Peace on the Kansas prairies

Posted on: 18 March 2010 by Mark O'haire

Hiking, biking, trail riding and spectacular sunsets on the Kansas prairies.

In a many places, the Kansas landscape is much the same as it once was - largely natural and untouched.

Walk though prairies littered with wildflowers and undisturbed by civilization, view wildlife in their natural habitats, and discover awesome sites of geological wonder. 


At one time, most of North America was prairie. Today, most of America’s remaining virgin prairie can be found in Kansas, and numerous opportunities exist for visitors to experience the beauty of the Tallgrass prairie. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the heart of the Flint Hills near Strong City is the only unit in the National Park System dedicated to the rich cultural history of the prairie, considered to be the most endangered ecosystem in the world. Travellers can take a guided bus tour into the 10,714-acre preserve or hike one of their trails.

The Konza Prairie Biological Station, south of Manhattan, is owned and operated by Kansas State University and the Nature Conservancy. Much of the prairie is used for research purposes, but several hiking trails take visitors into the heart of the prairie.


The Cimarron National Grassland was formed when the federal government purchased some of the most severely wind-eroded land during the Dust Bowl era. The land has since been rejuvenated and is now administered by the U.S. Forest Service. A 19-mile hiking and biking trail runs parallel to the original route of the Santa Fe Trail. The 180,000-acre grassla also features primitive and established camping sites, and a self-guided scenic driving tour.

Trail Riding

In south central Kansas, the Gypsum Hills, or Red Hills, feature flat mesas, deep canyons, sharp high hills, and red soils. The Gyp Hills Trail Rides take place during the first three weekends in May at the Gant-Larson Ranch. Trail riders must provide their own horses, but for those who don’t own horses or ride, horse-drawn wagon rides are provided. The ranch also offers a women-only trail ride in April. The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway bisects this area of buttes and canyons and extends for 42 miles from Medicine Lodge to Coldwater on U.S.160.


Many of the state’s lakes and reservoirs have hiking trails including 13 miles of trails at Kanopolis Lake in the Smoky Hills near Ellsworth. These lakes also offer great fishing opportunities as well as spots for camping and boating. Wilson Lake near Sylvan Grove is considered to be one of the best windsurfing spots in the country. For those visitors wanting to camp, several Kansas state parks offer “Rent-A-Camp” providing all of the necessary gear for a low daily fee.


Only two states in the USA have designated wetlands of international importance – Kansas and Florida. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, north of Great Bend, attracts nearly half of North America’s shorebird population during the spring and fall migration. The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, located south of Great Bend, is on the central flyway for migrating birds.


Other wildlife areas throughout the state also support an impressive collection of wildlife. The state’s largest herd of buffalo can be seen at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge near Canton, and the Sandsage Bison Range in Garden City supports another large herd. For a state of its size Kansas has a large number of accredited zoos of all sizes. Wichita, Garden City, Hutchinson, Topeka, Emporia, and Manhattan all boast high-calibre zoos. The Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, located on 95 acres west of Salina, is dedicated to the conservation and propagation of rare and endangered animals.

Outdoor Activities

Wonderful country bed and breakfasts allow guests to sit back and enjoy the peacefulness of the countryside and range from upscale country inns to working ranches. Many offer outdoor activities such as hiking, self-guided wildflower tours, wildlife watching, and fishing.

For a unique prairie experience, participate in a real cattle drive at the J.L. Canyon Ranch in Brookville, the Moore Ranch near Bucklin or the Victorian Veranda Country Inn in Lawrence. The Prairie Drifter sunset tour in Cottonwood Falls gives visitors a memorable prairie experience on the back of a 1950s Kansas wheat truck as it travels through the prairie for spectacular sunset views.

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