Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2005)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
- Length77 miles
One of two national scenic byways in Kansas, the Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway is a 77-mile route anchored by two of the most important wetlands in the U.S.: Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Visit the internationally known wetlands to see migrating shorebirds, waterfowl, and other wildlife, but plan for frequent stops at points of interest in seven corridor communities along the way, to see historic native stone buildings, underground tunnels, metal street art, WPA art projects, an operating flour mill, part of the Santa Fe Trail, SRCA Drag Strip, and more.
Story of the Byway
Along the Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway, you'll encounter landscapes and communities shaped by the powerful forces of motion and change. You're entering a region formed by ancient and ongoing geological movement, anchored by two internationally important wetlands nestled in the heart of America and the Central Flyway, Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. A land characterized by stunning bird migrations, wild winds and weather, and of richly layered human history. Everywhere you look, you'll see evidence of motion and change - from rippling wheat fields on wide open landscapes to the grand spectacle of a hundred thousand shorebirds alighting in the Byway wetlands. More than 60,000 acres of wetlands host millions of migrating birds each year, including waterfowl, shorebirds, even Whooping Cranes. No wonder this region has been named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas. Along the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway, develop your understanding of the byways five themes: wetlands; birds and wildlife; geology; weather; and movement and man.
The wetlands are a bird watcher’s and hunter’s dream! The 41,000 acre Cheyenne Bottoms and 22,000 acre Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are designated Wetlands of International Importance due to their role as stopover locations for thousands of migrating birds along the Central Flyway. More than 350 species of birds have been documented at the wetlands, including ducks, geese, herons, cranes, ibis, pelicans, and sandpipers, along with an abundance of other Kansas wildlife. Sand and gravel roads, just off the Byway route, give excellent access to the wetlands. Scenic overlooks and observation towers are accessible at both locations. Taking in a Kansas sunset or sunrise at one of these locations is worth the time. Submit a photo to the Cheyenne Bottoms Chronology project to help document seasonal and annual changes to the wetland landscape.
Birds are not the only visitors to the wetlands. Visitors from all over the United States, and even other countries, flock to the area to bird watch, hunt, photograph, and see the expansive landscapes and wildlife. The Kansas Wetlands Education Center, located at Cheyenne Bottoms is a great stop to learn more about the wetlands.
The Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway allows visitors to explore the wetlands as well as the unique communities surrounding the wetlands and connects two of the world's most significant natural wetlands — Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.. The Byway takes visitors through Barton, Stafford, and Reno counties in central Kansas. The 77-mile route moves through radiant wetlands exploding with wildlife; prairie vistas with immense blue skies; and seven rural communities shaped by nature, a rich history of life on the plains, and the entrepreneurial spirit. The 7 Byway Communities welcome visitors with unique opportunities to explore and enjoy. Be sure to stop in Hoisington, Claflin, Ellinwood, Great Bend, Hudson, St John, and Stafford. The area is highlighted by historic native stone buildings, underground tunnels, metal street art, WPA art projects, an operating flour mill, exoduster history, part of the Santa Fe Trail, SRCA Drag Strip, and more.
Traveling North to South: The route begins at the junction of US Highway 281 (US-281) and Kansas Highway 4 (K-4). 15 miles east on K-4 to NE 100 Ave. 4 miles south on NE 100 Ave. to Kansas Highway 156 (K-156). 5 miles southwest on K-156 to NE 60 Ave. 17 miles south on NE 60 Ave. into Stafford County (NE 40 Ave) to NE 140th St. 12 miles east on NE 140th St. to N. Raymond Rd. 7 miles south on N. Raymond Rd to NE 70th St. 17 miles west on NE 70th St. to US-281.
Points of Interest
Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve
Wetland area managed by The Nature Conservancy.
Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area
State wildlife area managed by Kansas Wildlife & Parks.
Kansas Wetlands Education Center
Nature center located at Cheyenne Bottoms along K-156 Highway.
Historic racing dragstrip located west of Great Bend.
Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo-
Free, city run zoo located in Brit Spaugh Park along north Main St. in Great Bend.
Barton County Historical Society Museum and Village
Historical museum and village located south of Great Bend along US-281 Highway.
Historic Wolf Hotel and Underground Tunnel Tours-
Historic hotel and events center that offers tours of Ellinwood's underground tunnels.
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
Wetland refuge managed by USFWS.
Stafford County Historical Museum
Historical museum located in Stafford, KS along Main St.
Migratory Birds and Wildlfe in a Diverse Ecology
Begin at the intersection of US Highway 281 and Kansas 4 near Hoisington, traveling east. Turn south on NE 100 Ave going around the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve to the west. The Preserve is a great place to stop and look for shorebirds and migratory waterfowl. NE 60 RD will take you directly there. Another great stop is on Highway 156 at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center where you will learn more about the area, migratory birds, and the importance of protecting wetlands.
The route zigzags a bit through the countryside. Make a stop in Ellinwood to see the Historic Wolf Hotel and Underground Tunnel Tours and shop at the many antique stores. Make a side trip west and stop in Great Bend for lunch and enjoy the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo. Free admission. Also make stops at the Benton County Historical Society Museum and Village and the Raptor Center. Just to the west of Great Bend is the SCRA Dragstrip.
Back on the byway, take SE 60 Ave and SE 40 Ave south of Ellinwood to NE 140th St and the Quivera National Wildlife Refuge. Check out the scenic overlook there. Also make a stop at the Visitor Center on the south side of the Refuge.
Further south is the Stafford County Historical Museum in Stafford. The Byway ends on US Highway 281 just north of St. John. Return to Great Bend for evening lodging and restaurant options.
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