If you’ve lived in Kansas for any length of time, you’ve heard of the Flint Hills, the largest remaining tallgrass prairie on the continent. 4.5 million acres of bluestem pastures and rolling hills about two counties wide stretch from Cowley County in the south to Marshall County in the north. Many Kansans (and non-Kansans, too!) agree that, with its wide vistas, gorgeous sunsets, and perennial display of wildflowers, the Flint Hills region is one of the most beautiful places in the state, if not the world.
The Flint Hills are largely composed of a combination of limestone and shale interlaced with chert, also known as flint. Because flint erodes much more slowly than either limestone or shale, it can often be found in the form of a gravel capping the tops of the hills.
Many geological oddities can be found throughout the Flint Hills region. The limestone is often riddled with fossils, caves, and sinkholes. Geodes are common near the towns of Douglass and Rock, as well as Chase, Marshall, and Riley counties. These latter two counties are also home to a number of kimberly pipes.
The Flint Hills have earned a reputation for being rocky, shallow-soiled, and tough to plow. Most of the soil is a silty clay loam.
This region is sometimes described as “tallgrass prairie’s last stand.” The renowned prairie species include warm-season grasses and over 800 species of wildflowers, all with deep roots to withstand droughts. Stream bottoms tend to be brushy.
The Flint Hills are currently subject to attack from a variety of invasive plants. Red cedar in particular grows explosively in areas where controlled burning has been discontinued.
The animals of the Flint Hills are well known and well loved. Aside from a wide range of birds, beavers, muskrats, coyotes, and white-tailed deer are common, while river otter may come as a surprise to some. Reptile and amphibian life ranges from box turtles to bullfrogs to horned toads. The many wildflowers and grasses of the Flint Hills attract a good mix of butterflies.
Water can be a rather variable resource in the Flint Hills. Some places have it, and some don’t.
Numerous streams dissect the region. Springs are scattered throughout the hills, as well.
Variability is the norm when it comes to the Flint Hills climate. The average annual precipitation ranges from 28 to 35 inches, which in practice means between 20 and 50 inches in any given year. The majority of the rain usually accompanies thunderstorms in spring and early summer, the wettest month being June. A spell of cold drizzle usually sets in during the fall, as well.
Temperatures tend to be extremely hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. The growing season is 160 to 180 days long.
The Flint Hills are cattle country first and foremost. These upland pastures are famous among cattlemen, even in states other than Kansas. Tallgrass species put their roots down deep, accessing not only the water necessary to survive droughts, but nutrients that make the Flint Hills unparalleled for fattening stocker cattle.
Although the cattle industry is what makes the Flint Hills famous, other agricultural pursuits are also represented, especially along river valleys and in the northwest corner of the region. Fields of wheat, hay, and other crops dot these flatter locations.
Also of Interest
The ecological significance of the Flint Hills has produced a unique population. This is probably one of the most environmentally conscious regions of the state.
Commercialization is primarily restricted to the K-State/Fort Riley area in the north and the oil center of El Dorado in the south. The rest of the region is a place of peaceful natural beauty, and the residents of the Flint Hills plan to keep it that way.
Top 10 Sights to See in the Flint Hills
Many ways to experience the natural beauty and fun attractions of this beautiful part of Kansas.
Fireline During Flint Hills Grass Burn
Range burning is a standard pasture management practice in this part of the country.