The Flint Hills have been termed “the crown jewel of Kansas,” and rightly so. The subtle beauty of the undulating landscape is spectacular at all times of year and at all times of day.
Choosing only 10 places that represent the Flint Hills at their finest is not a simple task. Take just about any road anywhere in the hills, and sooner or later you will see something breathtaking.
So be sure to get off the beaten path when you visit these destinations and chart your own course. You never know what you’ll find.
And one final tip—bring a camera!
10. Marion Reservoir
This is a peaceful spot to stretch your legs and enjoy watching waterfowl. Located northwest of the town of Marion on the Cottonwood River, Marion Reservoir is another location that offers a mosaic of grassland and woodland, ideal for wildlife watching. The one-mile Willow Walk Trail at Cottonwood Point offers a way to experience the natural scenery. Those who enjoy fishing will also like this reservoir.
Welcome to Marion Reservoir
More information, including directions and details on the recreational opportunities.
Tuttle Creek State Park offers a combination of grassland and woodland that has attracted a diverse array of plant, mammal, and bird species, including some hard-to-find grassland sparrows. And it is a fossil hunter’s paradise. A network of hiking, biking, horseback riding, and ATV trails make it all accessible.
Before you leave the park, make sure you drive across the Kansas Highway 16 bridge over the northern part of the lake. This bridge is the longest in the state.
There is a great deal to see and do at this state park. The variety of habitats supports many types of wildlife. With any luck, you might even see elk toward Fort Riley. Numerous trails provide access to interesting features of all varieties, including a viewing tower, a man-made waterfall, a fishing pond, and a quarry known for geodes. Rounding out this unique destination are the Milford Nature Center and the Kansas Landscape Arboretum.
7. Cowley County Stone Arch Bridge Tour
For a good sampling of what the southern Flint Hills have to offer, travel Cowley County and its contingent of scenic stone arch bridges. This self-guided auto tour will take you all across the county to see why Cowley is known as the Stone Arch Bridge Capital of Kansas.
Cowley County Stone Arch Bridges
More information and a printable PDF brochure.
6. Kansas Flint Hills Quilt Trail
The Kansas Flint Hills Quilt Trail made this list for two reasons. First, it is a fun way to learn about the communities of the Flint Hills. Second, if you have seen all the barn quilts, you’ve seen a good chunk of the region.
So what is a barn quilt? It’s a colorful sign made to resemble an old-fashioned quilt block. Barn quilts have appeared in small towns all over the Flint Hills (and elsewhere) to display community spirit. Trying to spot them all is extremely addictive, and looking them up in the Kansas Flint Hills Trail listings is a great way to learn about local history you might have otherwise overlooked.
5. Cottonwood Falls
Cottonwood Falls is a charming town with brick streets and a Western feel. Drive or stroll the streets to enjoy the historic architecture. Be sure to see the bridge over the Cottonwood River, and certainly don’t miss the historic limestone Chase County Courthouse.
4. Council Grove Self-Guided Tour
Another lovely little town with a fascinating history! Drive the streets and stroll the sidewalks to enjoy the beauty and learn about Native Americans, the Santa Fe Trail, and more. You will be amazed by how much happened in Council Grove.
Council Grove & Morris County
A self-guided tour brochure featuring 25 historic sites in and around Council Grove ranging from the old Kaw Mission to a place where you can view Santa Fe Trail ruts.
3. Konza Prairie
Konza Prairie is a research station where K-State students and staff study Flint Hills and grassland ecology, as well as restoration and maintenance of tallgrass prairies.
Several miles of trails make part of Konza Prairie accessible to the public. You will enjoy great views as you climb the hills. Keep your eyes open for wildlife ranging from wild turkeys to horned toads.
For the shortest trail loop, a brochure is available that will introduce you to the flora and fauna of the Flint Hills, along with a little bit of geology and history.
Visit Konza Prairie
Directions, information about the trails, and a PDF brochure that will add to your enjoyment of the 2.6-mile nature trail.
2. Flint Hills National Scenic Byway
For an excellent sample of Flint Hills beauty, hit the road! The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway follows Kansas Highway 177 from Cassoday to Council Grove, passing through the towns of Matfield Green, Bazaar, Cottonwood Falls, and Strong City on the way.
If you stick to the beaten path, you will enjoy some of the finest scenery Kansas has to offer. But for a truly enjoyable experience, allow yourself to take a few side trips. Historic sites, lakes, scenic overlooks, and parks of various descriptions dot the byway, while each of the towns has something to see and learn about.
Flint Hills Scenic Byway
Directions, a map, and a photo gallery from the Federal Highway Administration.
1. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Our top pick for the best way to experience the Flint Hills is Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The views are fantastic!
When you first arrive at the park, you will see the house and barn of the historic Jones Ranch. Winding trails take visitors to scenic vistas and to the picturesque Fox Creek Schoolhouse. You might even see bison!
This park offers something for everyone, whether you love hiking in the peace and quiet or want to join a group tour guided by a park ranger. Try it in fall when grasses and leaves are at their peak color.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Plan your trip with essential information from the National Park Service.
To fully enjoy your Flint Hills road trip, you might want to have some field guides. These are our favorites. In particular, we highly recommend Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas by Michael John Haddock.