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.

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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.

Winter’s finally over in the Kansas City area, and it’s time to plan for outdoor summer fun. Nothing is better on a summer day than spending time at the pool, whether it’s relaxing, taking in a great workout, or playing with the kids in a water wonderland. It doesn’t look like Schlitterbahn will reopen for the 2019 season, but there are still plenty of great options. Here are 12 water parks in Kansas City and the surrounding area. I’ve also included parks that open for public use, rather than limited to residents of a particular community. 

Seasonal note. With the exception of the indoor water parks, the vast majority of these share seasonal hours. You can find parks open from around Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Oceans of Fun

4545 Worlds of Fun Ave, Kansas City, MO 64161

When? The season starts on May 24th and ends after Labor Day weekend on September 2nd.

What? Oceans of Fun is a tropically-themed water park that was once the largest in the world. Adjacent to the World of Fun amusement park, it covers 64 acres. Walk between the Worlds of Fun theme park and the Oceans of Fun. The park contains everything from a calming lazy river to extreme water slides. Kids can find a variety of slides, geysers, and fountains at Crocodile Isle or Paradise Falls. A wave pool has high tide every 10 minutes.


  • A daily admission ticket will provide access to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun for $39.99.
  • You can save money by buying a season pass and sometimes ordering online.

Springs Aquatic Center

9400 N Congress Ave, Kansas City, MO 64153

When? Opens May 25, 2019, through the end of the summer.

What? Part of Tiffany Hills Park, Springs Aquatic Center offers a lap pool for intense swimmers and a leisure pool. Two winding water slides plunge into the 700-square foot leisure pool. Kiddies will enjoy the zero-entry pool or the spray ground with a tipping bucket, silly shower, mist sprayers, pop jets, and a moppet puppet. The center also has a bathhouse with showers, lifeguard stations, and concessions.


  • Regular price for those 48″ in height and taller $9
  • Youth (less than 48″) $6
  • Senior pricing $6.

Fun in the Sun. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/leoleobobeo-1487549/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2494906">Jan Haerer</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2494906">Pixabay</a>

Adventure Oasis Water Park

2100 Hub Dr, Independence, MO 64055

When? Opens May 25, 2019, through Labor Day.

What? Adventure Oasis Water Park includes over 6,000 square feet of wet and wild activities at Buckaroo Beach. Surrounding the beach is a 900-foot lazy river, a climbing wall, and three different water slides. Those wanting a deeper swim will enjoy the separate 25-yard lap pool and diving area. Kids will enjoy Halfpint Paradise, which is part of Buckaroo Beach. A full concession and dining area are available as well.


  • Residents $9
  • Nonresidents $10
  • Ages 3-12— Residents $6 and Nonresidents $7
  • Ages 65 and over — Residents $6 and Nonresidents $7
  • You can also buy a family pass, 5-visit pass, 20-visit pass, or a season pass.

Bay Water Park

7101 Longview Rd, Kansas City, MO 64134

When? Opens May 25th through Labor Day weekend.

What? Bay Water Park is a city-owned aquatic center located in Kansas City, MO, at the intersection of Blue Ridge Blvd and Longview Road. The facility has the only surf simulator in the area at a public facility that allows the rider to do stand-up like surfacing or kneel like boogie boarding. It also has a large lazy river, two giant tube slides, and a large plunge pool. A family play pool includes kid-controlled sprays and fountains, several slides, and a dumping bucket.


  • Over 48″ tall $9
  • Youth (less than 48″) $6 per day
  • Seniors 65+ $6
  • Children one year and under are free.

Great Wolf Lodge

10401 Cabela Dr, Kansas City, KS 66111

When? The indoor pool is open year-round although dates do vary. Check online as there are a limited number of day passes each day and there may be seasonal closures. The outdoor pool is seasonal.

What? Looking for a huge indoor waterpark just perfect for a special occasion? The Great Wolf Lodge is a hotel with a 38,000 square feet indoor water park that includes a large variety of activities from hot springs for the adults to a 4-story tree house water fort for the kids. Use one of the 8 water slides to glide into one of the five splash-and-play pools. Kids will also love the giant tipping bucket, cub paw pool, and the whopping hollow playground. Additional activities include an arcade, character appearances, lunchtime activities for the pool and story time.  While the majority of their waterpark is indoors only, they also have outdoor water activities.

Price? Day passes are available online and must be purchased at least 24 hours in advance. The passes do get pricey at $50 and up per person (depending on the day); children two and under get in free.

Black Bob Bay, Olathe, KS

14570 151st St, Olathe, KS 66062

When? Seasonal hours start in Late May (around Memorial Day) through Labor Day.

What? Black Bob Bay is a great place that is larger than your regular public pool but quite not the size of Oceans of Fun. It offers a lazy river, aft water slides, and a 50-meter pool. The dive well includes two 1-meter diving boards and two 3-meter boards with a 50-meter pool. For kids, there are shallow water play structures, a splash park, and a baby pool.

Price? Purchase an Outdoor Pool Season Pass at the Olathe Community Center, 1205 E. Kansas City Rd

Summit Waves

120 SW Blue Pkwy, Lee’s Summit, MO 64063

When? Opens May 25 through August 13, 2019

What? Summit Waves is an outdoor water park that features a six-lane lap pool with diving pools, one tube slide, and one body slide. A water playground area includes dump buckets, mini slides, and other activities for the kiddoes. A concession stand is available.


  • Lee Summit residents $7
  • Nonresidents $10.

Splash Cove or Jim Allen Aquatic Center Water Park in Missouri. Photo by Chris Murphy on Flickr — https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrism70/515076909/in/photolist-MvWhR-MvMKW-MvKK7-MvUqn-DeiTio

Splash Cove (Jim Allen Aquatic Center)

5800 King Ave, Shawnee, KS 66203

When? The season begins May 25th and ends on August 11, 2019.

What? Splash Cove is an excellent summer-time location for families with small children. It includes a mini wave pool, 125-foot full body slide, and a party cabana. The zero entry pool is great for kids; all of the pools are 3 feet deep and under. It doesn’t have a full Olympic-sized pool or deep pool so if you want to do laps, look elsewhere.  Kids can enjoy the splash pool, a completely interactive playground. The full concession is available as well.


  • Shawnee residents $6
  • Non-residents $8
  • From 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., admission is half-price on Monday through Friday.

Coco Key Water Resort in Missouri. Photo by Britt Reints on Flickr — https://www.flickr.com/photos/emmandevin/4980490928/in/photolist-8A7a9G-8A4d5p-8A4cZc-8A7fQN-8A7j23-DMryfd-8A7jrf-8A4i3T-8A7nuq-8A4iA8-8A7mHW-8A4av2-8A3ZaB-8A7d75-8A4a7X-8A7g9s-8A46qc-8A45tF-8A7frw-8A7dQQ-8A7aN5-8A4dtF-8A4e4x-8A48np-8A4eht-TXbtWP-8A7kgu-8A4aSR-8A4aLH-8A7rEh-SEJP39-7YA7dW-8A4gGe-7YwRkK-7bt6np-7YA7jN-7YwTeX-7YA881-7YwSJR-7YwVyR-7YwRqe-7YA8TY-7YA9JA-7YA9Dy-7YA6Hm-8A47YT-8A7e3w-8A43R2-8A7aqJ-8A7a45

CoCo Key Water Resort

9103 E 39th St, Kansas City, MO 64133

When? Open year-round on weekends and open on Thursday and Fridays during the summer.

What? Looking or another indoor water park that is available all year long? CoCo Key Water Resort is part of the Adam’s Mark Hotel and Conference Center. The indoor water park is over 55,000 square feet of swimming activities, dining options, and a state-of-the-art arcade. They have three big slides for adults and three intermediate slides for kids and a few little ones for younger children along with lily pads.

Price? General admission $9.99; be sure to make reservations ahead of time.

Mission Family Aquatic Center

5930 W 61st St, Mission, KS 66202

When? The season starts on May 25th and lasts through the summer

What? The Mission Family Aquatic Center is a small facility with a lap pool that is large enough for practice. It also offers a lap pool and a kiddie pool with a splash pad.


  • Residents $6
  • Nonresident $8.00
  • If you attend during twilight hours between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m., there’s a $2 discount.

Jolly Mon Indoor Water Park

456 Tan Tara Estate, Osage Beach, MO 65065

When? Open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day Weekend

What? Part of the Margaritaville Lake Resort, the Jolly Mon Indoor Water Park is a 20,000 square foot indoor waterpark with over 600 feet of water slides, an activity pool, and a lazy river for tubing and floating. The kids will enjoy a three-story wilderness tree house with slides, water blaster, tunnels, bridges, and a 600-gallon tipping bucket. There is also a 21-seat whirlpool available for relaxation along with a snack bar. It’s also just outside of the Lake of the Ozarks State Park for more summer activities.


  • Hotel guests $17
  • Non-hotel guests $22
  • Children ages 2 and under are free.

Kenwood Cove Water Park in Kansas RachelH7 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park in Salina

701 Kenwood Park Dr, Salina, KS 67401

When? Seasonal hours start May 25

What? Sure, it’s a little bit of a distance from Kansas City, but the Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park in Salina is still worth the trip. The facility has 1,400 feet of slides, a lazy river for kids of all ages, a raging river, inner tubing, wave pool, and body slides for the more adventurous types. A lap pool is available for swimming every morning except Sundays and during the park’s regular hours. Kids will enjoy the soggy bottoms water playground, lily pads, family fun slide,  and splash pool


  • Adult day passes $6
  • Seniors (62 and up) $3
  • Children (3-17) $4
  • Ages 2 and under are free


Bonus  — White Water in Branson

3505 West, MO-76, Branson, MO 65616

When? Opens May 25th through Labor Day

What? White Water Branson isn’t in the KCMO metro but it’s close enough for a weekend road trip. The waterpark has 13-acres of pools, water slides, and other attractions. Explore the lazy Aloha River or the more thrilling speed slides of Kalani Towers or KaPau Plummet. Surrounded by cascading waterfalls, White Water Waikiki Wave is an interactive double speed speed-slide. Kids of all ages will enjoy the  500,000-gallon wave pool, the playground area of Coconut Cove, and the water slides, geysers, and other activities of Splashaway Cay. Private poolside cabanas are available for rent and the park offers both dining and shopping.


  • One-day tickets (ages 12-64) $45
  • One-day tickets (ages 4-11) $25
  • One-day tickets (65+) $33

Other Adventures

Still looking for summer-time ideas in Kansas City?  Here are some ideas.

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Overland Park, Kansas, is the second most populous city in Kansas and it shows. Driving any of the main thoroughfares, you’ll see the explosive growth of Johnson County in its high-rises, shopping centers, and (frankly) crowded streets. It’s easy to see that Overland Park is Kansas City’s largest suburb with over 170,000 residents.

Approximately ten miles south of the Overland Park Convention Center is an oasis from all the traffic and downtown noise. I discovered it by accident when driving to Louisburg, Kansas, in an area that I had thought was South Olathe. [I was all, “Is Siri lost again?”] The Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is a 300-acre arboretum and garden located in a remote area of U.S. Highway 69.

A six-mile hiking trail winds its way through the park and crosses Wolf Creek. A sculpture garden has 18 permanent sculptures with an additional 12 on display throughout the gardens. One of the most relaxing parts is their botanical gardens. A lakeside amphitheater beside Margaret’s Pond offers views of several gardens and is a relaxing place to sit and relax.

Best of all? Tuesdays are free.

Here are recent photos that I took at the Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. As a nature enthusiast, it was a great break from cars and city lights. Unfortunately, I’m still learning about flowers and so I can’t label many of these. Feel free to provide suggestions!


Looking for additional things to see in Overland Park? Visit the KCOP Website.

Where to find it? (Map)

8909 W 179th St, Bucyrus, KS 66013

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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Far from the wooded areas of eastern Kansas, the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway traverses west-central Kansas in the Smoky Hills. The Smoky Hills provide visitors with the opportunity to view experience the transition from the mixed-grass prairie more like the grass from the Flint Hills from the short-grass prairie of the plains. A variety of native wildflowers, such as red-and-yellow Indian blanket flowers, coneflowers, yucca, and sky-blue pitcher sage dot the area that is named for the hazy, blue-gray appearance at dusk and dawn. For people from central and western parts of Texas, the area also has a striking resemblance to parts of this region (the oil rigs only add to the impression).

As you begin heading East on I-70 out of Manhattan, you might notice some road signs that say “Native Stone” byway. I was not in a hurry to head back to Kansas City. I turned off the road and began following the signs to a small town called Alma. Alma, Kansas, located in the Flint Hills, was first settled in 1858 by Swedish, English, Irish, and Germany settlers. Most of the buildings in the small city are also made of the native limestone from the nearby hills. It is, as the road signs said, a city made of native stone.

Native Stone Scenic Drive

Alma is part of both the Scenic Mill Creek Drive and the Native Stone Scenic Drive. You can see remnants of the old stone fences that the government paid farmers to build back in 1867. Downtown, the main buildings still retain their historical look. The limestone blocks were often hauled to the site by heavy wagons and horses and were put in place by hand with heavy ropes.

Where to find it? (Map)

Note. The photos were taken with an old iPhone. The pixelation in a lot of these pictures is a good example of a digital zoom vs optical zoom. So, this trip is what made me reconsider purchasing a new point and shoot so that I didn’t have to carry around my large DSLR on short trips, but one that still took higher quality photos.

For more information about the historic places (and more stone buildings) in the city, visit the City of Alma, Kansas website.

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.

Louisburg is a small town of about 4,500 residents about 40 miles southwest of Kansas City, but don’t let its small size fool you. You can find everything from a sprawling city park, an excellent aquatic center, to an impressive feline (and other animals) sanctuary on the outskirts of town. On Saturday nights, you can also visit Powell Observatory and watch the night sky without the harsh glare of city lights.