Northwest Kansas, dominated by the High Plains and Smoky Hills geographic regions, includes some of the most stunning landscapes in the state. Explore the rugged canyons of the Arikaree Breaks; discover the towering chalk formations of Castle Rock and Monument Rocks; hiking and water recreation can be found at Lake Scott and Cedar Bluff State Parks, and visit the highest point in the state at Mount Sunflower. On the short-grass prairies are beautiful views of wildflowers and wildlife in an area known for its hunting opportunities for deer, turkey, and pheasant.
Three scenic byways are included in the northwest region:
Smoky Valley Scenic Byway – Whether you prefer enjoying the natural beauty of wildflowers, the picturesque vista of windmills, or the beauty of limestone bluffs, the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway will provide you with a beautiful glimpse of western Kansas. The byway travels an out and back route from WaKeeney on Interstate 70, south to Ransom on U.S. 283, east to Brownell on K-4, and then north past Cedar Bluff Reservoir on K-147.
Western Vistas Historic Byway – Traveling Highway 40, it is a perfect opportunity to discover the rich history and scenic beauty of the first historic byway in Kansas. The byway links three western Kansas counties stretching over 102 miles. It features six museums plus 12 historic and scenic sites. The byway runs north from Scott City to Oakley (US 83), then west to Sharon Springs (US 40), and can be traveled from either direction with many stops between these cities. Along this route are side trips, including Lake Scott State Park (Hwy 95) and Russell Springs (Hwy 25).
Land and Sky Scenic Byway – Travelers along this byway in western Kansas can experience the Wallace Branch of the Great Western Cattle Trail, scale the highest point in Kansas at Mount Sunflower and explore the deep canyons and rugged landscape of the Arikaree Breaks. The byway is also the only one in the state focusing on agriculture and features thousands of acres of rotating crops, livestock, and wildlife along the route. The byway traverses Kansas Highway 27 from the Nebraska border near St. Francis, south through Goodland, and to Sharon Springs.
More great sites to see in Northwest Kansas include:
Arikaree Breaks – “The Breaks” is a scenic badland area on the extreme northern edge of Cheyenne County. This area of extremely rough terrain, with its deep ravines and gullies, is a marked contrast to the plains generally associated with the area. The Breaks are 36 miles long and 2 to 3 miles wide and offer scenic beauty that is worth the trip to see. The St. Francis Chamber of Commerce has a driving tour of the area.
Last Indian Raid Museum – Decatur Last Indian Raid Museum – The museum includes 14 buildings and a large collection of Indian artifacts. Buildings include a 1922 schoolhouse, a doctor’s office, an old Phillips service station, a sod house, a general store, and others. Located at 258 S. Penn in Oberlin, Kansas.
Bukovina Society Headquarters and Museum – This is a museum of artifacts from Bukovina-German immigrants that settled in Ellis in 1886. It is located in a historic church building at 718 Washington in Ellis, Kansas.
Ellis County Historical Society Museum – Features area history from the Wild West through World War II, including a saloon, 1879 stone chapel, early 1900s harness shop, and Volga German Haus. 100 W. 7th, Hays, Kansas 67601, 785- 628-2624
Fort Hays State Historic Site – Fort Hays was established in 1867 to protect the construction workers who were building the Union Pacific Railroad. The original blockhouse, guardhouse, and officer quarters are located here and exhibits interpreting pioneer and military and “Wild West” history. This frontier fort once housed frontier names such as General George Armstrong Custer, William F. “Buffalo Bill Cody, and James B. “Wild Bill” Hickok. Admission fee. 1272 Alternate Hwy 183, Hays, Kansas 67601, 785-625-6812.
Hays City Walking Tour – Brochures available at the Ellis County Historical Society Museum, 100 W. 7th, Hays, Kansas 785- 628-2624.
Sternberg Museum of Natural History – Extensive fossil collection and animated, life-size dinosaurs. The changing exhibit gallery features world-class traveling exhibits on natural history. It is located at 3000 Sternberg Drive, Hays, Kansas 67601, 785-628-4286.
Castle Rock – This chalk pinnacle rises from the prairie 20 miles southeast of Quinter. The area is a fossil hunter’s paradise. Monument Rocks and Castle Rock were selected as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas. If you travel to these ancient rock beds, please remember that you are on private property and treat the formations respectfully.
Monument Rocks – Rising majestically from the seemingly flat prairie, just 25 miles south of Oakley are the Monument Rocks, the first national natural landmark in Kansas. These wind-carved, water-eroded chalk formations are sediment remains of ancient marine life up to 200 million years old.
Nicodemus National Historic Site – In July 1877, African American “Exodusters” from Kentucky established a settlement here in the Promised Land of Kansas, which they named Nicodemus. Although the colonists lacked sufficient tools, seed, and money, they managed to survive the first winter, some by selling buffalo bones, others by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis, 35 miles away. In 1880 the all-Negro community had a population of more than 400. On November 12, 1996, Nicodemus, located in eastern Graham County, became a National Historical site.
Oil Patch Museum – Located on the west side of Hill City, this museum gives a glimpse of some of the machinery used to make the Graham County area a leading oil producer. It is located at 800 W Highway 24.
Buffalo Bill Cultural Center & Buffalo Bill Sculpture – The Buffalo Bill Cultural Center is a Kansas community partner Travel Information Center. In front of the center is a Buffalo Bill Bronze Sculpture that is literally “larger than life”. The sculpture is located at West 2nd and US 83 Highway in Oakley, Kansas.
Butterfield Trail Museum – Housed in the old Logan County courthouse, the museum offers artifacts related to the history of the Butterfield Trail as well as some fossils from the Cretaceous Period which abound in this area of Kansas. The museum is located off of K-25 in Russell Springs, Kansas.
Fick Fossil and History Museum – The collection of fossils is completely genuine, no reproductions. They were collected mostly from the Monuments Rocks region of Logan, Scott, Gove, and Lane counties in Kansas. The collection does include dinosaurs. The museum also offers historic exhibits such as the 1886 Oakley depot replica, the Prather Creamery, General Store, and a military room. It is located at 700 West 3rd Street in Oakley, Kansas.
Little Jerusalem Badlands – This 332-acre area encompasses 220 acres of dramatic chalk rock formations left from when an inland sea covered Kansas. These fragile but ruggedly spectacular geologic formations provide not only breathtaking views but are also home to wildlife – from bats and ferruginous hawks to snakes, toads, and lizards as well as plants found nowhere else in the world. The park, which provides a mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs, is located between Oakley and Historic Lake Scott State Park.
Smoky Valley Ranch – This 19,000-acre Nature Conservancy invites visitors year-round to enjoy its hiking and horseback trails that provide views of prairie vistas and chalk bluffs. Overlooking the Smoky Hill River, the ranch also provides glimpses of wildlife, including prairie chickens, pronghorn, mule and white-tail deer, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, golden eagles, and swift fox. It is located at 1114 County Road 370, about 25 miles southwest of Oakley, Kansas.
Keith Sebelius Lake – Formerly known as Norton Reservoir, this is a man-made reservoir on Prairie Dog Creek in northwest Kansas. Built and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, it is used for flood control, irrigation, recreation, and local water supply. Prairie Dog State Park is located on its shore. The lake includes boat ramps, camping facilities, a hiking trail, and a swimming beach. It is also open for sport fishing year-round and hunting is permitted on the public land around the reservoir although it is restricted in certain areas.
Prairie Dog State Park – The park occupies 1,150 acres on the shores of Keith Sebelius Reservoir. Prairie Dog State Park is home to a thriving prairie dog colony and is the site of the last remaining adobe house in Kansas. The renovated adobe house was built on the site in the early 1890s. Sebelius Reservoir is well known for its excellent fishing for black bass, walleye, wiper, crappie, catfish, and saugeye. Prairie Dog State Park is located near Norton, Kansas.
Station 15 – Located in Norton, Kansas, this is a replica of an early stagecoach station equipped with period furnishings. It sits in a roadside park beside highway 36 at 537 Wilmington Street. Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, and Horace Greeley all passed through this stage depot.
Fort Bissell – In the spring of 1873, the Army sent word from Fort Hays that an attack by Apache Indians was imminent. Phillipsburg’s Fort Bissell was hastily built, but it was never needed. Old Fort Bissell, now located in a Phillipsburg Park, offers a visit to a frontier community.
Dane G. Hansen Museum – This Museum in Logan annually hosts exhibits from around the country including the Smithsonian Institution. The Museum is recognized as one of the best in the state of Kansas.
Kirwin Reservoir & National Wildlife Refuge – This reservoir, located next to the city of Kirwin, was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for flood control and area irrigation. The Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge lies on its shores.
Lake Atwood – This beautiful 43-acre lake at the north end of Atwood is encircled by a lighted walking path with a unique walking bridge. The Lake is surrounded by magnificent old cottonwood trees, shaded campsites, and picnic areas. The Hayden Nature Trail, a natural wildlife habitat, occupies the West Lake area.
Rawlins County Museum – Established in 1967, this is the Headquarters for the Rawlins County Historical Society.
Webster Reservoir and State Park – The 3,780 acre lake has campgrounds, picnic areas, swimming, volleyball courts, shower houses, shelters, hiking trails, boat ramps, fish cleaning stations, electric hookups, and much more. It is located seven miles west of Stockton on Highway 24.
Cedar Bluff State Park – Just 13 miles south of Interstate 70 in northwest Kansas is Cedar Bluff State Park. The park straddles Cedar Bluff Reservoir: the Bluffton Area on the north shore and the Page Creek Area on the south shore. Camping, boating, outdoor sports, wildlife viewing, and other opportunities are available in the park. With a unique look into Kansas‘ history, the many activities available at Cedar Bluff make it a quality destination. Cedar Bluff State Park is located in Ellis, Kansas.
Battle Of Punished Woman’s Fork At Battle Canyon – The Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork occurred when Northern Cheyenne Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf led their people from their reservation in Oklahoma back to their former home in the north. On September 27, 1878, pursuing soldiers caught up with them, and a battle occurred. In the skirmish, Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel William H. Lewis was mortally wounded. It was the last Indian battle in Kansas, and Lewis was the last officer killed in military action in the state. After the battle, the Northern Cheyenne fled during the night. Designated a State and National historic site, the battle site is located about one mile south of Lake Scott State Park off of Hwy 95. A monument overlooks a cave, a canyon, and the bluffs where the Northern Cheyenne hid, waiting to ambush the U.S. Cavalry.
El Quartelejo Museum – The museum is focused on the history of the Scott County area and includes many exhibits of fossils. A Pueblo Indian display, early Indian scenes, and a Pioneer homestead round out the historical displays offered. Located at 902 W. 5th in Scott City, Kansas.
El Cuartelejo Pueblo Ruins – A National Historic Landmark, it is an archeological dig that has uncovered a pueblo ruin dating from 1650 to 1750 A.D. and is thought to have been constructed by the Taos Indians from New Mexico. Located inside Scott County State Park.
Keystone Gallery – Houses a permanent collection of local Kansas Cretaceous fossils, as well as paintings and scenic photography. 401 US 83, Scott City, Kansas 67871, 620-872-2762. Halfway between Scott City and Oakley.
Scott Lake State Park – Park provides an ideal setting for boating, swimming, hiking, hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation. Scott State Park is a startling oasis of natural springs, deeply wooded canyons, and craggy bluffs. The 1,020-acre park surrounds the 100-acre, spring-fed Scott State Fishing Lake, and nature trails accommodate hikers, horseback riders, and naturalists. The Steele home, the dwelling of the original settlers on the area, has been preserved much as it was 100 years ago. The park also boasts the northernmost pueblo in the U. S. – El Cuartelejo. Scott State Park is located near Scott City, Kansas. The park is located at 520 W. Scott Lake Drive in Scott City, Kansas.
Cottonwood Ranch – Located 15 miles east of Hoxie on Highway 24, this English-style home that was once a successful sheep ranch. The Ranch was established in the late 1800s and was started by Fenton Pratt, who emigrated from England. It was purchased by the Kansas Historical Society in 1982.
Mickey’s Museum – This museum covers generations of Sheridan County history through household articles, clothing, photographs, farming tools, local business items, and much, much more. An authentic one-room schoolhouse also rests on museum grounds. Donated by Vernon Mickey of Hoxie, it is operated by the Sheridan County Historical Society. It is located two blocks east of the Highway 23 and 24 intersection at 1224 Oak Avenue in Hoxie, Kansas. The museum is open to the public by appointments made through the Sheridan County Historical Society office.
High Plains Museum – Established in 1959, this museum is owned and operated by the City of Goodland. It features objects from its collection of over 8,000 objects representing over one hundred years of Northwestern Kansas history. In 1979 an addition was added to the building to house a full-sized, automated replica of America’s First Patented Helicopter. The original craft was invented and built by W.J. Purvis and C.A. Wilson of Goodland in 1909. The museum is located at 1717 Cherry Avenue in Goodland, Kansas.
Giant Van Gogh – This giant sunflower painting on the south side of Goodland stands as a testament to Goodland as the “High Plains Sunflower Capital.”
Prairie Museum of Art and History – Visit this cultural center on the High Plains of Kansas which covers 24 acres containing six historic structures, including the 1936 Cooper Barn, The Lone Star Presbyterian Church, a well-preserved sod house, a one-room schoolhouse, and the 1930s Eller House. Operated by the Thomas County Historical Society, on the property, you will find the County Library and Archives. 1905 S. Franklin, Colby, Kansas 67701.
Trego County Historical Society Museum – Preserves Trego County history in a vast collection of pioneer possessions. Located on the Trego County Fairgrounds on the East edge of WaKeeney on Highway 283 North of the I-70 exit 126.
Fort Wallace Museum – There are actually several historic structures and the old Ft. Wallace Post Cemetery within this museum. Early visitors to Fort Wallace included Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill, William Comstock, and George Armstrong Custer. View the barbwire statues in the Sunderland-Poe building and see the oldest building in Western Kansas. Known as the Pond Creek Stagecoach Station, it was built in 1865 and was part of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch. Located on Highway 40 in Wallace, Kansas.
Mount Sunflower – The highest point in Kansas, Mount Sunflower is located near the Colorado border in Wallace County. The site is open year-round. Please be respectful of personal property.
Rhea’s Pump Organ Museum – Located in Sharon Springs, this museum holds one of the largest collections of reed organs in existence, with nearly 60 magnificently-restored organs on display. This museum is located at 117 N. Main Street and is open by appointment with owner Dick Rhea. He can be reached at 785-852-4951 or 785-821-1101.
Museum of the Great Plains – Operated by the Wichita County Historical Society, the museum is located in the old Shallow Water Train Depot. The museum holds artifacts related to early history in Wichita County along with the extensive railroad collection of Richard L. George. Located in Leoti, Kansas.