kansas guide

If you aren’t from the US (and maybe even if you are, but you aren’t from the Midwest) Kansas was made famous by the Wizard of Oz as the home of Dorothy. If I were asked to conjure up images of this state before I traveled there I would have told you that I knew of it as a place of endless cornfields and tornadoes. Turns out, there’s a bit of truth to that, although Kansas is so much more.

General Information

kansas guide

Yes, agriculture is big in this Midwestern state, with about 90% of its land being devoted to the production of food. But the majority of that production value goes to wheat, not corn. In fact, Kansas produces more wheat and sorghum (another kind of grain) than any other state in the country. As for tornadoes, Kansas has a 10 year average of 93 of these terrifying natural phenomena a year. Most, however, are weak (82% were considered EF0 in 2018). In 2018, most of these storms also occurred in May with June being a far second along with the rest of the summer. There were none in the winter or early spring. So, your odds of having to worry about them while visiting is slim.

Instead, I now think of Kansas as a great place to hike, enjoy some of the strangest (and best) road-side attractions, and experience the friendly culture of the Midwest. While this state might not be at the top of any international visitor’s list, I’d definitely not miss it if you live in the States. I can guarantee that if you go there with the right spirit of exploration, you won’t be disappointed. We will show you why.

Quick Facts

Type: US State
Region: North America
Official Languages: English
Population: 2.9 million (2019)
Capital: Topeka
Currency: US Dollar
Power Outlet: Type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.

How to Get There

kansas guide

Kansas is a landlocked state, and thus, you can get here either by car or by plane. There are two primary airports in Kansas- the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT) and the Kansas City International Airport (MCI).

The Natural World

kansas guide

As I mentioned above, the thing that most people think about when they imagine the landscape of Kansas is fields of waving grains. However, the state has both a pre-European settlement ecosystem that’s far more complex, and the current situation is also more complicated. In the past, Kansas had four primary ecosystems (if we define them based on the kinds of plant species found there), which shift across the state from left to right- from shortgrass prairie, to mixed prairie, to tallgrass prairie, and finally a mix of tallgrass and oak-hickory forests. While all of these are rare now-a-days, you can still get a taste of each one if you roadtrip across the state and visit key parks like the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

If you look at an elevation map of the state, you might notice that the left to right stripes of various ecosystems matches pretty closely with altitude. The western portion of Kansas, at its border with Colorado, is the highest (at a lofty 3,000-4,500 ft). This then decreases to the east, with Kansas City siting in the 600-1,200 ft elevation range. With all this in mind, you might not be too surprised to learn that Mt. Sunflower, the Kansas highpoint, is only 4,039 ft tall.

kansas guide

These days, you can also find several kinds of land cover, and these include grasslands, crops, woodlands, and various degrees of developed spaces (e.g. suburban, urban, and park spaces). Again, if you take the time to trek across the wide-open landscapes of Kansas, you will likely get to see all of these- if you keep your eyes peeled. If you want to learn more about each of Kansas’ ecosystems, my favorite resource for learning more has been the Kansas Native Plant Society.

Quick Facts

Highpoints: Mount Sunflower (4,039 ft)

National Park Units: 5 (Learn more at the National Park Service website)

State Parks: 28 (Learn more at ksoutdoors)

Our Posts on Nature in Kansas

You might be surprised but hiking in Kansas is both very fun, and pretty varied! I’ve put together a list of my favorite places to explore.

And if you want to see it all, a roadtrip is for you!

History and Culture

History

kansas guide

Kansas might serve as a little microcosm of American history, so I am going to explore it in some detail below. There are also really great, accessible resources for learning about this history- on top of the research that I did on the Kansa people. I also used Kansaspedia, from the Kansas Historical Society extensively. Please note that the history section here is not rosy, but it does illustrate a slow movement towards a more just society here in my home country.

People have been living in Kansas for thousands of years, and the state’s name comes, somewhat indirectly, from the name of the Kansa people, who once called the state home. Many different cultures came from or lived in Kansas, including the Wichita, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Arikawa, and Comanche. So, this has been a vibrant place for a very very long time.

The first Europeans to venture into Kansas were the Spanish on the Coronado expedition, which arrived in 1541. After this point, things began to change for the Native American people who had called the land their home for hundreds of years- in particular as the US came to power in the region. In 1830, when Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, Kansas was considered part of the “Indiana Territory” and 25 tribes were given land in the region. Since there were already people living there, including the Kansa, you might imagine that this was not only traumatic for the people being torn from their homes, but the people who suddenly had to share already limited resources with people from hundreds of miles away.

What happened after that is thoroughly covered in the history of the Kansa people. Americans eventually started settling in Kansas and other lands considered Indian Territory in the 1830 Act. Conflict with local, indigenous people increased and eventually they were boxed into smaller and smaller pieces of land as they were ravaged by war and disease. For the Kansa people, this resulted in the eventual disappearance of their culture. They weren’t alone.

kansas guide

Kansas became a state in 1861 (only 31 years after it was “given” to the Native American nations moved there). On a positive note, Kansas joined the Union during the US Civil War, and the Kansas constitution acknowledged more rights for women than most other states during that time. In fact, women in Kansas won their rightful, legal ability to vote in 1912, a full 7 years before the federal government righted this wrong. Moving into the Industrial era and the Modern era, Kansas has continued to lead the way, with movements to support the protection of worker safety and well-being.

Of course, Kansas is also the site of the situation that led to the US Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954, which led to the end of school segregation. The brave young, black students that led the way in this movement were faced by intense racism, however. The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is now a great place to learn more about this and experience just a little bit of the fear that these cultural leaders faced in trying to improve our country and life for millions.

Culture

kansas guide

Kansas is part of the region of the US called the Midwest, and for anyone unfamiliar, this is considered by many to be the Heartland of America due to its major role in the US’s industrial revolution and the provision of food. The stereotypes about culture and the mentality of people living in this region is that they tend to be religious (mostly Christian), family-oriented, and very polite. I’ve found that people in Kansas do tend to fit these descriptors (although of course not everyone does). In particular, I would say that I find the people of Kansas to generally be very kind and helpful, but religious influences are apparent in roadside signs and the relative difficulty (compared to AZ, we have drive-thru liquors stores… if that tells you anything) of getting alcohol.

That being said, I am clearly no expert on culture in the Midwest- I’m not from there, and things are far more nuanced that what I described above. If you want to explore this further, I would suggest giving Amanda Arnold’s Why Literature and Pop Culture Still Can’t Get the Midwest Right. She’s written a very thoughtful and honest deconstruction of her home region. On the lighter side, Insider has an article covering Midwestern favorites in 25 things every Midwesterner knows to be true.

Our Posts on Culture and History in Kansas

Armchair travel is big right now (2020), so if you want to learn more about the history of Kansas, check out some reading on the Kansa people.

If you have the opportunity to visit, make sure you experience the best museums, historic monuments, urban delights, and roadside attractions.

Consider a roadtrip if you want to see it all.

Where We’ve Been

kansas guide

Responsible Travel in Kansas

kansas guide

There are some unflattering stereotypes about Americans (I know, I am American myself). However, they don’t really reflect the complexity of culture here, nor expectations for manners when you are visiting. People in Kansas are very polite (people in the Midwest are considered friendly and considerate by most in the US), and it would be most responsible to follow suit. We have a general post about respectful travel to the US for anyone looking to learn more.

Furthermore, if you are visiting natural areas, please keep in mind that many US parks are underfunded, so Leave No Trace Principles are extremely important. Please take care of our environment by staying on the trail, packing out your trash, and help support the parks you visit by making sure that you pay any park fees required.

Finally, please consider the companies that you support when you are here. In some places (including my home town) we lack protections from overtourism and community exploitation by Airbnb. So, consider staying in a boutique, or small hotel and if Airbnb is your only option, look for hosts that are living on property, STRONGLY stress that parties aren’t allowed, and who will ideally meet you at the property. I know that some of these things are a little inconvenient, but hosts that do this are protecting their community. And that is the only way that Airbnb can be responsible, since the company as a whole doesn’t protect local people and, in fact, lobbies local governments against neighbors (I know, I’ve lived through this).

Safety Considerations

Gov.UK Foreign Travel Advice for the US

Canada Travel Advice and Advisories

Information from Around the Web

There is a plethora of information from all around the web about exploring Kansas. We’ve collected some of those great resources in our Explore Kansas Pinterest Board. Check it out!

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