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Top 11 things to do in attractive Wilson, Kansas

Fewer than 900 people call Wilson home, but the small town full of Czech heritage in the heart of the Smoky Hills offers plenty to attract visitors. It’s only 15 minutes from Wilson State Park, home of the clearest lake in Kansas. The World’s Largest Czech Egg stands proudly in Wilson’s Ed & LaVange Shiroky Park.

Wilson is also the Post Rock Scenic Byway’s southern anchor. The city’s Post Rock Limestone buildings, including the Midland Railroad Hotel, attest to pioneer ingenuity. Because the land lacked trees, pioneers turned the native Greenhorn limestone into building and fence materials.

Use Interstate 70’s Wilson Exit 206 for easy access to Wilson. 

Related: The city is 47 minutes from Hays on the west and Salina to the east. Lucas, home of the Garden of Eden, is half an hour to the north. Combine Wilson and Lucas for the perfect day trip.

Whether you desire to spend a night or a week, Wilson is worth your time.

The Midland Railroad Hotel sponsored my visit, but all opinions are mine.

Rocktown at Wilson State Park in Kansas
Wilson Reservoir from Rocktown

1-3. Wilson State Park, Reservoir, and Wildlife Area in Kansas

If you believe Kansas is flat, Wilson State Park will persuade you otherwise. Its cliffs, rocks, and rugged shoreline create unique scenery. Blend the rocks with wildlife to experience a nature lover’s delight.

Beautiful Lake Wilson is Kansas’s only lake that isn’t part of a municipal water supply. Why? Because the Saline River renders the water too salty for drinking. While the river may be salty, the grass allows mud and silt to filter out before reaching the lake. Waders can see their feet in the reservoir’s clear blue water.

Anglers will enjoy the 9,000-acre reservoir’s white bass, walleye, channel catfish, and striped bass population. Wilson Lake holds the Kansas record for walleye (29 inches and 13.16 pounds) and striped bass (44 inches and 44 pounds). Lake Wilson Marina will help you get onto the water. It’s open from April 1 to November 1, and provides fuel, groceries, fishing and camping supplies, plus 180 boat slips and 100 boat storage rental slips. The park has boat ramps and a fish cleaning station.

Ad: Wilson State Park is featured in the book Midwest State Park Adventures (ad).

Day-use areas include picnic tables and fire rings. Stay in the state park’s cabins, RV sites, or primitive campsites. 

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Before you go, check the fishing forecast for advice, and stock up on your live bait and fishing tackle at Knotheads Bait & Tackle Shop.

Birders can find wild turkeys, waterfowl, and other migratory birds.

Rocktown Trail at Wilson Lake in Kansas
The Rocktown trailhead

Happy trails around Wilson Lake in Kansas

The Rocktown Trail is my favorite hike in the Wilson trail system. The 3-mile trail undulates through rolling hills to Rocktown on the shores of Wilson Lake. Rocktown’s red Kansas sandstone spires rise 15 to 30 feet from the narrow sand beach. The spires look like a city skyline from a distance. Before you start, pick up a self-guided trail brochure at the trailhead. Dogs are welcome but must be restrained with a hand-held leash less than 10 feet long.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: For the best experience, leave the trailhead in time to reach Rocktown shortly before sunset. The setting sun illuminates the rock spires and marks a trail on the water. The sun’s trail beckons visitors to follow it out to space.

Related: Rocktown is one of our seven favorite Kansas rock formations.

The Kansas park turned a disaster into a walking trail in the Otoe area. A flood destroyed Otoe’s facilities, so the agency built the Cedar Trail, a one-mile hard-surfaced accessible walking path near Wilson Lake.

Mountain bikers will adore the Epic-rated Switchgrass Mountain Biking Trail. The 24.5-mile trail feels wild and remote, but riders can shorten it with 12 cutoffs. The course is primarily easy to moderate, but short sections are rocky or choked with sand. The trail includes arduous climbs, cliffs, and sharp drops, but most technical areas are short. Allow 2-5 hours, depending on your skill.

Roxie’s reliable report: Before you go, check the Switchgrass Facebook page for updates.

Book fun Kansas tours in this ad.

Wind-powered at Kansas Wilson Reservoir

In Kansas, wind is generally abundant, but Wilson’s Lucas Park is special. Why? Because ravines on the reservoir’s north shore funnel wind onto the lake. The ravines force the wind to create waves up to 4 feet high. The conditions make the area a prime spot for kite flying, sailing, and windsurfing.

Wildlife watching at Wilson State Park

The Wilson Wildlife Area sprawls across 8,069 acres of the reservoir’s upper end. Most of it consists of rolling hills. Look for waterfowl, upland birds, songbirds, deer, and furbearers inhabiting the area.

Roxie’s reliable report: Both the Corps of Engineers and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks have land around the reservoir. Please check the differing regulations and fees.

Love bluegrass at Lovegrass

The park hosts the free Lovegrass Music Festival each August. Enjoy live music, educational sessions, art, and kids’ activities in the Lovegrass Group Camp Area.

Kansas Originals north of the Wilson interchange
Shop for Kansas gifts at Kansas Originals.

4. Shop Kansas at Kansas Originals

Bring home Kansas products from Kansas Originals on the north side of Exit 202. The store stocks food, books, and many arts and crafts. Miniature Post Rocks are an appropriate souvenir of the Post Rock Scenic Byway. In the book section, pick up autographed copies of mine and other authors’ books. Outside, take a selfie with your favorite Oz characters.

Related: Explore Oz in Kansas.

World's Largest Czech Egg in Wilson, Kansas
Wilson proclaims its Czech Capital of Kansas status next to the giant Czech-style egg.

5.  The World’s Largest Czech Egg, Wilson, Kansas

Francis Swehla arrived from Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, in 1874. He encouraged many of his compatriots to join him in Wilson because of the rich farmland. Many Czech settlers were artisans but became farmers on the rich land around Wilson.

Roxie’s reliable report: Wilson adopted the title Czech Capital of Kansas in 1974.

A gazebo protects the World’s Largest Hand-Painted Czech Egg in Wilson. The black fiberglass egg stands 20 feet high and 15 feet wide. The project started in 2003 and required 13 years to complete. After nine years of fundraising, Hess Services of Hays delivered an 8,000-pound white egg in August 2012. Over the next three summers, volunteers sanded the egg, painted it black, and then finished it with Wilson art teacher Christine Sletcha’s kraslice-style design. More than 500 volunteers donated over 2,000 hours.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Look for a detailed design explanation on interpretive panels within the park.

Maico Industries installed a gazebo to shelter the egg four years after it arrived. Tripp Fencing of Kanopolis hauled it from Ellsworth to Wilson. Wilson finally dedicated the egg on July 29, 2016.

Related: Explore the Kansas world-record holders.

Czechs have painted Easter eggs as gifts for centuriesThe Czech Embassy was one of the egg’s lead donors. 

A small Czech egg in the Midland Railroad Hotel's garden
A small Czech egg in the Midland Railroad Hotel’s garden

Roxie’s reliable report: Walking through Wilson is like a giant Easter egg hunt. Little Czech eggs are everywhere.

Related: Learn more about Czech and Slovak heritage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Midland Railroad Hotel from the railroad tracks
Lady Liberty lifts her golden lamp to illuminate the Midland Railroad Hotel.

6. Midland Railroad Hotel, the hub of Wilson, Kansas

The Midland Railroad Hotel (ad) is one of my favorite Kansas lodging options. Each unique room bears one of the founding Wilson families’ names. The structure’s combination of dark wood and native stone ensures a warm, relaxing vibe. The hotel has an elevator, but I enjoyed walking down the elegant front staircase. I felt glamorous, even though I was wearing jeans.

I envisioned a steam train waiting outside with a luxurious Pullman car, ready to whisk me off to a delightful destination – after I enjoyed the fabulous Wilson hotel.

In 1899, Wilke Power built the three-story Power Hotel beside the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The elegant 28-room hotel had the ultimate modern convenience, including acetylene gas lamps. Shoppers met salespeople in the basement so frequently that the floor gained the name “The Sample Room.”

Chicken-fried steak in The Sample Room Tavern
Chicken-fried steak in The Sample Room Tavern

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Eat a chicken-fried steak with hand-peeled mashed potatoes and gravy in the Sample Room Tavern. The combination is the best anywhere. 

A fire gutted the hotel in 1902. When it reopened with state-of-the-art heating, it gained its current name, the Midland Railroad Hotel. Times were good through the 1920s, but the staff had to raise chickens on the third floor to survive the Great Depression. The chickens shared the floor with the house ghosts. Now the chickens live in the backyard and provide fresh eggs.

Related: The ghosts put the Midland Hotel on our Kansas haunted places list.

The Midland's backyard chicken coop
The Midland’s backyard chicken coop

Hang a Paper Moon in Wilson, Kansas

In 1973, a production company filmed Paper Moon in Wilson, and the hotel showed in many of the scenes’ backgrounds.

Roxie’s reliable report: Find the movie’s locations in The Movie District’s guide. Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar for her performance.

Ad: Watch the Paper Moon movie and read the book

In 2002, the hotel joined the National Register of Historic Places (PDF). A year later, the Wilson Foundation returned the hotel to its 1920s glory in 2003, and the restoration won a Kansas Preservation Alliance Award for Excellence. 

Roxie’s reliable report: Nearby Bunker Hill is the setting for the movie Bunker Hill.

The Kansas Libations Club
Step into the welcoming Kansas Libations Club on the hotel grounds.

The Barn, Kansas Libations Club

The hotel installed a large barn and decorated it with farm chic. Enjoy the barbecue with fine whisky while gazing at the décor. It’s a perfect venue for weddings and corporate events. 

Murals on the barn’s south wall depict Czech immigrants debarking in Wilson and horses racing beside a steam train. During warm weather, relax in the adjoining garden.

Related: Clay Center is the unofficial mural capital of Kansas.

Explore more Wilson-area lodging options in the map above (ad).

7. Wilson Czech Opera House

Wilson built its Opera House in 1901. It stood two stories high with a 500-person seating capacity; however, a 2009 fire left only the exterior stone walls. The determined town obtained grants to stabilize it.

8. Wilson After-Harvest Czech Fest

Celebrate everything Czech in Kansas at Wilson’s annual festival held the last weekend of July. Shop at booths, celebrate a new queen’s crowning, and enjoy entertainment.

Post Rock fence north of Wilson
Post Rock fence north of Wilson

9. Post Rock Scenic Byway

Drive Highway 232 to enjoy the 18 miles from Wilson to Lucas, noting the post rocks along the way. The Kansas byway route offers spectacular Smoky Hills and Wilson Reservoir views. The highway’s Hell Creek Bridge showcases the Hell Creek Area of the state park.

Raisin pie at Made from Scratch
Raisin pie at Made from Scratch

10. Made from Scratch, a Kansas Pie Pantheon honoree

Do you long for a mile-high meringue on your cream pie? Then you must eat at Made from Scratch. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the baker carrying a tray of those delectable pies past you. We recommend the raisin cream pie. It’s full of fruit underneath that incredible meringue. 

The daily buffet of comfort food is good, but leave room for the pie. It’s so good that I included Made from Scratch in the Kansas Pie Pantheon in my book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die (ad).

Related: Aunt Netter’s Café in Lecompton is also a Kansas Pie Pantheon pick.

11. Wilson RV Park

If you bring your home, stay at the 18-site Wilson RV Park. Walkable Downtown Wilson is only a short distance.

Whether you enjoy luxury at the Midland, camp in the state park or in the RV park, Wilson welcomes you.

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