WHY VISIT KANSAS
Think Kansas and wicked witches, yellow-brick roads and ruby slippers may spring to mind. But as well as being the setting for The Wizard of Oz, this Midwest gem packs in Wild West history, delicious produce and a flourishing arts scene.
Kansas is an agricultural powerhouse, with vast areas of land given to grain, beef cattle and buffalo. You can experience a taste (literally) of the state’s agricultural pedigree by slurping juicy peaches, tucking into farm-to-fork dinners, or testing your cowboy skills on a dude ranch.
Scenic byways lead through a surprising diversity of landscapes: the last remaining tallgrass prairies, wetlands teeming with birdlife, and mushroom-shaped hoodoos. Snooze and you’ll miss Kansas on Route 66, though – the state is home to just 21km (13 miles) of the legendary highway.
It was through Kansas that families on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails drove their wagons west in search of new homesteads, while cowboys on the Chisholm Trail drove herds of longhorns north in search of the railroads. Cow towns like Abilene and Dodge City were born, and as whites forced Native Americans westwards, fierce battles over land erupted. Later, feuds over Kansas’ maintenance of slavery gave rise to the term ‘Bleeding Kansas’. Forts, trails, and monuments scattered across the state bring this history to life.
Craving some culture? Then head to Topeka, the state capital. Home to the iconic Kansas Statehouse, this gleaming copper-domed capitol offers regular tours, taking visitors up 296 steps to a balcony where phenomenal views await. But the hottest ticket in town is the North Topeka Arts District, where historic buildings have found new life as art studios, galleries, and antique stores. Sadly, though, there are no yellow-brick roads.
WHAT TO SEE IN KANSAS
- Wichita: once a cow town along the Chisholm Trail, Wichita has evolved into a lively cultural hub with a great downtown. The Mid-America All-Indian Center & Museum is the best venue in the state to learn about Kansas’ rich Native American heritage. Art fans won’t want to pass up the recently renovated Wichita Art Museum, with its excellent collection of works by American artists. The city is also a major aeronautics hub showcasing the awesome Kansas Aviation Museum and other aerial attractions.
- Dickinson County Heritage Center: near Abilene is one of the best places in America to experience what life on the prairie was like for settlers in the 19th century. It’s part museum, partly preserved village, which makes it particularly popular with the kids. The exhibits range from those covering daily life and the importance of the Chisholm Trail to the heritage of Native American culture in the area. A lovely CW Parker carousel dating to 1901 is also on the site and still running as a National Historic Landmark. The center holds workshops, demonstrations, and other fun events all year round to showcase how people survived on the prairie.
- Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve: prairie once blanketed most of North America, but human development and farming have all but eradicated it in less than two centuries. This national park in the Flint Hills is where most of the remaining true tallgrass still remains. It’s an absolutely magical place of endless rolling grass and impossibly vast skies. Guided hikes are available or you can roam around on your own. This is one of America’s most impressive natural sites, not to be missed!
- Lawrence: one of Kansas’ liveliest cities is Lawrence, founded in 1854 by abolitionists and once a major stop for the underground railroad to free slaves. Today, its historic 19th-century downtown core is filled with art galleries, cool cafés, and boutiques. The Spencer Art Museum is a major highlight, showcasing the works of Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, and other American legends. The University of Kansas is also here, ensuring the city’s entertainment scene is young and creative.
- Dodge City: few towns were more notorious during the Wild West days of the 19th century than Dodge City. This is where Wyatt Earp and other gunslingers made their names when the city was an unruly frontier in the late 1800s. The historic town has been well preserved to look much as it did in its heyday and the Boot Hill Museum, a perfect recreation of Dodge City’s infamous Front Street from 1876, is a highlight. This living museum has daily reenactments of gunfights, Native American exhibits, cool artifacts, and the famous Boot Hill Cemetery.
- Topeka: Kansas’ capital isn’t its largest city but it has some of its best attractions. Start with a mile-long ride through Gage Park on a miniature gauge train while listening to tales of the area’s history. You could easily spend half a day here riding the historic 1908 Herschell-Spillman carousel and breaking for lunch at Boss Hawg’s Barbecue, a regular chart-topper among US barbecue joints. Then, explore the fascinating exhibits inside the award-winning Kansas Museum of History, which showcases the incredible history of the state’s infamous figures alongside the lives of its everyday people.
- Old Cowtown Museum: one of the best living-history museums in the American Midwest is found just outside of Wichita. Old Cowtown contains 70 relocated historic structures that recreate a typical Kansas frontier town from the late 1800s. The activities are endless, from a wagon ride through the prairie town to mock gunfights in the street. You can watch traditional craftspeople like blacksmiths at work, dress up in vintage clothes for a black and white photo, and drink homemade sarsaparilla in the old saloon. The area is tons of fun for kids, families, and anyone with an interest in the Wild West.
WHEN TO GO TO KANSAS
The best period to visit Kansas is from May to September.
The climate in Kansas is rarely lauded as pleasant. It suffers from extreme weather conditions in both summer and winter, with yearly temperatures ranging from 17°F in January to 90°F in July. Heavy rains, violent wind storms, and blinding blizzards are all common throughout the state. The climate in Kansas is notorious for changing rapidly, especially the temperature.
Statewide, the daytime highs during winter hover around 31°F between December and February, but despite frigid temperatures, there is little snowfall due to the dry conditions that dominate. Snow falls 15 days a year on average through major blizzards can roll through at any time. Summers tend to be very warm, averaging in the low 80’s (°F) between June and August, but the pervasive humidity levels of 80 to 90 percent make the air feel much hotter. Most of the precipitation falls in the spring and summer, with drier conditions in the west.
Kansas is located in America’s Tornado Alley, a swath of the Midwest that regularly gets violent thunderstorms, hail, high winds, and the occasional tornado. The most dangerous times of year are the spring and summer. From late March until May, conditions are the most volatile though tornados can appear at any time until the weather cools off in September.
WHAT TO DO IN KANSAS
Get the heck into Dodge
The Wild West lives on in infamous Dodge City, Kansas, a onetime frontier outpost that’s been preserved to give a flavor of the tumbleweed days. Dodge City is an operative, modern city, but the cool stuff is all in Boot Hill, the recreated saloon town that still hosts daily “gunfights.” It’s a little bit hokey, sure, but spending an afternoon drinking at the Long Branch Saloon or tasting whiskey at the Boot Hill Distillery lets you feel like an old-timey cowboy for an afternoon. You can also attend a live rodeo, take selfies with Wild West legends at the gunfighters museum or just kick back with a few beers at Dodge City Brewing.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations in Kansas.
- Brookside Art Annual: the charming little town of Brookside is host to one of Kansas’ most popular annual art fairs. Each May, the downtown area is transformed into a pedestrian street with more than 200 stalls set up to showcase the arts and crafts of Kansan talents. Food and live music add to the fun, which carries on after dark with concerts in town.
- Kansas City Renaissance Festival: just outside Kansas City in the town of Bonner Springs is one of America’s largest annual Renaissance Fairs. It kicks off on Labor Day each June and runs for seven consecutive weekends until Columbus Day. The 16-acre property where the festival is held is like a slice of medieval England revisited. Each weekend has a slightly different theme, but always includes loads of food, live entertainment, period shopping, and other great activities. Around 500 costumed characters ensure the atmosphere is sufficiently medieval.
- Jazz in the Woods: if it’s June, then it’s time for the annual jazz festival in Kansas City. This weekend event is as popular with families as it is with music fans, and it takes place in Overland Park’s Corporate Woods areas. Despite the genre of music, this event is billed as a family affair and around 40,000 people come to the lovely park to enjoy the free music and good company.
- Dodge City Days: Dodge City is a big attraction any time of year, but for 10 days each July, the town really dials up the fun with its multi-faceted festival. The fun includes a classic car show, concerts, a golf tournament, parades, and lots more. The highlight is the Dodge City Days Rodeo, the real deal with bucking broncos, bull riding, clowns, and a beauty pageant.
- Roots Festival: this fantastic festival brings together many of the country’s top musicians who play a genre called roots which is true Americana folk. For two days in August, the downtown park of Paola is filled with country, bluegrass, and other great tunes backed by arts and crafts, games, live entertainment, and a major barbecue competition.
- Ciderfest and Craft Fair: a highlight of Kansas every September is this annual harvest celebration in the quaint town of Louisburg. Over two successive weekends, the town’s lovely cider mill opens the taps on its delicious apple cider. A party ensues with live music, stalls selling locally made crafts, and lots of tasty food where barbecue is the obvious standout.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH KANSAS
Kansas is literally located in the geographical center of America. Interstate 70 is the main highway running through Kansas east to west from St Louis, Missouri to Denver, Colorado, and onward in both directions. Interstate 35 is the main highway running north to south through Kansas.
Having your own car is essential if you plan to do any sort of sightseeing or travel in the state, and is actually a big part of the Kansas experience. All of the major car rental firms have offices in the downtowns of major cities like Topeka, Wichita, and Kansas City, as well as at airports. Driving the flat roads of Kansas is easy except during winter when big storms can dump ice and snow in your path. If you plan to drive during the winter months, be prepared. The Kansas Road and Weather Conditions Hotline (+1-877-511-5368) gives updated information on all the state’s roads.
Taxis are available in all of the large cities, but not in the small rural towns.
If you have the time to spare, traveling to and through Kansas on the train is an unparalleled way to experience the rolling countryside of Midwest America. Train lines run where roads do not go, offering unique views of the landscape and wildlife. Amtrak has a major line running right through Kansas called the Southwest Chief. It runs between Los Angeles and Chicago every day, stopping at Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Hutchinson, Newton, Dodge City, and Garden City. Amtrak trains also connect Kansas City with St Louis, Missouri. The trains are comfortable though the fares are equivalent to that of a regional flight.
The cheapest means of travel to and around Kansas remains the bus. Both the Greyhound and Jefferson Lines run extensive service throughout the state. The fares are low, especially between destinations within Kansas, and the seats are reasonably comfortable. There are no toilets on Greyhound buses, so be prepared. Only the main cities like Topeka, Kansas City, Lawrence, and Wichita have public bus networks. They are mainly used by local residents to move between the suburbs and downtown, so they will not be very practical for tourists. Bus fares are, however, cheap.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON KANSAS
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-7,-6 (-6,-5)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN KANSAS
Typical food in Kansas
Souvenirs from Kansas