Get glimpses of a time when grasslands covered much of Kansas—and the continent
"The unspoiled, nearly treeless expanses of the Flint Hills represent a natural beauty not found anywhere else."
Photography by Blaine Moats
Things To Do
Feel the wind in your face and watch smoke from a prairie fire drift across the floor of the 4-D immersive-experience theater at Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. Interactive exhibits focus on the science, history and culture of the region’s bluestem grass ecosystem—the world’s last major stand of unbroken tallgrass prairie.
Take your newfound knowledge into the field—literally—at Konza Prairie Biological Station, a preserve of native tallgrass prairie traversed by trails and studded with stunning overlooks. The 2.6-mile Nature Trail snakes through lowland forests, across a creek and over ancient limestone ledges. At the highest point awaits a spectacular view of the Flint Hills and the Kansas River Valley.
About 30 minutes east, near Wamego, Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie Park provides more eye-opening prairie perspectives. As you hike past head-high bluestem, migrating monarchs, and wagon ruts, interpretive signage shares the human stories of this hallowed ground. The land, once owned by abolitionist William Mitchell, was part of the Underground Railroad’s westernmost route. For Native Americans, it’s a sacred spot where ancestors are buried.
About 40 minutes south of Manhattan in Council Grove, follow the Neosho Riverwalk past a famous (and sometimes formidable) crossing on the historic Santa Fe Trail. A sign along the Neosho River’s east bank marks where wagon trains crossed—you can take the pedestrian bridge on the paved, ADA-accessible route. Stop at Riverbank Brewing to sample beers—most made with Kansas grains—and enjoy river views from the patio.
MUSIC TO THE EYES
A masterful soundtrack and sensational scenery share the bill at Symphony in the Flint Hills (June 10, 2023), a concert tradition that draws thousands of people to the prairie. The daylong celebration of Flint Hills ecology and culture culminates with the Kansas City Symphony performing lively classical and cowboy-ish tunes as darkness falls. Come early for guided prairie walks, covered wagon rides, and entertainment by roving musicians. Stay late for stargazing and dancing.
3 GREAT PHOTO OPS
Built during the 1870s, the French Renaissance-style native limestone structure is the oldest working courthouse in Kansas. It looks grand from all sides, but be sure to snap the front that includes the red mansard roof and clock-tower face.
Photo ops abound on ranger-guided tours and trail hikes to bison pastures and scenic overlooks at this 11,000-acre prairie. A bison photo will impress your friends—just heed warnings about not getting too close. Colorful wildflowers too.
See the monument to the Unknown Kanza Warrior at the site of the last Kaw village in Kansas before the tribe’s 1873 forced removal. Get a dramatic low-angle pic of the 35-foot-high monument. The Kaw Nation asks you to keep a respectful distance from the spire.