Bleeding Kansas


From covered wagons and Civil War battlegrounds to the Old West and Bison, this drive along the Kansas prairie marches along the Santa Fe trail. Lanesfield Historic Site, for example, sits alongside the rocky Dilly road, an original stretch of the Santa Fe trail. In some spots, such as at Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve, you can still see the grooves of the wagon wheels on the hillside before descending into the tallgrass prairie. The trail linked Independence, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico. During the peak year in 1866, the traffic along the trail had upwards of 5,000 wagons rumbling along the route. This scenic drive will take you from the outskirts of bustling Kansas City to the more Old West-town of Dodge City.

How long? One way is 388 miles or around 8 hours, with stops. It’s the stops that get you—some of these roads twist and turn, and you’ll wind up in some Kansas prairie wandering if you took a wrong turn. (Or a train, lots of trains crisscross this route). Dodge City has plenty of hotels, so it can be simpler to book a hotel there or in Wichita. If you want to only go to Dodge City, you can use I-35 to Highway 50 in Newton, KS and follow it into Dodge City. That takes about 5 hours.

When to go? April through October are great months in which to go. The weather changes quickly, so be sure to check it out before you hit the roads. Winter months can bring lots of snow and ice, so be careful.

This itinerary will start in Olathe, Kansas (or Kansas City, Missouri, which is just up the road on I-35).

Olathe, Kansas

Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farmstead

1200 E Kansas City Rd, Olathe, KS 66061

Once a bustling stagecoach shop, the Mahaffie Farmstead is the only working stop left on the Santa Fe Trail. The stop is 19th-century living history museum and farm with historical reenactments and era-specific activities. Daily activities can vary from stagecoach rides, living history programming, and a variety of livestock that live on the farm. During Wild West Days, you can visit cowboy camps, hear from Buffalo Soldiers, and take a stagecoach ride.

  • Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead (13800 Switzer Rd, Overland Park, KS 66221) has farm animals, gardens, a natural trail, and a full-scale one-room schoolhouse.
  • Olathe Prairie Center (26325 W 135th St, Olathe, KS 66061) is a nearby 300-acre tallgrass preserve and education site with trails that wind through the remaining prairie and riparian woodlands.
  • Walnut Grove One-Room School (11800 S. Pflumm Road, Olathe, KS 66062 or simply 119th and Pflumm) was established in 1878 in Olathe, Kansas, and in use as a school until 1951.

Note: You’ll turn down Dillie Road, which is part of the original Santa Fe Trail. I think the rocks may be original, as the street is entirely unpaved. As you curve around the bend, the first entrance to the right is to the KP&L Electrical Service. The actual entry into the Lanesfield Historic Site is a little hidden, so think of it as the first right after the KP&L transformer entrance road.

Edgerton, Kansas

Lanesfield Historic Site

18745 S Dillie Rd, Edgerton, KS 66021

Built in 1869, The limestone Lanesfield Historic Site is the only standing structure from Lanesfield, Kansas. The schoolhouse operated from 1869 to 1963 and is part of the site which also includes four outbuildings and a modern visitors center.  Lanesfield served as a mail stop on the Santa Fe Trail and has a marker on the site. Adjacent to the site is a short nature trail with an observation tower that provides a birds-eye view of the 1858 pre-Civil War battle between the Free-State Kansans and the Missouri Border Ruffians.

Note: You’ll be driving down some rocky, uneven roads during this part of the trip. (I guess it’s one way to stay authentic to the Santa Fe trail spirit). Just be sure to go slow and ignore the “uneven road” signs that your car flashes at you (or was that just me?). When you get back on the paved road, you’ll turn right and head down toward Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve.

The actual parking and entrance to the preserve itself are before the rocky road that leads to the Black Jack Battlefield Park. It looks like a rest stop on the left-hand side of the street. However, there are two markers, a circular drive (where you park) and then you walk across a bridge on to the preserve. It can be easy to miss, primarily if you are relying on signs.

Wellsville, KS

Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve

2011 North 200 Road, Wellsville, KS 66092, USA

Located near Baldwin in south Douglas country, the Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve is a relaxing place in the Kansas prairie with wildflowers and narrow swathes of grass that mark the wagon tracks of the old Santa Fe trail. The preserve is adjacent to Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park, which commemorates the pre-Civil War (1856)  battle of Black Jack that happened as a result of the Pottawatomie Massacre. In the prairie grass, you can also find an old marker that reads “SURVEY 1825,” a monument erected to honor the Santa Fe Trail and its earlier travelers.

Note: Cell phone service is very spotty in this area, especially in the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park. I wouldn’t recommend this leg of the trip at any point after dark. (Not because it’s in a dangerous area per se but because it’s isolated and there are no phone signals or road lights).

Council Grove, Kansas

Kaw Mission State Historic Site

500 N Mission St, Council Grove, KS 66846-1433

In the rugged, open grassland of the Flint Hills, rests the town of Council Grove, which played a major role in the growth of the Santa Fe Trail. Visitors can take a twenty-one-site historical tour of the town and its Santa Fe Trail sites. The U.S. government signed a treaty with Osage chiefs in 1825 that granted safe passage through the Native American lands. Twenty-five years later, the Kaw Mission is where 30 Kaw boys lived and attended school from 1851 to 1854. The group lived here until the U.S. government removed them to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Kaw Nation still exists as a sovereign, self-governing nation with administrative headquarters in Kaw City, Oklahoma.

Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park (Dunlap Road and X Avenue, Council Grove, KS 66846) is an outdoor attraction every June during Washunga Days in Council Grove and is considered sacred land by the Kanza people.

Structure at Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park
Structure at Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park

Hillsboro, Kansas

Pioneer Adobe House

508 Memorial Dr, Hillsboro, KS 67063

Nestled in the Cottonwood River Valley, the Marion Reservoir is surrounded by a network of hiking trails that wander among wildflowers, hardwoods, and water sports. West of Marion, the drive heads into the Mennonite community of Hillsboro. One of the four museums in Hillsboro is the Pioneer Adobe House, built in 1876. Constructed of air-dried adobe bricks, the house was made of local prairie materials and is furnished with articles and displays related to pioneer life. The Kreutziger School House (508 Memorial Dr., Hillsboro, KS 67063) is a one-room schoolhouse that started in 1886 and operated in 1960. You can also view a replication of an original gristmill called the Friesen Dutch Windmill from 1876, that was reconstructed using authentic materials and construction materials.

Canton, Kansas

Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

2565 Pueblo Rd, Canton, KS 67428

Bison at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/WikiImages-1897/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=60592">WikiImages</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=60592">Pixabay</a>

Home to one of the few surviving wild buffalo herds, the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge protects about 200 bison that wander 2,200 acres. The herd used to be comprised of some 60 to 75 million bison that roamed the prairies and shared the land with the wagons that roamed along the Santa Fe Trail. A tour costs around $10 for adults and $5 for children under eleven.

McPherson, Kansas

McPherson County District Courthouse

117 N Maple St, McPherson, KS 67460

Built in 1893, this historic three-story limestone courthouse has a square central bell and a clock tower that rises to 105 feet. The clock was constructed in 1908. Nearby is the McPherson Operate House (219 S. Main Street, McPherson, KS 67460), which held its first performance in 1889. The building also later served as a cultural center for performances, suffrage meetings, movies, political rallies, retail shops, and apartments.

Stafford, Kansas

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

1434 NE 80th St, Stafford, KS 67578


Waterfowl at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge [US Fish & Wildlife Service]Leaving McPherson, Highway 56 trail descends into many people’s vision of the Kansas landscape. Turning south onto Route 14 toward Sterling, open countryside is dotted with clusters of cottonwoods.  The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is a 22,000-acre home of more than 250 species of birds and includes inland salt marsh and sand prairie. It’s an oasis of the Great Plains and is the transition zone of the eastern and western prairies. What is a sand prairie? They’re sand dunes covered with prairie grass, with elements of the eastern tallgrass prairie and the western short-grass prairie.

Larned, Kansas

Santa Fe Trail Wagon at the Fort Larned Historic Site [Newhavenhouse [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]]
Fort Larned Historic Site

Santa Fe Trail Center

1349 K-156 Hwy, Larned, KS 67550

The Santa Fe Trail and Research Center is in Learned, which has exhibits that depict how central Kansas was impacted by the effect of westward expansion and the Santa Fe Trail. Here you’ll find authentic displays of prehistoric Native American artifacts, antique furniture, trade items from the Santa Fe trail, and other artifacts that impacted the region. You can also find over 7,000 historical photographs of people and historic sites from the 19th and century 20th century.

Fort Larned National Historic Site

1767 KS-156, Larned, KS

Waterfowl at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge [US Fish & Wildlife Service]

Established in 1859 to garrison troops policing the Santa Fe Trail, the stone and sandstone buildings of Fort Larned National Historic Site have a visitor center, heritage gardens, and educational programs. Fort Larned was also the site of the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867.  In 2019, the Fort is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Buffalo Soldiers.

Dodge City, Kansas

Boot Hill Museum

500 W Wyatt Earp Blvd, Dodge City, KS 67801


Boot Hill Museum Exhibit in Dodge City, along the Santa Fe Trail [Gerald B. Keane [Public domain]]
Boot Hill Museum Exhibit
Dodge City was once called nicknames like the “Wickedest Little City in America” and “Queen of the Cowtowns.” Where Wyatt Earp once worked as assistant city marshal and Bat Masterson once served as under-sheriff after raising a little trouble himself. Named after nearby Fort Dodge, the city once operated as a significant trading post on the Santa Fe Trail as well as a wild frontier town with saloons and old-time dance halls. From the Dodge City War of 1883 to the Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City was a true frontier settlement of the old west.

Today, you can still view those glory days with lively, interactive museums at the Boot Hill Museum. Over 60,000 objects, photographs, and documents from the 1870s through the 1920s can be found at the museum. Several historic buildings have also been moved onto the property, such as the 1865 Fort Dodge Jail, 1879 Hardesty House, 1870s Blacksmith Shop, 1903 Santa Fe Locomotive, a 1930 Santa Fe Depot from Sitka, Kansas, and an early Union Church that had Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson as deacons.  Other places to see in Dodge City include:

  • Mueller-Schmidt House Home of Stone (112 E Vine St, Dodge City, KS 67801), an 1882 limestone residence that is filled with period antiques.
  • Historic Santa Fe Depot (201 E Wyatt Earp Blvd, Dodge City, KS 67801), is a local theater venue that was constructed from 1898 19th-century passenger train station and Fred Harvey Hotel.
  • The Santa Fe Trail Rut Site (Highway 50/400, Dodge City, KS 67801) is a site in the gently rolling hills of the Kansas plains with ruts from the wagons that rolled along the Santa Fe Trail. They can be found 9 miles west of Dodge City.

Going back, you’ll take Highway 50 east until you hit I-35. Follow I-35 back up to Olathe/Kansas City area or head south down to Wichita.

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Osawatomie, Kansas was founded in 1854 by Free-State families from the Ohio Valley and New England. Osawatomie was a major point of interest during the Bleeding Kansas era. The Battle of Osawatomie, the most significant battle during the conflict over slavery during that time, stood as a rallying cry for Free State forces to fight proslavery forces in the Kansas Territory. In fact, after the sacking of Osawatomie by John Reed’s proslavery milia men, John Brown was inspired by the sacking of the town to start his abolitionist crusade. A great thing about exploring Osawatomie is that the historical society has put up signs throughout town by the historical attractions. It takes away the guesswork of wondering if the oldest church is this stone one or a similar one across the street.

Osawatomie can be found by exiting Kansas Highway 7, just south of Paola and about an hour south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. After you exit the highway, you’ll pass the town’s huge cemetery and then continue into the downtown area on Main Street. It’s a little bit of shock when you first enter the town (I was looking for the “Welcome to Sunnydale sign”) but it really is a scenic, great small town once you get into it.

First, A Little Background About John Brown

Osawatomie is one of the towns in the area that had border skirmishes as a result of “Bleeding Kansas,” where pro-slavery militias from Missouri and free state supporters from Kansas often clashed. To be more specific, pro-slavery militants from Missouri were known for going in and sacking entire towns in the eastern portion of Kansas over the issue of slavery. In Kansas City, Kansas, for example, people in Kansas were known to cross the river and rescue slaves from the other side, bringing them into freedom in the Kansas territory. One such abolitionist was John Brown, born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut.

John Brown proclaimed his support of the antislavery movement after the murder of abolitionist and editorialist Elijah P. Lovejoy in 1837. He attended lectures by African American abolitionists Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth. He established a militant group to prevent the capture of those who were attempting to escape from slavery in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. After his sons moved to the Kansas Territory and began reporting to him the encounters with proslavery supporters, Brown headed west to join the antislavery cause and to help of ensuring that Kansas remained a free state.


Statue of John Brown at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site
Statue of John Brown at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site

After arriving in Kansas, he stayed with his half-sister, Florella (Brown) Adair and her husband, Reverend Samuel Adair, near Osawatomie. He stayed in the cabin, today in the John Brown Museum State Historic Site, as he rallied support for the anti-slavery movement. After the sacking of Lawrence in 1856, and the death of his son Frederick at one of several massacres and battle sites in the area, Brown left the area to raise funds for the abolitionist cause. With the need to lead raids and free slaves, he returned to Kansas in June 1858. He returned east in early 1859 and planned a raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He was captured, tried for treason and executed in Charles Town, West Virginia on December 2, 1859. Osawatomie, Kansas, has many sites and statues in commemoration of this man who is considered either a hero or a madman.

On March 20, 1854, the Republican Party of Kansas (National Union Party during the Civil War) was founded by a consortium of antislavery politicians who opposed the potential expansion of slavery into the Western territories. The “Bleeding Kansas” border skirmishes lasted until the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865.

Osawatomie History Museum

628 Main St, Osawatomie, KS 66064

Located on Main Street in historic downtown Osawatomie, the History Museum includes exhibits on the pre-Civil War territory and bleeding Kansas. It also provides information on rural culture, Osawatomie State Hospital, the railroad, and the social history of the area. The site also includes the MoPac Railroad Depot Museum and its history in Miami County.

Across the street and down at the end of the block is an old red building. On that plot of land stood the old building in which the Republican Party was founded in Kansas. On May 18, 1859, the Republican Party was organized by newspaper editor Horace Greeley at the Jillson Hotel. Later that summer in July, the Wyandotte Constitution made Kansas a free state. The Osage Valley Hotel was operating at the time. Over 5,000 people filled and surrounded the hotel. The original structure was later torn down, and the current building was built in 1890.

Adair Cabin/ John Brown Museum State Historic Site

1000 Main St, Osawatomie, KS 66064


Located in John Brown Park, the John Brown State Historic site houses the log cabin inhabited by Reverend Samuel Adair and his family. Reverend Adair was the brother-in-law of John Brown, who was known to stay at his cabin. The cabin itself is inside the stone structure, with artifacts and exhibits about the struggles of early pioneers and of those who took a firm stand against the spread of slavery into Kansas Territory. After the August 30, 1856 Battle of Osawatomie, Brown was in and out of town and made a raid into Missouri on December 23 to liberate slaves and other property from slaveholders. Exhibits showcase how the group was hidden in the Adair Cabin and later made their way into Canada and freedom.

John Brown Battleground / John Brown Memorial Park

John Brown State Park, Osawatomie, KS 66064

On August 30, 1856, the Battle of Osawatomie was fought on this battleground that is now a part of the town park. John Brown had led a force of about 30 Free State guerilla fighters in the battle against 250 proslavery activists. Brown’s battle plan was to distract the proslavery forces from attacking Osawatomie by making a strong stand and withdrawing.

1854 First Land Office

699-601 Lincoln Ave, Osawatomie, KS 66064

1854 First Land Office in Osawatomie, KS

Initially built in 1854, this land office is now the home of the Osawatomie Historical Society. The red building was used by H.B. Smith, the first mayor of Osawatomie, and his brother who were the first land patent agents in the Kansas territory. In the summer, it is operated as a tourist information center. Nearby is the Trail of Death plaque, a memorial to the Pottawatomie Indians.

Note: It can be tricky to find. Park at the parking lot/shopping center across the street from the Old Stone Church. You can walk across 6th Street to the church and then walk over to the Land office. It’s actually between two roads on Lincoln Avenue and in a little section of land. You can also follow the right side of the road to one of the oldest cemeteries in Osawatomie.

Old Stone Church

Old Stone Church, Osawatomie, KS 66064

Built by the brother-in-law of John Brown, Reverend Samuel Adair dedicated the church on July 14, 1861. One of the first churches in Kansas, the Old Stone Church is typical of the church structures built during the pioneering days in Kansas. Like many buildings in the area, the church was made of native stone from the nearby hills. You can only view the outside of the church (although it’s easy to peek through the windows), and it can be rented for weddings and other special meetings.

The Mills House

125 1st St, Osawatomie, KS 66064 (across the street from the RV park)


The Mills HouseThis Queen Anne House was built in 1902 by William M. Mills, an oilman from Pennsylvania. The house is listed on the National Register. It is, however, a private residence so you cannot stop in and tour the home.

Original Osawatomie State Hospital

500 State Hospital Dr, Osawatomie, KS 66064


Founded more than 150 years ago, Osawatomie State Hospital is where Kansas treats mentally ill patients. The new facility is just your typical hospital. However, the old, De Jong central structure is one of several vacant structures can still be found on site. You can’t tour (nor do you want to), but it’s interesting to look at the architecture. How is any of this relevant? The Old Main Building was one of the oldest Mental Health Building surviving west of the Mississippi River. It was razed in 2003. The surviving De Jour Structure is the only portion of the original structures still standing. You can see a picture of Old Main on the grounds of the current state hospital.

Looking for nearby attractions?

Paola, Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas

Fort Scott, Kansas

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Much like the city of Lawrence, Fort Scott, Kansas, is an old frontier military town that played a significant role during the turbulent “Bleeding Kansas” era. From the diverse Downtown Historic District to a large 1840s military fort, Fort Scott is still on a crossroads (U.S. Route 69) that connects Kansas City to other cities such as Joplin, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. With less than 9,000 total population, the town has a surprising large downtown with Victorian-era buildings and outdoor activities. In addition to sites in the city limits, several historic sites within a short distance tie into the pre-Civil War conflict.

First, A Little History of Bleeding Kansas and the Fort Scott Area

Few events helped shaped Kansas than the Civil War, with the moniker Bleeding Kansas symbolizing the many border war battles that happened between 1854 and 1961 between anti-slavery Free-State Kansas and Pro-Slavery state Missouri. With less than ten miles between Katy Missouri and the town of Fort Scott, the area was a hotbed of violent confrontations.

Understanding this background and how it shaped the growth and development of Kansas, and its need to remain a free state despite being somewhat isolated from other free states by the slave state of Missouri, American Indian territory, and Texas.

Maria des Cygnes Massacre Site

26426 E 1700th Rd, Pleasanton, KS 66075

Just thirty miles North of Fort Scott lies the Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site, where Missouri border ruffians led a particularly deadly trade outside the village of Trading Post. Eleven free-state men were captured, marched into a ravine, and shot. Five were killed, an additional five were seriously injured, and one escaped unharmed. Soon afterward, John Brown built a fortified cabin just south of the Ravine and later a stone house was built near the site. You can drive through the site today, park, and look at the ravine and the area.

Be aware that this site does get flooded during heavy rains and can be tricky to find. It is a beautiful, peaceful setting in its own right, set back to nature.

Trading Post Museum

15710 N 4th St, Pleasanton, KS 66075

Trading Post Museum, Pleasanton, Kansas
Trading Post Museum

Near the site is the Trading Museum Post, located in the oldest existing settlement in Kansas that is now a ghost town. Trading Post, Kansas, has existed since 1825. Many of the men in the Maria des Cygnes Massacre were taken from this site. The area contains the massacre site, the Civil War Battle of Mine Creek, and this museum devoted to mid-19th-century history. The Trading Post Museum is a great museum to stop and learn more about Kansas history and Bleeding Kansas.

The museum is open April 1 through November 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturdays. Directly next to the museum is the old Trading Post Cemetery.

Mine Creek Civil War Battlefield State Historic Site

20485 Kansas Highway 52, Pleasanton, KS 66075

The Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site is 2.5 miles southwest of Pleasanton, Kansas, and the old Trading Post Museum. This site commemorates the Civil War’s Battle of Mine Creek, the only Civil War battle held in Kansas. On October 25, 1864, approximately 2,800 Union troops attacked and defeated about 8,000 Confederates along the banks of Mine Creek. While it wasn’t a traditional Bleeding Kansas battle site, it was the inevitable battle that came about as a result of earlier skirmishes.

Inside Fort Scott, Kansas

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Market, Fort Scott, KS 66701

Few historic sites offer as many intact structures as Fort Scott National Historic Site near downtown. Tensions over slavery and the turmoil of Bleeding Kansas made Fort Scott a critical military stronghold in the area. The 17-acre park features 20 military structures dating to 1842. The buildings were also temporarily used as part of the town, such as two structures being used as hotels. As part of Bleeding Kansas history, one of the officer’s buildings was used as the Free State Hotel. Located directly across the parade ground was a former infantry barracks used as the Pro-Slavery Hotel. The battles during Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War once again thrust the Fort into use by the Army and the hotels were soon disbanded.

Here’s a video from the National Parks Service that provides detailed information about Fort Scott’s role in Bleeding Kansas.

Bleeding Kansas Video Courtesy of National Parks Service

Interpretive exhibits, period furnishings, and living history programs are available. Self-guided tours are available daily. You can also walk through the restored five acres of tallgrass prairie.

Historic Downtown

Directly Next to Fort Scott

The downtown Fort Scott district has charming buildings that date back to the founding era of the Fort, where the area was the last stop before entering the countries frontier. Victorian-era buildings can still be seen as you drive through the area with its myriad of antique shops, restaurants, and small business establishments. You can walk from the parking lot of Fort Scott to the downtown space, so there isn’t as big a need to go and find parking spaces.

Fort Scott National Cemetery

900 E National Ave, Fort Scott, KS 66701

Fort Scott National Cemetery
Fort Scott National Cemetery

Located on the eastern outskirts of Fort Scott is one of three national military cemeteries in Kansas. In 1861, The U.S. Army used part of the old Presbyterian Church graveyard. Later the following year, the cemetery and an adjoining tract of land were designated as the Fort Scott National Cemetery.  At the close of the Civil War, soldiers buried in the vicinity were re-interred at this cemetery. In addition, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, stationed at Fort Scott during the Civil War, has a granite monument memorial in the cemetery. Also, the Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1993, and a memorial for combat infantryman was erected in 2003.

Other Attractions

Gordon Parks Center for Culture and Diversity

2108 South Horton, Fort Scott, Kansas 66701

The Gordon Parks Museum honors the life and work of Gordon Parks, internationally known photographer, filmmaker, writer, and musician. It works to use his life story to teach about artistic creativity, cultural awareness, and the role of diversity in our lives.

Fort Scott Trolley Tours

231 E Wall St, Fort Scott, KS 66701

The Fort Scott Trolley Tour is a 50-minute narrated tour of Historic Fort Scott, Kansas, est. in 1842. The tour includes driving by/through national landmarks Fort Scott National Historic Site National Park, National Cemetery No. 1; historic mansions and buildings circa 1880’s with amazingly detailed architecture; Gunn Park 155-acre beautiful park with 7 stone shelter houses, 2 lakes, the Marmaton River, trails and more; Gordon Parks Museum; and the Downtown Historic District.

Gunn Park

1010 Park Ave, Fort Scott, KS 66701

Need a place to stop and rest? Gunn Park has two lakes that allow you to stop and walk around. In addition, there are 6.5 miles of single track and mountain bike trails along the Marmaton River. The Bleeding Kansas hiking trail is a 2.8-mile trail that leads out of Gunn Park to the edge of the Marmaton River.

Paola, Kansas, is a charming small town about forty minutes south of Kansas City, Missouri, with a history that goes back to 1832 when it was originally settled by Native Americans. The town itself was founded in 1855 as the Paola town Company; the city was incorporated in 1859. Unlike many of the downtowns in these smaller communities, the downtown in Paola still has several unique stores and restaurants that surround the park square with a historical past. It makes a good day trip (even morning trip) from Kansas City.

Paola Park Square

19 S Pearl St, Paola, KS 66071

Historic gazebo in Paola Park Square
Historic gazebo in Paola Park Square
Water fountain and downtown buildings in Paola Park Square
Water fountain and downtown buildings in Paola Park Square

In the center of Paola is a historic park square with a gazebo, water fountain, and a park-like setting. The square is flanked on all sides by the downtown shops and restaurants. The historic museum and courthouse are also close by. The original Native American tribes of the area used the square as their primary gathering place and it was given to the Paola Town Company by Baptiste Peoria as a treaty of peace with the stipulation that a building never be built on it. A bust of Baptiste and his wife Mary Ann Isaacs rest near the gazebo. It is one of the only known monuments in the United States featuring a Native American and his wife. The original gazebo was a bandstand that was built in 1867 and was rebuilt in 1913 by the current gazebo.

Miami County Historical Museum

12 E Peoria St, Paola, KS 66071

Miami County Historical Museum, Paola, KS

Located just off the park square in one of the older buildings is the Miami County Historical Society. The museum covers everything from the prehistoric life to the local Native Americans to the struggling surrounding slavery in this free state. One interesting exhibit is the history of the ghost towns and early community in the Miami County area (in case you want to go exploring).

Miami County Courthouse

120 S Pearl St, Paola, KS 66071

Exterior of the Miami County Courthouse in Paola
Exterior of the Miami County Courthouse in Paola

The Miami County Courthouse was built from 1898 to 1899 and is still in use today. It is a beautiful structure with a combination of Victorian and Richardsonian Romanesque design. Outside of the courthouse, you can visit the flower garden and view markers with historical facts about Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

Ursuline Convent and Academy

901 E Miami St, Paola, KS 66071

Ursuline Convent and Academy exterior as you begin driving on to the campus in Paola, KS.
Ursuline Convent and Academy exterior as you begin driving on to the campus.

Built in 1896, the Ursuline Convent and Academy has been closed since the sisters left in 2008. The exterior of the 36-acre former convent is still accessible to the public. Like many of the buildings in the area, the use of local limestone can be seen in the structures and in the three-story main structure. The main convent is 64,000 square feet, and as you drive around the main building, you can see the architectural details that went into the construction. On the grounds are the three-story brick motherhouse building, the school buildings, the boarded-up grotto, and the old shrine. Apart from the shrine, you cannot go into any of the buildings, you can drive around the campus to view it. Plans are in the works to turn the campus into an academy for foster children.

Old Sacred Heart Shrine

901 E Miami St, Paola, KS 66071

Exterior of the Old Sacred Heart Shrine in Paola.
Exterior of the Old Sacred Heart Shrine in Paola.

Outside of the old Ursuline Academy, sits an old, abandoned shrine on the northeast corner of the campus. Built in 1916, the shrine is a mini replica of the Rheinstein (or “Rhinestone”) Castle on the Rhine River in Germany (itself built in 1316). The shrine is constructed of petrified-formation stone. The original statue of Jesus at the Sacred Heart used to sit on the altar but is now gone as of July 2018. It’s small, probably little less than fifteen square feet. However, the stone and workmanship of the shrine itself is impressive.

Lake Miola Park

22470 W 299th St, Paola, KS 66071

Mineola Lake Park boat ramp.

Lake Miola is a 560-acre park with a 200-acre lake, playground, hiking trails, and camping areas. It is not as large as the nearby Hillsdale Lake, but it is in a peaceful setting within the city limits. Drive around the lake and park just to relax after a hectic day. If you like to swim, there is a small sand beach swimming area. The campground is closed November 1st until April 1st. 

He looks nervous but I was far away enough that he stood still.

Hillsdale State Park & Lake

26001 255 St, Paola, KS 66071

Hillsdale Lake outside of Paola, KS

Located between the Kansas City metroplex and Paola is one of the reservoirs in Kansas, Hillsdale State Park, and Lake. There are 51 miles of shoreline and 4,500 acres of lake in this 12,000-acre park. You can visit the playground area, go for a nature hike and walk, or visit the small beach. You can also take in the sights of the area’s rolling hills from the lake or campgrounds.

One word of caution. The park is near the Hillsdale Range and Training Facility. If you go to the main park, where the playground area is, you may hear gunshots. It can be unnerving unless you are expecting to hear them. We weren’t. It’s not that it’s unsafe, but not a great way to unwind and listen to nature. (Also, welcome to 2018.) If you have children or pets (or watch the evening news way too much), I would personally go to the Lake Miola Park instead, even if it is smaller.

Park grounds at the Hillsdale Lake Park.
Park grounds at the Hillsdale Lake Park.

Wallace Park

E Osage St & Wallace Park Dr, Paola, KS 66071

Started in 1910, Wallace Park is a 42-acre park that has a playground, tennis and basketball courts, baseball and softball diamonds, and a large family swimming center. There is also a skateboard park with ramps, half pipe, and other amenities. You can easily drive in and loop around the park to find plenty of parking and restful areas.

Entrance to Wallace Park in Paola, KS

Wine Tours

Miami County, Kansas, is also home to several excellent wineries. Paola has two wineries located in the city limits in addition to a couple of pubs.

Flowers at Hillsdale State Park.

Where to find it? (Map)

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