State & Nationally Designated Sites
Staying in a metropolitan area doesn’t mean you have to miss out on experiencing the great outdoors or discovering the places that bring American history alive. The Kansas City metro has intriguing and beautiful attractions, plus Kansas and Missouri offer several additional options within a short drive. From the sweeping and gorgeous grasses that cover the gently rolling landscape of the Flint Hills to modern roads that will lead you back through time, the many state and nationally designated sites in the area will leave you with more ideas than time to discover them all.
The Flint Hills of east-central Kansas contain one of the last large expanses of prairie on the North American continent. In the 19th century, over 140 million acres of grassland greeted European settlers. Today 4.5 million acres remain with the majority located in Kansas, including the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Voted one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas,” the Preserve is the only site in the National Park Service dedicated to protecting the ever increasingly rare tallgrass prairie. A popular destination for artists and travelers, visitors exploring the vast area encompassing the Flint Hills can expect beautiful vistas steeped in rich American history and full of adventure. Watch tall swatches of flickering orange flames as ranchers burn off pastures, the soft Kansas wind brush past your face and see it gently sway the multitudes of vibrant wildflowers that carpet the prairie, or listen to an annual symphony concert held under a sky as vast and beautiful as the prairie itself while cowboys and horses move across the horizon. The Flint Hills offers a unique and unforgettable experience to all.
Kansas has nine scenic byways, including: Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, Frontier Military Scenic Byway, Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, Native Stone Scenic Byway, Post Rock Scenic Byway, Prairie Trail Scenic Byway, Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway. Two of these byways are situated in the Kansas City metro area. The Frontier Military Scenic Byway begins near historic Fort Leavenworth, the oldest Army fort in continuous commission west of the Mississippi. Continuing South for 168 miles, the trail was originally built to move soldiers and supplies along the frontier border. Now you’ll find beautiful parks and historical landmarks such as Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area, where bald eagles can often be seen without leaving the byway, and the Fort Scott National Cemetery, one of only 14 originally established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The 63-mile Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, which begins in Leavenworth and moves North to White Cloud, is named for the glaciers that once covered northeast Kansas leaving a trail carved with historical importance. Follow this byway to discover more about Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill Cody, Amelia Earhart, and the Civil War. If you want to explore a little further from the metro area, another great way to experience the Flint Hills is to travel along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, which offers you a quick 47.2-mile drive through the beautiful, vast expanses of untouched prairie. All of the nine byways in Kansas offer a unique and striking portrait of the state’s splendor.
Across the state-line, Missouri offers 15 scenic byways to explore, including several in the Kansas City region. Cliff Drive, the only Missouri scenic byway located in an urban area, passes through Kansas City and was integral to the evolution and development of the major metropolitan area. This four-mile drive is nationally recognized for its design as the byway passes through the historic George E. Kessler Park. The Spirit of Kansas City Regional Scenic Byway consists of an eight-mile route along various city streets and connects Cliff Drive Scenic Byway in Missouri with the National Historic Huron Park Cemetery and Kaw Point in Kansas. It tells the story of how Kansas City got its start from the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery and the fur trade to railroad and airway transportation. The Sho-Me Santa Fe Trail runs through the hills along the Missouri River bank for 20 miles. This drive allows visitors to experience 19th-century westward expansion on the Santa Fe Trail, the rich Native American history of the area, the pre-Civil War conflicts, and modern day vineyards and orchards. The Old Trails Road Scenic Byway, which allows visitors to explore the historic trails, overlooks the Missouri River Basin and provides beautiful views of the river bluffs and the historic town of Lexington. Missouri’s rich landscape and history possesses something for everyone to enjoy.
The region offers wonderful state parks where visitors can relax and enjoy the great outdoors. Clinton State Park, located just west of Lawrence (KS), is a 1,500-acre park known for its excellent fishing and hiking/biking trail system – known for more than 50 miles of quality and diverse trails located around the lake. Clinton Lake’s bluffs, wooded shorelines and clear water provide unequalled beauty, as well as a habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species, including white-tailed deer, bald eagles, wild turkeys and many different types of songbirds and water fowl. The same diversity of species that attracts anglers and hunters provides excellent opportunities for photographers, naturalists, birdwatchers, mountain bikers, hikers, and skiers – both water and snow. This park is one of the most popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts from Kansas and across the country. Milford State Park, located near Junction City, is on the shores of the Milford Reservoir, Kansas’ largest lake. Fishing is a favorite activity at this park along with camping and boating. The nearby Milford Nature Center and Milford Fish Hatchery offer a variety of interpretive exhibits and displays. Many game species are present in the Milford Wildlife Area and a permanent wildlife refuge has been established on the northern end of the reservoir for waterfowl management. This park is a multi-purpose recreation area that provides services to campers, boaters, fishermen, hunters, water enthusiasts, wildlife viewers, picnickers and trail-goers. For the outdoor enthusiast, these state parks are a can’t-miss destination.