21 experiences not to be missed in Kansas in 2021

Peter Watson

With its rugged cowboy culture and sweeping prairies, Kansas is a slice of classic America. Here are 21 experiences not to be missed in the Sunflower State this year.

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Castle Rock State Park in KansasMaxMaximovPhotography/Shutterstock

Kansas offers a vast array of experiences from hunting and fishing to exploring culinary delights, small-town charm, big city lights, or chasing adventure in 26 state parks, along 300 miles of trails or through 24 reservoirs.

The state is also rich in Native American history, with museums devoted to the tribes that once lived here (four still do).

Additionally, in the Flint Hills, visitors can tour the vast tallgrass prairies to learn the significance of this fragile and elegant ecosystem.

As such, I've picked out 21 Kansas experiences spread across the Sunflower State which include a range of events, agritourism, history, outdoor adventure and breathtaking scenery.

A taste of the Sunflower State (Video: Kansas Tourism)

1. Santa Fe Trail

2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, and celebratory events will be happening across the state.

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Santa Fe Trail in KansasGestalt Imagery/Shutterstock

Council Grove is commemorating the anniversary with a two-day celebration on July 16-17, 2021, including an old west gunslinger reenactment.

2. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area

The largest wetland in the interior US It is a complex of marshy basins in a 41,000-acre lowland area containing the largest system of wetlands in Kansas, and the richest wetland feeding grounds in the central flyway.

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Migrating blackbirds over the wetlands of Cheyenne Bottoms, KansasCLP Media/Shutterstock

The sanctuary is critical to the survival of many species. Some 320 bird species frequent Cheyenne Bottoms.

3. Kansas State Fair

Celebrate all things Kansas at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, Sept. 10-19, 2021.

4. Historic Sites

Kansas is home to 16 state-owned historic sites and 27 national historic landmarks. Explore our state’s fascinating history from Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War, and Native American history, to frontier forts and historic trails.

History in Kansas (Video: Kansas Tourism)

5. Wine Trail

Before prohibition, Kansas combined with Missouri to form one of the largest grape-growing and winemaking regions in America.

Kansas, because of the fertile soil, is the perfect home for select grape varieties. Kansas' landscape is dotted with a growing number of local wineries – some of which are nationally and internationally recognized.

6. Tanganyika Wildlife Park

Tanganyika, located in Goddard, is the only park in the US with 10 interactive encounters where you can touch, feed, and even ride unique animal species.

Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Wichita (Video: Visit Wichita)

Handcrafted by Tanganyika keepers, choose from more than 15 experiences that will deepen your connection to some our nation’s rare and endangered species.

7. State Parks

There are 28 state parks spread across Kansas. Some are amid steep, timbered slopes ringed in bus-sized boulders. Others are where prairie grasses and wildflowers stretch towards 10-mile horizons.

A window into the state parks of Kansas (Video: Kansas Tourism)

Enjoy the hundreds of miles available for hiking where the terrain, and views, will leave you breathless.

8. Eisenhower Presidential Museum

Recently renovated with new exhibits, experience Ike and Mamie’s story in their own words. The all-new 25,000 square-foot museum in Abilene boasts innovations in technological components and interactive exhibits guaranteed to engage audiences of all ages and learning styles.

9. Nicodemus

The oldest preserved black settlement west of the Mississippi River. Visitors can learn about Nicodemus history in the Visitor's Center and take a walking tour to view the historic buildings that represent the five pillars of the African American community: church, self-government, education, home and business.

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Nicodemus Township HallNPS

10. Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area

Extraordinary events in Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area are forever woven into our nation’s fabric.

In the nineteenth century, the nation turned its eyes to the Missouri-Kansas border where differing definitions of “freedom” collided, inciting and fueling a Civil War.

The heritage area, located in Lawrence, focuses on three main themes: Shaping the Frontier, Kansas/Missouri Border War and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom.

11. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Nearly 11,000 acres of wide-open space, beautiful vistas, seasonal wildflowers, wildlife, a bison herd, and plenty of solitude.

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Rolling Hills in the Kansas Tallgrass Prairie National PreserveRicardo Reitmeyer/Shutterstock

The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is the only unit in the National Park Service dedicated to preserving a rare remnant of tallgrass prairie.

The preserve, located near Strong City, has more than 40 miles of hiking and nature trails.

12. Emma Chase Friday Nights

Enjoy live music every Friday night in Cottonwood Falls. Dance under the stars downtown with the historic Chase County Courthouse as your backdrop.

13. Field Station: Dinosaurs

A one-of-a-kind, prehistoric experience featuring more than 40 life-size, moving and realistic dinosaurs that are thrilling, educational and fun! Your expedition includes 10-acres of walking trails, more than 30 live shows, and games and activities conveniently located in Derby.

80 million years ago Kansas was an inland sea! (Video: Kansas Tourism)

14. Drive-in Theatres

The nostalgic pastime of a drive-in theatre is no longer in the past. Kanopolis, Wichita, Dodge City and Kansas City each offer the perfect option for a fun, family night out.

15. Rock Formations

Explore some of the Sunflower State’s most unique natural wonders – from the Niobrara chalk formations of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, Castle Rock and Monument Rocks, to the sandstone concretions of Rock City and the Dakota formations of Mushroom Rock State Park.

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Rock formations in Castle Rock State Park in KansasTommyBrison/Shutterstock

16. Brewery Tours

Hankering for hops? A growing number of Kansas breweries are popping up throughout the state, catering to those in search of fresh flavors and unique experiences.

17. Drive The Byways

Kansas has 12 byways – nine scenic, two of which are National Scenic Byways and three historic byways.

Over a millennium, geologic shifts shaped the state's landscape to create a scenic backdrop for travelers. Follow the paths of great expedition teams and adventurers to see where history happened along Kansas' 12 distinctive byways.

Visit museums and shops or enjoy local dining and lodging to create your own byway experience during the journey.

18. Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes

This Fort Scott museum highlights role models who demonstrate courage, compassion and respect, regardless of race, religion and creed.

Through the Center’s unique project-based learning approach, students discover, develop and communicate the stories of Unsung Heroes who have made a profound and positive impact on the course of history.

The Center works with students and educators to develop history projects (Video: LowellMilkenCtr)

By championing these Unsung Heroes, students, educators and communities discover their own power and responsibility to effect positive change in the world.

19. Kansas Agritourism Business

Saddle up and experience the thrill of a cattle drive or join in the harvest at a working Kansas farm. You'll have a new appreciation for the state's agricultural roots and the work involved in bringing food from farm to table.

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Historic cattle drive in Kansasmax voran/Shutterstock

20. Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas

Lucas is a folk-art lover’s paradise and home to some of the most whimsical attractions in Kansas.

The World’s Largest Souvenir Travel Plate welcomes you to town, and traditional Post Rock limestone architecture enhances the aesthetic of local neighborhoods and downtown businesses.

21. Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant

Held every three years, this special event commemorates the Great Peace Council of 1867 between the US Government and the five Plains Tribes.

The large-scale reenactment takes place in a natural amphitheater just east of Medicine Lodge in the beautiful Gyp Hills, near the original site of the council where the Medicine River and Elm Creek flow together.

The 2019 Peace Treaty festival (Video: Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty)

It compresses 300 years of history into two hours of entertainment and education, celebrating the diverse cultures of the native peoples, discoverers, explorers and settlers.

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

Phoenix, AZ
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