The wild spaces of southwest Kansas still cut loose today with captivating culture and genuine Western heritage. Towns corral their rowdy charm in bandits’ hideouts, Front Street gunfights, frontier forts, Old West museums and cavernous 109-foot-deep wells. Outside of town, life-filled landscapes, such as Syracuse Sand Dunes Park and a 108,000-acre grassland, beckon explorers. Yet even in the farthest-flung places, you’re never too far from a comfy bed or a hearty meal to refuel. So go ahead: Trek the territory that even Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon couldn’t tame
ExploreBack to Top of List
This rugged range boasts riveting remnants from the past. It’s also home to state-of-the-art museums, a zoo, and a couple of renowned golf courses.
Wielding pickaxes and shovels, crews in the 1880s dug one of the world’s largest hand-dug wells. Descend spiral stairs into the 109-foot engineering marvel, then resurface in the museum to learn about the well, Greensburg history and the town’s rebirth after its devastating 2007 tornado.
Scoot your boots to Front Street to relive its infamous heydays at the jail, saloon and general store. Old West history kicks up its heels in the new interactive exhibit hall, where the floor shakes during a simulated bison stampede. Take a swig of sarsaparilla at the museum’s Long Branch Saloon, and watch re-created Front Street shoot-outs during the summer.
A swath of modest sage- and grass-covered dunes creates a unique golfing landscape with numerous sand traps. Factor in a prairie breeze and you’ll find out by the end of the first hole why this moderately hilly course is significantly trickier than it looks.
Standing atop Point of Rocks, hikers can sense—and see—the human history that passed through the extreme southwest corner of the state. A well-worn path cutting through the prairie is a remnant of thousands of covered wagons that traveled along the Santa Fe Trail. Limestone posts mark the original route for hikers. Drivers follow the 30-mile Sea of Grass Tour that passes original trail ruts and prairie-dog towns on the 108,000-acre grassland.
Tour the restored 1887 home of Eva Dalton Whipple, sister to the famous marauding band of brothers. Then escape through the home’s 95-foot-long stone tunnel that is said to have helped the robbers elude the law.
Climb aboard a flatbed trailer for a narrated, close-up encounter with some of the ranch’s 300 head of bison. Watch for the standout resident white bison and the new crop of calves. (Tour reservations are required.)
Nine original sandstone buildings and a visitors center focus on the tumultuous Indian Wars era and the fort’s 1860s duty of patrolling the Santa Fe Trail. A 1-mile nature trail rounds out a visit.
Southwest winds often add to the challenge at this semiprivate course in the sand hills. In the clubhouse, fine-dine with course views at The Bar or keep it casual at El Bar downstairs.
Pick up a map at the Visitor Information Center and set out on a 3-mile self-guided excursion. Sculptures and sidewalk medallions recognize local characters, like gunslinger Doc Holliday.
Whether you’re hiking, biking, boating, fishing or playing disc golf, pause at dusk to see why HorseThief is dubbed the Sunset Capital of Kansas. Overnight in cozy canvas yurts, a modern cabin or at campsites.
Walk for free (or drive for $10) around these 47 acres, where 300 native and exotic animals thrive. Encounter snow leopards in Wild Asia, black rhinos in the African Plains and river otters in the North American Prairie. The Lemur Forest is always a hit.
This newly preserved attraction—now with a visitors center—honors the offbeat creativity of late, self-taught folk artist M.T. Liggett. He’s most famous for his roadside metal sculptures and whirligigs, but you’ll also see other creations and a workshop used to restore his 1,000 metal art pieces.
A WPA-built limestone building packs military, Old West, Plains, railroad and county history inside. In the basement, stroll a boardwalk through re-created 1880s Leoti.
Go off-roading through the state’s largest sand dunes park, a full 1,300 acres of airtime and thrills. Ride your ATV, SUV, cycle and buggy on trails and across dunes, bowls and speedy flats.
Eat & DrinkBack to Top of List
Get a taste of the southwest at pubs, steakhouses, a classic soda fountain, and a legendary pancake house.
Black Bison’s hand-cut, 1½-inch-thick steaks cause stampedes to downtown. Crowd-pleasers at the casual bar and eatery include ribeyes, KC strips and the Bacon Mac Attack burger.
On top of the original Boot Hill Cemetery (the bodies were moved in the 1870s), the distillery crafts vodka, gin and a variety of strong, smooth whiskeys from grain harvested on the owners’ farms.
Prime rib and fillets are feature presentations at the 1922 opera and picture-show house. The stage, screen, fringed curtains and soaring ceilings surround diners in the elegant three-tiered theater. Order drinks at the concession stand, now a bar.
Come for dinner and a show by the knife-wielding hibachi chef, who grills the Ninja Combo (filet mignon, shrimp and chicken) and other tableside creations. You can also opt for calmer table service, with a menu that includes more than 30 different sushi rolls.
A longtime staple in the hometown of the International Pancake Day Race, The Pancake House serves 30 varieties of flapjacks, including the soufflé-like apple pancake that sinks before your eyes.
It’s all about nostalgia at the century-old store stocked with antiques and a vintage soda fountain. Treat yourself to a fresh limeade, fizzy old-fashioned soda, creamy malt, or a Black and White shake. Lunch is served here too.
StayBack to Top of List
Before you hit the sack, stare at the stars, lounge in a saloon, or make a splash at these unique lodgings.
Flattened farmlands and prairies abruptly drop into dramatic canyons and bluffs surrounding this 300-acre lake. Visitors can camp at primitive sites along the water’s edge. Bring a pole to snag crappie, walleye, bass, bluegill, and catfish.
At adjoining Parrot Cove Water Park (extra fee), rush down the multistory enclosed water slides that snake in and out of the building or unwind on the lazy river. Dry off in comfy suites, some with bunk beds for the kiddos.
Sleep peacefully in the once unruly 1880s saloon and gambling house, renovated into four lovely guest rooms. The property also features two sunny-bright pine cabins for rent.
Today a bed and breakfast…yesteryear…a saloon and gambling hall. The Trail City Bed and Breakfast is actually a renovated saloon that was…
LiberalBack to Top of List
Whether you prefer to follow the Yellow Brick Road, soar to Kansas’ largest air museum or admire an artsy attraction, Liberal fits the bill. Dorothy herself leads your whirlwind tour at Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz. Meet up with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion on the magical yellow brick path to the Wizard, plus tour Dorothy’s farmhouse and an Oz memorabilia display. Get blown away, too, by more than 100 aircraft spanning 90-plus years of history at the Mid-America Air Museum, one of the largest of its kind in the country. It houses a futuristic Beechcraft Starship and other fascinating flying machines. The Baker Arts Center satisfies creative spirits with its collection of 300 art pieces and hands-on activities for kids. Sign up in advance for pottery workshops, dance and music classes, and more.
Uncover more incredible sights, tastes and sounds across the state in the 2022 Official Kansas Travel Guide.