If you’re more organized than I am — and you probably are — you may have a great summer vacation all mapped out. As the departure draws near, it’s getting harder to concentrate. You’ve made checklists: stop the mail, board the dog, buy the tickets.
That was me last year. My family spent a glorious week in cool Colorado during the hottest week of the Kansas summer. We proved the belief that experiences stay with you much longer than the enjoyment you get from possessions. I never doubted that my kids would have a blast hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, encountering wildlife, and just running around our base camp, a modest lodge in Estes Park. We even coined a term after we came home: “lodge-sick.” It’s the opposite of homesick. How can you not miss a place where you picnic with a deer?
This year we’re sticking closer to home. My plan is to explore our home state a little more, and I’ve found some great resources to do just that.
Recently the Wichita Eagle published the Kansas 105: a guide to one attractions for each of Kansas’ 105 counties. Many are historical, some are quirky. Granted, it was probably a real stretch to come up with some of them, but I like that they didn’t leave any county out.
There’s also the Kansas Sampler Foundation, whose mission is to preserve and sustain rural culture. They’re also known for naming the 8 Wonders of Kansas and other lists of the best things about the Sunflower State, from barns to breweries.
With the aid of their research, I decided to make my own little list tailored to different types of travelers.
For Families – At my house, we’re partial to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, and we love to take out-of-town visitors there. You can stand under the engines of a real Titan rocket, see an IMAX film, and explore one of the biggest and best collections of artifacts from the U.S. and Russian space programs — including the real Apollo 13 capsule.
More ideas for family fun:
- Enjoy ice cream from a vintage soda fountain like the century-old Linger Longer in Bennington, where they mix their own syrups, or the beloved Old Mill Tasty Shop in Wichita.
- Take a dip in a giant pool: Garden City boasts the world’s largest municipal concrete swimming pool. It takes up the space of 1.5 city blocks and holds 2.5 million gallons of water. We just dare you to try playing “Marco Polo” here.
- Explore the otherworldly spires and rock castles at Monument Rocks and Castle Rock in Gove County.
For a Girls’ Getaway – Tour the wine country! There are more than a dozen vineyards and wineries in Kansas, many of which are in the state’s northeastern quadrant and the Flint Hills, including:
- Prairie Fire Winery in Paxico, between Topeka and Manhattan, which produced the state’s first and only Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. You can also swing by Oz Winery in nearby Wamego.
- Davenport Orchard, Vineyard and Winery in Eudora, near Lawrence, which grows 27 acres of grapes and apples for wine.
- Middle Creek Winery in Louisburg, which uses 100% Kansas grapes, honey and fruit.
Farther south and central, visit:
- Grace Hill Winery in Whitewater, near Wichita, which welcomes picnics.
- Wheat State Wine Co. in Winfield, where you’ll often hear live music.
For a Guys’ Getaway – There’s always golf, right? There are more than 270 courses in Kansas to chase that white ball around. GolfLink.com has a handy guide to its favorites.
If you’d rather tour the state on your stomach, the Kansas Sampler people have you covered. Check out their picks for best places to get a chicken fried steak. Or take off on a beer tour and explore the state’s breweries, from the biggies — Tallgrass Brewing Co. in Manhattan and Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence — to little guys like Hank is Wiser in Cheney.
For Photographers — Personally, I think our modest state has some of the most breathtaking scenery you could ask for. And I’ve seen a lot of it through the eyes of talented photographers who make heartstopping images out of our plains, our skies, and our wildlife. Want to get clicking? Here’s a few to focus on:
- Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve – Bison, butterflies and wildflowers, oh my!
- The Kansas Wetlands Complex – Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are vital migratory stops for North American shorebirds.
- Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area near Manhattan – The flat, stone creek bottom is covered in just a few inches of water that soon spill over a 60-foot-long waterfall.
Do you have a favorite place to play in Kansas? Share yours in the comments!