When most people think of “Kansas” they think of flat, boring wheat fields, perhaps embellished with a cowboy and a tumbleweed. However, if you’re willing to explore Kansas just a little bit, you will see that it’s actually full of interesting landscapes, artsy towns, and adventures. If you love underrated places and hidden gems that disprove stereotypes, then your next trip needs to be to Kansas.
Monument Rocks near Oakley, Kansas
If you showed most people a photo of Monument Rocks, they would guess that it was in Utah. These incredible chalk formations are actually in Kansas, about half an hour off of I-70. They arise unexpectedly and majestically from cow fields, which in my opinion, exudes the true Kansas nature of beauty, surprise, and well, cows.
These are one of the Eight Natural Wonders of Kansas. The land is private, but the owners have graciously opened it up to the public. You can walk around and explore the rocks, but please do not climb them. The chalky composition leads the rocks to crack easily and we want to preserve them for everyone.
I have been to Oakley, Kansas four times. Two times were crystal clear beautiful days. Two times were so windy, dusty, fly-ridden, and so full of cow-stench that it was nearly impossible to get out of the car. Check the wind reports before planning your trip. This is a great halfway point if you’re headed out to Colorado, but I recommend stopping on your way out so that if it is exorbitantly windy you can reschedule your visit for the way back.
Don’t miss Monument Rocks: Here is the Google Maps pin
Little Jerusalem State Park near Oakley, Kansas
Only 20 minutes from Monument Rocks is Little Jerusalem State Park. This state park is also called “Little Badlands” because it looks very similar to Badlands National Park. To preserve the rocks, there is no trail down to the badlands. Instead, the trail wraps around the canyon so you can view the badlands from above.
If you’re interested in hiking badlands rocks from below and getting the most incredible vantage point, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks leads occasional guided hikes. Check their website to see if an event is coming up.
Coronado Heights near Lindsborg, Kansas
Did you know there is a castle in Kansas? Ok, so maybe it’s not technically a castle, but it sure looks like one. Plus it is atop a hill with a beautiful scenic view.
Coronado Heights is close to Lindsborg, Kansas–a small town known for its Swedish influence and Dala horses. This “castle” was built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration scenic overlook and rest area. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is believed to have ascended the hill on his quest for gold. No one knows if the story is true, but it does add an element of history and wonder to Coronado Heights.
You can enter Coronado Heights, go up the stairs, and look out from the top. There are also picnic areas and a 3-mile hiking and mountain biking trail. The rocky hill grows plants I would usually associate with the desert like yucca and sumac. There are public restrooms, but they don’t have stall doors or toilet paper, so I recommend making a pit stop in Lindsborg before or after your trip.
Rock City near Minneapolis, Kansas
Rock City is a seriously cool collection of unique round-shaped boulders. On our family’s four day trip through Central Kansas this was hands-down our favorite stop. We drove through wheat fields until we arrived at this cluster of rocks that wasn’t like anything else we’d ever seen.
No one else was there. There was a small closed shop and a vault toilet. There was a box to put cash in for our entry free. We played for over an hour running around the rocks, playing hide and seek, and chasing each other. The sunset was beautiful (Kansas has the best sunsets) and it was the great end to the day.
Rock City is close to Minneapolis, Kansas. If you go to Minneapolis, I recommend stopping at The Farm and the Odd Fellows. It’s a beautifully restored building with a coffee shop, brewery, restaurant, pickleball court, and games.
Glamping and Camping at Watkins “C” Ranch near Leavenworth, Kansas
If you’re looking for a mini adventure, Watkins “C” Ranch near Leavenworth, Kansas is a great choice. This ranch has hourly horseback rides through the Leavenworth hills. There are some permanent tents set up and they are planning to build some cute A-Frame cabins. You can also add on a meal in addition to your stay. They will make you a hot dinner and breakfast with meat, eggs, and vegetables from their farm. Yum!
Mushroom Rock State Park & Kanopolis State Park near Ellsworth, Kansas
Mushroom Rock State Park and Kanopolis State Park both have unique rock formations and hidden gems you wouldn’t expect. The two state parks are only about 15 minutes away from each other.
Mushroom Rock is Kansas’ smallest state park at only 5 acres big. There are hiking trails on either side of the road where you park, so be sure to check out both sides so you don’t miss out on these iconic rock formations. The hiking trails are less than a mile long and relatively flat.
Kanopolis State Park has a lake, equestrian trails, camping, and traditional trails. This part of Kansas is rocky and dry and you’ll see plants here like cactus that are not typically associated with what people expect from Kansas. We hiked the 1.9 mile Horse Thief Trail which had beautiful rocky bluffs and rolling hills. Next time we go back, I would like to take the Buffalo Tracks Nature Trail and see the Oven Cave.
Wilson Lake State Park near Wilson, Kansas
Wilson Lake State Park has beautiful and unusual rocky outcroppings, camping, fishing, boating, and some of the best mountain bike trails east of Utah.
The Rock Town Trail is 2.5 miles long and one of the most iconic. You’ll meander through fields of prairie grass until you reach the rocky shores of the lake. There are some tall rock formations next to the water. Then you’ll ascend to expansive 360 degree views of the lake, prairies, and rocks.
The Switchgrass Trail is a 22 mile mountain biking trail that is ranked among some of the top trails in the country. There is a 5 mile easy loop and a novice track for beginners.
Lucas, Kansas is known as the Grassroots Arts Capital of Kansas. A stroll down the main street is decorated by funky fried eggs painted on the pavement and every telephone pole is decorated with a quirky piece of art.
The Garden of Eden is a peculiar grassroots art display in Lucas, Kansas. The artist, S.P. Dinsmoor built unique structures telling biblical stories on his property. After his death, he preserved his body on the property for visitors to view. Tours are $9 and include a short video and admission into the mausoleum where Dinsmoor’s body is.
S.P. Dinsmoor was the original grassroots artist, attracting more artists to this little corner of Kansas. World’s Largest Things Inc. has miniature versions of the world’s largest items. The Grassroots Arts Center has an impressive collection of works by grassroots artists. Jim Dickerman’s Open Range Zoo is a series of metal animals displayed around Lucas and the surrounding highways.
If you have a good sense of humor, you will love Bowl Plaza. Bowl Plaza is an elaborately decorated public restroom. There are matchbox cars in the walls, mosaics with old pottery, and funny details for those who spend the time to observe it. Outside the restroom is a statue of a dog drinking from a whirlwind of items that have seemingly been flushed down the toilet.
Find Waldo in Waldo, Kansas
Did you know you can actually find Waldo? Waldo, Kansas is a small town. If you blink, you might miss it. But if you’re driving through, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for a wooden cutout of Waldo hiding somewhere in town.
Stay at a Missile Silo Site near Wilson, Kansas
There are multiple missile silos in Kansas, but only one is available to be toured: Ad Atlas Astura Adventure Resort. This missile silo near Wilson, Kansas is being remodeled to be an AirBnb and Star Bar. Right now you can camp on the premises and pay for a tour of the missile silo, which was truly like nothing I have ever seen!