Discover the 10 Best National and State Parks in Kansas

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 15, 2022
Image Credit Robert D Brozek/Shutterstock.com
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Kansas is located in the midwestern region of the United States. The state spans from the Missouri River, to the Smoky Hills, to the High Plains and has rich historical, cultural, and natural backgrounds that are the perfect destination for a relaxing weekend getaway. 

So what are the best getaways in Kansas? While the state lacks expansive National Parks like its neighbors Missouri and Colorado, it’s home to plenty of National Historic Sites, National Preserves, National Historic Trails, and Kansas State parks.

They’re all full of insightful and scenic places you’ll definitely find worth visiting. Check out the list we’ve prepared to help you choose a destination that fits your preferences and plans.

1. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is located in Topeka, Shawnee County.

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Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
LocationTopeka, Shawnee County
Size1.85 acres
Attractions to seeMonroe Elementary School, exhibits, informational videos

If you’re looking for a destination that will make you feel like you’ve traveled to the past, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is certainly a fit. It is located in Topeka, Shawnee County.

This historic site consists of the former Monroe Elementary School for African Americans. Its name comes from the case Brown v. Board of Education at the U.S. Supreme Court. The case ended legal segregation in public schools. This changed the course of the United States’ educational and racial history. 

This historic site provides its visitors with various exhibits, insightful videos about the court cases, traditional storyboards, and interactive activities. This place will certainly get to the top of your list of unforgettable destinations.

2. Fort Larned National Historic Site

Fort Larned National Historic Site
Fort Larned National Historic Site is located approximately 5.5 miles west of Larned City.

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Fort Larned National Historic Site
LocationPawnee County (nearest city Larned)
Size718 acres
Animals to spotMule deer, white-tail deer, weasels, badgers, armadillos, lizards, bullsnakes, garter snakes
Attractions to see19th-century restored buildings; living history demonstrations; ranger-guided tours

The Fort Larned National Historic Site is located approximately 5.5 miles west of Larned City and consists of nine restored 19th-century U.S. Army Fort buildings. Seven of them are open for tours and include a commissary, a hospital, a quartermaster’s storehouse, barracks, and officers’ quarters. 

The Fort is now one of the best-preserved examples of forts from the Indian Wars period. If you’re interested in this historical period, the Fort Larned National Historic Site will meet your expectations. 

The park hosts presentations and demonstrations throughout the year, such as living history demonstrations and ranger-guided tours. The wide variety of small mammals and reptiles will make your visit even more entertaining.

3. Fort Scott National Historic Site

Fort Scott National Historic Site
Fort Scott National Historic Site was established in 1842.

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Fort Scott National Historic Site
LocationFort Scott, Bourbon County
Size17 acres
Animals to spotWhite-tail deer, turtles, black snakes, spiders, including brown recluse spider, birds
Attractions to see20 historic structures, parade ground, tallgrass prairie

Another gripping historical and natural destination you and your friends will have a good time at is Fort Scott National Historic Site. Fort Scott was established in 1842 and had the goal of preventing any conflicts between Native Americans and the new settlers. It was of great importance during Bleeding Kansas and the American Civil War. Visiting this historic site will broaden your knowledge of American history.

The site includes 20 historic structures, such as officers’ barracks, dragoon stables, infantry barracks, a parade ground, and a 5-acre grass prairie. There you can spot various types of animals, including white-tail deer, turtles, snakes, and different species of birds. A spider you should be aware of and avoid at this historic site is the venomous brown recluse spider.

4. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie US National Preserve
The Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve is a treasure consisting of thousands of insect species.

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Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
LocationChase County (nearest city Strong City)
Size10,882 acres
Animals to spotA wide variety of bird species, insects, reptiles, mammals, bison, and fish species
Attractions to seeSpring Hill Ranch, visitor’s center, hiking trails, Bottomland Trail, Windmill Pasture

At the nearly 11,000-acre Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, you’ll be surrounded by nature more than ever, especially since its wildlife is a true gem! You’ll be able to enjoy nature trails, self-guided tours of the Spring Hill Ranch, and exhibits at the visitor’s center. 

Hiking lovers will be happy to enroll for a full-day hike on the 12-mile trail. If you don’t have much time, you can take the Bottomland Trail, which is shorter and more accessible.

The Windmill Pasture, where a bison herd grazes, is a must-see. Besides this, the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve is a treasure consisting of thousands of insect species, over a hundred species of birds, and over 30 species of reptiles, mammals, and fish. Your trip will definitely be entertaining!

5. Nicodemus National Historic Site

Nicodemus National Historical Site
A historical photo of Nicodemus from 1885.

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Nicodemus National Historic Site
LocationNicodemus, Graham County
Size161 acres
Attractions to seeTownship Hall, visitor’s center

Nicodemus National Historic Site preserves and protects the only remaining Kansas town established by African Americans after the American Civil War. According to a study in the Journal of Management History, the city is an iconic place that represents the entrepreneurial spirit of newly liberated Black Americans.

If you’re looking for a trip to broaden your knowledge of American history, this destination should be at the top of your list. 

There are five buildings on the historic site: the 1939 township hall, two churches, the St. Francis hotel, and the schoolhouse. The only building open to the public is the township hall. But, no worries! You’ll be able to find out more about the other buildings at the visitor’s center.

6. Oregon National Historic Trail

Oregon National Historic Trail - Scotts Bluff
The Oregon National Trail stretches for 2,170 miles. Pictured above is Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska.

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Oregon National Historic Trail
LocationAll over Kansas, among six other states
DistanceOver 2,170 miles
Animals to spotBison, rabbits, coyotes, beavers, prairie dogs
Attractions to seeOregon Trail Park, Alcove Spring Historic Park, Lone Elm Campground, Hollenberg Pony Express Station

The 2,170-mile Oregon Trail provided hundreds of thousands of emigrants with the opportunity to travel to the country’s Northwest region. It crossed seven states, including Kansas. Since they have passed through various cities in Kansas, nowadays, there are multiple tourist destinations across the state that tell the story of the Oregon Trail.

Here are some of the places you can visit:

  • Oregon Trail Park at Scott Springs;
  • Alcove Spring Historic Park – one of the most significant historic sites on the Oregon Trail;
  • Lone Elm Campground – where the trail travelers spent their first night west of the Missouri River; it was a campground and meeting point for people traveling along Oregon, California, and Santa Fe trails;
  • Hollenberg Pony Express Station – built in 1858 to serve as a tavern, a neighborhood grocery store, and an unofficial post office.

7. Kanopolis State Park

Kanopolis Lake
Kanopolis Lake provides ample opportunities for fishing and relaxation.

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Kanopolis State Park
LocationEllsworth County (nearest city Salina)
SizeApproximately 25,000 acres
Animals to spotMule deer, meadowlarks, beavers, raccoons, white-tail deer, pheasants, bobwhite quail
Attractions to seeHiking trails, vast wildlife area, Faris Caves

Kanopolis State Park is the first state park in Kansas. It is located in the Smoky Hills region. It has more than 30 miles of trails for hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. The 3,500-acre lake is the perfect place for fishing and enjoying a relaxing day near the water. The 12,500-acre wildlife area is ideal for spotting birds, insects, or small mammals. Hunting is allowed. 

Since the park is situated in rolling hills, bluffs, and woods, the spectacular views you’ll stumble upon on your trip won’t cease to amaze you. 

We recommend visiting Faris Caves near the Smoky Hill River. It consists of a series of artificially excavated caves in the 1880s. They were used as a milk house, schoolhouse, as well as living quarters.

8. Mushroom Rock State Park

Mushroom State Park
Mushroom Rock State Park is managed by Kanopolis State Park and is located about 5 miles north of it.

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Mushroom Rock State Park
LocationEllsworth County
Size5 acres
Attractions to seeUnique rock formations

Mushroom Rock State Park is managed by Kanopolis State Park and is located about 5 miles north of it. This small 5-acre park has one of the most unique rock formations globally that looks like giant mushrooms. Besides their interesting appearance, they also carry a historical background. They served as meeting places for early pioneers and Native Americans.

These rocks date as far back as the Cretaceous Period, about 144 to 66 million years ago. They are the remains of beach sand and sediments.

Mushroom Rock State Park is also considered one of the eight wonders of Kansas. So you can rest assured that it will be a truly unforgettable experience.

9. Clinton State Park

Clinton State Park
Clinton State Park provides its visitors with spectacular aquatic views.

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Clinton State Park
LocationLawrence, Douglas County
Size1,500 acres
Animals to spotSquirrels, coyotes, white-tail deer, bobcats, beaver, mink, various species of birds
Recreational activitiesHiking and biking trails, swim beach, mountain bike skills course, golf course

Outdoor enthusiasts will certainly have a great time at the 1,500-acre Clinton State Park. Located on the north shore of Clinton Lake, it provides its visitors with spectacular aquatic views. The area’s diverse wildlife is a must-see for any nature lover, nature photographer, or scholar conducting plant or animal research.

People passionate about golf will not get bored as the park has an 18-hole disc golf course. There’s a swimming beach, a sand volleyball court, a 1-acre children’s fishing pond, and a mountain bike skills course. Your stay here will be as entertaining as a trip to the heart of nature can be.

Lots of campgrounds are available for visitors and cabins, so if you’re planning a longer getaway, Clinton State Park is an ideal choice.

10. Wilson Reservoir, State Park and Wildlife Area

Wilson Reservoir
Wilson Reservoir, State Park and Wildlife Area is home to Deer, pheasant, waterfowl, songbirds.

Robert D Brozek/Shutterstock.com

Wilson Reservoir, State Park and Wildlife Area
LocationOn the border of Russell County and Lincoln County
Size Approximately 15,000 acres
Animals to spotDeer, pheasant, waterfowl, songbirds, 
Attractions to seePicturesque shoreline, the Cedar Trail, Wilson Lake

Wilson Lake is a reservoir built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and served as flood control. The Reservoir has a shoreline full of picturesque cliffs and rocky outcrops worth seeing at least once.

The 954-acre Wilson State Park is located in the heart of the Smoky Hills, on the south shore of the 9,000-acre Wilson Lake. There are numerous hiking and biking trails, boat ramps, swimming beaches, and camping facilities. If you’re not passionate about hiking, you can go for a leisurely walk along the Cedar Trail that will take you to places with incredible scenic views.

The 8,069-acred Wilson Wildlife Area is located on the upper end of Wilson Reservoir. Most of it features rugged rolling hills, while the rest consists of cropland and riparian timber. Hunting and fishing are allowed. The area hosts a wide range of animals, so you and your companions won’t have time to get bored. 

Depending on how you plan your trip, you can visit either one of the Reservoir’s areas or all of them.

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