When you travel the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway, you follow in the steps of Native Americans, explorers and pioneers as they sought food, shelter, adventure and a better life. Early traders followed the nearby Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico, 19th-century cowboys drove cattle along the Chisholm Trail, and huge herds of bison roamed the majestic Flint Hills.
Historians believe Francisco Coronado surveyed the countryside from Coronado Heights just north of the Byway in the early 1540s. Other famous visitors included Zebulon Pike and "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Immigrants from faraway lands, including Sweden, also settled in the area and built towns highlighting their culture and heritage.
The Prairie Trail Scenic Byway is an 80-mile route through north central Kansas. It begins at the south at Canton, not far from where the Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails brought travelers and cattle in the 19th century. Canton is home to the Stars and Stripes Military Museum, an 1883 Pioneer Jail, the last Carnegie Library built, and two water towers labeled "Hot" and "Cold." Restaurants and shops are available for visitors. Arriving via K-86 south from the US-56/K-86 junction and through the city of Canton the Byway heads north on McPherson County road, 27th Avenue winding its way through the western most edge of the Flint Hills.
Maxwell Wildlife Refuge offers visitors an opportunity to see bison and elk on tram tours by reservation. McPherson State Lake offers fishing, camping and hiking. Continuing on 27th Avenue north of Pueblo Road and looking to the west are Battle Hills Knobs. Traveling north to Roxbury, a short side trip east to Valley View Cemetery offers great views of the area and tells the story of who the pioneers were. The Byway then heads west from Roxbury on Smoky Valley Road. Great panoramas can be seen on the south side of the road overlooking the Wildlife Refuge and Twin Mounds. Olive Springs School now houses the gallery of famed artist Maleta Forsberg.
Prairie Trail Scenic Byway continues west until the roadway ends at Old U.S. 81. Here the Byway turns north towards Lindsborg, the Swedish Capital of Kansas. Four-foot tall wooden "Dala" horses grace each corner in downtown Lindsborg. They are artfully painted with wonderful names—e.g., Salvadore Dala, Hello Dala, etc. Craftsmen can be seen carving Dala horses at the Hemslojd Dala Horse Factory. Arts abound in Lindsborg with the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery that houses the largest collection of Sandzen's impressionist paintings; the Red Barn Studio and Raymer Society for the Arts featuring works by Lester Raymer; the Courtyard Gallery of contemporary artists; Small World-Gallery of Arts and Ideas showcasing National Geographic photographer, Jim Richardson's work.
Lindsborg is also rich in history with the Old Mill Museum and Heritage Park Complex featuring the Smoky Valley Roller Mill and the Swedish Pavilion, which had been part of the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Just north of Lindsborg, WPA-constructed Coronado Heights offers the viewer a scenic 360-degree view of the Smoky Hill River Valley from the Dakota Formation sandstone "castle." Shopping, restaurants and lodging accommodations are available in Lindsborg. Parks are dispersed throughout the community including the Valkommen Trail, a 2-mile paved hiking/biking trail.
The Byway continues west on K-4 from Lindsborg towards Marquette. Downtown Marquette preserves its historic beauty with charming shops and eating places. The Marquette Museum preserves the story of this Swedish community. The Kansas Motorcycle Museum showcases dozens of motorcycles and the motorcycle career of "Stan the Man" Engdahl. The Hanson-Lindfors Mansion is available for tours by reservation.
From Marquette the Byway follows K-4 to K-141 north. From K-141, the traveler can stop at Kanopolis State Park and Reservoir. Recreation opportunities abound here: hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, fishing, boating, hunting, swimming, birding, etc. are available. A 24.9-mile Millennium Legacy Trail is for hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists. There is also an 80-mile driving trail featuring 27 historic sites, including Faris Caves. Nearby, Mushroom Rock State Park provides unique geologic rock "mushrooms" for visitors to enjoy.
The Byway continues along K-140 westward to the community of Ellsworth, rich in cattle trail history. Ellsworth was once called "The Wickedest Cattletown in Kansas." Be sure to check out the historical walking tour, which tells the history of the Chishom Cattle Trail and then grab a bite to eat at Pretty Boy Floyd's.
After leaving Ellsworth, head northeast on U.S. Hwy 156 for 10 miles to I-70, where the byway ends.
For more information about the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway contact:Ronn Peters (620) 242-7133