Nine trips, more than 575 miles and a seemingly endless array of art, wildlife, ranch lands, tallgrass prairies and reminders of diverse ethnic heritage, Civil War outposts and American Indian history.
Welcome to Kansas Scenic Byways.
The byways program, administered by the Kansas Department of Transportation, gives drivers and cyclists all the guidance they need to enjoy some of Kansas’ most majestic, historical and just plain accessible roadside features.
“There’s historical, cultural places to visit, places to see, places to stay, places to eat, where you can get gas,” said Scott Shields, state byways coordinator for KDOT. “The byways program helps market all these things that people can do along the way.”
Here’s a rundown of byways in Kansas:
Flint Hills Scenic Byway
• Location: Kansas Highway 177, between Council Grove and Cassoday.
• Length: 47.2 miles.
• KDOT description: “A beautiful drive year-round, showing off the panoramic vistas of the tallgrass prairie.” It also is designated as a National Scenic Byway.
The byway includes the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and, in Cottonwood Falls, the historic Chase County Courthouse.
Travelers can tune in to 1680 AM to hear messages about features and communities along the way.
Wetlands & Wildlife Scenic Byway
• Location: Starts on U.S. Highway 281, just northwest of Hoisington, then onto U.S. Highway 156 alongside the Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area and on to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The byway ends back on U.S. 281, just north of St. John.
• Length: 76.7 miles.
• KDOT description: “The gateway to a panoramic display of birds and wildlife. …. (with) acres of radiant water that are the temporary home for clouds of birds as they make their annual migrations.” It, too, is designated as a National Scenic Byway.
The byway is touted for its opportunities to observe birds and other wildlife.
“The litany of a local naturalist sums it nicely,” KDOT says: “There are 650 bird species in the United States, 417 in Kansas and 320 in Cheyenne Bottoms.”
Frontier Military Scenic Byway
• Location: From Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott, then south to the Oklahoma border. That’s on Kansas Highway 5 in Leavenworth, then on to Interstate 435 to U.S. Highway 69 and Alternate U.S. 69.
• Length: 167 miles.
• KDOT description: “The route approximates the old military trail used by the Army to transport troops and supplies between the frontier forts.”
Included along the byway are Fort Leavenworth, Mine Creek Civil War Battlefield Site, Fort Scott National Historic Site and cemetery, and Big Brutus, considered the world’s second-largest electric coal shovel.
Glacial Hills Scenic Byway overview
• Location: From the intersection of Kansas Highway 7 and Kansas Highway 92 in Leavenworth, the route runs north through Atchison, Troy and ultimately to White Cloud at the northern edge of Doniphan County.
• Length: 63 miles.
• KDOT description: “Glaciers once covered the northeast corner of Kansas. When the glaciers receded north, they left behind a unique, scenic landscape of rolling, wooded hills, rock-strewn soil and valleys with clear, running streams.”
Along the Missouri River near White Cloud are sharp-edged river bluffs, composed of yellow loess soil overlaying debris left behind from the last ice age. An overlook in White Cloud offers views of four states: Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.
Tours of historic barns are conducted in Doniphan County.
Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway
• Location: From Medicine Lodge to the junction of U.S. Highway 160 and U.S. Highway 183 in Coldwater.
• Length: 42 miles.
• KDOT description: “Travelers have the opportunity to see flat mesas, deep canyons, sharp high hills, red soils and caprock formations.”
The byway, KDOT says, boasts Kansas scenery “from rolling farm land and midgrass prairie grazing land to the rugged, gypsum-capped flower pot shale mesas and buttes with minimal vegetation.”
Native Stone Scenic Byway
• Location: Along Kansas Highway 4 and Kansas Highway 99, generally heading west from Dover and continuing through Keene, Eskridge, Lake Wabaunsee and Alma.
• Length: 48 miles.
• KDOT description: The byway “showcases an area in Kansas that is well-known for its native limestone.”
The byway showcases fences, bridges and buildings made with native stone.
Post Rock Scenic Byway
• Location: Extends north and south on Kansas Highway 232 through the Smoky Hills of Ellsworth, Lincoln and Russell counties in north-central Kansas.
• Length: 18 miles.
• KDOT description: “The byway offers scenic, recreational, geological and agricultural viewing opportunities.”
Tours of a post rock quarry are available in Lucas, a town that also is home to the Garden of Eden, an eclectic collection of concrete folk-art sculptures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Prairie Trail Scenic Byway
• Location: A trip through north-central Kansas, from Canton at the south to Kansas Highway 140 at the north, near Ellsworth.
• Length: 56 miles.
• KDOT description: “It begins … not far from where the Santa Fe and Chisholm trails brought travelers and cattle in the 19th century.”
The byway includes the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge and, just north of Lindsborg, Coronado Heights, a Works Progress Administration project with a limestone “castle” that affords visitors 360-degree views of the Smoky Hill River Valley.
Smoky Valley Scenic Byway
• Location: From WaKeeney along Interstate 70, travelers head south along U.S. Highway 283 through Trego to Ransom, then east on Kansas Highway 4 to Brownwell, then back north on Kansas Highway 147 to Ogallah.
• Length: 60 miles.
• KDOT description: “Named for their ‘hazy’ appearance at sunrise and sunset, the Smoky Hills provide a transition between the mixed-grass prairie and the short-grass prairie of the plains. The byway offers a showplace of native wildflowers and grasses through the seasons.”
Pioneers crossed the area as they traversed the Smoky Hill Trail, headed west.