The Story of Kansas

Your guide to Kansas road trips

To celebrate 150 years of statehood, we’ve gathered into a list our favorite places that help tell our state’s story.

It is not a complete list but a starting point of possible places to explore this summer and celebrate the 83,000 square miles of Kansas.

Five Blue Highways

William Least Heat Moon first dubbed them the Blue Highways — small, forgotten, out-of-the way roads connecting rural America. They were roads drawn in blue on the old-style Rand McNally road atlas.

Our favorite road trips include:

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 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.

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 three 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

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, in Marysville. Look for the sign showing Lebanon, 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.

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.

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 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.

Explore the Civil War

Before the Civil War, Kansas territory was where all the national turmoil took off in tornadic form. Most of the sites are in northeast and eastern Kansas.

Kansas' Underground Railroad

In the mid-19th century, the Underground Railroad was a network of individuals and groups in 30 states that provided shelter for runaway slaves. In eastern Kansas 75 sites have been documented. Among them is the John Brown Memorial Park and Adair Cabin at 10th and Main in Osawatomie.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment.

For more information, go to or call 913-755-4384.

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area — a 31,000-square-mile region in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Explore the conflicts leading up to the Civil War and struggles for equality in civil and women's rights.

The offices for the heritage area are in the Carnegie Building, 200 W. 9th St. in Lawrence.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Mine Creek

Mine Creek Civil War Battlefield, near Pleasanton, is the state's most significant Civil War battlefield, with a visitors center, exhibits and a historic trail.

Two miles south on U.S. 69, one-half mile west on K-52 in Pleasanton.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Phone: 913-352-8890; e-mail:

Summer festivals

Nearly every Kansas town has a festival. Here are a few:

Flint Hills FolkLife Festival — June 11-12, 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 — Lindsborg, June 17-18.

Tour Lindsborg, see the raising of the Midsummer's pole, experience live music with Swedish dancers and learn about Swedish traditions and culture. 14th Annual Civil War on the Western Frontier — Aug. 8-22, Lawrence.

Programs include dramatic performances, scholarly lectures, dinner and lunch-pail lectures about the region's fiery history and the pre-Civil War era.

The events center on the anniversary of William Quantrill's Raid, when pro-Confederate guerrillas stormed Lawrence, leaving behind nearly 200 victims and $1.5 million in damage.

Smoky Hill River Festival — June 9-12, 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. This year, blues/roots/gospel artist Kelly Hunt of Emporia will perform.

Cost for a button is $10 in advance, $15 at the gate. Children 11 and under get in free.

Uniquely Kansas

Texas Longhorn Cattle Drive — Sept. 3-24

Four hundred head of longhorn cattle will be driven from the Oklahoma border south of Caldwell, north up the old Cox Cattle Trail to the railhead in Ellsworth.

Cost is $2,500 per person per week. Spectators can watch for free. Featured entertainers will be in each of the participating towns.

Contact: Mike Clover, trail boss, 620-532-3455.

Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant — Sept. 23-25

Commemorates the Peace Treaty of 1867 and 300 years of prairie history — from Spanish conquistadors, Plains Indians, conflicts on the prairie to ranch and farm settlement. Almost all the town's 2,300 residents volunteer to produce the pageant, which is held once every three years in a natural amphitheater in Medicine Lodge.

Adults, $20; kids 7-12, $7; under 6, free.

American Indian Festival — July 9-10, Wichita

The Mid-America All Indian Center is sponsoring its first American Indian Festival highlighting the art, song, dance, history and culture of Native Americans.

Century II Expo Hall, 225 W. Douglas, Wichita. Adults, $5; kids 6 to 16, $3.

Biggest and longest garage sale in Kansas

Mark your calendars for Sept. 16-18 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 & Local Tourism organizations.

Shoe Tree at Wetmore

If you go to the garage sale, drive through Wetmore, where nailing shoes on a giant cottonwood has become a Kansas custom. The Shoe Tree features all kinds of shoes —from cowboy boots to slippers.

80th and V Road, Wetmore

The Kansas Archaeology Field Training Program — June 4-19 in Pottawatomie County

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 nonmembers.

For more information, contact the Kansas State Historical Society Public Archeologist at 785-272-8681, ext. 266.

Fall River Canoe Trips — Eureka

Known for boat and canoe trips April through October. Cost is $15 per person. Contact Lloyd Funk, 316-841-0462.

Free things to do

Wichita Art Museum

Admission to the largest art museum in Kansas, 1400 W. Museum Blvd., Wichita, is free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

For more information, call 316-268-4921.

Keeper of the Plains, 650 N. Seneca, at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers near downtown Wichita.

The ring of fire surrounding this 44-foot-tall sculpture by Blackbear Bosin burns nightly at 9 p.m. for 15 minutes.

Catch a fish

You won't need a fishing license on June 4 and 5.

Those are the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism's free fishing days. It's also prime time for good fishing.

For quantity, take some worms, small hooks and small bobbers to about any community or state lake.

Fish in the near 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 rip-rap dams and boulder-strewn points at Cheney, Marion and El Dorado lakes.

Clouds of purple martins near Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis

Around the first of August, thousands of purple martins begin gathering at trees near the hospital 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. Squadrons numbering in the thousands will come twirling and whirling with the grayness of dusk.

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.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, at 2480 K-177, two miles north of the U.S. 50 and K-177 intersection near Strong City.

The National Park Service offers free 90-minute bus tours at 11 a.m. daily until July 1. Reservations are recommended. The preserve hiking trails are open 24 hours a day, year-round. The historic buildings are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

At 10 a.m. on Memorial Day, kids can make a kite at the one-room schoolhouse.

Call 620-273-8494 or visit

Awesome experiences for kids

Rock City, 1051 Ivy Road, Minneapolis

Showcases Dakota sandstone, deposited 100 million years ago and since exposed by the forces of erosion. Rock City has a five-acre park that contains about 200 huge Dakota sandstone concretions. People are encouraged to climb on the stones.

Adults, $3; children, 50 cents. 785-392-3068

Hike the Chaplin Nature Center, about 50 miles south of Wichita near Arkansas City

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.

Walk With Wildlife

Hike a meandering trail through Chisholm Creek Park in northeast Wichita, stopping to admire and sometimes touch dozens of displays that include live fawn deer, hawks, raccoons and about every kind of non-venomous snake.

This is the 27th year for the Walk With Wildlife at the park near 29th Street North and Woodlawn.

The Walk is from about 9 a.m.-4 p.m. There's a $2 charge to enter The Walk.

Call 316-683-5499

Offbeat places to eat

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

Pretty Prairie Steak House, 112 N. Main, Pretty Prairie

The 12-ounce ribeye is the trademark meal in the tiny town best known for its rodeo. The 10-ounce barrel-cut filet is legendary for those who call ahead and get the cuts reserved.

Business hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.


Carolyn's Essenhaus, 104 Main, Arlington

Homemade pies, breads and pastries have gained Carolyn's Essenhaus notoriety in south-central Kansas.

Saturday morning's special blueberry pancakes cover the plate. Wednesday's special of pan-fried chicken also draws crowds.

Hours are 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Breakfast is served until 10:30 a.m. Take K-96 north from Wichita and head west on Arlington Road for a nice drive through rural Americana.

620-538-4711 or

Prairie Nut Hut, 1306 Quincy St., Altoona, in southeast Kansas

Rocky Mountain oysters top the menu along with hamburgers, chicken-fried steak and steak. Peanut-shell floor, Christmas-light-festooned walls.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Phone: 620-568-2900

The Lumberyard Steakhouse, 311 N. Main, Zenda, Kingman County

Known for its steaks.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; Friday nights open from 5 to 11 p.m.; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. Phone: 620-243-6000

C W Porubsky Grocery & Meats, 508 NE Sardou Avenue, Topeka

Known for their chili, cold cuts and hot pickles, but chili isn't served during the summer months. Have a sandwich or hoagie instead. Chili starts back up Sept. 1.

Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Phone: 785-234-5788