Located right in the center of the United States, Kansas is often passed through on cross country road trips, but a lot of people don’t realize that the state actually has a lot of interesting places to explore!
You’ll be surprised by the intriguing historical sites, unique landscapes, and charming towns that make perfect Midwest vacation spots for families.
Check out our list of the best scenic drives in Kansas to learn about where you can travel to experience the interesting landscape (Hint: it’s way more than flat prairie!).
1. Kansas Scenic Drives: Smoky Valley Scenic Byway
Distance: 60 miles
Time needed: 1.5-2 hours
The Smoky Hills of Kansas get their name from the bluish and somewhat hazy appearance they acquire at sunrise and sunset. If you plan an early departure or evening drive, you can fully appreciate this effect along this scenic route in Kansas!
Another of the biggest attractions of the route is the gorgeous native flowers which peak during spring and summer. From Indian blanket flowers to yellow coneflowers, we’d highly recommend bringing your camera to get photos of how these bright flowers produce an incredible color wash across the prairie.
A lot of travelers don’t realize that this was also a historic route connecting Fort Leavenworth and Denver. Make a pit stop at the Threshing Machine Canyon, where you can see the names of travelers carved into the stone, some of which are over 200 years old!
When to go: This Kansas scenic byway is good to take year-round.
2. Kansas Scenic Drives: Flint Hills National Scenic Byway
Distance: 48 miles
Time needed: 1 hour
Crossing between Council Grove and Cassoday, this byway is a short but spectacular scenic route to enjoy the scenic prairie landscape of Kansas.
The byway passes through the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, where you can see the rolling tallgrass so characteristic of Kansas.
You’ll also drive past numerous historic sites like the Fox Creek Schoolhouse and barn, which is a large mansion open for tours. Farther south on the route in the city of Cottonwood Falls, you can visit the Roniger Native American Museum.
Past Cottonwood Falls, the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway takes a few turns to reach the higher ground, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the prairie and local ranches. There’s also a scenic overlook site which is the perfect place to stop for some photographs!
At the end of the drive in Cassoday, you’ll find great antique shops in the historic downtown as well as charming restaurants and diners to stop for lunch at the end of the drive.
When to go: This drive is good year-round, but the wildflowers are best viewed during spring and summer.
3. Kansas Scenic Drives: Post Rock Scenic Byway
Distance: 18 miles
Time needed: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Traversing the prairies, hills, and valleys near the Smoky Hills, the Post Rock Scenic Byway is named for the historic limestone fence posts, which were crafted by the pioneers who first came to settle in the region. These unique posts are great spots to get photographs and imagine what it would be like to be one of the first travelers to cross the prairies of Kansas!
Since it’s a very short route, the Post Rock Scenic Byway is easy to add onto a trip, but if you’re looking for some things to do in Kansas, there are some places of interest along the route.
The Wilson State Park and Wildlife Area is one of the top attractions of the region, known for its spectacular wildflowers and the over 225 species of birds, some of which live there year-round and others pass through during migration. Photographers especially love the sunrises and sunsets at the park, where you can catch the rays of sunlight covering the array of wildflowers.
Families can enjoy the water activities at the lake in Wilson State Park or explore the hiking and mountain biking trails for a fun outdoor adventure.
When to go: This drive is great at any time of year.
4. Kansas Scenic Drives: Wetlands & Wildlife Scenic Byway
Distance: 77 miles
Time needed: 2-5 hours, depending on whether you stop
Connecting the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, this scenic byway in Kansas goes right through wetland areas which are considered some of the most important in the world because of the wildlife which calls them their home.
From migrating waterfowl to the majestic Whooping Cranes, the countless species of birds which make their home in these wetlands attract birders from around the country!
In addition to the wetland regions, the route also passes some interesting historical sites such as a section of the Santa Fe Trail and an operating flour mill which is open for tours.
The route is a little west of Wichita, which makes it an easy drive to include if you’re traveling to or from this city.
When to go: Fall migration is considered the best time to see the birds, but the drive is beautiful year-round.
5. Kansas Scenic Drives: Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway
Distance: 42 miles
Time needed: 1-2 hours
The red Gypsum Hills is one of the top natural attractions of Kansas. If you have an image of Kansas as being nothing more than flat prairie lands, then the canyon formations and flat mesas of the Gypsum Hills will come as a surprise!
Between Medicine Lodge and Coldwater, you’ll pass through the heart of the Gypsum Hills as well as some of the classic prairie landscape on either side.
During the spring and summer, the wildflowers of the area are absolutely spectacular and cover the landscape with vibrant colors. Photographers can take note that the sunrises and sunsets of the Gypsum Hills are particularly incredible as the red sky mirrors the red rock landscape.
Keep your eyes out when driving for some of the wildlife in the area. You might be lucky enough to spot turkeys, a bobcat, or maybe even an armadillo!
For families in search of some outdoor activities to add to this drive in Kansas, there are a lot of choices, including hiking, boating, horseback riding, and swimming.
When to go: Spring and summer are considered the most scenic months for this route, but it’s still great to travel at any time of year.
6. Kansas Scenic Drives: Prairie Trail Scenic Byway
Distance: 56 miles
Time needed: 1 to 3 hours, depending on stops
One of the most historic scenic drives in Kansas, the Prairie Trail crosses through some of the most important travel routes of Native Americans and pioneers.
Along the drive, you can stop at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge and Bison Tour. This incredible refuge is home to bison, elk, and numerous species of wild birds. For a unique experience, you can take a covered wagon tour of the refuge to feel like you’re traveling back to the 1800s when the pioneers were first crossing Kansas!
If you’re interested in history, there are also some points of interest to visit, like the Lindsborg Old Mill & Swedish Heritage Museum. This museum is housed in a flour mill built by some of the first Swedish settlers who came to the region.
Beyond the history, this is one of the best drives in Kansas to see the picturesque prairie the state is known for.
When to go: This route is great to travel year-round.
7. Kansas Scenic Drives: Native Stone Scenic Byway
Distance: 75 miles
Time needed: 2 to 3 hours
Combining history with natural wonder, the Native Stone Scenic Byway provides a spectacular opportunity to see the incredible natural limestone formations in Kansas. Early settlers would use limestone to craft walls and structures, many of which are still standing.
The Native Stone Scenic Byway starts just outside of Topeka, west of Kansas City. It’s one of the best day trips from Kansas City, or it’s easy to include on a road trip through the state.
If you have some time to explore, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures and cultural sites along the way.
The Konza Prairie Biological Station is a scenic place to visit, with year-round trails through the 8,600 acres of prairie and limestone formations.
If you’re feeling hungry, the Alma Creamery is a perfect stopping point. It’s the production home of some of Kansas’s best cheeses and a perfect resting point along the drive.
When to go: The Native Stone Scenic Byway is great year-round.
More Tips & Inspiration For Road Tripping The Midwest
- Once you’ve thoroughly explored Kansas, there’s plenty more to enjoy with these spectacular family road trips in the Midwest
- Kandrive is your go-to resource for all things road conditions and traffic reports before you hit the road in Kansas.
- Never forget an important road trip item again, check out our road trip essentials checklist with a FREE printable PDF to tick off as you pack!
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