The State of Kansas is a great place for families
Formerly it was through Kansas that families on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails drove their wagons westwards in search of new homesteads, nowadays families visit the Sunflower State in search of excitement and interesting things to see and do. The state of Kansas is a great place for families because it has such a diverse range of attractions and things to do that will please all age groups. This is the place to find dinosaur bones, moon rocks, award winning elderberry wine, great works of art, and the perfect fishing hole. Families can share a real farm and ranch experience and see bison grazing on open prairies that still bear the deeply cut grooves of pioneer wagon wheels. They can even follow the Yellow Brick Road to Wamego and the new Oz Museum to visit Dorothy, Toto and all the characters and wonders of the world-wide phenomenon that is Oz.
The Midwest doesn't get any more middle than Kansas because the exact center of the continental U.S. is found here. Many travelers avoid the state altogether or rush across its Great Plains en-route to other places, which is a big mistake! Kansas can't claim an ocean or a mountain range, but it has a subtle beauty and a slower pace that we found idyllic. We enjoyed driving down long stretches of traffic free, two-lane road, surrounded by miles of rippling wheat and sunflowers with their happy faces waving in the breeze. It gave us a sense of calm and vastness that we had not experienced in other places.
Once cowboys on the Chisholm Trail drove vast herds of longhorns north in search of the railroads and to cater for the new population, cowtowns like Abilene and Dodge City were born. Today, the State boasts many monuments to its Old West past such as the restored cattle town of Dodge City. Here we visited the Boot Hill Museum, which recreates the Boot Hill Cemetery and Front Street as they looked in the 1870s. Near Boot Hill is the Gunfighter Wax Museum, located in the Kansas Teachers' Hall of Fame. In Abilene, the Dickinson County Heritage Center describes the history of the wild frontier and the early pioneers.
Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, famed today for aircraft manufacture, is home to the Museums on the River District, which includes an art museum and a botanical garden. A great place to visit is the Old Cowtown Museum, which introduces visitors to the cattle days of the 1870s with open-air history exhibits. The Mid-America All-Indian Center Museum is where traditional and modern works by Native American artists are on display, but a must visit place is the magnificent Exploration Place with its many fascinating discovery exhibits. Wichita is also home to Sedgwick County Zoo, one of Kansas's top tourist attractions.
We visited and stayed in many interesting places during our short trip through Kansas and we saw and experienced many wonderful things that would please any family looking to enjoy a unique family experience. The blend of old and new is quite unique; the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson is rapidly becoming the most comprehensive space museum in existence, whilst the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays features exhibits that recreate the days of Kansas 88 million years ago when the mighty T-Rex roamed the land and Kansas was covered by water. There are no white-knuckle ride theme parks in Kansas, instead they have the wonderful Exploration Place in Wichita with its extraordinary, educational hands-on experiences for people of all ages, or kids can enjoy exploring one of the historic frontier forts in Western Kansas and experience the sights, sounds and smells of the 1860's. Also, the choice of accommodation is exceptional, varying from the historic Castle Inn Riverside in Wichita, the Victorian Verandah Country Inn located on a 57 acre Free State Farm in Lawrence, Hedrick's Exotic Animal Farm in Nickerson (near Hutchinson), Moore's Ranch, a simple family ranch that raise Texas Longhorn Cattle and do their ranch work in the old-fashioned cowboy way, and the recently opened Great Wolfe Lodge, Kansas's largest indoor waterpark resort.
These are details from our own experiences of the many interesting places to visit, stay and eat that will help make your family trip to Kansas a memorable and enjoyable one.
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO VISIT
KU Natural History Museum - Lawrence - www.nhm.ku.edu
Travel from the tundra to the tropics, exploring life on earth, past and present. An internationally acclaimed research, education, and public service institution that discovers, documents, and disseminates knowledge of earth's biological diversity and natural environments to benefit science and society.
Prairie Park Nature Center - Lawrence - http://parks-recreation.ci.lawrence.ks.us
This center hosts a vast system of trails, a bird-watching area and prairie observatory. The main building houses nine permanent exhibits. The park encompasses 71 acres and contains approximately eight acres of never-plowed prairie with nearly 180 species of native plants. Here the kids will enjoy seeing many of the animals on display and exploring the trails.
Schaake's Pumpkin Patch - Lawrence
Great family entertainment on a working farm with live farm animals, hay maze, straw romp, and pumpkin decoration classes.
Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve – Flint Hills – www.naturalkansas.org/tallgrass.htm
Located in the Kansas Flint Hills, this portion of the once-vast tallgrass prairie is being preserved as a critical resource for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The only unit of the National Park Service dedicated to the rich natural and cultural history of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, the preserve was established in 1996. A massive three-story barn houses a bookstore, resource and exhibition center, and the 1.75 mile trail presents marvelous vistas as well as an opportunity for detailed looks at the prairie ecosystem.
Country Boys Carriage Rides and Prairie Adventures–Newton–www.kscoveredwagon.com
Families will enjoy these prairie adventures designed to give travelers a taste of the pioneer life without the hardships. Offering a choice of half or full day group trips, or the regularly scheduled weekend outings, all are held on a working cattle ranch in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas. These tours disguise education as fun as you travel across the prairie in authentic antique wagons and enjoy campfire-cooked meals and traditional entertainment.
Exploration Place – Wichita – www.exploration.org
This is top of the list in terms of must visit places in Kansas. Located on a 20-acre site along the scenic Arkansas River in downtown Wichita’s Museums on the River district, this is a great place to discover extraordinary hands-on experiences for people of all ages. There are four exhibit areas focusing on flight, health, Kansas, and imaginative spaces for young children. Experience digital state-of-the-art, computer-generated shows in the CyberDome Theater, hold on to your full-motion theater seat in the Simulation Center, take a breather in the great outdoors at the picnic grove and adventure play yard, and finally, test your putting skills during the summer at an 18-hole Mini-Golf course unlike any other.
Cowtown Museum – Wichita – www.old-cowtown.org
This 1870s Kansas cattle town on the Chisholm Trail is a nationally accredited open-air living history museum with over 11,000 artifacts. Cowtown features over 40 buildings, including working blacksmith, carpenter and newspaper shops, historic homes, a livery stable, bank, saloon, drug store, bath house, law office, general store, and even a funeral parlor. Each home has a vegetable garden using period seeds and there are costumed, historic interpreters in many of the sites to demonstrate and discuss the area's history from 1865-1880.
A-Maize-In-Grace – Wichita – www.cornfieldmaze.com
A ten-acre corn maze planted in a unique patriotic design provides a lot of fun for all the family. There are trivia questions and riddles posted throughout the maze, events at weekends and live entertainment.
Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita – www.scz.org
A haven for kids and a great place for a family day out, the 247-acre zoo has more than 2,500 amazing animals in eight imaginative and naturalistic exhibits including the African Veldt, North American Prairie, Children's Farm, Koch Orangutan & Chimpanzee Habitat, Herpetarium and Jungle. The nationally renowned zoo is among the top 25 largest in the U.S and has an animal collection of 433 species. Pride of the Plains, a new exhibit designed to look like an African Savannah, houses warthogs, meerkats, and a pride of African lions.Karg Art Glass Studio – WichitaHere you will see fiery hot molten glass being shaped into beautiful sculptured art pieces and glass blowing demonstrations.
Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center – Hutchinson – www.cosmo.org
This world renowned space museum features the largest collection of US space artifacts outside of the National Air and Space Museum and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts in the Western world. It has an IMAX Dome Theater with the largest projection system in the world, Dr Goddard’s Lab that transports you back in time to the laboratory of the father of modern rocket science, and a Planetarium Theater with educational star shows and entertaining laser light shows. The Cosmosphere is home to the actual Apollo 13 command module Odyssey, and SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the world's largest collection of space suits, and the largest collection of Soviet space artifacts in the Western world.
Kansas Underground Salt Museum – Hutchinson – www.undergroundmuseum.com
The only one of its kind in the United States this fantastic museum, 650ft below the Kansas prairie, is opening late 2004 to explore the story of salt in a subterranean environment few people have seen before. In safe, climate-controlled surroundings the intriguing story of salt will be told and the majority of exhibits, programs and activities will take place underground. Apart from being educational, this will be a fun experience for all the family.
Boot Hill Museum & Front Street – Dodge City
This is an accredited western-history village museum located on the original site of Boot Hill cemetery in downtown Dodge City. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson were just a few famous names that formed their reputations here, and life in the 19th century is interpreted through audio-visual programs, exhibits, a reconstruction of Dodge City in 1876 and old west restorations. The complex consists of historic and reconstructed buildings including an 1879 cattleman’s home and the jail from Fort Dodge. During the summer months there are variety shows in the Longbranch Saloon, demonstrations at the printing and blacksmiths shop, stagecoach rides and gunfight re-enactments. The Dodge City Trolley is a good way to learn about the town’s folklore while visiting the sites where history was made.Larned National Historic Site – Larned – This is an outstanding authentic frontier military post, one of six in Kansas. During early 1860s, Fort Larned was the northern anchor of the line of forts defining the southwestern military frontier. The first duty station for the 10th US Cavalry was located here from 1867-1869. Today, the fort features nine original buildings as well as a reconstructed blockhouse with more than 40 rooms restored and furnished in the style of the period
Sternberg Museum of Natural History – Hays – www.fhsu.edu/sternberg
The museum houses more than 3.7 million specimens and features a recreation of the days 88 million years ago when the mighty T-Rex roamed the land and Kansas was covered by water. See giant sea swimming lizards and fish, the famous fish-within-a-fish, and the children's Discovery Room where children of all ages can learn through hands-on experience with specimens and live creatures of the Great Plains.
The Oz Museum - WamegoNeither a Kansas twister, ruby slippers nor a benevolent witch are necessary to get to and from Oz these days. A visit to Wamego and the new Oz Museum is all that is required to mesmerize the kids as they meet Dorothy, Toto and all the characters and wonders of the world-wide phenomenon that is Oz. The Oz Museum, houses the largest private collection of Oz memorabilia in the world and consists of more than 2,000 items from the 1939 "The Wizard of Oz" movie, released by MGM, based on Frank L. Baum 's classic children's story and starring Judy Garland....
Blue Sky Miniature Horse Farm – Hays – www.haysusa.net
This working farm breeds some of the smallest double registered miniature show horses found in Kansas. Shown in seven states, these horses have been placed in the top 10 in the nation and all the winning ribbons are on display. Miniature horses are now being trained in the USA as See and Eye guides for the partially sighted people.
Dickinson County Heritage Center - AbileneDiscover the history of the wild frontier, the days of Tom Smith and Wild Bill Hickok, and the wild and woolly days of the cattle drives to Abilene at the end of the Chisholm Trail. Also, explore the stories of the early pioneers as they settled the Great Plains and turned the great American desert into their home.
C.W. Parker Carousel (Carry-Us-All) - AbileneThe totally hand-carved working carousel manufactured in Abilene at the turn of century by C. W. Parker Amusement Company has been completely restored. The kids will love to ride on one of the 24 horses or four chariots of this National Landmark.
Cabela's – Kansas City – www.cabelas.com
This is not only a unique place to shop it’s a fun place for families to visit. Literally bringing the outdoors inside, the 188,000 square-foot showroom features an open-air environment and offers an unparalleled shopping experience. Kids will love exploring the mule deer museum and seeing the 65,000-gallon aquarium, whilst parents will enjoy rummaging through the Bargain Cave.
Kansas Speedway – Kansas City – www.kansasspeedway.com
If you are interested to learn more about the exhilarating world of motor racing take one of the Behind the Scenes Tours at Kansas Speedway. This major motor sports facility hosts the NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch, Craftsman Truck, and Indy Racing Events. The 1½ mile tri-oval track has grandstand seating for 78,000 and the tour gives a great insight to the preparation and running of these major events. The track also has driving schools, custom car shows, national barbecue contests and a souvenir shop.