Links + Tips for Exploring the Kansas Flint Hills
We had two May 2018 days off. Where to go? How about south of Omaha. But where?
We’d heard about the Kansas Flint Hills, but literally knew nothing about this east-central region, so off we went.
No Interstate travel allowed. Wow! Endless visual stimulation. Every shade of green. The air filled with dust behind farm equipment tilling spring soil. Trees bursting with blooms. Puffy clouds in blue skies. Friendly, warm-hearted people. Wind. Lots of wind. Rolling hills. Tall grass prairie. Deafening silence. Disc golf courses everywhere. Highly talented artists of every type. Live folk music on a Friday night. New American food in a Strong City-a town of 455 people (2016).
Can’t Miss Stops on Kansas Flint Hills Visit
Traveling south from Omaha, stop at the historical Johnson County Courthouse in Tecumseh, Nebraska.
Walk around the square. Read the historical markers and take in the Romanesque style courthouse architecture. Simply stunning.
This historical district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Council Grove is an old trail town at the crossroads of the Santa Fe Trail and the Flint Hills Scenic Byway.
Park downtown. Get out and walk.
Make time to visit with the store owners and museum volunteers. Stroll along the well-maintained river walk.
Trees of the Santa Fe Trail era are marked throughout the city with plaques as Council Grove is designated as a “Tree City USA.”
- Stop in at the Post Office Oak Museum owned by the Morris County Historical Society.
Lunch at the Historic Hays House
- View the artwork at Rockfish Gallery and chat with owner, Chris Carlin. https://www.facebook.com/Rock-Fish-Gallery-2265381846821340/
- Drive out to the Reservoir and around City Lake
2480 Kansas Highway 177 Strong City, KS 66869
The Preserve is a public/private partnership dedicated to preserving and enhancing the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
Call ahead 620.273.8494 (hit 0) to reserve a seat on the free bus tour, guided by a park ranger.
No admission fee. Check website for pet policy.
The Information center has a video to view. Best to watch before going out on the trails or into the historical buildings (house, barn and school).
Educational kiosks, well-appointed and clean, modern restrooms and a small gift shop are also in the Information Center. There are additional modern restrooms near the barn.
• Wear closed toe shoes.
• Fill your water bottle at the Information Center prior to boarding the bus.
• The road the bus travels on is bumpy. Keep this in mind if you have back or spine issues.
• Binoculars will enhance the experience.
• Understand this is not a zoo. Animals (cattle + buffalo) and wildlife roam freely, often near, or on, the hiking trails. Use extreme caution and pay attention to not only what is in front of you but also what is behind you.
• You may picnic on the grounds near the house and/or Information Center.
Clover Cliff Ranch
826 A US Highway 50
Elmdale, Kansas 66850
11 miles west of Strong City
Like nearly everything in the Flint Hills, this Bed and Breakfast greatly exceeded all expectations.
In addition to guest rooms in the later-Victorian, Empire-style stone main house, 3 freestanding lodging options are available. We stayed in the Bunk House. The decor is modern and fitting for a ranch location.
The kitchen is furnished with all but an oven (a crock pot is available as are a multi-burner cooktop and microwave).
Tips to Enhance Your Stay
• Bathrobes are furnished
• Foldable outdoor chairs are available
• Bring ear plugs or background noise apps if a light sleeper; a train frequently passes by on the other side of a somewhat busy highway
• A challenging disc golf course is on the property; bring your discs
• Walk the course, even if you don’t play it. Bug spray and sunscreen may be necessary
• Breakfast is hearty. Confirm your dining time for the next day after each breakfast is completed.
• Get the Wi-Fi code/password at check-in
• Make time for a short history tour of the home/property
• Filtered water is provided
• Breakfast is served on an enclosed veranda
Other lodging options are found on the Chase County Chamber of Commerce link here.
Strong City’s population is less than 500.
Points of Interest
521 East 7th Street
- Pork loin and Patty Melt sandwiches are excellent, as is the service.
318 Cottonwood Street
- New American restaurant with a full bar, including regional craft beers, gluten-free and vegan options, and locally sourced produce and meats, including buffalo and beef.
- Reservations suggested. Open Thursday night for dinner. Lunch and dinner served Friday through Sunday.
- Food prep and quality far surpassed expectations as did interior design and vibe
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas https://cwfks.org/
The largest city in and the county seat of Chase County, Cottonwood Falls boasts a population of under 1000 (2010) and is about one mile from Strong City.
Points of Interest
Chase County Courthouse https://cwfks.org/chase-county-courthouse/
- Oldest Kansas courthouse still in use; employees work there.
- It was completed in 1873 and was built in the French Renaissance style from walnut and limestone. Today it is immaculately maintained.
- Self-guided tours are available M-F 8 AM to 5 PM. Guided tours are available from 1-4 PM, by appointment by calling 620.273.8469.
- The historic jail on the 2nd floor is worth seeing as is the view of Broadway from the recessed oval window on the 3rd floor.
- Note the maple wood floors and many historical photographs hung on walls. Stop in the Commissioners Chambers.
- Run your hands along the smooth walnut railings of the impressive three floor spiral north staircase (without center support). The craftsmanship is exquisite.
- Walk the south wing staircase on the second floor. Imagine the many feet over time that have walked before you.
Prairie PastTimes https://prairiepasttimes.org/
- Open Tuesday through Sunday 11AM-5 PM and when the flag is out.
- A cooperative of Flint Hills artists and artisans selling items made in the Kansas Flint Hills.
- Impressive works: wool and Alpaca textiles, photography, stained glass, woodwork, ceramics, ironwork, and more.
- Support art. Purchase a remembrance of your visit from one of these talented artists and artisans.
Emma Chase Friday Night Music www.facebook.com/EmmaChaseMusic
620.273.6003 or 620.273.8301
Emma Chase is not a current musician. Rather she is a fictionalized character. However, at one time, there was an Emma Chase Café, which is now closed.
- Musicians and audiences gather around 7:30 PM near Cottonwood Falls’ Main Street to jam. Sessions end at 10:00 PM.
- Weather permitting all congregate outside on the street by the Courthouse-331 Broadway-or if not, and every 4th Friday, at Prairie PastTimes-220 1/2 Broadway.
- Admission is free. Donations are greatly valued.
- Bring a lawn chair.
- Audience members are welcome to join in
- Guests can view the artwork in the gallery behind the musicians.
- Restrooms are in the gallery
- 1st Friday: Acoustic Gospel Music
- 2nd Friday: Acoustic Bluegrass Music
- 3rd Friday: Acoustic Country, Folk and Bluegrass Music
- 4th: Friday: Electric & Acoustic Old Time Rock-n-Roll and Vintage Country Music
In September of 1999, Sue Smith and friend Charley Klamm were discussing the possibility of a music session at the cafe. Charley said, “For two bits, I’d hang a paper at the barbershop to see if anybody was interested.” Sue reached into her pocket, handed Charley the quarter, gave him a sheet of paper and said, “Go ahead.” So, on the first Friday night in October, 1999, twelve musicians with instruments in hand showed up at the Emma and a couple dozen listeners followed close behind. Most believe this is the longest continuous jam session, and perhaps the first, in Kansas. Taken from www.kansassampler.org
Cottonwood Falls Parks
Cottonwood River Bridge and Waterfall-located on the north side of Cottonwood Falls next to Bates Grove Park, which has tent camping available.
Walking Trail between Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. It’s paved.
Swope Park-1715 210 Road-located on the southeast corner of Highway 177/210 Road This impressive multi-purpose park includes a dignified Veteran’s Memorial, 4-H barns and an arena, a campground with RV pads, disc golf course, a playground and swimming pool, picnic areas with two covered shelter houses, and baseball and softball fields.
When walking downtown, be sure to stop and read the placard about the Bill North Courtyard “Beagle Run.”
Chase State Fishing Lake https://cwfks.org/chase-state-fishing-lake/ west of Cottonwood Falls off Lake Road
Take a drive out here. Observe wildlife. Appreciate the wonder and stillness of nature.
Bonus Links + Information
KSU Botanical Center http://www.k-state.edu/gardens/
Tallgrass Brewery Tap House http://tallgrasstaphouse.com/
Chase County Chamber of Commerce Excellent source for additional information and links on lodging, recreation, shopping, dining, etc.
Symphony in the Hills http://www.symphonyintheflinthills.org/
Disc golf https://cwfks.org/chase-disc-golf/
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Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete form above.