Earlier this fall, I decided to take a weekend getaway to see the scenic landscapes of Northwest Kansas. The inspiration to finally visit this region came from joining the team at Kansas Tourism back in March of 2022. I soon was spending hours every week awing at the photography of some of our most pristine landscapes, only to realize that I hadn’t been to many of the places I was promoting on the website. After months of sorting through photos for website updates, I had enough of looking at some of our most scenic areas through the veil of a computer screen and finally hit the road.
The Northwest region includes the area from the Colorado border on the east near Weskan, north to the Nebraska border, west to Agra then south to Hays. Make your own adventure memories while soaking in the expansive, beautiful views of our wildflowers and wildlife in an area known for its hunting opportunities.
Many of the landscapes and vistas that drew me in were located in the Northwest, which tends to be an underrated destination for visitors during the fall and winter months. It’s also a very windy destination that can undoubtedly add to the chill factor if you aren't prepared. Though if you decide to plan accordingly and have the Arikaree Breaks, Monuments Rocks, or Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park on your travel itinerary, then you can almost guarantee that you'll have a great time!
From Lawrence to Colby
My journey began in Lawrence with my girlfriend and her twin daughters. Leaving after work meant we didn’t arrive at our hotel in Colby until very late into the evening. I ensured everyone knew ahead of time that Colby had rather unforgiving weather, which could change in a matter of minutes. Of course, when we arrived, we were greeted by wind gusts and freezing rain, but the adventure we were about to have made the chilly arrival worth it! Since my girlfriend and her twin daughters are all from Florida, they didn’t find this surprise very amusing!
It was clear that I didn’t choose Colby because of its lovely Fall weather; I chose to stay there because of its proximity to both the Breaks and the Badlands. Colby is also known as the “Oasis of the Plains,” which was the case for my trip. The city has a comfortable number of easily accessible amenities along with some attractions to check out as well.
PRAIRIE MUSEUM OF ART & HISTORY
The forecast had clearer skies predicted for later that afternoon, so before making our way to the Arikaree Breaks, we decided to spend the morning at The Prairie Museum of Art & History. This place is a true Kansas treasure. The museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits allowing you to interact with history both ways. The outside exhibits allow you to roam freely and feature an old sod house, farmhouse, schoolhouse, church, and the largest barn in Kansas!
The museum’s inside is also loaded with stunning glass artwork and information on the local history of Colby and Thomas County. You can learn all about the town’s humble beginnings and the early challenges faced with settling on the high plains. There’s also a display dedicated to world-famous opera singer and native of Colby, Samuel Ramey.
The glass art is a stunning collection from all corners of the world. You could look for hours if you wanted. What makes the glass art displays so remarkable is that the rooms are kept dark until you enter them. This prevents you from peeking into the next room and getting a glimpse of what might be inside. Each area is a true surprise, and you must see everything for yourself.
After seeing the glass displays, we went to the outside exhibits. To everyone’s surprise, we all seemed to get a kick out of being inside the sod house. We were pleasantly surprised by how warm and roomy it was inside! Still, this semi-primitive building quality gave me an appreciation for modern housing.
Every outdoor exhibit also had working pianos everywhere, and the church even managed to have an organ! The twins easily had the most fun creating music.
Land & Sky Scenic Byway
After the museum visit, we then hit the road for Goodland to eat lunch. We opted to stop at the On The Bricks Café and enjoyed some local food in town. The food here was excellent, and I would recommend this place if you were looking for good restaurants to try while on the Land & Sky Byway. I found their mushroom and swiss burger to be top-notch. Not to mention they also have a pretty cool mural outside the restaurant!
Cheery Creek Encampment
We then continued on the byway toward St. Francis. Just a few miles outside St. Francis is the historically rich and highly fascinating Cherry Creek Encampment Site. The landmark is right off the byway route and serves as a memorial to both the Native Cheyenne who took refuge near the area following the Sand Creek Massacre, as well as the site of the last know hunted male buffalo in the area. It’s well worth exploring this pull-off if time allows for it.
It is important to remember that you must turn off the Land & Sky Scenic Byway route and onto a dirt road, County Road BB to be exact, to get the best glimpse of the Arikaree Breaks. Once on County Road BB, the two main roads we turned onto were CR-15 and CR-17. While the pavement on CR-15 wasn’t all that bad, the pavement on CR-17 is much rougher and steeper. The interpretive panel you see in the photos is on CR-15.
I drove a small sedan that isn’t ideal for these types of roads but managed to get by just fine. Don’t let having a smaller vehicle deter you away from this gorgeous spot! Just make sure to avoid these roads in the rain and snow!
The Arikaree Breaks are simply breathtaking. Everyone in the car was blown away by the view once we made it to the interpretive panel. The canyon-like formations created by the loess rock were perhaps some of the most unique natural rock formations I have ever seen. Despite seeing countless photos of this beautiful location on the website, I was still mesmerized by the view.
Buffalo Bill Bronze Sculpture
The plan for our second day was to see the Monument Rocks and the Little Jerusalem Badlands. We decided to grab breakfast in Oakley this time since it was on our way to the Rocks and Badlands from Colby. While in Oakley, we also stopped by the infamous (and enormous) Buffalo Bill Bronze Sculpture for some photos. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop by the cultural center because it wasn’t open during the morning, so we kept heading toward Monument Rocks.
Western Vistas Historic Byway
The road from Oakley to Monument Rocks and Little Jerusalem Badlands is along the Western Vistas Historic Byway. Like the Arikaree Breaks, you must turn onto a dirt road off the byway to visit the Monument Rocks and Little Jerusalem Badlands. Some parts of the road were rough, so don't hesitate to slow down and enjoy the landscape around you! We were blessed with good weather and clear skies, so this didn't bother us much.
The Monument Rocks, similar to the Arikaree Breaks, are technically on private land, but you do have more freedom to roam around the formations. Since you can get up close to the Rocks, you have an amazing view of the swallows’ nests built along the top of the rocks. At first, I thought they were wasps’ nests, and I started to get nervous, but then I quickly realized they were for birds – thankfully!
If you are new to being out in highly remote locations, then the Monument Rocks will give you a sense of enjoyment. It is an extremely quiet and relaxing place to be!
Little Jerusalem Badlands
After our time at Monument Rocks, we finally made our way to the Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. The best part about the Badlands is that we finally got to hike along a dedicated path. The two trails at the park are simple to navigate, and neither has any hills, but the Life on the Rocks Trail is much longer. The weather was on our side and was in the mid-60s with a slight breeze, so we opted to hike the longer Life on the Rocks route. The two scenic overlooks on this trail have benches to rest and enjoy the views! And these trails are pet friendly (in case you were wondering), as we saw a few dogs enjoying the Badlands while we were on our hike!
If you have the time and the weather is on your side, then the Life on the Rocks Trail is worth hiking. My hopes of seeing wildlife on this hike didn’t come to fruition. Still, I did manage to secure some fantastic photography along the way.
BUFFALO BILL'S BAR & GRILL
Once we finished exploring the Badlands, we decided to stop by Buffalo Bill’s Bar and Grill for lunch in Oakley. The inside of this place looked awesome, and we enjoyed some really good food before finally heading home!
Returning Home to Lawrence
Once we made it back home to Lawrence, I began feeling nostalgic about the trip. As much as I enjoy living in Lawrence, the noise levels and overall daily pace of life are much faster, which, like it or not, can create added stress. Noise pollution seemed practically non-existent everywhere we were. I couldn’t believe how empty the air felt near the Monument Rocks and Little Jerusalem Badlands; it was an incredibly peaceful experience. Overall, I'd say exploring the depths of Northwest Kansas was well worth every moment!