In The Wizard of Oz, all Dorothy wanted to do was get back home to Kansas. And while her desire may have been driven by a need to be with family and friends, visitors to Kansas return because just one trip to the Sunflower State isn’t enough to take in all the views.
Kansas is divided into six regions: the Northwest, the North Central, the Northeast, the Southwest, the South Central, and Southeast. Contrary to the perception that it’s as flat as the proverbial pancake, there’s a gradual increase in elevation beginning at 200 meters in the east to more than 1200 meters as you approach the western border. As for the state’s geography, it includes gentle hills, plains, and flint ridges as well as Mount Sunflower: the state’s highest point at 4,039 feet above sea level.
And far from being one giant piece of rolling farmland, Kansas has vibrant cities with exciting nightlife, cultural events, landmarks and historic sites, nature and wildlife centers, and working farms and ranches that offer experiential visits. As for sports, Kansas has a four-season calendar that includes both college and professional sporting team events.
Kansas is also home to 12 byways; three historic byways and nine scenic byways, including two on the National Scenic Byways List: the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway. (For a national map of America’s Byways, go here.)
The 48-mile Flint Hills Scenic Byway is just slightly west of the state’s centerline, running north from outside of Cassoday and passing through Matifield Green, Baazar, Cottonwood Falls, and Strong City until it ends at Council Grove. Along the way, you can enjoy views of the tallgrass prairie of the Great Plains and stop at historic sites, quaint towns, and scenic vistas.
The Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway is nearly 77 miles of nature and wildlife, from sandhill and whooping cranes to pelicans, bald and golden eagles, shorebirds, ducks, and geese. Not a straight shot, the north end of the Byway begins in Barton County on US-281, heads east to go around the Cheyenne Bottoms Scenic Overlook and State Wildlife Area, then takes a southern turn until it reaches Little Salt Marsh. Another jog around the Marsh and then the Byway heads west until it reaches 281 where it terminates. The drive itself can be done in 90 minutes, but if you want to enjoy all the wildlife and scenery, allow five hours for the journey.
Other scenic drives in the state
The Kansas Travel & Tourism website also has themed road trips to take within the state, including the following five.
The Waterfall Road Trip includes 10 top waterfalls: the Geary Falls, the Prather Creek Falls (Chase Lake Falls), the Santa Fe Lake Falls, the Cowley Falls, the Chautauqua Falls, the Rock Creek Falls, the Swissvale Falls, the Butcher Falls, the Angel Falls, and the Pillsbury Crossing (Deep Creek Falls).
The Spring Road Trip includes the Native Stone Byway and stops at Hogland Dugout (now a historical site marking an example of an early Scandinavian home), Herd of Wild Dalas (one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs), K-State Gardens (a double-purpose location serving as a research area for K-State students and beautiful grounds for visitors), and Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area (initially a safe ford of Deep Creek for decades but now offering a myriad of outdoor activities).
The Summer Road Trip has nine hot-weather ideas from WaKeeney Main Street Nature Trail, Kanopolis Drive-In, Lawrence-Dumant Stadium, and Wildcat Creek Golf & Fitness to Gieringers Orchard, Powell Astronomical Observatory, Black Hoof Park, Kansas City T-Bones Baseball Club, and Tomahawk Hills Golf Course.
The Fall Road Trip is all about enjoying the vibrant autumn colors of yellows, reds, and oranges, beginning with the fields of blooming sunflowers complemented by the trees changing their green summer garb for fall hues. Key stops include Louisburg Cider Mill, Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, Chestnut Charlie’s, Kansas City Renaissance Festival, Children’s Mercy Park, Cider Hill Family Orchard, Atchison Trolley, and Lewis and Clark Riverfront Pavilion.
The Winter Road Trip highlights eight stops to enjoy during the winter season: Christmas City of the High Plains, Boot Hill Museum, Botanica—The Wichita Gardens, Blue Earth Plaza, Historic Downtown Lawrence, Legends Outlets Kansas City, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, and Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.