I’ve said it so many times while working on these posts about Kansas- this is a surprising state! Many people who aren’t from the region definitely think I’m crazy for traveling to Kansas for a raodtrip. What’s there to see? they ask, Kansas is just a bunch of corn and grass! That’s not true, however, as I hope this Kansas itinerary will illustrate. There is so much to see and do if you are interested in a roadtrip across this Midwestern state, especially if you are a hiker and/or you enjoy experiencing history and culture in new places.
All that being said, welcome to our nine day Kansas Itinerary! Use this to plan your own trip and learn about what to do in Kansas.
- 1 Day 0: Arrival
- 2 Day 1: Elk City State Park and the Table Mound Trail
- 3 Day 2: Wonderful Wichita
- 4 Day 3: Roadside Attractions on the Way North
- 5 Day 4: Exploring the Kansas Badlands
- 6 Day 5: A Rest Day in Hays
- 7 Day 6: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
- 8 Day 7: Topeka and Lawrence
- 9 Day 8-9: Kansas City
- 10 Love it? Pin it!
Day 0: Arrival
I would suggest starting your trip out in Kansas City, particularly if you are flying in. That being said, if you are driving in from other parts of the state or flying into another airport, you can adjust this itinerary to suit your needs.
Day 1: Elk City State Park and the Table Mound Trail
It’s about a 3 hour drive from Kansas City down to Elk City State Park.
For nature lovers and hikers, this will be a great start to your Kansas itinerary. As we discuss in detail in our Kansas Hiking post, Elk City State park is home to the beautiful Table Mound Trail, as well as loads of other outdoor activities. These include picnicking, fishing, paddling, and camping.
If you’d like to do a longer hike, the Elk River Hiking Trail is also nearby and it will offer you about 14 miles of hiking if you go from one end of the trail to the other.
Stay the night in Independence, KS.
Day 2: Wonderful Wichita
It’s about a 2 hour drive from Independence, KS to Wichita.
There are loads of fun places to visit in Wichita, so it’s not to be missed in any Kansas itinerary; one of the coolest sectors of the city being Riverside. Within walking distance along the Arkansas River, you will find The Wichita Gardens, the Wichita Art Museum, the Old Cowtown Museum, Keeper of the Plains, and the Exploration Place. It’s a great place to walk around and explore.
If you are looking for some more hiking, I’d highly suggest visiting Chisholm Creek Park. I really enjoyed the leisurely walks here, and loved the lush setting as well.
Furthermore, there is tons of great food in this little city! For dessert, my favorite place was Churn and Burn, which has both wonderful coffee but fresh ice cream as well. For some more ideas about other places to visit for food, while you are in town, check out Olio’s post on where to eat in Wichita. And for those of you looking to enjoy some great coffee shops (working remote, anyone!?), Wichita on the Cheap has you covered.
Stay the night in Wichita!
Day 3: Roadside Attractions on the Way North
Start your day by heading out of Wichita towards the Strataca Salt Mine. It takes about 47 minutes to get there and they open at 9a, so if you want to get started early, be sure to time yourself properly. As long as you aren’t horribly afraid of being underground, you will really enjoy exploring this place. There’s tons of history here, and exploring the mine is really fascinating.
The next stop on your Kansas itinerary will be Greensburg, KS and the Big Well Museum. It’s about 1.5 hours from Strataca to here. The Big Well is basically a roadside attraction- it’s the biggest hand dug well in the US (if not the world?). But there is also a very interesting museum here about Greensburg and the tornado that decimated the town. If anything else is open, be sure to check out the rest of the village, but Greensburg is truly a small town. There aren’t always restaurants open here, so I’d suggest packing food for this day.
Finally, drive the 1.5 hours up to Hay, KS, where you will spend the night.
Day 4: Exploring the Kansas Badlands
Today will be your driving/hiking day in this Kansas itinerary, with not a lot of civilization in between stops, so I’d suggest packing a picnic and bringing snacks along.
From Hays, drive over to Monument Rocks, this will take about 2 hours. Monument Rocks is one of the natural wonders of Kansas, and it is a really eye-opening place. I would not miss this stop, despite the extra driving you will be doing to get there. For the photographers among you, this is one of the best places to visit.
After taking the time to explore the Rocks, head over the Cedar Bluffs State Park. There is a lot of hiking to be done here, and it’s also a great place to picnic. But it will take about 1.5 hours to get there from Monument Rocks. I’d suggest hanging out by the lake for a picnic lunch, and then spend the afternoon exploring the lakeside area. There is a lot of great hiking here, as well as activities to do on the water.
After you are done enjoying the park, head back to Hays for the night. The return drive will be about 40 min.
Day 5: A Rest Day in Hays
You’ve had two days of driving and exploring roadside attractions and the natural wonders of Kansas, so now it’s time for a bit of a rest. Luckily, there are lots of cool things to do in Hays.
First, head just a few minutes out of town to visit the Cathedral of the Plains. I think that this church is one of the most special places that I have had the privileged to visit, because of how perfectly it maintains the classic beauty of cathedrals while fitting into the plains. This is another spot that I think photographers will really enjoy in this Kansas itinerary.
When you are done there, head back into town and visit the very cute Sternburg Museum of Natural History. In particular, if you have kids with you, especially kids who love dinosaurs, this will be a great spot! If you are a kid at heart, you will also really enjoy this museum. I got a huge kick out of walking through the amazingly immersive dinosaur exhibit.
Spend one more restful night in Hays, KS.
Day 6: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Set out from Hays towards Tallgrass. It will take about 3 hours to get there. If you’d like to stop by a waterfall on the way, you will only add about 15 min to your trek today by stopping by Greary State Fishing Lake. Note, however, that this little waterfall can be quite dry at times depending on the flow through the lake’s dam; that being said, it’s the only waterfall in this Kansas itinerary.
Once you get to Tallgrass, plan on spending a lovely day exploring the trails, and learning about the history and ecology of the prairie in the visitor center and historic buildings. There is a TON of hiking here, and you might be able to see bison as well! That being said, I always must warn everyone- give wildlife a wide berth. Bison in particular can be dangerous; they are extremely powerful animals.
If you want to stay nearby, look for a place in Strong City/Cottonwood Falls. However, these are both very small towns, so you may want to drive into Topeka for the night. It is about a 1.5 hour drive from Tallgrass to Topeka.
Day 7: Topeka and Lawrence
Topeka has a boatload of historic attractions so it is a must for your Kansas itinerary. In particular, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site should be your first stop. Situated in one of the old schools that became a focus of the fight to desegregate education in the United States, this beautiful museum is hugely impactful. It’s not to be missed.
The Kansas Museum of History is also located in Topeka. I always find that learning more about state history is really interesting and these museums always include information that I wasn’t aware of previously.
After a morning of museums and history, head on over to Lawrence. It’s only a 30 minute drive.
When in Lawrence, be sure to explore all of the amazing culinary options on Massachusetts St. The neighborhoods of Lawrence are beautiful as well, so I would suggest taking an easy afternoon of strolling the town, and eating good food.
Stay the night in Lawrence.
Day 8-9: Kansas City
Kansas City is the final stop on our Kansas Itinerary; it’s the perfect place to experience more of the culture of Midwest and rest up before your journey home. There is also a ton to do here!
My number one spot to visit in Kansas City is…
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Ok, I don’t know about you, but if someone were to ask me to envision the top art museums around the United States, I would think about New York City and Chicago. I would NEVER have thought that Kansas City had a world-class art museum that’s, wait for it… FREE. But seriously, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is one of the best (if not the best) art museums that I have ever been to.
So, Airy, what is it that you love so much about this place?
(1) They have immersive art installations and you know that that is my favorite thing in the world when it comes to museums of any kind. They have recreated a section of a medieval church courtyard to present medieval art. They also have a very luxurious section of the museum complete with wooden floors and richly painted walls to host renaissance paintings. When we visited, they also had a visiting exhibit called the Walking Wall, which you could follow around the outside of the grounds.
(2) The showcase art from around the world and through time. It’s really the “around the world” part that I love the most. I honestly feel like Nelson-Atkins had some of the most variety of any art museum that I’ve been able to visit, and they theme each room to bring the paintings and artifacts to life even more. They way that they display their works really lends an extra element of appreciation to them.
(3) This museum is free and accessible to all. The only fee that you will need to pay is for parking, but if you can’t afford that, you can look for parking elsewhere or take public transportation to the museum.
(4) They have a big, outdoor grass area where you can experience some iconic sculptures, and if you’d like, pay for some outdoor activities as well. This makes the museum a seamless outdoor/indoor experience. Overall, it lends itself to a half to full day excursion, even for someone like me- I’m not the biggest fan of museums.
After you hit up the art museum, there’s lots more to see and do to sum up your perfect Kansas itinerary…
Other Cool Things to Check Out in Kansas City
The National WWI Museum and Memorial + Union Station
The National WWI Museum and Memorial is a very sobering landmark in the city, but insofar as history goes, it’s a must see. The memorial itself is a beautiful place to walk around and contemplate WWI and all its impacts on our world, even today. For the budget conscious traveler, just doing this would be a great way to experience some very unique elements of downtown and to capture some beautiful photos. The museum itself is, of course, wonderful as well, although certainly not a lighthearted experience.
Just across the street from the memorial is Union Station. This is a bit of a tourist trap if you aren’t looking to buy tickets to any of the attractions inside. But the architecture is very beautiful all the same. Union Station is also home to some cool places for kids to explore, including Science City.
Riverfront West, City Market, and Arabia Steamboat Museum
North of the WWI Memorial, along the shore of the Missouri river are some great places to walk around and explore. In particular, if you can come to City Market during the farmers market, you will have a great food adventure. There is SUCH tasty sellers here, and it really isn’t to be missed if you can help it.
Walking distance from the market is the Arabia Steamboat Museum. Despite sounding a bit odd, the reviews speak to the quality of this one-of-a-kind attraction (1,000+ reviews on Google with an average rating of 4.7/5). If you have the scratch for a ticket, be sure to stop by to explore the boat and learn more about life at the time of its sinking in 1856.
There is so much more to see in Kansas City, but these are some of my favorite spots. For more information on what to check out, food to try, and more information for your Kansas itinerary, be sure to check out our Explore Kansas Pinterest Board.
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