, call 544-2424.” This familiar jingle, in addition to getting stuck in your head, touts Wichita’s only drive-in theater, at 3900 S. Hydraulic. The Starlite theatre offers double and triple features. Admission: $8 per adult or $2 for ages 5-11.

For more information, go to

Walk along the river

Take a walk along the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita, to the Keeper of the Plains statue and the small outdoor museum. The “ring of fire” is lighted at 9 each night for 15 minutes. For more information, go to

Favorite road trips in Kansas

Four-State Lookout

Four-State Lookout near White Cloud, in the far northeastern corner of the state, is just what it promises: a view of four states – Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa – from atop the glacial hills overlooking the Missouri River.

Directions: From Main Street in White Cloud, turn north across from the community park at the Four-State Lookout sign and go up the hill. The lookout is along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Approximate drive: Four hours from Wichita.

Arikaree Breaks Wildlife Drive

Near St. Francis, in the far northwest corner of the state.

Wind and soil have eroded the prairie into deep canyons, some 300 feet deep, in an area about 35 miles long and 3 miles wide. Some of the breaks have nicknames like Devil’s Cap and Horse Thief Cave. The roads can be treacherous when muddy.

For directions to the wildlife drive, go to

Approximate drive: Five hours from Wichita.

U.S. 36 from Cheyenne County to Doniphan County

Nearly 400 miles and 13 Kansas counties are linked by U.S. 36 highway in the northern part of the state.

When you pass by Athol, visit the cabin where Brewster Higley wrote the words to what would become our state song, "Home on the Range."

Go to Hanover, home of an original Pony Express Station. At Lebanon, look for the center of the continental United States.

In Cuba, drop in at the Cuba Cash Store and say howdy to store owner Dale Huncovsky and buy some of his ringed bologna, spiced with jalapenos. Cuba is predominantly Czech, so don’t be surprised if you hear polka music blaring over the downtown speakers.

Approximate drive: Two hours to Belleville from Wichita; and then it is up to the driver whether to go east or west.

Castle Rock Wildlife Drive

About 12 miles south of I-70 between Quinter and Collyer in northwest Kansas.

From Quinter, turn south on Castle Rock Road, go 15 miles, turn east at county road 466, and follow the signs. At times the road becomes two ruts, sometimes 18 inches deep. Go when it is dry.

The Niobrara chalk formations were once the bottom of an ocean, millions of years ago. Nature photographers love to photograph the rocks from various angles at sunrise and sunset.

Approximate drive: Four hours from Wichita.

St. Jacob’s Well and Big Basin

Six miles north of Ashland on U.S. 283 in southwest Kansas. Follow the signs. Big Basin is a sinkhole formed millions of years ago, measuring a mile in diameter and more than 100 feet deep. Inside the basin is St. Jacob’s Well, a pool of water never known to have gone dry.

A cairn — a manmade pile of rocks — dates from the 1800s and was a guide for travelers to the spring. You can scramble down a short but steep trail to the pool enclosed by old cottonwood trees. Watch for the buffalo that graze nearby.

Approximate drive: Three hours from Wichita.

Summer festivals

Every town has a festival. Here are a few:

Flint Hills FolkLife Festival, June 9-10, on the lawn of the Chase County Courthouse, Cottonwood Falls

Free. Re-enactors in period clothing demonstrate the skills needed for survival on the Kansas prairie during the late 19th century.

Midsummer’s Festival, June 16, Lindsborg

Tour Lindsborg, experience live music with Swedish dancers and learn about Swedish traditions and culture.

Civil War on the Western Frontier, Aug. 13-21, Lawrence

Every August, Lawrence observes its territorial and early statehood legacy. Programs include dramatic performances, scholarly lectures and dinners. The events center on the anniversary of William Quantrill’s Raid on Aug. 21, 1863, when pro-Confederate guerrillas stormed Lawrence, leaving behind nearly 200 victims and $1.5 million in damage.

As the event draws closer, go to for more information.

Smoky Hill River Festival, June 7-10, Oakdale Park, Salina

More intimate than Wichita’s River Festival, it features music, puppeteers, fine arts, crafts and food. The festival is a place to hear groups on the verge of making it big. One year, it featured the Dixie Chicks. Cost for a button is $10 in advance, $15 at the gate. Children 11 and under get in free.

Uniquely Kansas

Flint Hills Rodeo, May 31-June 2, Strong City

This year marks the 75th annual Flint Hills Rodeo, considered the oldest continuous rodeo in Kansas.

K-96 June Jaunt, June 1-3

Seven counties and eight communities along a 136-mile stretch of K-96 from the Colorado state line to Ellinwood will host a festival of arts and antiques, crafts, cuisine and entertainment. The event includes scavenger hunts, geo-caching, hidden treasures and bargains along the route. Kansas towns participating include Tribune, Leoti, Dighton, Scott City, Ness City, Rush Center, Great Bend and Ellinwood.

Kansas Archaeology Field Training Program, June 2-17, Shawnee County

The 2012 KATP field school will be held at the site of Fool Chief’s Village on the north side of Topeka in Shawnee County. The site is a historically documented as Kansa Indian and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Although field and laboratory activities continue without stopping for the 16-day period, volunteers may participate for a single day or the entire time. Participants must be at least 10 years of age. Cost is $30 for members and $90 for members.

For more information, contact the Kansas State Historical Society Public Archeologist at 785-272-8681, ext. 151.

American Indian Festival, July 14-15, Wichita

The Mid-America All Indian Center sponsors the American Indian Festival highlighting the art, song, dance, history and culture of Native Americans. It will be held at Century II Expo Hall, 225 W. Douglas. Adults, $5; kids 6 to 16, $3.

Go to and click on powwows.

Biggest and longest garage sale in Kansas, Sept. 14-16

Mark your calendars for mile after mile of garage sales taking place along 400 miles of U.S. 36 highway in northern Kansas almost on the Nebraska border. The Treasure Hunt is sponsored by the U.S. 36 Highway Association and local tourism organizations.

Free things to do

Wichita Art Museum

Admission to the largest art museum in Kansas, 1400 W. Museum Blvd., is free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Other days you will pay $7 to view 7,000 works including those by Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Horace Pippin, Edward Hopper and Charles M. Russell.

Smoky Hills Prairie Exploration

Identify birds and butterflies while exploring this piece of McPherson County near Canton. Event begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Bring a sandwich and stay for the sunset. The event is located on private property that is open only on this day. Contact Brad Guhr at or call 316-217-4566 to sign up and get directions.

Catch a fish

You won’t need a fishing license on June 2 and 3. Those are the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s free fishing days. It’s also prime time for good fishing.

Go to any community or state lake, and take plenty of worms, small hooks and small bobbers. Fish near the shore at the backs of coves where bluegill and green sunfish should be spawning.

For bigger fish, put a big minnow or piece of shrimp below that bobber and try for spawning channel catfish.

Try along riprap dams and boulder-strewn points at Cheney, Marion and El Dorado lakes.

Clouds of purple martins

Around the first of August, thousands of purple martins begin gathering in trees near Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis at Murdock and St. Francis.

Park in the parking lot across the street from the hospital and arrive about an hour before sunset. Be patient. The really big numbers start coming to roost in trees near the hospital when the sun’s officially down.

You can watch from your car in a parking lot south of the hospital or put a lawn chair on the pavement. Wear a cap or open an umbrella if you watch from outside.

You know, just in case.

Hike the Chaplin Nature Center

Well-maintained hiking trails take people through prairies with tall native grasses and vibrant wildflowers, then down into towering woodlands. There’s a wide stretch of the Arkansas River where kids can run barefoot in the sand or make sand castles.

Admission to the area, owned by Wichita Audubon Society, is free. It is about 50 miles south of Wichita near Arkansas City

Offbeat places to eat

Kansas is full of offbeat and delicious restaurants. If you are taking a road trip, here are five:

Wheatland Café, Hudson

Every Sunday people come to the Wheatland Cafe for the fried chicken buffet with the kind of side dishes you remember from old-fashioned church potlucks. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays only. Prepare to wait. The line of people waiting to get in usually snakes out the door and onto the sidewalks. 112 Main St., Hudson, 620-458-4761.

Approximate drive: Two hours from Wichita

Boondocks Bar and Grill, McCracken

A happening place, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Great home-cooked meals featuring foods such as grilled mussels with lemon butter, caramelized Brussels sprouts and stuffed pork chops. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 785-394-2264.

Approximate drive: Three hours from Wichita

Mo’s, Beaver

A microbrewery at 1908 Elm St. in Beaver, an unincorporated town in Barton County. To get to Beaver, turn north off K-4 at Redwing and go roughly 8 miles.

The microbrewery is owned by Len and Linda Moeder. There is no sign advertising it; the homemade beers are advertised by word of mouth. Mo’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Closed Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Call 620-587-2350.

Approximate drive: Two hours and 30 minutes from Wichita

Stearman Field Bar and Grill, Benton Airport

Airplane themed with a menu featuring burgers, steaks, bar food and breakfast. Indoor and outdoor dining. Watch the planes as you eat. Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Located at 14789 Southwest 30th Street, Benton. Call 316-778-1612.

Approximate drive: Thirty minutes from Wichita

Wheatfield’s Bakery and Cafe, Lawrence

Sit and watch life go by at a place that’s been featured on the Food Network and the History Channel. It is known for its artisan-style breads baked in a wood-fired oven. Located at 904 Vermont Street in Lawrence. Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday; and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 785-841-5553.

Approximate drive: Three hours from Wichita

Awesome experiences

Sunsets and thunderstorms

With its wide open skies, Kansas has spectacular sunsets and thunderstorms. If possible, leave the city limits. Any back road will do.

One of the most scenic spots to view a sunset is Pawnee Rock along the Santa Fe Trail. The sandstone outcropping marked the halfway point along the trail. Although much of the stone was quarried during early settlement, it still overlooks the town of Pawnee Rock and the surrounding prairie.

Elk River Hiking Trail near Elk City Lake

Located on the edge of the Chautauqua Hills, the 15-mile trail winds through boulders and up rocky bluffs. It is considered one of the most beautiful trails in Kansas and is designated as a National Recreation Trail under the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Trail System. It is located at Elk City Lake, about two miles south of Elk City. For more information, go to

Wheat harvest

If you travel the back roads in June, watch for combines as they sweep the prairie, chewing and spitting out shafts of wheat while collecting grain for market. Harvest has already started on the southern Kansas border and progresses north about 12 to 15 miles each day.

Lake experiences

Kanopolis State Park

Rent a horse or ride in a stagecoach or covered wagon. This park offers miles of tallgrass prairie, deep canyons, clear streams, a nice lake, cliffs and caves laced with hiking, biking and horseback trails. Scenic trail and wagon rides can be arranged by calling 785-826-0789 or by going to

Tuttle Creek State Park

Canoes, kayaks and trailers to haul them can be rented at the park’s River Pond area below the dam or for longer floats down the nearby Kansas River.

Cross Timbers State Park

Rent a cabin in this park in the Chautauqua Hills, with lots of gorgeous timber, prairie, wildflowers and ferns, plus miles of great hiking and mountain biking trails. Cross Timbers State Park is at Toronto Lake. Nearly two dozen state parks have cabin rentals. For something closer, try the state parks at El Dorado or Cheney.

Sandhills State Park

A chance to experience pristine sandhills, with good opportunities for mountain biking and hiking. Take K-61 about 4 miles north of Hutchinson.

Scott State Park

An oasis of cottonwoods and clear waters with nice fishing amid western Kansas canyon and cactus country. Explore the park’s El Cuartelejo Pueblo ruins, the northernmost Pueblo ruins in North America. The park is about 10 miles north of Scott City, just west of U.S. 83.

For more information on any Kansas lake, go to

Five places you are (almost) guaranteed to catch a fish

Yates Center Reservoir

Fish the shallows along weed lines for spawning panfish and around the feeders of the 210-acre lake for big channel catfish. Good bass, too. Fishing is $4 per day for anglers 16 and over. Signs on U.S. 54 about three miles west of Yates Center will lead you there.

Eureka City Lake

Nice bass and big crappie in a 259-acre lake that’s free for the fishing. Take State Street north out of Eureka about four miles to the lake.

Chase State Fishing Lake

Nice populations of panfish in the shallows and catfish farther out. Also plenty of perfect rocks for skipping and a waterfall below the far end of the dam when the lake’s high. Take Lake Road out the northwest corner of Cottonwood Falls 21/2 miles to the lake.

McPherson State Fishing Lake

A lake of quantity rather than quality, with lots of crappie and bluegill in the shallows and an abundance of nice-sized bass. Also very close to the Maxwell Game Preserve. From Canton, follow 27th Avenue about six miles north to the sign pointing toward the lake.

Our Kansas bucket list

Attend the Kansas State Fair

The State Fair has become a not-to-be-missed annual tradition. This year marks the fair’s centennial year in Hutchinson. In years past, highlights have included trips up and down the barns holding poultry, sheep, cattle and horses; listening to the latest sales pitches for tractors and combines; observing butter sculptures; and gobbling down fried green tomatoes and Pronto Pups. Mark your calendars for Sept. 7-16. For more information, go to

Go to Quivira in mid-November

Heaven hopefully looks like this. During the height of the fall migration, drive the roads slowly around the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and look for the abundance of wildlife. Time it for either sunrise or sunset. Take a spin on the wildlife drive along the Big Salt Marsh and marvel at the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and whooping cranes against a classic Kansas sky. Go to for more information.

Visit Lucas

A center for folk art, the community of Lucas is best known for its Garden of Eden, an 11-room house and yard featuring Civil War veteran S.P. Dinsmoor’s hand-crafted concrete biblical and political sculptures. And now, the town can boast of having the largest public toilet in the Midwest with a building shaped like a big toilet. Visitors can also munch on homemade bologna from the smokehouse at Brant’s Meat Market.

Northwest of Salina, Lucas makes a good day trip.

Go for a swim in Garden City

Nearly nine decades after it opened, the mammoth swimming pool in Garden City is still – after all these years – billed as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Concrete Municipal Swimming Pool." Built in 1922, it is larger than a football field and holds more than 2.6 million gallons of water. It’s big enough that years ago, when the city was promoting tourism sites for postcards, a motorboat and skier were placed in the water for a few photographic spins around the pool. It’s also big enough that the elephants from the Lee Richardson Zoo have used the pool to bathe after the pool is closed to the public at summer’s end.

The pool, at 504 E. Maple, is located on the south end of town. It is open 1 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 1 to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Cost is $1 for adults for admission, $2 for riding the big slides. Children 5 and under get in free.

For more information, call 620-276-1255.

Climb Mount Sunflower

Make it a quest and climb the highest point in Kansas. The elevation at Mount Sunflower is 4,039 feet, roughly 3,300 feet higher than the state’s lowest point in Montgomery County in southeastern Kansas. Spoiler alert: Don’t expect a mountain. This is all about Kansas humor.

Located in Wallace County in far western Kansas, Mount Sunflower is fairly easy to find. From U.S. 40 take Road WA S-3 (3 miles west of Weskan) north for 13 miles, turn west on an unnamed road (there is a Mount Sunflower sign) just over 1 mile, then turn right (north) onto private ranch land at the Mount Sunflower entrance.

Sing a tune at Brewster Higley’s Cabin

This is the cabin where frontier physician Brewster Higley wrote “Home on the Range,” one of the most famous folk songs in the world – and, of course, Kansas’ state song. Visitors to the cabin can see the creek and hills that inspired Higley. The cabin is located 8 miles north of Athol in Smith County on K-8, then one mile west. For more information, go to

Contributing: Michael Pearce of The Eagle

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