Explore Kansas Prairies & Unique Attractions
There’s no place like camping in Kansas! Nicknamed “the Heart of America,” Kansas is a melting pot of scenic landscapes, outdoor ventures, historical landmarks, artful ingenuity, and so much more. While many RVers may think of driving through the state to get to their final camping destination elsewhere, it is absolutely worth at least an overnight stay to explore a gem or two.
Kansas, bordered by Nebraska to the north, Missouri to the east, Oklahoma to the south, and Colorado to the west, is considered the center of the 48 contiguous states. Its capital is Topeka, and the largest city is Wichita. Besides the big cities, small-town Kansas has its own charm. From its byways to highways, tributaries to rivers, state parks to national preserve, and rural communities to metropolises, every corner of Kansas has something to offer everyone that visits.
What’s the best time to go camping in Kansas?
Kansas is classified as a state with a temperate but continental climate. Although each region varies, in general, the state experiences extremes between summer and winter temperatures. But these extremes (sweltering, muggy, wet summers and frigid, dry, windy winters) are short-lived.
The best time to go camping in Kansas is between April and October. Even with humidity, which also differs among regions, temperatures feel most pleasant between late spring and late fall. Late spring and early fall are the seasons of color, with wildflowers blooming in the fields and leaves turning golden and amber hues the further one travels to the eastern border. While the summer months provide plenty of warmth and sunshine, the fall usually brings mild weather and less rain than summer.
Kansas is not immune to adverse weather. Sitting at the center of “Tornado Alley,” tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are common in the spring and summer months. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with tornado safety tips when RVing during tornado season. Travel and camping conditions can also be very unfavorable from December through February, when the weather is usually brutally cold with snow and ice storms.
Driving your RV in Kansas
The western and eastern regions of Kansas are contrasting, presenting different camping experiences. Elevation rises from east to west, ranging from about 680 feet to a little over 4000 feet. Most of the larger cities are found in Eastern Kansas. This area also has green hills, forests, and more water. Western Kansas is primarily rural with wide-open spaces and farmlands. It is drier, flatter, and more rugged. The Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas rivers, along with their tributaries, flow throughout the state.
Two Interstate highways run through Kansas. The I-70, a major east-west route, connects Denver, Colorado to Kansas City, Missouri. Colby, Salina, Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City run along this highway. The I-35 runs north-south and connects Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Des Moines, Iowa. Cities along this route include Wichita, Emporia, and Kansas City.
The I-135, a north-south route, connects I-35 at Wichita to I-70 at Salina. I-335, a southwest-northeast route, bridges I-35 at Emporia to I-70 at Topeka.
The I-335 and segments of I-35 and I-70 make up the Kansas Turnpike. The 236-mile-long toll road runs in a general southwest-northwest direction from the Oklahoma border to Kansas City ‘and passes through major cities like Wichita, Topeka, and Lawrence. Tolls can be paid using cash or a pass like K-tag.
Get updates on travel conditions
Following best practices, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) advises that if you plan on traveling and camping in Kansas, be informed. Dial 5-1-1 from anywhere in Kansas or access the KanDrive website to get up-to-date information about road conditions, construction, closures, detours, and weather conditions for the state highway system. Plan your travels with the RV LIFE Pro tools to get RV-safe GPS directions and to find other points of interest along your routes.
Kansas road trips and scenic drives
I-70 Detours Route
Many RVers cross through Kansas on I-70. But a slight detour a few miles north or south of the mainline route will take travelers to picturesque prairies, adventurous state parks, and rugged badlands. Most of the state’s scenic byways also branch off from the interstate. These unique places, listed below, are in order according to location, traveling westbound down I-70.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
The first stop on the I-70 Detours Route is Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which can be reached by traveling south via Kansas-177. Prairie land once covered about 1/3 of our country or 1.4 million acres of North America. Today, less than 4% remains, the bulk of which lies within the 11,000-acre expanse of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This endangered ecosystem is home to various plant life and fauna– birds, ground dwellers, fish, and most notably, bison.
The preserve features many hiking trails, a visitor center, historical buildings, and year-round activities. Although there is no camping permitted in the preserve, there are campgrounds located just minutes away in nearby towns. The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, showcased in the video below, passes through the preserve and historical sites.
Milford State Park and Adventure Park
Travel further west on I-70 and then head northbound on U.S. Route 77. Fishing and camping junkies will love Milford State Park. Camp next to the state’s largest lake, the 15,709-acre Milford Reservoir, and spend the day fishing for walleye, crappie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, white bass, and catfish.
The park also offers hiking trails and plenty of wildlife viewing. For some adrenaline-pumping action, take a day trip to neighboring Manhattan to Wildwood Outdoor Adventure Park. The park features several ziplines and hiking trails!
Rock Parks and Kanopolis State Park
Before heading to the oldest state park located south of the I-70 between Salina and Ellsworth, check out one or both of these oddball geological sites, Rock City and Mushroom State Park. Rock City is a 5-acre park with over 200 Dakota sandstone boulders created over time by erosion. Equally interesting are the wedge-shaped rocks of Mushroom Rock State Park.
Besides offering RV camping options, the 12,500-acre Kanopolis State Park features miles of walking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails alongside streams, caves, and cliffs. The abundant wildlife is a plus for hunters and anglers.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
The final segment of the I-70 Detours Route is located south of I-70, traveling south on U.S. 83 to Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. The park features trails that wind around a stretch of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs of eroded Niobrara Chalk.
This geological anomaly is a product of sediments that settled at the bottom of an inland ocean millions of years ago. The state park is the largest expanse of exposed Niobrara Chalk formation in Kansas. Smaller outcrops like Monument Rocks and Castle Rock are east of Little Jerusalem. The state park does not allow overnight camping. However, Lake Scott State Park is just south of the badlands.
Frontier Military Scenic Byway
The Frontier Military Scenic Byway is primarily a two-lane, paved roadway with one interstate segment that stretches along the eastern edge of Kansas. The 167-mile route connects Fort Leavenworth to the north with Fort Scott at the south. The byway was initially used to move soldiers and supplies but is now a route sought by history buffs and wildlife-viewing enthusiasts alike.
The Frontier Military Historic Byway passes by many forts, battlefield sites, and museums, most notably Fort Scott National Historic Site, Marais des Cygnes Massacre Park and Mine Creek Battlefield. These sites hold historical value during the periods of “Bleeding Kansas” and the Civil War. There are several parks and refuges along the byway for wildlife watching opportunities, including Weston Bend Bottomlands and Schermerhorn Park.
Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway
Two things you won’t want to be without on this next byway are a pair of binoculars and this audio tour.
The Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway is a 77-mile route located in central Kansas and connects two of the world’s most ecologically significant natural wetlands – Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. From north to south, the byway begins at the intersection of Highways 281 and 4. It winds around the two wetlands and spits back out onto Highway 281, just 4 miles north of St. John.
The wetlands, comprising more than 60,000 acres, are in the path of the Central Flyway. From March through May and August through October, a multitude of migrating ducks, geese, gulls, cranes and shorebirds stop and refuel at Bottoms and Quivira before continuing their long journeys. Cheyenne Bottoms is considered the largest marsh in the interior of the United States. It attracts anywhere from 45% to 90% of North America’s shorebirds during migration.
The wetlands are described as a “living spectacle of color, motion, and sound,” particularly during the migration period. Aside from birds, numerous species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians call the wetlands their home. Bottoms and Quivira are havens for bird and wildlife watching, hiking, and many other nature activities.
Venture off the byway into nearby towns
In addition to the stretch of prairie vistas and marsh lands teeming with wildlife, visitors can explore nearby rural communities shaped by the area’s natural wonders and rich history. Native stone buildings, underground tunnels, metal street art, an operating flour mill, and a section of the Santa Fe Trail are just some of the surprises waiting to be discovered in these unassuming towns. There are a handful of RV parks along the route, so travelers can stay a while longer.
The following video details what visitors can expect to see and experience as they drive down the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway.
Unique roadside attractions
If you are a sucker for roadside attractions, then you won’t be disappointed in Kansas. At least one seems to be located just off of each highway exit. Online travel planning tools like RV LIFE Trip Wizard offer these curiosities as possible additions to your camping adventures. The following are some of the more popular pitstops to take on your RV trip through Kansas. For a comprehensive list of all roadside attractions in Kansas, go here.
Landmarks in Kansas
- Mount Sunflower (Wallace County), designated with a metal sculpture, is the highest natural point in Kansas at 4,039 feet above sea level.
- The Geographic Center of the United States (Lebanon) refers to the 48 contiguous states. The landmark is a rock monument labeled with a plaque.
- The World’s Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City) was started by Frank Stoeber in 1953 and continues to grow as visitors add to it daily.
Attractions in Kansas
- Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas (Lucas) has an array of buildings with quirky art. The S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, the “oldest intact folk art environment in the nation,” is the late creator’s home surrounded by political and religious-inspired sculptures, including Dinsmoor’s remains. Other notable buildings are the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things and the Bowl Plaza, a decked-out public restroom shaped like a toilet bowl.
- Dorothy’s House/Land of Oz (Liberal) is an impressive recreation of the scenes depicted in The Wizard of Oz, complete with a guided tour by Dorothy herself.
- Strataca Underground Salt Museum (Hutchinson) is the only mine that allows admission to the public. The tour takes visitors 650 feet below the Earth’s surface to view everything used and discovered during mining.
- World’s Largest Hand Dug Well (Greensburg) is simply known as the Big Well. The engineering marvel, completed in 1888, was the town’s original water supply before turning into a tourist attraction and museum. The Big Well measures 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter.
- The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home (Abilene) house an incredible collection of the five-star General and 34th President of the United States.
Camping in Wichita, Kansas
As the largest city in Kansas, Wichita is not lacking in things to do. At its last count, Wichita tallied more than 33 museums, 22 attractions, 8 shopping districts, 22 theaters, over 1,000 restaurants, and several festivals throughout the year.
Camping in Wichita, Kansas, is simple, with RV parks like USI RV Park and Air Capital RV Park within city limits. RVers can cram plenty of sightseeing and exploration during their stay. The following are some popular sites:
Kansas Aviation Museum
Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World as it is a central hub for aircraft production. If you love aviation, you won’t want to miss visiting the Kansas Aviation Museum. The museum was once the bustling terminal of the Wichita Municipal Airport in its heyday.
It features three floors of archives, unique planes inside and outdoors, and guests can ascend the control tower to view the city. Once a year on “”Play on a Plane Day,” the museum allows visitors to climb into its exhibition aircraft.
Complete your day of aircraft marveling by taking a trip to Stearman Field. This American-style restaurant is right beside a private landing strip, so you can enjoy a juicy burger while you watch planes take off and land.
Big and Little Arkansas Rivers Junction
Some of the most popular sites and attractions are located downtown in the plaza where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers converge. At the junction stands the most iconic image of Wichita, the Keeper of the Plains. This 44-foot steel sculpture was donated to the city by Native American artist Blackbear Bosin in 1974. Every evening, weather permitting, a series of firepots arranged around the statue is lit. This Native American ceremony, open to the public, pays homage to the bond between earth, water, air, and fire.
For more information on the Keeper of the Plains and the legacy of Native Americans in the area, visit the Mid-America All-Indian Center just a short walk away.
Other museums located around the plaza are Exploration Place, the Wichita Art Museum, and Botanica Wichita. The Exploration Place is a science and discovery center for all ages with hands-on exhibits, live science shows and houses a dome theatre and planetarium.
The Wichita Art Museum is the largest in Kansas and includes an art garden with additional pieces. Botanica, on the other hand, encompasses 17.6 acres of botanical gardens. Spring and summer are the prime times to visit, with more than 150,000 tulips and daffodils in bloom. The Butterfly House and Downing Children’s Garden are visitor favorites.
Old Cowtown Museum
Visit the Wild West at Old Cowtown Museum. This 1870s village remake includes over 50 historic replica buildings and many artifacts from the period. There are costume interpreters, cowboy gunfights in the streets, and blacksmith and printer demonstrations happening daily.
Old Town Wichita
Old Town Wichita is a busy shopping and entertainment district. The repurposed 19th-century warehouses are now home to many shops, boutiques, restaurants, and museums like the Museum of World Treasure and The Great Plains Transportation Museum. The Museum of World Treasures features everything from dinosaurs to Egyptian mummies and even a section of the Berlin Wall. The Great Plains Transportation Museum focuses on the railroad’s history. Its largest displays are trains like the Santa Fe steam locomotive.
Great Plains Nature Center
If you need a break from the urban setting, take a trip to the Great Plains Nature Center for some hiking and bird watching. Visitors can learn more about Kansas’s unique wildlife and environment in the preserve’s Koch Habitat Hall.
RV camping near Kansas City
Camping in Kansas City, Kansas (not to be confused with the Missouri portion) means non-stop, action-packed days for the entire family. Between sporting events, popular attractions, shopping sprees, and outdoor activities, you may be skipping out on the campfire some nights just to get enough rest for the next day’s itinerary. The following are places and experiences you don’t want to miss out on the next time you are camping in Kansas City.
Kansas Speedway: The speedway is a 1.5-mile track that hosts famous races like NASCAR Sprint Race Series. To get in on the action down on the field, attendees can rent scanners to listen to the drivers and pit crews during the race. You can also opt for a FanWalk pass which allows pass holders to access the infield.
Still not enough action for you? RVers have the opportunity to camp at one of the trackside parks. Knock off one of your bucket list times while you’re at it and sign up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Participants have the opportunity to sit behind the wheel or ride shotgun in an authentic NASCAR vehicle and zoom up to 155 miles per hour around the Kansas Speedway.
Children’s Mercy Park is home to the successful Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City. Get your tickets early because almost every game is a sell-out. The state-of-the-art stadium also has two high-definition video boards and a 145,000 square-foot canopy roof.
- Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
Field of Legends: What’s summer without a game of baseball? Take your RV camping crew to a ballgame at Fields of Legends. Cheer on the Kansas City Monarchs while you munch on hotdogs and Cracker Jacks. With inexpensive tickets and free parking added, you can’t beat that deal of an outing!
Shopping spree for glampers
Just because you are camping in Kansas doesn’t mean you can’t make time for a little retail therapy. Shop ’til you drop at the mile-long outdoor shopping center of Legends Outlets.
Stop by the Legends office beforehand to access a map to help navigate the over 100 shops and pick up a coupon book to use at participating businesses. The shopping outlet features a movie theater, arcade, and exhibits featuring famous icons of Kansas City.
- Zip KC Zip Line Park: Zip over the landscape at the only zipline park in the Kansas City area. Zip line tours include a hike and ride down the zipline. Tours range from beginner to advanced skill levels. Zip tours are themed and include unique ones like the Sunset Zip Line Tour and the glow-in-the-dark Night Flight Tour.
- Cider Hill Family Orchard: For a slightly slower pace, take a trip down to Cider Hill Family Orchard. Pick your own apples, blackberries, cherries, pears, and even pumpkins when they are in season. The farm offers rides on an old-fashioned Apple Wagon, and there is a fishing pond too.
History in nature
Lewis and Clark Expedition at Kaw Point Park: Trace the Lewis and Clark Expedition steps at Kaw Point Park. In 1804 the explorers arrived and set up camp near the location where the Kansas and Missouri Rivers converge. Besides the historic Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail, Kaw Point has several wooded trails and biking trails. Visitors can canoe and kayak as well.
Camping in Topeka, Kansas
With campgrounds and RV parks located in and around the capital city, RVers won’t have to worry about camping accommodations. Instead, travelers may be more concerned about what to see and visit first. Topeka offers an array of attractions, events, museums, and points of interest. Some of the more well-known sites to see and visit are listed below.
Historical and cultural buildings
- Kansas State Capitol: Art, architecture, and history can be found within this French Renaissance-style government building. Considered one of the most beautiful capitols in the Midwest, visitors can take a tour of this six-floor structure, including a 296-step climb to the top of the cupola. Not only will you have the best views of the inner and outer domes, but you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the city.
- Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site: Located inside Monroe Elementary School, the interactive museum celebrates the 1954 ruling that ceased segregation in public schools nationwide.
- Kansas Museum of History: Follow Kansas’s evolution in the many exhibits at the Kansas Museum of History. From Native American relics to pioneers’ stories along the Oregon trail and an 1880 locomotive to Civil War weapons, the museum has documented and preserved the most significant periods in the state’s development.
- Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site and Botanical Garden: At Old Prairie Town, guests can experience the life of a prairie pioneer in an 1800s town replication with a restored Victorian mansion and several building replicas, including a log cabin, schoolhouse, church, and general store. Folks can take a walk through the botanical gardens after a guided tour of the town.
- Combat Air Museum: Located on an active airfield, the Combat Air Museum houses more than 30 military aircraft from WWI to the present day and includes aircraft engines, flight training simulators, and a military aviation art gallery.
- Evel Knievel Museum: For all the daredevil fans out there, this museum is the world’s most extensive collection of Evel Knievel’s authentic performance leathers, jump bikes, and memorabilia.
- Gage Park– An entire day of family fun is packed into this 160-acre park. There’s never a dull moment at Gage Park. Ride the park’s mini trail or the vintage 1908 carousel, see the variety of animals at the local zoo, or cool off at the Blaisdell Family Aquatic Center. Enjoy the Reinisch Rose Garden’s sights and smells and explore the many interactive exhibits at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center.
- Great Overland Station– Once home to the Union Pacific Railroad Station, this museum commemorates Topeka’s railroad heritage with guided tours, photographs, special exhibits, and events. The annual Railroad Festival is held in July. It includes telegraph demonstrations, handcar rides, trackless train rides, model train layouts, food, and entertainment.
- Kaw River State Park– Get back to nature at Kaw River State Park. Hike and bike along the forested trails or paddle down the river in your canoe or kayak.
- Lake Shawnee Recreation Area– Voted as a top destination in Kansas, the man-made Lake Shawnee is an RVer’s ultimate getaway. Besides enjoying every type of water sport imaginable, the recreation area has foot trails, fish hatcheries, a golf course, marina, tennis courts, horseback trails, ball diamonds, campgrounds, and gardens.
- Heartland Motorsports Park: Known as the “House of Speed,” Heartland Park is a multi-purpose motorsports facility. It is a venue for several events throughout the year, including national NHRA and AMA events.
RVing in Dodge City
The Cowboy Capital of America. The Wickedest Little City in America. Dodge City has many nicknames. Founded in 1872, this settlement was once the stomping grounds for figures of the American Old West, like lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and gunfighter Doc Holliday. The television series “Gunsmoke” based its stories around Dodge City.
Dodge City is a popular tourist destination, with the Boothill Museum as the center attraction. It houses over 20,000 artifacts, including 200 original guns. Front Street, also a part of the museum, is a reproduction of downtown Dodge City in 1876. Visitors will witness cowboy gunfight reenactments, experience Wild West-themed attractions, and have many restaurant options to choose from. Whether you take a trolley tour or a walking tour, there are a number of historical sites, museums, and landmarks dedicated to Dodge City’s Old West heritage.
If you plan on camping in Dodge City, Kansas, there are a handful of campgrounds in and around the town like Dodge City KOA and Gunsmoke RV Park. One of the best times to visit is during “Dodge City Days.” For ten days in July, the rootin’-tootin’ cowtown celebrates its unique Western heritage with a classic car show, concerts, a golf tournament, parades, and rodeo.
Take a look at all the fun you can experience in Dodge City in the video below.
Kansas celebrations and events
Besides the large cities, many of the small towns in Kansas have their own special celebrations and events unique to the community’s history, culture, and surrounding businesses. You won’t find experiences quite like these in other states.
- Svensk Hyllningsfest, translated as “Swedish Honoring Festival,” is a celebration held in Lindsborg and takes place in October of odd-numbered years. Festivities honor the town’s ancestral heritage and include Swedish dancing, food, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, live music, and a parade.
- OZtoberFEST, held in Wamego on the first weekend of October, is described as “an Oktoberfest-type celebration with plenty of Oz influence.” The Wizard of Oz is a pretty big deal in this town with businesses like the OZ Museum, OZ Winery, and Toto’s TacOZ. The Yellow Brick Road sits directly across the street from the museum as well. OZtoberFEST activities include costume contests, an OZ-themed market, Classic Car Show, BBQ Challenge, beer, wine sampling, and many more activities.
- The Amelia Earhart Festival occurs annualy on the third weekend of July in Atchinson. Locals and visitors celebrate the brave aviator and her many accomplishments. Enjoy food and crafts fair, outdoor concert, carnival, aerobatic performances, and fireworks. Earhart lived in Atchinson until the age of 12. Her childhood home is a museum honoring her legacy.
Events to attend while camping in Kansas
- The Haunted Atchison Season is another popular event in the city. Known as “the most haunted town in Kansas,” Atchison beckons ghost hunters with its themed haunted tours, mystery dinners, and spiritual readings. The season runs from September thru early November.
- Pickin’ on the Plains Bluegrass and Folk Festival is held each summer in Colby. Folks congregate for a musical extravaganza featuring top bluegrass performers. Look for it every June.
- Dynamic Discs Open is a week-long competition with accompanying celebratory activities held in Emporia, the “Disc Golf Capital of the World.” Amateur and professional disc golfers worldwide play the eight 18-hole and three 9-hole disc golf courses. Five additional courses are within 10-30 miles. Besides the main tournament, community activities include a craft beer festival, mini disc golf competitions, and a downtown block party.
Find more places to go camping in Kansas
Camping in Kansas, staying a few days or longer, is perhaps the best way for RVers to discover and really get to know the Sunflower State. You can find a slew of campgrounds to visit, including camper experiences, using RV LIFE Campgrounds. Find RV-friendly directions to all of the places mentioned and more using RV LIFE Trip Wizard and the RV LIFE app.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.