“There’s nothing to do in Kansas.”
My long term travel goal has been to make it to all 50 states, especially the underrated ones. When the opportunity to house sit outside of Wichita, Kansas, came up, I jumped on the chance. I heard time and time again that I would be bored and have nothing to do. People scrunched their noses. The general reaction was more confusion than anything else. Who willingly goes on a solo trip to Kansas? Me, apparently. But a quick google search showed some unique places to visit in Kansas: like amazing nature parks with beautiful landscapes, and the center most point of the US. And I’ve never been one to shy away from a new adventure.
Unique Places To Visit In Kansas
Bumps along the Way
I’m used to my adventures having a few bumps along the way, and Kansas was no different. Someone nearly totaled my car a few days before my trip and I had to get a rental for a month. I drove the 20+ hours to Kansas with no problems, but I got a speeding ticket when I was there. Also, record breaking temperatures meant a cold wave of -17 Fahrenheit, which was a new one for me. The house I was staying in was built like a bunker with two generators, but the hot water stopped working briefly due to the extreme cold. All in all, everything ended up fine, but there were a few interesting bumps along the road. Just added to the adventure, was what I like to say.
Bumps in the road aside, my trip was incredible. The unique places to visit in Kansas will surprise you.
The Cities in Kansas
First, the cities. When you think of Kansas, most people just think of flat. However there’s bigger and better cities, and more culture there than you would think. I found a great vintage shop in Wichita, along with two fun breweries. It’s funny how my local homeowners later told me they never went to downtown or to either brewery – you’re so apt to explore more when you are traveling. Wichita Art Museum had a really interesting exhibit for African-American history month, and was some of the most unique art I’ve seen in a while.
Wichita also has “the Keeper of the Plains.” It’s one of the most well known sights in Wichita – a native-made statue of an indigenous man, representing the deep routes of native-American history in the region. It’s really magnificent to see as you drive up to it, and also is illuminated with fire on a nightly basis.
Additionally, there were plenty more museums and shops I didn’t get to visit. For even more culture, Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri) is much bigger, with museums, art and the best food in the region. I didn’t get to see it, but I do have a trip planned in the summer, as a friend has told me that she could see me moving there permanently. I look forward to what the city has in store.
The Orphan Train Museum
The little towns with interesting history upon the journey make a great stop always. Have you heard of the orphan train? Essentially, children whose parents couldn’t afford them shipped them across the country to families who could. Many of these adopted families were religious and well meaning, but many of these non-orphan orphans resented their adopted parents, and even more were abused by adopted parents due to lack of vetting.
The Orphan Train Children in History
The orphan train children have been very skipped over in American history, but the orphan train museum shines light on some of these forgotten kids. The museum has held reunions of these children that time forgot. Although this part of history is seen in a positive light, I was personally saddened to see how many children lost their families due to poverty, and how many were forced into a narrative that wasn’t their own. It was a quick museum, but I picked up some books to educate myself more on the people that time forgot. I didn’t quite expect to see this in Kansas, but I’m glad I did.
Center Most Point of the US
Additionally, I made it to the center most point of the United States. It is in Lebanon, Kansas, right near the Kansas and Nebraska border. There wasn’t a ton to see other than the most central chapel in the United States. But the center most point of the US is
another item I didn’t know was on my bucket list and could cross off. I recommend the stop if you’re not terribly far from it- but do not get a speeding ticket!! I am $200 poorer and do not recommend.
Another fun stop was being able to see mini Sweden in Lindborg, Kansas. It had many Swedish themed houses, and a huge gift shop of Swedish and Norwegian goods. In addition, it was a super cute town to explore on a nice afternoon and almost made you forget you weren’t in Europe for a second. It always intrigues me how diverse cultures end up in such random corners of the United States, and it’s always great to see the ancestry move on.
Other Amazing Things in Kansas
Finally, there were many spots I didn’t make it out to, but I hear are amazing.
There is a greyhound museum in Kansas, as many of the racing dogs come from the state. There are multiple Native American museums, such as the mid-America all Indian center, but I just didn’t have the time to stop by. I’ve been a lifetime fan of the Wizard of Oz, and I hear the museum in Kansas is great. These are all excuses to come back in the future.
The wildlife is amazing! America almost pushed our biggest mammal, the buffalo, to extinction, but wildlife refuges and other programs have helped put American bison back on the map where they belong. Although the wild bison don’t exist as they did, many wildlife refuges have taken on the task of rebuilding the once prevalent populations, and it is as close as these magnificent animals will get to being completely wild.
Wildlife Refuge and Preserve
I can personally recommend Maxwell Wildlife Refuge and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Both were beautiful drives from Wichita. Maxwell was more of a hike, and due to extreme cold I didn’t make it to where the bison roam. I have read during non-Covid times there are great tours that are also offered if you don’t feel like the hike. Tallgrass is able to drive through, and you will see amazing herds of elk running through gorgeous land and the herd of adult bison and babies was an amazing treat.
The state parks are out of this world. Mushroom Rock State Park has the most amazing giant rock formations formed by wind that look like you have stepped foot on an alien planet. Kanapolis State Park is a beautiful lake on one side, with lovely prairie on the other side. I stumbled upon on it on my travels to another destination, and the two diverse landscapes were almost overwhelming to see. Wilson reservoir, although a little further than I could make from Wichita, is on the Colorado side of Kansas. The pictures are absolutely stunning and almost look like Mars. Although a bit in the middle of nowhere, I hope to make a stop there the next time I find an excuse to be in Kansas.
Overall, I was impressed with all the unique places to visit in Kansas. Sometimes it’s the most unusual of spots that have the most to see. The state park and my visit to the center most point of the US were amazing. People still ask me why I spent weeks in seemingly the strangest state. But I have to say that it was absolutely worth it. Kansas has some of the most diverse sites in the country. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different in the United States.