Often called the Gateway to the Prairie, Manhattan, Kansas is a scenic city that offers a little bit of everything from a clear, beautiful state lake to the sprawling Kansas State University campus. Manhattan is located just 90 miles from Kansas City. Be greeted by the Flint Hills as you drive in from Interstate 70 and turn on one of the roads that take you through Pillsbury Crossing, originally a crossing for pioneers. Want to experience the city’s multiple restaurants, shops, and bars? Visit the Aggieville District, the oldest shopping district in Kansas. Many of the buildings in the town are also created from the same native stone that lines the bluffs.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center is a three-story, 35,000 square foot science and cultural center dedicated to preserving the last major strand of tallgrass prairie. Each exhibit area has an interactive component, such as sounds, lights, and trains. I would highly recommend attending the Tallgrass Prairie: Tides of Time presentation that offers some interactive elements, such as through sighs, sounds, and even smells. For example, when discussing the seasonal burning of the prairie, a light amount of smoke and fire smells float into the room. If you are not afraid of heights, you can also take in the panorama of Manhattan and the Flint Hills from the rooftop.
Kansas State University, known as KSU, is the oldest public institution of higher learning in the state and covers an impressive 668 acres. Many of the buildings, such as Holtz Hall built in 1876, were built before 1910 out of the limestone that is native to the area. The University Gardens are open to the public and are a great starting point for touring the campus. The Gardens are open from dawn to dusk and include a daylily, iris, rose, and peony collections. After you visit, take some time and explore the campus! The beautiful stone buildings are stunning, especially if you have driven around the town. The limestone that you see on the sides of bluffs is the same type used to create the stones. Anderson Hall is the main building constructed between 1877 and 1855 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just down the street from KSU is the historic 2-story limestone house that tells the story of Isaac Goodnow and his wife Ellen who helped to found Manhattan and establish KSU. Goodnow and his wife were also abolitionists and worked to keep Kansas a free state. They were both firm believers in the principles of freedom and education. Inside the house, view some of the original furniture, books, and photographs of the family. The Riley County Historical Museum is on the same lot (across the parking lot) and presents exhibits and educational programs on the area.
The overlook offers a panoramic view of the original part of the Manhattan landscape. It sits on the land that is part of Goodnow Park. The site offers free parking and areas for a picnic area. Most of the appeal for the overlook is the drive up into it, with the limestone rocks lining the city as you travel up onto the hill.
1125 Moro St, Manhattan, KS & nearby areas
Aggieville is home to over 100 businesses that serve everyone from the students at the nearby Kansas State University campus to visitors ready to view the scenic Flint Hills. Since 1889, visitors have been able to find a variety of restaurants, bakeries, services, bars, and shops. Parking is available at the corner of Laramie Street and N. Manhattan Ave as well as at the intersection of Moro St. and North 11 St.
Close to Aggieville and downtown is Manhattan City Park, a 45-acre park founded in 1857. During the summer months, you can catch a free concert at the band shell amphitheater or dive in at the splash park and aquatic center. The free park also offers tennis courts, basketball course, playgrounds, and a three-ball diamonds. Nature enthusiasts might also want to check out the Rose Garden on the east side of the park. During the winter months, an ice rink can also be found on the park grounds.
If you came in from I-70, you probably saw signs for the Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area between Highway 99 and Highway 177. At 59 acres, Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area allows you to view the scenic area of the northern Flint Hills region. Hikers or walkers can access a hiking trail that follows the sides of Deep Creek. Deep Creek Falls is a beautiful 5-feet high way waterfall that is accessible all year long. You can also canoe, kayak or take a small boat on the stream during normal stream flow. Unfortunately, Kansas is in a moderate to severe drought now, so the stream flow is not as high as usual.
As you turn down Tuttle Creek Boulevard from Barnes Road, you might notice a small limestone building sitting off to the road. The Rocky Ford School was created in 1903 and school was held in this one-room schoolhouse until 1947. It is on the National and State Register of Historic Places. You can view the outside of the school at any time, but if you want to see the inside, you need to make an appointment to schedule a tour.
Kansas’s second largest lake, Tuttle Creek State Park is a reservoir on the north part of Manhattan that has a beautiful blue lake for swimming and boating in addition to other services such as golf and horse trail. The 1,200-acre park includes a swimming beauty, a large variety of campsites, and rentable cabins. There is also a mountain biking trail that is easily accessible from the various places to park. Wildlife watching opportunities can also be found at the 12,000-acre wildlife area.
Quick tip. Depending on your smartphone, it may lead you to the “entrance” beside a housing neighborhood. Keep following the road around for a few more miles, and you will see the lake and the park entrance.
100 Konza Prairie Ln, Manhattan, KS 66502
[just before the entrance to the Konza Prairie Biological Station]
Only eight miles south of Manhattan is the Konza Prairie. Hikers and walkers can view the 1.5, 4.5 and 6-mile trails to see the native tall grasses. As you turn on to the road, there is a small parking area where you can access the path just beyond the corn fields on the side. The Konza Prairie Biological Station is nearby in an 8,600-acre preserve run by the state; the site is not accessible to the public—at least not while I was there.
Where to Eat
Want to get something to eat before exploring the Flint Hills areas? The Aggieville District has many restaurants that you can easily find. You can even find an Applebee’s just down the street from the Flint Hills Discovery Center. Here are some local cuisines for getting a quick bite to eat.