North-Central Kansas, encompassing a large part of the Smoky Hills geographic region, is located between the Flint Hills and High Plains.
Over millions of years, rivers and streams flowing through this region carved the rock layers into hills, created wide and flat river valleys, and carved unusually shaped rocks at Mushroom Rock State Park, jutting limestone bluffs, and huge sandstone spheres at Rock City.
Here, the westward trails of our pioneer ancestors meet those of the Native Americans, and a towering castle was built and named for Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, who made it to the area in his 1541 expedition up from Mexico in search of the mythical seven cities of gold. A couple of old “cowtowns” can be found in the region, including Abilene – The Queen of Cowtowns and Ellsworth, which was once called a “wicked place.” It was to these cities that Texas cowboys drove hundreds of cattle up the trails to reach the railheads of Kansas.
North-Central Kansas is also home to the birthplace of the state song of Kansas at the Home on the Range Cabin, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine at Cawker City, the longest sculpted brick mural, the Pony Express route, and the Eisenhower Presidential Library and boyhood home in Abilene.
For outdoor recreation, visitors enjoy Wilson State Park and Reservoir, Kanopolis Lake State Park, Lovewell State Park and Reservoir, Milford Lake, and Glen Elder Reservoir and State Park.
Post Rock Scenic Byway – One of the prettiest drives in Kansas, the Post Rock Scenic Byway runs on Highway 232, a two-lane route that makes its way north from Interstate 70 at the Wilson Exit, north to Lucas in Russell County. The 18-mile highway winds over the Smoky Hills past Wilson Lake, through fields, pastures, and prairie that is called home to several wildlife species.
Prairie Trail Scenic Byway – This 80-mile route through north-central Kansas begins at the south at Canton, not far from where the Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails brought travelers and cattle in the 19th century. The byway then heads north and east through the westernmost edge of the Flint Hills past the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, McPherson State Lake, to the Swedish Capital of Kansas at Lindsborg, and on to Coronado Heights. It then heads west towards Marquette and northwest to Kanopolis State Park and Reservoir, near Mushroom Rock State Park, to the one-time wicked cattletown of Ellsworth before continuing north to I-70, where the byway ends.
Clay County Museum – Local history museum at 518 Lincoln Avenue in Clay Center.
Kansas Landscape Arboretum – This is a 193-acre nonprofit arboretum located in Wakefield, Kansas. It is open during daylight hours without admission charge. Located at 488 Utah Road, Wakefield, Kansas, 785-461-5760
Milford Lake – Located in Clay, Dickinson, and Geary Counties, Milford Reservoir is the largest man-made lake in Kansas with 15,700 acres of water. Known as the “Fishing Capital of Kansas”, it has 163 miles of shoreline where visitors find sandy swimming beaches, 14 public ramps for launching boats, canoes, and sailboats. Approximately 70% of the land resources are available for public hunting. The lake is located northwest of Junction City, west of K-77 on K-57.
Wakefield Museum – Local history museum 604 6th Street in Wakefield, Kansas, 785-461-5516
Cloud County Historical Museum – Located 635 Broadway Street in Concordia, this museum located in a former Carnegie library, features local history, 785-243-2866.
Clyde Community Museum – Located at 635 Broadway in Clyde, Kansas the museum features local history, 785-243-2866.
National Orphan Train Complex – This museum and research center are dedicated to the preservation of the stories and artifacts of those who were part of the Orphan Train Movement from 1854-1929. It is located at 300 Washington Street in Concordia, Kansas, 785-243-4471.
Abilene Public Library Doll Collection – WPA American fashion; Mamie Eisenhower & Davis Sisters collections, no admission fee. 209 N. W. 4th Street, Abilene, Kansas 67410, 785-263-3082.
C.W. Parker Carousel – Hand-carved working carousel, manufactured in Abilene at the beginning of the 20th century by C. W. Parker Amusement Co. Admission fee. 412 S. Campbell, Abilene, Kansas 67410, 785-263-2681.
Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum – Built to house the materials and objects related to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life, the museum contains over 30,000-square feet of gallery space, with exhibits showing fine art objects collected by and given to Eisenhower, as well as the story of his careers as military leader and President of the United States. Admission Fee. 200 S.E. 4th Street, Abilene, Kansas 67410, 785-263-4751.
Greyhound Hall of Fame – Greyhound history dating back to 5,000 BC, miniature racetrack. Donation. 407 S Buckeye, Abilene, KS 67410, 785-263-3000 or 800-932-7881.
Herington Historical Museum – Local history museum at 800 S Broadway, Herington, Kansas, 785-258-2842.
Heritage Center of Dickinson County – This open-air history museum details life in the Abilene, Kansas area along with a research center that includes files of Dickinson County records and newspapers. Admission fee. 412 S. Campbell, Abilene, Kansas, 785-263-2681.
Jeffcoat Photograph Studio Museum – Features a unique look at the history of Abilene and Dickinson County, Kansas through the photographic work of the Jeffcoat Photography Studio. Located at 321 N Broadway Street in Abilene, Kansas.
Kansas Auto Racing Museum – Located at 1205 Manor Drive in Chapman, Kansas, 785-922-6642.
Museum of Independent Telephony – Early independent telephone system history & displays. Admission. 412 S Campbell, Abilene, Kansas 67410, 785-263-2681.
Old Abilene Town – Includes a collection of Abilene historic buildings, allowing one to step back in time to an earlier era in Kansas history. Weekend activities include stagecoach rides, gunfights at the Alamo Saloon, a WWII Generals Wax Museum, and the Abilene Smoky Valley Railroad. Donation. 100 SE 5th, Abilene, Kansas 67410, 785-263-4194.
Seelye Mansion & Patent Medicine Museum – Situated in a beautiful Georgian home built in the early 1900s, the Patent Medicine Museum contains many artifacts of the A.B. Seelye Medical Company. Founded in 1890. Admission fee. 1105 N Buckeye, Abilene, Kansas, 785-263-1084.
Fort Harker – A former 19th-century military post in Kanopolis, Kansas. It is owned and operated today by the Ellsworth County Historical Society.
Hodgden House Museum Complex – This museum complex consists of the 1878 Hodgden House, 1880s livery stable, 1912 one-room school, 1880s Second Baptist church, 1909 caboose, 1900 train depot, turn-of-the-century wooden windmill, small log cabin, modern building housing farm equipment, and a general store. Exhibits include early Ellsworth County history and Kansas cattle town life. Archives are available for research. It is located at 104 W. Main Street in Ellsworth, Kansas, 785-472-3059.
Kanopolis State Park – This state park, located southwest of Salina, Kansas, contains a reservoir, desert plants, a prairie dog town, and scenic sandstone canyons. Filled with recreational opportunities, the park includes more than 22,000 acres of rolling hills, bluffs, and woods, and a 3000-acre lake, offering hunting, fishing, over 25 miles of trails, and other recreational activities. Hunting is allowed, and the game is plentiful, including pheasant, quail, prairie chickens, deer, beaver, wild turkey, squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, and waterfowl. It is located at 200 Horsethief Road, Marquette, Kansas, 785-546-2565.
Mushroom Rock State Park – Located in the Smoky Hills region, this park is noted for its mushroom rock formations. These rocks are the remains of beach sands and sediments of the Cretaceous Period, the interval of geologic time from about 144 to 66 million years ago. 200 Horsethief Road, Marquette, Kansas, 785-546-2565.
Wilson Czech Opera House & Museum – Located at 411 29th Street in Wilson, Kansas, this museum features local history. 785-658-6091
Jewell County Historical Society Museum – Featuring local history, this museum is located at 118 N Commercial Street in Mankato, Kansas, 785-794-2296.
Lovewell Reservoir – Built and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, this lake is used for flood control, irrigation, and recreation. Lovewell State Park is located on its north shore.
Palmer Museum – Located in 108 N Washington Street in Jewell, Kansas, this museum features the history of the community and small-town newspapers, features historic printing equipment. Open by appointment – 785-428-3335.
Crispin’s Drug Store Museum – Located at 161 E Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln, Kansas, this museum features historical artifacts from the pharmaceutical field, with special emphasis in 1880-1920 period. 785-531-1137
Lincoln County Historical Museum – This open-air museum includes the Kyne House Museum, a one-room school and early businesses, such as a newspaper office, funeral home, and general store. It is located at 216 W Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln, Kansas, 785-524-9997.
Post Rock Scout Museum – This scouting museum displays historical artifacts of scouting organizations. Located at 161 E Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln, Kansas it is open by appointment, 785-524-5383.
Wilson Lake State Park – Located on the border of Russell County and Lincoln County, this lake was built and is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and is also used for wildlife management and recreation. Several parks are located along its shoreline, including Wilson State Park.
Yesterday House Museum – This local history museum is located at 118 S Main Street in Sylvan Grove, Kansas, 785-526-7270.
World’s Biggest Ball of Twine – This quirky Kansas honor goes to Cawker City, Kansas. The twine ball was created by Frank Stoebe and was 1.6 million feet long and measured 11-foot-diameter when he died in 1974. Afterward, Cawker City built an open-air gazebo over Stoeber’s ball where every August a “Twine-a-thon” is held and more twine is added to the ball.
Mitchell County Museum – Located in Beloit, this museum features local history.
Glen Elder Reservoir & State Park – Located in Mitchell and Osborne Counties, this reservoir was built and is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for flood control and irrigation. It is also used for recreation and Glen Elder State Park is located on its north shore.
Delphos Museum – Located in Delphos, Kansas, this museum features local history.
Ottawa County Historical Museum – Located in Minneapolis, this museum features local history.
Rock City – Located 3.6 miles south of Minneapolis, Kansas, Rock City contains three clusters of large spherical boulders. These three clusters contain a total of 200 spherical boulders and the park has been designated as a National Natural Landmark.
Highbanks Hall of Fame National Midget Auto Racing Museum – This automotive museum is located in Belleville, Kansas.
Jamestown Wildlife Area – Consisting of 3,239 acres, this area that is popular for both hunting and fishing is located primarily in Republic County, Kansas and partially in Cloud County, Kansas. The lake and its surrounding areas are maintained by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. It is located five miles North and two miles West of Jamestown. The area is commonly called “Jamestown Lake” by local residents.
Paul Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings – A museum of animated folk art carvings, the museum is located at 1205 M Street in Belleville, Kansas.
Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site – Features the archaeological remains and exhibits of an 1820s Pawnee village. Located in Republic, Kansas.
Republic County Historical Society Museum – Local history museum in Belleville, Kansas.
Scandia Museum – This local history museum is located at 409 4th Street in Scandia, Kansas, 785-335-2620.
City of Lucas – Designated as the Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas, it is home to the Inez Marshall Limestone Sculpture collection along with grassroots artwork by local artist and traveling exhibits. New is the Post Rock Courtyard that shows examples of how the limestone was used for building by early settlers.
Fossil Station Museum – 331 Kansas St, Russell, Kansas 67655, 785-483-3637
Garden of Eden – The world-famous Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas was built in the early 1900s by S.P. Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran. Dinsmoor is encased in a glass coffin in the strangest of gardens which contain over 150 cement sculptures. The Garden is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be viewed daily. Located at the corner of 2nd and Kansas Streets, 785-525-6395.
Gernon House – The first “post-rock” stone home was built in Russell, Kansas. The restored home is located at 818 N Kansas Street and is open on weekend afternoons between Memorial Day and Labor Day, or by appointment. Phone 785-483-3637 or 785-483-6960.
Oil Patch Discovery Center – History and information about the oil industry and it’s early development in Kansas. It is located at 100 Edwards Avenue in Russell, Kansas, 785-483-6640
Salina Art Center – 242 S. Santa Fe, Salina, Kansas 67402, 785-827-1431.
Smoky Hill Museum – Located in Salina, Kansas, this regional history museum containing artifacts related to the history of the Salina area. This large collection has been growing since 1879. It is located at 211 W. lron Avenue, Salina, Kansas, 785-309-5776.
Yesteryear Museum – Started with agricultural items, this museum grew into rural items, domestic & many other areas. Includes four buildings. Also known as Central Kansas Flywheels Museum, it is located at 1100 W. Diamond Drive, in Salina, Kansas, 785-825-8473.
Geographic Center of the USA – Located one mile north and one mile west of Lebanon, Kansas, this is the center of the USA as determined by the government geodetic survey in 1898. Built around it is Center Park, a place for the public to stop, relax, and picnic.
Home on the Range Higley Cabin – This was the homestead cabin of Dr. Brewster M. Higley, a homesteading doctor from Ohio who wrote the words for the song, Home on the Range. That song was later adopted as the state song of Kansas in 1947. The cabin is located on the Beaver Creek nine miles north and one mile west of the K-8/U.S. 36 Junction.
Ingleboro Mansion – This elegant turn-of-the-century Victorian home has served the community as the residence of a wealthy banker, a hospital, a nursing home, a restaurant, and now serves a Bed and Breakfast. The mansion is located at 319 N. Main in Smith Center.
The Old Dutch Mill – Located in Smith Center, the mill was moved here in 1938 from its original site near Reamsville, northwest of Smith Center. The old mill was built by Charles Schwarz, a native of Germany who homesteaded in Smith County in the 1870s. Today the Mill serves as a meeting place for many groups and events. The Mill is located near downtown Smith Center.
Washington County Museum & Log Cabin – Learn about the history of Washington County through exhibits and display. The 1882 Pacha family log cabin was moved from near Odell, Nebraska in 1970 and restored in Washington City Park. Located at 206 Ballard in Washington, Kansas.
Hollenberg Pony Express Station – Also known as the Cottonwood Pony Express Station, this the most intact surviving station of the Pony Express in the United States. It was built by Gerat H. Hollenberg in 1858, to serve travelers on the Oregon and California Trails, and was used by the Pony Express when it was established in 1860. Today, the building is owned by the state of Kansas and is operated by the Kansas Historical Society as Hollenberg Pony Express Station State Historic Site. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. It is located at 2889 23rd Rd, east of Hanover, Kansas.
Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated August 2022.
Kansas Geological Survey
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