Though cattle and cowboys still roam these pastoral lands, there’s no need to saddle up to experience this last big stand of tallgrass prairie in North America. A rich blend of historic sites and modern attractions gets you knee-deep into the boundless beauty, saved from the pioneer plows thanks to the limestone and flint outcroppings that still define the region today. Tread responsibly through this fragile ecosystem as you explore a land of endless treasures and delights.
Get a prairie preview at Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie Park, tucked along the Native Stone Scenic Byway in the northern Flint Hills. Hiking trails weave past head-high bluestem, migrating monarchs and wagon ruts to hilltop views of the valleys beyond. Wander south to Council Grove and its wealth of 25 historic sites. Closed two years for restoration, the Kaw Mission and Last Chance Store Museums on the Santa Fe Trail recently reopened their doors with brand-new exhibits. A school for Kaw boys, the 1850s Kaw Mission interprets the Native American and Santa Fe Trail sagas. Across town, browse the well-stocked staples at the 1857 Last Chance Store, the last shop to buy trail supplies before reaching New Mexico. In the heart of the Flint Hills, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve immerses visitors in its 11,000-acre prairie with ranger-guided tours and Southwind Nature Trail hikes to bison pastures and scenic overlooks.
Among the nation’s oldest dining spots, the 1857 Hays House Restaurant in Council Grove pays homage to tallgrass ranching with Kansas-raised prime rib, ribeye and hand-cut chicken fried steak, along with an all-new menu of from-scratch specials. Across Main Street (once the Santa Fe Trail), there’s something new brewing at the 1880s livery along the Neosho River. Riverbank Brewing serves IPAs, wheat beer and other brews made from Kansas grains. Guests gather in the tap room of the renovated stone structure or on an outdoor patio overlooking the river. At Liquid Art Winery and Estate, sips come with spectacular hilltop views west of Manhattan. Try a flight with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, or sample craft ciders in the tasting room. In Manhattan, perk up with freshly roasted coffee and still-warm breads from Radina’s Coffeehouse and Roastery.
Come June 11 in Chase County, thousands will line a hillside overlooking the prairie for a melodious blend of world-class nature and music. At Symphony in the Flint Hills, the Kansas City Symphony soars, performing lively classical and buckaroo-ish tunes with a sunset cattle drive as the backdrop. Come early for educational programs, strolling musicians and wildflower walks. On a different note, the Flint Hills Shakespeare Festival makes much ado about the Bard September 24–26 and October 1–3 in a meadow at St. Mary’s College. Grab a turkey leg and other goodies from vendors before and after the evening’s outdoor play. In downtown Cottonwood Falls, small crowds gather on select Friday evenings to hear fiddlers and folk singers at Emma Chase Friday Night Music, a summer celebration of the region’s ever-present spirit of renewal.
The 150-year-old Clover Cliff Ranch Bed and Breakfast pampers guests with four Victorian-style rooms. The limestone inn near Elmdale tops a ridge perfect for viewing sunsets and sunrises. Tour the working bison ranch or play the disc golf course with swinging bridges.