Before the modern rancher arrived, Kaw Indians resided in the Flint Hills and Santa Fe Trail travelers passed through them. The landscape hasn’t changed much since that time. Unspoiled, nearly treeless hills with bluestem grasses, accented by bright-orange butterfly milkweed and other wildflowers, provide glimpses to a time when open grasslands covered more than 1 million square miles of the continent.
Rugged hiking and nature trails crisscross Konza Prairie's 8,600 acres of largely untouched prairie near Manhattan. Photo by Blaine Moats.
For a thorough orientation to the region, start at Manhattan’s The museum immerses visitors in the beauty and heritage of the nearly 10,000-square-mile region, especially during an introductory film with special effects that include gusty winds, falling snow and billowing smoke.
Flint Hills Discovery Center. Photo by Blaine Moats.
Walk a couple blocks from the museum to four-block-long downtown Manhattan, home to independent restaurants like which serves twists on standard American fare like corn bread sliders and deviled eggs with Sriracha. Closer to Kansas State University, students rock into the wee hours in the bar-and-restaurant district, and daytime shoppers frequent some of the 90-plus specialty shops and eateries, including
About 40 miles south of Manhattan, the 47-mile (State-177) connects the ranch towns of Council Grove and Cassoday. It gives road trippers the best two-lane tour over the undulating hills, past ranches and occasional cowboys working their herds. Along the byway in Council Grove, campers stake a site at one of eight parks surrounding the 3,300-acre Water laps within earshot of many of the campsites, set among hills and limestone outcroppings rising from the shoreline.
Flint Hills National Scenic Byway. Photo courtesy of KDWPT.
Also in Council Grove, features a 35-foot monument that pays homage to an unknown Kanza warrior, plus a 2-mile heritage trail that connects with the 117-mile Before leaving town, learn about the town’s Native American roots at the —built in 1851 as a school for Kaw children.
The roller coaster byway continues south of Council Grove to more room to roam at the 11,000-acre A visitors center video sets the stage for touring the 1881 limestone house, barn and one-room schoolhouse and hiking the 1.8-mile Southwind Nature Trail to an overlook.
Days of exploring call for cut-to-order steaks at the 1880s in Cottonwood Falls. A crowd gathers in the shadow of the French Renaissance on Broadway Street to hear area fiddlers and folk singers at a weekly celebration of the region’s spirit of renewal.
Chase County Courthouse. Photo by Doug Stremel.
Sparks and Symphony
In spring, the 7,000-acre outside Clements invites greenhorns to spend the day at Flames in the Flint Hills (April 8, 2017). Guests ride horses, learn about prairie ecology and carefully set the prairie on fire to help renew the grasslands.
Flames in the Flint Hills. Photo by Ryan Donnell.
The 80-piece performs alfresco at a different ranch each year. The crowd of 7,000 attending the (June 10) lines the hillside for an evening complete with a cattle drive and sunset accompanied by music. Both events tend to sell out well in advance, so be sure to purchase tickets early.
A series of three waterfalls cascades in quick succession at Chase Lake Falls, part of west of Cottonwood Falls. A 10-minute walk through the woods beyond the spillway ends at the base of the falls. Similarly, the soothing sound of water in the woods lures hikers down the short, narrow path at 12 miles south of Junction City, to the top of 35-foot Geary Lake Falls.
Chase Lake Falls. Photo by Ginger Crichton.
Get inspired with travel ideas along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway at and check out the for more road trip ideas.