For decades, travelers along US-83 would speed right past Kansas’ best natural secret: the state’s largest Niobrara chalk formation, tucked in a valley between Scott City and Oakley. Today, this mile-long treasure chest of 100-foot-tall rock faces and pillars is Kansas’ newest state park, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park.
Visitors hike a scenic rim trail around the towering city of stone, adjacent to The Nature Conservancy’s 17,520-acre Smoky Valley Ranch. The trail delivers countless angles of the formations, all begging for you to use the panorama setting on your camera. Rangers lead activities and tours.
Here are other ways to dive into the rich natural and cultural history of an area that was once an inland tropical sea—now an otherworldly playground of rocky formations in the middle of fertile pastures.
Fick Fossil and History Museum, Oakley
No little sharks on the prairie these days, but they loved the vast sea that covered the region
85 million years ago. See 11,000 of their teeth, plus the rare skull of a mosasaur (a 30-foot marine monster).
It used to be a fish-eat-fish world around here, as you can see from the fossil of a 6-foot Gillicus inside the belly of a 14-foot Xiphactinus. Kiddos love the moving and roaring replicas of ancient beasts.
Prairie Museum of Art and History, Colby
Get a taste of pioneer living in restored buildings, including the largest barn in Kansas. The 66-foot-wide Cooper Barn—moved here in one piece—was voted one of the Eight Wonders of
Fort Wallace Museum, Wallace County
Newly added facades of Old West shops and businesses help chronicle the life of the “Fightin’est Fort in the West,” where General Custer, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Wild Bill Hickok were once stationed.
Arikaree Breaks near St. Francis
Yucca-studded pastureland and gullies sprawl for more than 30 miles in the far northwestern reaches of the state. Stop at Lookout Point for the most Instagrammable views, and drive dirt roads to Three Corners to stand at the intersection of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.
Monument Rocks, south of Interstate-70 between Quinter and Oakley in Gove County
The surrounding sprawl of shortgrass prairie makes this 70-foot-tall National Natural Landmark of Niobrara chalk pillars and arches look much taller than it is.
Prairie Dog State Park near Norton
Black-tailed prairie dogs keep their eyes out for predators (coyotes, falcons, eagles), while human guests boat on Keith Sebelius Reservoir and camp at one of more than 200 sites (including two modern cabins).
Find more ideas for places to visit, eat and stay in the Northwest region at https://www.travelks.com/northwest, then explore the rest of the Sunflower State with the 2020 Official Kansas Travel Guide.