Things can get rocky in northwest Kansas, where the chalky pillars and craggy canyons of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Arikaree Breaks and Monument Rocks interrupt the panoramas of plains. Set out from the college town of Hays and its bustling downtown. Just off Interstate-70, Hays forms the perfect eastern gateway to the region’s untamed vistas. Beyond, discover small towns that boast an assortment of dining options; museums that recall Buffalo Bill and cavalry forts; and those jarring, jutting rocks that resemble castles on the vast horizon.

Monumental rocks, waterfowl flocks, fossil finds and frontier history play out at these prairie places.

Statue of Buffalo Bill in Oakley, KS

Buffalo Bill Cultural Center 

Oakley

Legendary for his buffalo hunting skills (which he used around here to feed railroad crews), William “Buffalo Bill” Cody still looms larger than life in a 16-foot-tall bronze sculpture. Snap a photo with the folk hero, then head inside the center for interactive kids’ displays and more.

 

BUTTERFIELD TRAIL MUSEUM

Russell Springs

The striking former 1887 Logan County Courthouse showcases the Butterfield’s Overland Despatch (sic) stagecoach line that rolled through here en route to Colorado gold fields. A replica stagecoach, fossils and exhibits tell the story of the treacherous trail.

 

CASTLE ROCK BADLANDS

Collyer

This turreted, castle-like spire stands out as a blondish beacon on the prairie south of Quinter. Wind and water weathered Niobrara chalk into Castle Rock and an impressive stretch of badland formations farther south.

 

CATHEDRAL OF THE PLAINS

Victoria

Completed in 1911 to serve the influx of German immigrants, the limestone Basilica of St. Fidelis and its 141-foot-tall twin towers draw parishioners and tourists. Self-guided audio tours detail the construction of what was once the largest church west of the Mississippi.

 

FORT WALLACE MUSEUM

Wallace

At the 1860s “Fightin’est Fort in the West,” stroll the facades of general stores, officers’ quarters and a sod school. A statue of “Medicine Bill” Comstock, General Custer’s favorite scout, oversees the spot where Custer, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and “Wild Bill” Hickok were stationed.

 

KIRWIN NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Kirwin

Land at the Visitor Center to learn about the wildlife and habitats here in the heart of the Central Flyway. Then hike, bike or drive around the 11,000 acres to spot migrating waterfowl. (More than 100,000 pass through in fall.)

 

MONUMENT ROCKS

Gove County

Left behind by an ancient inland sea, these 50-foot-tall monoliths jut above the flatland prairie. You’re welcome to hike around these chalky pyramids and spot marine fossils on this private property shared with resident cattle, but no collecting or climbing is allowed.

 

PRAIRIE MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY

Colby

Kansas’ largest barn, the 114-foot-long Cooper Barn, looms large on the Western prairie. Also step inside a furnished sod house, one-room school and country church. A modern museum building chronicles High Plains life.

 

Butterfield Trail Museum

This 1887 two story renaissance-style structure of brick and stone with mansard roof was originally the Logan County Courthouse. Now it…

Castle Rock

Thousands of years ago, this area was covered by a chalk ocean, which accounts for the chalk bluffs and beds. The chalk bluffs are still a…

Fort Wallace Museum

Fightin'est Fort in the West; exhibits on Custer's 7th Cavalry, Fred Harvey, BOD Stagecoach Station, Kansas Pacific Railway, barbwire folk…

Monument Rocks National Landmark

Kansas' first National Natural Monument is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas. The Niobrara chalk formation, rich in fossils, some reaching up…

Prairie Museum of Art & History

Enjoy the World-Class Kuska Collection, including over 28,000 toys, glass, ceramics, silver, souvenirs, musical instruments, coins, clocks…

Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1954, Kirwin is the first National Wildlife Refuge authorized in Kansas. The refuge, of nearly 11,000 acres, lies within the…

Eat & Drink

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These small towns serve up big treats at a pharmacy soda fountain, farmstead winery and road trip-worthy restaurants.

Elephant Room

BIG ED’S STEAKHOUSE

Bird City

Nebraskans and Coloradans cross the border for these hand-cut ribeyes, fillets, T-bones and prime rib seasoned with a secret recipe. Customers like to gather around the cook station to watch their beef trimmed, cut and grilled among the restaurant’s menagerie of wildlife mounts and rodeo photos.

 

DESTINATION KITCHEN

Norton

This downtown eatery lives up to its name as a landing place for a lunchtime crowd craving gourmet sandwiches, brick-oven pizza and pastries. Request a slice of dark fudge Tuxedo Cake for a definitely-worth-the-calories dessert.

 

THE ELEPHANT BISTRO AND BAR

Hoxie

A nod to elephants that lead other animals to watering holes, The Elephant draws its own hungry following with a made-from-scratch lineup of locally sourced beef, bison and dry-aged steaks. Owner Emily Campbell left her Seattle chef career to open this spot in one of her hometown’s oldest buildings.

 

RAY’S PHARMACY AND Q-VALUE

Quinter

In this pharmacy and hardware store, sit on the soda fountain’s red-vinyl bar stools and watch the soda jerk create the Cookie Monster. It features ice cream inside chocolate chip cookies, drizzled with hot fudge and caramel.

 

SHILOH VINEYARD AND WINERY

WaKeeney

Taste vintages in a converted redbrick chicken coop at the family farm-turned-winery, then roam and sip some more at the covered patio, gabled barn (an event center) and gazebo. You can tour the surrounding vineyards too.

Destination Kitchen

Your “destination” for top brand kitchen ware, gadgets and supplies. Enjoy lunch with signature sandwiches, salads, brick oven pizza…

The Elephant Bistro & Bar

The journey of The Elephant began with a vision on a napkin and an appetite for a new experience. The pursuit of The Elephant is as large as…

Shiloh Vineyard & Winery

Shiloh Vineyard is a small family-owned winery founded in 2008 by Kirk & Treva Johnston in a quest to bring wine-making to the plains of…

Ray's Pharmacy & Q-Value

Small town pharmacy/variety store. We have a 30', 1904 bar and working soda fountain.We have cards, school/office supplies, hardware, gifts…

On your trek across the Great Plains, count on a quiet night’s rest in a restored bank, remote bunkhouse or RV park.

BUTTERFIELD TRAIL BUNKHOUSE

WaKeeney

A remote 12 miles from town, pull down the two-track lane to the rustic, tin-roofed bunkhouse nestled in the trees. Walk through pastures on this third-generation farm to shale bluffs for fossil and wildflower exploring.

GOODLAND KOA JOURNEY
Goodland

Just north of I-70, hook up your RV, stake a tent or rent a basic cabin at this KOA campground. Guests can romp at the swimming pool and kids’ playground while four-legged friends enjoy the campground and nearby dog park.

THE LANDMARK INN

Oberlin

Seven suites in this graciously restored 1886 bank stay true to Victorian roots with 14-foot-tall ceilings and walnut furniture. Two suites also feature fireplaces. Wake to complimentary hot breakfast in the Teller Room Restaurant.

Goodland KOA Kampground

Enjoy a camping site away from truckstops and interstate noise. Our campground is quiet, stress-free with a relaxing atmosphere. Enjoy our…

Butterfield Trail Bunkhouse

The Butterfield Trail Bunkhouse is a rustic retreat for the nature lover, history buff, hunter, or fishing enthusiast. It is also an ideal…

The BricksMuch tamer now than when Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill roamed the town, Hays still struts that frisky frontier spirit in its reborn downtown and at sites that recall prehistoric and Army fort days. Upscale renovations brought brick streets and century-old buildings back to life. Aptly called The Bricks, the historic district teems with inspired cuisine, boutiques and culture. At Big Smoke Barbecue,order ’cue for breakfast (try brisket and gravy) as well as lunch and dinner. It’s all smoked on-site with house sauces.

Like the name says, get a triple treat at Paisley Pear Wine Bar, Bistro and Market: a flight of vino with Kansas-sourced cheese, the bistro’s Turkey Apple Brie sandwich, and jam and bread mix from the market. Just down the street, fill up on regionally inspired cuisine (like house-made Bierock smothered in cheese sauce) and tasty brews at Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Company.

Spend the night in two-bedroom apartments at The Buffalo Haus, an 1893 limestone home. Get a roaring start the next day at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, featuring animatronic ancient beasts, a rare fish-within-a-fish fossil and other prehistoric discoveries. March on to Fort Hays State Historic Site, where four original buildings and a visitors center recall this 1865 Army fort and the frontier it protected.

The Bricks

The brick streets of Downtown Hays offer more than meets the eye in a beautiful and unique setting. Nestled inside historic buildings that…

Big Smoke BBQ

Ancient and primal, the application of fire and smoke to food reminds us of home and history. This is barbecue. For generations, our…

The Paisley Pear

The Paisley Pear is a unique experience complete with a wine bar, bistro, and market which includes many Kansas made products. This local…

The Buffalo Haus

A historical rental property with modern amenities located in historic downtown Hays.

Fort Hays State Historic Site

Established in 1867 to protect the construction workers who were building the Union Pacific Railroad. The original blockhouse, guardhouse…

Ellis Railroad

Many German immigrants arrived by trainloads, and cattle from the south reached Ellis to continue their drive by rail. At the Ellis Railroad Museum, memorabilia and a model train display track the pioneering Kansas Pacific Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad (which still runs through town). Outdoors, ride a restored miniature train and visit the caboose and depot.

Walter P. Chrysler moved to Ellis with his family when he was 3 and, at age 14, helped his dad and brother build their 1889 home. The original white clapboard house, the Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home, features a museum in the back with Chrysler’s artifacts and a 1924 Chrysler car. Chrysler honed his mechanical skills working for locomotive and car companies before founding Chrysler Corporation.