Monument Rocks and its eye

Kansas Rocks: The 7 best rocks in Kansas

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Kansas Rocks: The best 7 places to see rock formations in Kansas

It’s hard to imagine that high-and-dry Kansas was once buried underwater. However, that ocean, the Western Interior Sea, has left the state a beautiful legacy: The Ocean of Kansas has produced some astounding Kansas Rocks. Limestone and sandstone pinnacles, mushrooms, and balls dot the land. We’ll visit the best seven places to see strange rock formations. The sites run from Minneapolis to the south of Oakley. Now, let’s go rock hunting.

Some of these destinations hosted me, but all opinions are my own.

Order the book Midwest Road Trip Adventures for more fun road trips through Kansas and the other Midwestern states. I’m the Kansas author. The authors’ next book will feature these parks.

Concretions at Rock City, the eastern Kansas Rocks
Many of Rock City’s concretions stand more than 6 feet tall.

No. 1: Rock City, spherical Kansas Rocks

Four miles south of Minneapolis, strange Kansas rocks, concretions up to 20 feet in diameter, fill an area of about two football fields. Some of Rock City Park’s more than 200 stones look like cracked dinner rolls. Some look like turtles hiding in their shells, and some look like cow patties. Swirling currents cut the angled lines through the spheres when they were deposited. The spheres are up to 20 feet in diameter.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Stretch your legs on the mowed nature trail on the park’s west side.

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Two-legged mushroom at Mushroom Rocks State Park, Kansas Rocks
A two-legged mushroom at Mushroom Rocks State Park.

No. 2: Mushroom Rock State Park, inedible Kansas Rocks

About 45 minutes southwest of Rock City, the smallest Kansas state park, Mushroom Rocks only covers five acres. Whatever the park lacks in size, it makes up for in spectacular weirdness. Like its cousins at Rock City, the mushroom caps are Dakota sandstone. The stalks are made from softer stone. The Great Plains’ high winds have carved away the stalk sections faster than the harder sandstone caps, leaving the mushroom shapes.

A marker explains that explorer John Fremont visited the formations and that the Smoky Hill Trail passed nearby.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: A county road bisects the park. Make sure to cross the road for more Kansas rocks. Stop at a grocery store before coming and enjoy a picnic. No state park permit is required.

Rock Town
Rock Town on the shores of Wilson Reservoir

No. 3: Rock Town, lake Kansas Rocks

World's Largest Czech Egg
Donations to construct the World’s Largest Czech Egg came from the Czech Embassy.

Drive Kansas 140 about 45 minutes to Wilson. From Wilson, head north on Kansas 232 to Wilson State Park. Before you enjoy the park, buy a state park permit. Find Wilson’s Kansas rocks on the park’s moderate-level Rocktown Trail. Hikers will enjoy massive sandstone formations. Red sandstone formations stand 15 to 30 feet above the three-mile trail in the Lucas Park area. Look for self-guided tour brochures at the trailhead.

Roxie’s reliable report: Lucas Park is also known for kite surfing.

While you’re in the park, enjoy water sports and fishing at Wilson Lake. Check the fishing forecast and buy a fishing license. Mountain bikers should ride the Epic-rated Switchgrass Trail. The trail is a stacked counterclockwise loop. To ride it all requires 22 miles and 2 to 4 hours. The record is 1:40.

Midland Railroad Hotel
The Midland Railroad Hotel in Wilson

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Stay at the Midland Railroad Hotel in Wilson and eat the chicken-fried steak in the Sample Room onsite. Before you turn north, stop at the World’s Largest Czech Egg. It’s 20 feet high and 15 feet wide.

Camp at Wilson RV Park.

Kansas Originals is on the north side of Interstate 70’s Wilson exit. Shop the largest selection of Kansas-made and Kansas-grown items, plus browse a large selection of Kansas travel information.

Kansas post rocks
Limestone post rocks on Post Rock Scenic Byway.

No. 4: Post Rock Scenic Byway, miles of Kansas Rocks

You joined Post Rock Scenic Byway in Wilson. As you continue north, watch for the rock fence posts. In a tree-starved land, the pioneers needed building materials. They soon discovered that the Greenhorn Limestone, close to the surface, broke into patterns suitable for buildings and fencing. The builders named the limestone they quarried “post rock,” and they widely used the stone.

Roxie’s reliable report: Winter is the best time to harvest post rocks. The carvers unearth the rock, then drill holes. They pour water into the holes and leave them overnight. The water turns to ice overnight and splits the rock.

Garden of Eden and the Cabin Home
S.P. Dinsmoor’s Cabin Home, built from Post Rock “logs,” surrounded by the Garden of Eden.

Lucas, Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas

Lucas is most famous for the Garden of Eden. Civil War veteran S.P. Dinsmoor was an ardent Populist. After he built his home from Post Rock “logs,” he began explaining his political philosophy with cement sculptures. He added electricity so railroad passengers could see his work and, driven by curiosity, would come.

The wild-looking scenes wrapped around his house and stirred much controversy in Lucas. The citizens felt that Dinsmoor’s creations were making the town look bad. They weren’t happy with their perceived laughingstock status and tried to stop Dinsmoor.

Instead, Dinsmoor inspired others to create, often with off-beat media. In an about-face, Lucas now celebrates its quirky status.

Miller's Park
Roy and Clara Miller’s stone houses and “pyramids.”

Go behind the house to see Miller’s Park, a collection of stone homes and “pyramids” that Roy and Clara Miller created. But before you leave the Garden of Eden, check out a seriously spooky experience. View Dinsmoor’s corpse in the pyramid-shaped mausoleum that he built.

Grassroots Art Center

Post Rock is very carvable. Builders and masons created many exquisite works with it. See examples in the Limestone Courtyard behind the Grassroots Art Center. The arts center preserves many fascinating examples of outsider art, including a car made from pop can tabs. Arts center admission also includes the Florence Deeble Rock Garden and the Garden of Isis. Deeble’s reimagination of Mount Rushmore is a real gem.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Tour the Garden of Eden and Garden of Isis on Halloween. They’ll both spook you out.

Brant’s Market and Bowl Plaza

Before you leave Lucas, stop by Brant’s Market. They’ve been making sausage since 1922. Their ring bologna is justifiably famous, and I devour Brant’s bologna every chance I get.

Either as your first or last Lucas stop, visit Bowl Plaza, the “restroom with bling.” It’s the only must-visit public restroom I’ve ever seen. Filled with visual puns, it takes “bathroom humor” to a new level. In 2014, the Cintas Company named it the second-best public restroom in the United States. In 2018, Bowl Plaza earned Quirkiest Restroom in the World in the International Toilet Tourism contest. (Toilet tourism? Who knew?)

If you have to wait to go, Fork Art Park is right next door.

Roxie’s reliable report: Bluestem Quarry and Stoneworks will create your Post Rock vision.

Castle Rock, Kansas Rocks
Castle Rock at sunset

No. 5: Castle Rock, the lone monolith and its badlands of Kansas Rocks

Castle Rock is 2 hours southwest of Lucas. Either take Interstate 70 to the Quinter exit and go south on Castle Rock Road. Stop at Gibson’s HealthMart Pharmacy in WaKeeney for a Green River or other soda fountain delight. Visit Western Kansas Saloon for a juicy steak.

Shiloh Vineyard

Or, for a bit of adventure, turn south at the Voda Road exit and visit Shiloh Vineyard. They create premium wines from their fruit, and a tasting is worth your time. We love their peach and pear wines and their coffee dessert wine. After Shiloh, head southwest to the rock. Print a map before you go. Signage is limited, and so is cell service.

Castle Rock from the Badlands
Castle Rock stands apart from Castle Rock Badlands.

Castle Rock and Castle Rock Badlands

Time has not been kind to Castle Rock. Lightning has struck it repeatedly and knocked its highest pinnacles to the ground. Now it looks more like a glove with a thumb and three fingers than a castle. Castle Rock Badlands behind the rock spire is the more intriguing part of the site to visit.

The road network at Castle Rock is more a set of off-road vehicle trails than an actual road. Travel them at your own risk. Driving a high-clearance vehicle is a plus. The roads are often steep and deeply rutted. On our most recent visit, our little car got stuck with one wheel hanging in space. Fortunately, another group stopped by and helped us. If you have a low-clearance vehicle, don’t follow our example. Stay on the lower routes. Unless you have a high-clearance, all-wheel-drive vehicle, DO NOT visit in wet weather.

Eric in Castle Rock Badlands
Wandering in Castle Rock Badlands

The Badlands, an enchanting maze of eroded towers, are easy and fun to hike. However, be aware of rattlesnakes. Please do not place any body part where you cannot see it. The land is private property and is free to enter. Please be respectful so others may continue to visit.

Roxie’s reliable report: Stop at Ray’s Pharmacy in Quinter for another delicious soda fountain treat.

Monument Rocks, the most famous of the Kansas Rocks
Wind and water erosion shaped the limestone Monument Rocks.

No. 6: Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, famous Kansas Rocks

If the weather has been dry, take gravel county roads to the 70-foot-tall Monument Rocks, the most famous Kansas rocks. If not, head back to the Interstate and take the western Oakley exit south. Before you leave Oakley, eat a delicious Bluff Burger topped with onions and mushrooms at The Bluff.

Driving the gravel roads will take about 1:15, while the I-70 route will take about 1:45. If you choose the country roads, print a map or write directions. Cell service and signage are sparse.

Related: The rocks are one of Western Vistas Historic Byways’ main attractions.

The rocks were designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968. Just like Castle Rock, Monument Rocks is private property. The owners request that visitors do not climb the fragile formations and that no one is present after dark. Cattle are sometimes pastured there; please do not disturb them. The road is much better than Castle Rock’s roads, and visitors may pull up right next to the rocks. We like to tailgate there.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Visit the Keystone Gallery, which is very near Monument Rocks. They have fascinating fossils on display, and they sell fascinating souvenirs. Keystone’s website explains the rocks’ role as Smoky Hill Trail landmarks.

Related: Learn more about the trail at the Butterfield Trail Museum, Russell Springs.

Little Jerusalem, the largest chunk of Niobrara Formation Kansas rocks
Little Jerusalem is the largest expanse of exposed Niobrara Chalk formations in Kansas.

No. 7: Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park is full of Kansas rocks

Little Jerusalem is Kansas’ newest state park, about half an hour from Monument Rocks. Some of this section of the Kansas Rocks route is on gravel roads. Its rock formations are made of the same Niobrara Chalk that comprises Castle Rock and Monument Rocks. The wind- and water-carved 100-foot-tall pinnacles, hoodoos, and canyons welcome visitors to explore.

Like at Castle and Monument Rocks, please stay on the trails because the formations are fragile. At the park’s entrance, enjoy a picnic. While sitting at the table, experiment with carving the rocks provided. Carving the rocks demonstrates just how soft and fragile they are.

Related: Little Jerusalem Badlands is one of the 10 best things to do in Northwest Kansas.

Where to stay

Break up your Kansas Rocks trip by staying at Best Western Plus WaKeeney Inn & Suites, the cleanest hotel with the kindest staff. Campers should stay at High Plains Camping in Oakley, the overnight camping resort.

More to explore

Several Kansas Rocks destinations are included on these fantastic Kansas scenic drives. Monument Rocks and Little Jerusalem are on Western Vistas Historic Byway, the king of Kansas rock formations routes.

The Cheyennes fled from their Oklahoma reservation in 1879. Their route between the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork and the Last Indian Raid in Kansas passed near Oakley.

Explore the Niobrara River, Niobrara Chalk’s namesake, in Valentine, Nebraska.

How to find the Kansas Rocks


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