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The 12 best places to visit in Kansas

Enjoy the 12 best places to visit in Kansas

Kansas is full of numerous beautiful and often quirky small cities. I love Kansas City and Wichita, but the state’s smaller places are the heart of Kansas. After 30 years of traveling throughout Kansas, these are my 12 best places to visit in Kansas.

Leavenworth, Cottonwood Falls, St. Francis, Fort Scott, and Goodland are featured in our book Midwest Road Trip Adventures. Order one here.

Disclaimer: Some of these cities hosted our visits, but our opinions are our own.

Lindsborg's Valkommen Trail, one of the best places to visit in Kansas
Walk the beautiful Välkommen (Welcome) Trail in Lindsborg.

1. Lindsborg, more Swedish than Sweden

During his 1976 visit, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf said that Lindsborg, Little Sweden USA, is more Swedish than Sweden. Immerse yourself in Swedish culture at the Swedish Pavilion, then walk across the street to the Old Mill Museum. Look for the Wild Dalas throughout Lindsborg.

But you don’t need to be a Swede to enjoy the Central Kansas community. Stroll through Downtown Lindsborg’s fun shops and walk the Välkommen Trail. Eat at the Crown & Rye and the Öl’ Stuga. Grab some go juice at Blacksmith Coffee and stay at Dröm Sött/Sweet Dreams Inn.

Pro tip: Drive to the top of Coronado Heights north of Lindsborg and see where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado might have been in 1541.

Hays depot sign at Tiger Burgers
Tiger Burgers is full of fun memorabilia — plus delicious food.

2. Hays, the most beautiful Main Street in Kansas

Hays is beautiful. We didn’t need any more evidence, but MSN named the city as the Most Beautiful Main Street in Kansas. That designation helps make Hays one of the best places to visit in Kansas. Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Co. led the way to make downtown a magnet for shoppers. We enjoy Paisley Pear, Be Made, and Simply Charmed. Eat at Tiger Burgers.

Visit the Bison Herd across the road from the Fort Hays State Historic Site. Dinosaur buffs will adore the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. Stay at the Inn at 117 or the Hilton Garden Inn. Camp at the Creekside Resort.

Pro tip: Buy a Fort Hays State souvenir at the Tiger Book Shop.

Chase County Courthouse
The Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls is a Second Empire masterpiece.

3. Cottonwood Falls, a Flint Hills gem

Nestled in the Flint Hills, Cottonwood Falls is gorgeous from its namesake falls on the city’s north end to the Chase County Courthouse on its south end. With its Second Empire-style mansard roof, the courthouse is one of the state’s most gorgeous buildings. It was one of the Finalists in the Overall 8 Wonders of Kansas contest; therefore, it’s one of the best places to visit in Kansas.

The small city offers some unique shops, like Symphony in the Flint Hills, but the real gem is exploring the Flint Hills and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

Eat and stay at the Grand Central Hotel & Grill in Cottonwood Falls. On Friday nights, join the Emma Chase Friday Night Music at Prairie Past Times in Cottonwood Falls. Friday Night Music is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs.

Pro tip: During the spring, find the waterfall at Chase County Fishing Lake.

First City Mural in Leavenworth
Buffalo Bill stands on the streets of Leavenworth, the First City of Kansas.

4. Leavenworth, the first city in Kansas and freedom’s outpost

Several months after Abraham Lincoln visited Leavenworth, he said, “If I went West, I think I would go to Kansas.” He cited Leavenworth. Lincoln’s opinion matters: Leavenworth is one of the best places to visit in Kansas. On Leavenworth’s walking trails, you can stand where Lincoln stood during his 1859 visit.

Fort Leavenworth is the oldest fort west of the Mississippi River. Seventeen years after the fort’s founding, the City of Leavenworth became the first city in Kansas. The lovely, diverse city on the Missouri River offers incredible history, a charming downtown, beautiful river views, and walking trails. Ride vintage carousels at the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum.

Eat a chicken-fried steak at the Metropolitan Steakhouse and Mediterranean cuisine at Mido’s Halal Mediterranean Grill, parked at Denney’s Produce. Stay at the TownePlace Suites.

Pro tip: Learn about African-American history at the Richard Allen Cultural Center & Museum.

Conoco petroliana in Norton
Norton features numerous examples of vintage oil and automobile memorabilia.

5. Norton, where car culture shines

If you enjoy vintage car culture, Norton is the place for you. This car lover’s paradise includes three restored vintage gas stations and Goof’s Big Boy’s Toy Museum, which is full of his automobile collectibles.

But Norton offers more than car culture. Escape to Prairie Dog State Park. Downtown, meet the people who ran for President but lost in the They Also Ran Gallery. Eat wood-fired pizza and shop for upscale kitchen gear at Destination Kitchen. Go next door to the quilt store Stitch Up a Storm and enjoy their top-notch merchandising skills. Stay at the Sleep Inn & Suites or the Prairie Inn at Lathrop House.

Pro tip: One of the largest meteorites to strike North America landed in Norton County. Learn more at the Norton County Historical Museum.

Great Bend airport
Great Bend’s airport was built for B-29s. It now hosts drag races, air shows, and more.

6. Great Bend, home of world-class birding

Great Bend derives its name from the Great Bend of the Arkansas River. The river’s associated wetlands make the city a prime location for outdoor activities. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area‘s oasis and variety of habitats attract migratory birds. In the spring, listen to the haunting song of sandhill cranes. In the fall, Great Bend offers prime hunting opportunities (PDF).

Great Bend also attracts shoppers. Visit Heart of Kansas/Miss Pretty Pickles, Rosewood Wine Cellar, and MindSculpt Games. (Full disclosure: Heart of Kansas sells my book, Midwest Road Trip Adventures.) Eat at the HandleBar and Grill and the Sarocha Thai Restaurant. Stay at the Best Western Angus Inn.

Pro tip: Great Bend’s SCRA Drag Strip hosted the first National Hot Rod Association championship in 1955. SCRA provided the ideal venue, a World War II B-29 base with an 8,000-foot runway.

Concordia, one of the best places to visit in Kansas
The Whole Wall Mural and one of the orphan-train-themed Sculpture Stroll sculptures decorate Concordia’s visitors center.

7. Concordia, the Orphan Train Town

From 1854 to 1929, the Orphan Train Movement relocated over 250,000 children from large East Coast cities to smaller cities and towns throughout all 48 states. Concordia hosts the Orphan Train Complex that explains and preserves the history of the Orphan Trains. Connect with individual children’s stories on the Sculpture Stroll (PDF). One of the sculptures stands in front of the 140-foot Whole Wall Mural, the largest sculpted brick mural in the United States, on the east side of Cloud County Tourism‘s office.

Concordia also boasts some excellent examples of Edwardian architecture. For example, the beautiful Brown Grand Theater is a replica of Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. After restoration, the theater reopened in 1980. The Sisters of St. Joseph outgrew their convent and academy. They built a massive five-story brick and native stone Nazareth Convent and Academy beginning in 1902.

Eat at Jitter’s Coffee House & Lounge, Easy G Sports Grill, and El Puerto Mexican Restaurant.

Pro tip: At Camp Concordia’s peak, more than 4,000 German prisoners of war at WWII POW Camp Concordia. Call ahead for tours.

St. Francis Motorcycle Museum
Explore St. Francis Motorcycle Museum’s extensive vintage motorcycle collection.

8. St. Francis, where Kansas has canyons

Kansas is anything but flat. If you’re skeptical, come to St. Francis. First, admire vintage motorcycles at the St. Francis Motorcycle Museum.  Meet former Cheyenne County residents Ron Evans, Apollo 17’s Command Module Pilot, and Len Dresslar, the Jolly Green Giant’s voice at the Cheyenne County Museum.

Then drive north to the Arikaree Breaks, the Canyons of Kansas. Please bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it at Sue’s Picnic Table. The Breaks were both a Finalist in the overall 8 Wonders of Kansas and the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography contest. Those dual designations mean that St. Francis is one of the best places to visit in Kansas.

Eat at Diamond R Bar, Fresh Seven Coffee, and Tin Roof Baking Co. Stay at Spencer House Bed & Breakfast.

Pro tip: Cast your line for channel catfish at Keller’s Pond.

The World's Largest Souvenir Plate, Lucas
The World’s Largest Souvenir Plate tells visitors they’re approaching the Quirkiest Kansas Town.

9. Lucas, grassroots art and one of the best places to visit in Kansas

Grassroots art defines Lucas. Ironically, the city considered S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden an embarrassment. Imagine their reaction when he prepared a corpse viewing area in his onsite mausoleum, and then when others followed in Dinsmoor’s footsteps. Lucas now embraces quirky art in all its forms, making it another of the best places to visit in Kansas.

Stop first at Bowl Plaza, where bathroom humor becomes art. Shop for delicious meats and cheeses at Brant’s Market next door, then visit the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. See more at the Grassroots Art Center.

Eat at the Backstreet Bakery. Stay at the Horseshoe Lodge.

Pro tip: On your way to Lucas, explore Wilson and the Post Rock Scenic Byway.

painted ladies in Fort Scott, one of the best places to visit in Kansas
Fort Scott boasts many architectural treasures.

10. Fort Scott: Soldiers and more unsung heroes

The Army built Fort Scott on the so-called Permanent Indian Frontier. The fort played a part in the Mexican War, Bleeding Kansas, and the Civil War. Downtown Fort Scott is a short walk from the fort.

After you admire Downtown Fort Scott‘s architecture, visit the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. The Milken Center honors those who took risks for humanity’s benefit, including Irena Sendler. At the Gordon Parks Museum, honor the world-famous Black photographer, filmmaker, musician, and writer.

Drink a bourbon in Bourbon County at Crooner’s or Sharky’s Pub & Grub. Stay at the Courtland Hotel.

Pro tip: Bring your utility terrain vehicle (UTV) or mountain bike to Kansas Rocks Recreation Park.

Getting into Dodge, one of the best places to visit in Kansas

11. Dodge City, one of the most iconic best places to visit in Kansas

Set in Dodge City, Gunsmoke aired for 635 episodes over 20 seasons. Gunsmoke‘s Dodge City looks nothing like the real Dodge. But you can find 10 Gunsmoke stars on the Dodge City Trail of Fame, plus the Marlboro Man. Star in your Western at the Boot Hill Museum. Since Dodge City is so iconic, it has to be one of the best places to visit in Kansas.

In cattle-themed attractions, visit Forget-Me-Not Farms, a dairy where tours end with chocolate milk and ice cream. An overlook northeast of Dodge City shows a feedlot, where cattle are “finished” before becoming beef. Sample the wares at Boot Hill Distillery and Dodge City Brewing.

Eat at Casey’s Cowtown Club. Stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites near the casino. Camp at Riverside RV Park.

Pro tip: Remember 9/11 at Liberty Garden in Wright Park.

Sherman County wheat
The wheat turns golden as it ripens along the Land and Sky Scenic Byway.

12. Goodland, the perfect name for an ag-themed byway

Land and Sky Scenic Byway is America’s first agriculture-themed byway. What could be a better ag-themed name than Goodland? The largest sunflower of them all is always in bloom. A replica of Vincent van Gogh’s Three Sunflowers in a Vase is the World’s Largest Painting on an Easel, and it towers over the town. Another giant artwork, the Giant Grasshopper, stands north of Goodland.

Goodland also enjoys America’s First Patented Helicopter at the High Plains Museum.  Downtown, shop at Lou Lou’s Boutique, Mor Mor’s Antiques, and Jacque’s Hallmark. Eat at Westport on Main, then savor shaved ice at Terra Bona Hawai’ian Shaved Ice & Coffee Co. next door. Stay in a historic church or camp at Mid-America Camp Inn.

Pro tip: The recently-renovated Soldiers Memorial County Park is an oasis. Bring your fishing gear.

What are your favorite best places to visit in Kansas?

More to explore

Find Kansas civil rights sites in Fort Scott, Leavenworth, and more.


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