The Midwestern state of Kansas is most famously known as the backdrop for the American film classic The Wizard of Oz, but the Sunflower State has so much more to explore than what most people know from the movie. As the 15th largest state by size, Kansas is rooted in agriculture, as evidenced by the endless fields of wheat and corn and the tallgrass prairies that remain one of the state’s most important natural treasures. There is a strong Native American history that is proudly showcased in public displays like the Keeper of the Plains Plaza in Wichita.
While Kansas has a tranquil, historical, and natural ambiance, the state also immerses visitors into the authentic flavor of the Wild West by preserving historical areas like Boot Hill and Fort Larned, which have changed little since Buffalo Bill came through in the 1800s.
The progressive side of Kansas draws interest from art and music lovers, as well as hobbyists, who thrive on speed by watching races at the Kansas Speedway or daydreaming about becoming a daredevil at the Evel Knievel Museum. The historical and cultural diversity throughout Kansas is the kind of experience you will never forget because it holds the imagery and experiences that represent true Americana. Learn more about the best things to do with our list of the top attractions in Kansas.
1. Botanica: Wichita Gardens
Visiting the Botanica Wichita Gardens is one of the top things to do in the city of Wichita. It is a paradise celebrating horticulture that is open year-round, giving visitors 30 themed gardens to explore. Walk into the imaginative and educational Downing Children’s Garden to experience the Monster Woods exhibit or watch kids play in the treehouse. Walkthrough the Shakespeare Garden to see plants and flowers representative of the Elizabethan era.
Enjoy the Butterfly gardens and the Koi pond pavilions as you walk the 18-acres on-site, taking in the beauty of the landscape, the sculptures, and more than 4,000 species of plants.
2. Kansas State Capitol
A walk through the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka is an educational visit. The capitol complex covers about 20 acres in the heart of downtown Topeka and is considered a treasure among architectural enthusiasts. The French Renaissance-style building took 37 years to complete after the first stone was set in 1866.
Today, visitors can enjoy public exhibits and tours. The murals, sculptures, and regular programs at the capitol are always captivating, but for a truly unique experience take the free Dome Tour. This is for visitors who are physically capable of walking up the 296 steps for a close-up view of the dome and a spectacular panoramic view of Topeka from the top.
3. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home
Even if you know nothing or very little about President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a visit to his boyhood home and Presidential Library in Abilene will make you appreciate his contributions to American politics and society. The complex features five buildings: The Presidential Library with exhibits and research archives; a museum; a visitor center, which sits on the site of Eisenhower’s former elementary school; a meditation building; and his boyhood home. The complex is peaceful.
Be sure to look in the gift shop for unique politically-themed gifts and some replica “I Like Ike” campaign memorabilia from the 1952 Presidential election.
4. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
If you have never had an occasion to see the majesty of a tallgrass prairie then a visit to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills is a must. With less than four percent of America’s original 170-million acres of land that used to be tallgrass prairie, this location is one of the only places left in America to experience it.
You can take a bus tour, a self-guided cell phone tour, or hike the area at your leisure. One of the most special ways to experience the tallgrass prairie and its ties to America’s heartland is during one of the special events that are scheduled throughout the year, like an open-air symphony concert.
5. Boot Hill
Do you want to experience what the Wild West was like during the 1800s? Then plan a visit to Boot Hill in Dodge City, where things have changed very little since 1870. The Boot Hill Museum has thousands of artifacts and photographs depicting Dodge City in its early years from businesses to the social scene.
To put things into perspective, take a stroll through some of the historic buildings like the schoolhouse and Fort Dodge jail. Get a glimpse into what the General Store and local Saloon were like in the early 1900s. The best time to visit is when there are special events, like the reenactment street shootout of the Boot Hill Gunfighters, which takes place twice a day in the summer.
6. Evel Knievel Museum
There was only ever one true American daredevil — Evel Knievel, who wowed audiences with his death-defying motorcycle stunts. The Evel Knievel Museum is located in the Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka, with an impressive collection of artifacts and information about the legendary stuntman.
The building has two stories of collections, which range from Evel Knievel’s motorcycles and helmets to colorful costumes. If you have ever wanted to be like the daredevil, you can try the 4D jump experience or the Broken Bones interactive display to get the full scope of what living life on the edge is like.
7. Spencer Museum of Art
What makes the Spencer Museum of Art unique for art lovers is that it is the only art museum in the state that houses more than 45,000 pieces in all forms of media. The collection is located on The University of Kansas in Lawrence, so it has an academic slant that cross-connects art and experience in an interdisciplinary way. The permanent collections include African, Asian, European, American, Latin American, and Native American art among others. There are regularly changing exhibitions that focus on various artists and mediums, as well as visitor programs throughout the year to engage art connoisseurs on a deeper level.
8. Flint Hills Discovery Center
One of the most fascinating interactive centers in Kansas is at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. While the center focuses on the history of the Flint Hills, it is actually a deep lesson on some of America’s most fundamental nature, wildlife, inventions, and pop culture. The museum is part science and part culture, with exhibits that look at things like conservation of the North American bison and the ecosystem in the tallgrass prairies.
Catch a showing in the Immersive Experience Theater, where you will feel the winds of the Flint Hills blowing your hair as you watch the film on the history and evolution of the area.
Be sure to step out on the rooftop terrace for a panoramic view of the city and wrap up your visit with a bite to eat or purchase a locally made gift at the nearby Blue Earth Plaza.
9. Monument Rocks
Seeing the natural formations at Monument Rocks is one of the best ways to fully appreciate the natural beauty that exists in Kansas. This National Landmark is also called the Chalk Pyramids. While they sit back a distance from the highway, you can still see them. The formations are located about 20 miles south of Oakley in western Kansas and are accessible near US-83, where you will find a few signs for the turnoff. It is believed that the massive formations developed over 80 million years ago when the area was underwater. Definitely take your camera!
10. Fort Larned National Historic Site
Military history buffs will appreciate a visit to the Fort Larned National Historic Site in Larned. The site is set up like a 1860s army post that housed troops called the “Guardians of the Santa Fe Trail.” The site has a fort and other buildings that have been preserved from when Buffalo Bill came through the area.
The complex is a thorough education on the Indian Wars, which is an important part of American history. There are quite a few exhibits and educational programs, but the most exciting way to visit is during a reenactment and one of the scheduled living history events.
11. The Keeper of the Plains
Due to the deep Native American roots in Kansas, a visit to the Keeper of the Plains Plaza and statue in Wichita is a moving and important experience if you are visiting the state. The 44-foot-tall Keeper of the Plains steel statue stands over the public plaza, where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers merge through downtown. The land in the area is sacred to Native Americans, and the plaza commemorates the important history and role that Native Americans have in the area.
Stroll around the plaza and make your way to the Mid-America All-Indian Center to learn more about the Native American culture. The must-see event at the plaza is the “Ring of Fire” spectacular display, which takes place nightly for 15 minutes. Times change in the summer and fall.
12. Kansas Speedway
Fulfill your need for speed at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. The speedway is known for its spectacular fan experience, with more than 200 motorsports events throughout the year. The track hosts NASCAR touring series races and special events throughout the year, including concerts. Race fans can try a garage experience or pre-race passes that get you up close to the drivers and track. The ultimate fans can keep an eye out for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, which is available at the track a few times a year.