Kansas' 150th anniversary of statehood (2011) is the perfect time to plan a vacation in one of the state's
most scenic areas: the Flint Hills. Take the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, and you can learn about Kansas'
history while also enjoying one of the most beautiful drives in the country, through rolling prairies and
In the 1800s, Council Grove was a gathering place for settlers who were organizing wagon trains to continue their journey west. The city was named after the council in which European American settlers and the Osage Nation agreed to allow settlers to pass through the area. Many settlers had just come west to Kansas from Missouri via the Santa Fe Trail, where they negotiated safe passage with the Comanche Nation and traded with the Comanche along the way. Council Grove is still an ideal place to begin your trip.
Before you leave the area, be sure to visit some of the town's historic sites, such as the Post Office Oak, where travelers used to stash letters, hoping they would later be picked up by someone traveling the right direction, and Last Chance Store, which was once the ìlast chanceî for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail to buy supplies to use on their way to New Mexico. Post Office Oak and Last Chance Store are both on US Highway 56 (which becomes Main Street in Council Grove).
Historical Sites You Don't Want To Miss
You can find a Madonna of the Trail, one of 12 statues erected by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1928 and 1929, at the northeast corner of Union and Main Streets. You can also visit the Kaw Mission at 500 North Mission Street.
On your way out of town, exit US 56 by turning south onto Fifth Street. Follow Fifth to Walnut, turn left onto X Avenue, and then left onto K-525, and you will come to the Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park, dedicated by the Kaw Nation in 2002. Here, you can see the huts that the federal government built for the Kanzas in 1862 ' the Kanzas opted not to live in the structures, but used them as stables for
their horses. Later settlers used the same huts as outbuildings for their farms.
The Great Outdoors
If you would like to explore the nature trails, get a map at Kaw Mission in Council Grove before you leave ' you can hike the two mile long Kanza Heritage Trail and then the Flint Hills Nature Trail (the two are connected).
Returning to K-177, you'll want to take your time. K-177 will take you through a tallgrass prairie full of wildflowers. You can stop to visit the Lower Fox Creek School, a historic one-room school, and enjoy the beautiful Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This prairie used to cover 140 million acres, but most of what is left is here in the Flint Hills region of Kansas. If you stop to do some hiking in the preserve, you may be lucky enough to see a few bison (be sure to stay at least 75-100 yards away).
If you prefer not to hike, you may want to take a prairie bus tour, which takes about an hour and a half and is led by National Park Service rangers. The bus tour is free and is a wonderful way to learn more about the native plants and animals. On your return, you might want to take a historic house tour. The preserve also makes three of its ponds available for catch-and-release fishing.
Continuing south, you'll come to Strong City. There, you can visit the Chase County Courthouse , the oldest operating courthouse in Kansas, which was built in the 1870s. The limestone courthouse was built in the style of a French Renaissance chateau. You'll want to take some time in Strong City, where you can also visit the Chase County Historical Museum, the First Chase County Jail (a historic jail built before 1873), the Fiber Factory (where you can watch a weaving demonstration on an antique
loom), and the Roniger Memorial Museum (which houses a large collection of Native American
If you're a football fan, you might like to know that the Knute Rockne Memorial is located here, on K-177 (but the memorial is on private property with no public access). While you are visiting, you might want to park your RV at Swope Park, just off highway 177.
On your way out of Strong City, the byway will take you down into Cottonwood Falls. If you'd like to stop and do some hiking, try the Chase County Community Connection Trail, which runs north back to Strong City. (The trail was built in 2003 to provide a safe walking and biking trail between Strong City and Cottonwood Falls.) From this trail, you can, if you wish, reach the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Bottomland Trail. The trail will also take you across the historic Cottonwood River bridge.
Continuing south, you'll come to a scenic overlook. Stopping here, you'll be able to enjoy an unrivalled 360-degree view of the grasslands. As you continue south, pay attention to the historic limestone fences, originally built for ranching purposes.
In the grasslands surrounding this small Butler County town, expect to see cattle dotting the countryside. They are brought in cattle trucks from all over the country to ìgo to grass.î If you happen to be here on one of the first Sundays of the month between May and October, you can stop by the Cassoday Cafe to enjoy brunch with motorcyclists who gather there before heading out to tour the Flint Hills Scenic Byway.
From Cassoday, take US-400W/US-54W toward Wichita. If you are in the mood for a big city experience after your drive through the prairie, take some time in Wichita. You can visit the Old
Cowtown Museum, an open-air living history museum where you can ride in a covered wagon and watch reenactments of gunfights. You may want to visit the Sedgwick County Zoo. But if you're looking for more of Kansas' beautiful nature or wildlife areas, you can find that here too, at the Great Plains Nature Center or the Arkansas River Trail.
When you get to Cheney, you are in for a treat. If you are looking for peace on earth, you've found it. It could take you days to explore Cheney State Park, whether you choose to concentrate on the portion of the park at the west or east side of Cheney Reservoir. The park is RV-friendly, includes two beautiful
nature trails, and some world-class fishing (channel fish, white bass, crappie, striped bass, wiper,
and walleye). Cheney Reservoir, often called the windiest lake in the country, is also an excellent place for sailing and occasionally hosts sailing regattas. Adjacent to the park is the Cheney Wildlife Area, with 5,439 acres of wilderness lands and 4,109 aquatic acres.
Oh! And when you are in the Flint Hills region, be sure to take time to go out and do some stargazing at night. This is one of the best places in the country to observe the night sky.
About the Author
Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. For other great RV camping vacation ideas see the Monty's Musings RV Camping Blog or the new Monty's RV Vacation Photo / Picture Gallery.
See you in the Kansas Flint Hills! ;-)