Top 10 Scenic Drives in Kansas

There’s a reason why Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” There really isn’t any other state quite like Kansas. Its terrain is incredibly open, whether in flat prairies or rolling hills; it just seems to stretch into forever. While some may think it is lacking in excitement, others appreciate the state’s natural sense of tranquility and unique bond with nature. There is a diversity in its uniformity that can actually boggle the mind; even in the face of such openness, there are fresh features like wetlands, waterways, and bits where mankind has played its hand. Unravel this mystery of Kansas for yourself, beginning with one of these scenic drives - it’s an experience you won’t regret:

No. 10 – Grouse Creek

Grouse Creek Kansas
Flickr user: Lane Pearman

Starting Location: Winfield, KS
Ending Location: Silverdale, KS
Length: 40 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

When looking for a drive that provides a slice of rural Americana, this Grouse Creek route fits the bill. Farms with limestone barns dot the landscape, and you can spy bits of creek bottom through the bluestem pastures. Stop in Dexter to chat with the locals and satisfy your sweet tooth at Henry’s Candies, where they make delectable treats right in front of your eyes.

No. 9 – Perry Lake

Perry Lake Kansas
Flickr user: kswx_29

Starting Location: Perry, KS
Ending Location: Newman, KS
Length: 50 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route around Perry Lake north of Lawrence affords ample views of the water on a tree-lined road that’s not too windy. Recreational activities in the area range from horseback riding to swimming, and several moderate trails are available to see the area up close. The small town of Valley Falls is an essential stop if only to see its cobblestone streets, but there are also quaint specialty shops and restaurants with nice views.

No. 8 – Highway K4

Highway K4 Kansas
Flickr user: Kansas Tourism

Starting Location: Topeka, KS
Ending Location: LaCrosse, KS
Length: 238 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Travelers on K4 will be treated to a major transformation on the way in the landscape and see two very different sides of the state. The western portion, beginning in Topeka, is full of rolling hills before dramatically changing to flat pasturelands as far as the horizon in the east. There aren’t a lot of gas stations along the route, so take advantage when the opportunity arises and just enjoy the tranquil scenes flitting past your windows.

No. 7 – Olathe-Abilene Loop

Olathe-Abilene Loop Kansas
Flickr user: Mark Spearman

Starting Location: Olathe, KS
Ending Location: Olathe, KS
Length: 311 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Ideal for a weekend trip with an overnight stay in Abilene, this route is especially pretty with the changing of the leaves in fall but is nice regardless of season. Consider lunching at the historic Cottage House in Belvue before touring Fort Riley. Abilene is full of beautiful historic buildings like Lebold Mansion and A.B. Seelye House, and take a photo by the Madonna of the Trail monument in Council Grove.

No. 6 – Tuttle Creek Scenic Drive

Tuttle Creek Scenic Drive Kansas
Flickr user: Will Sann

Starting Location: Manhattan, KS
Ending Location: Manhattan, KS
Length: 53 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

As you loop around Tuttle Creek Lake, there are plenty of views of the water and rolling hills. Although the road is paved, expect your vehicle to get a bit dirty from the dust and debris that collects from nearby farm use. Stop in Olsburg to get gas if needed, stretch out your legs from the drive, and see its historic post office that was founded in 1873.

No. 5 – Rural Kansas 7

Rural Kansas 7
Flickr user: Vincent Parsons

Starting Location: Bonner Springs, KS
Ending Location: Rulo, KS
Length: 90 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Much of this route follows the Missouri River, so there are plenty of opportunities to stop to fish or swim in the warmer months. As you wind through hills and valleys, enjoy the escape from cities and all the hustle and bustle within them. If you begin to tire of the quiet solitude, stop to try your luck at the Indian casino just west of White Cloud, and Atchison has plenty of down-home cooking to help you refuel for the next leg of the journey.

No. 4 – Scenic Highway 57

Scenic Highway 57 Kansas
Flickr user: Lane Pearman

Starting Location: Junction City, KS
Ending Location: Dwight, KS
Length: 22 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Travelers along this way won’t have to deal with traffic or winding roads, but they will take in sweeping open fields that seem to never end. It’s a country drive without any real signs of civilization, save for a few farmhouses and wandering cattle, so make sure the gas tank is full and provisions are packed before setting out. Once in Dwight, take a little time to tour its historic building and chat up its notoriously friendly folk.

No. 3 – Wyandotte County Lake Park

Wyandotte County Lake Park Kansas
Flickr user: Paul Barker Hemings

Starting Location: Leavenworth, KS
Ending Location:  Leavenworth, KS
Length: 8 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this is a shorter drive, it merits placement toward the top of the list for its overwhelmingly beautiful views of Wyandotte County Lake. If you pack a lunch and fishing gear, this outing can easily help pass a day that can appeal to the whole family. The winding road is dotted with oaks, sycamores, and hickory, and the Park features the largest playground in the county.

No. 2 – Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway

Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway Kansas
Flickr user: Patrick Emerson

Starting Location: Hoisington, KS
Ending Location: Stafford, KS
Length: 115 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This day trip of a drive passes through not one but two of the world’s most ecologically significant wetlands – Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivera National Wildlife Refuge. Provided the roads are dry enough, take time to see these natural wonders, and you may be rewarded with an eyeful of endangered species like the whooping crane or bald eagle. Stop in Great Bend for a bite to eat, and see more animals at the Brit Spaugh Zoo and Raptor Center, which has free admission.

No. 1 – Flint Hills

Flint Hills Kansas
Flickr user: Patrick Emerson

Starting Location: Manhattan, KS
Ending Location: Cassoday, KS
Length: 86 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

The Flint Hills region of Kansas is especially beautiful and characterized by rolling hills, tallgrass prairies, and limestone outcrops. Stop and explore the Konza Prairie Natural Area, one of the largest virgin expanses of tallgrass prairieland in the world, and its many trails to see the local plants and wildlife up close. At Chase State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area, there is all manner of water fun available, and a relatively easy hike takes visitors to three cascading waterfalls with photo opportunities galore.

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