15 Essential Kansas Bucket List Activities & Foods

Updated

As a life-long Kansan, I know that our state doesn’t often make it on anyone’s travel bucket list. We don’t have world-class amusement parks, skyscrapers, famous art museums, or a National Park. And we are about as far away from the ocean as anyone could be. 

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Because we don’t get many tourists, some of you who only fly over our state have strange ideas about life in Kansas. Please, let me reassure you that Kansas is nothing like it has been depicted in old Western movies or TV shows. We have a superb highway system all across the state, even in western Kansas. Your smartphone will work here. We have chain restaurants, gas stations, and services—even in rural areas.

We aren’t all farmers, even though we are proud of our strong agricultural tradition that helps feed the world. The cattle are fenced, so you don’t have to worry about stampedes or herds of bison blocking the roads. And even though you want to “experience” a tornado, we can’t promise that one will be in the area during your visit.

So, what do you do when you visit Kansas? I love my state, but I’ll be the first to admit that this question is tricky to answer. So, instead of giving you a list of specific places to visit, we thought it would be helpful to provide you with a list of activities to experience in Kansas. 

Spring and Summer Kansas Bucket List Activities

Spring and summer are great times to visit Kansas, but you have to be prepared for unpredictable weather. Spring in Kansas can be deceptive. We may get a few warm days in early March and think that spring has arrived—only to be followed by a mid-March ice storm. Summers are hot and often dry. 

Here are some activities to consider for spring and summer.

1. Spring/summer festivals

If you are visiting Kansas in late spring or early summer, search for festivals in the area you’ll be staying. Most of the time, these festivals include carnival rides, good food, art/craft vendors, and concerts. 

Check out the Tulip Festival in Wamego, Amelia Earhart Days in Atchison, or Millfest in Lindsborg (Kansas’ “Little Sweden”). 

2. Concerts

There are quite a few outdoor concert venues in Kansas, which are very popular in the spring and summer. One popular offering is “Symphony in the Flint Hills.” The Kansas City Symphony performs on the uniquely beautiful tallgrass prairie during this event. 

If sitting out on a prairie listening to classical music doesn’t appeal to you, you could also attend Country Stampede, a summer festival now held in the state’s capital, Topeka.

3. Rodeos

Yes, you can find rodeos in Kansas. One of the oldest is held each year in Strong City. Make sure you visit the Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls if you’re going to be in the area for the rodeo.

4. “The Lake”

To cool off on hot Kansas weekends, many Kansans head to “the lake.” For many in the Kansas City area, “the lake” refers to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, but many other water recreation choices are scattered throughout our state. 

5. County fairs

County fairs give children who belong to a local 4-H club the opportunity to share their projects with people in the community. Visitors to the county fair can wander through barns full of sheep, watch children show their bucket calves, eat corn dogs and funnel cakes, or ride the Ferris wheel. 

Fall and Winter Kansas Bucket List Activities

Autumn is beautiful in Kansas, and October is a great time to visit. Besides attending one of the popular fall festivals, take time to enjoy the perfect weather and beautiful fall leaves. Here are a few bucket list activities for the fall and winter. 

6. Bonfires

Nothing is better than hanging out around a blazing bonfire in a Kansas pasture during a cool fall evening. Hot dogs, smores, adult beverages, and music make the experience even better. 

7. Fall/winter festivals

Because of the weather, autumn is a popular time for festivals in Kansas. Check out the Spinach Festival or the Renaissance Festival if you are near the Kansas City area. Visit the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield for five days of bluegrass music.

Winters can be cold and bitter in Kansas, so there aren’t a lot of scheduled festivals after the holidays. But check out the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade held in early December each year. 

8. College sports

Perhaps high school and college sports are popular in Kansas because of a lack of professional sports teams in the state (the Chiefs and Royals are technically Missouri teams). Friday night football games are popular in small Kansas communities. 

At the collegiate level, fans pour into Manhattan each fall to tailgate before the Kansas State University football games. During the late fall and winter, Jayhawk fans watch their team play basketball at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Kansas Bucket List Foods and Restaurants

Coming up with a list of the best restaurants in any state is one way to make enemies. After all, as soon as you put a label on a place as having the “best fried chicken” or “best pie,” someone will call you out for not having tried a particular restaurant in Abilene or a burger joint in Salina. 

It’s worth noting that Kansas has excellent restaurants. You’ll find awesome mom-and-pop diners scattered throughout the state, as well as farm-to-table restaurants in our larger towns and cities. And, of course, we are known (along with our Kansas City, Missouri neighbors) for having the best barbecue in the world.

Here are some thoughts on a Kansas food bucket list

9. Barbecue

Our region is known for having some of the best barbecue in the world. Although some of our BBQ restaurants are well known across the country, don’t overlook the less popular barbecue restaurants in the state. They are easier to get into on a Friday night and offer delicious food. 

10. Chicken in Pittsburg

Besides being home to Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas is home to two competing chicken restaurants. Whether you are in camp “Chicken Mary’s” or camp “Chicken Annie’s,” we can all agree that you are guaranteed a good meal at either restaurant.

11. Hays House

The oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River is in Council Grove, Kansas. Check out the Hays House, which is a National Register Historic Landmark. 

Kansas Bucket List Ideas for Kids and Families

Kansas is a great place to raise a family. We have some of the best-ranked public schools in the country and a lot of fun activities for children of all ages. Here are some bucket list activities for families visiting the Sunflower State. 

12. Visit a sunflower field

If you visit Kansas in the fall, ask locals about any sunflower fields in the area. Even though farmers grow sunflowers as crops, locals and tourists flock to these beautiful fields to take photos each fall.  

13. Go to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard

Pumpkin patches are extremely busy during the fall. Kansas pumpkin patches also sometimes have corn mazes and hayrides. 

The Louisburg Cider Mill is a popular destination each fall. Even though you can purchase their cider in grocery stores, there’s nothing better than buying an apple cider slush and cider donut on site. 

14. Hike the Flint Hills

The Flint Hills have an understated beauty and can only be found in a specific region of the state. Much of the area is privately owned, but you can enjoy the beautiful landscape by driving the Flint Hills Scenic byway, passing through Cassoday, Council Grove, Cottonwood Falls, and Strong City. 

To truly experience this tallgrass prairie, take your kids to the Konza Prairie, a Kansas State University research station that studies grassland ecology, or the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. 

15. Visit a farm

The Kansas farm tradition is alive and well. There are tourist farmsteads throughout the state that serve the purpose of showing the history of agricultural operations. However, if you are lucky enough to know someone who owns and operates a family farm, ask to visit with your kids. 

Even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, some of my favorite memories involve bottle-feeding a calf, riding in the combine during harvest, and helping my Dad move cattle from one pasture to another. Your kids will love it too.

Like Nebraska, Kansas Isn’t for Everyone

While the rest of the country laughed when Nebraska launched their new slogan, “Honestly, It’s Not for Everyone,” Kansans completely understood this approach because our state is also not everyone’s cup of tea. 

You have to be open-minded to appreciate the understated beauty of Kansas tallgrass prairies and the fertile Kansas farmland. 

You’ll also appreciate our state more if you know our history. Instead of just seeing Western Kansas as boring, flat farmland, those with knowledge and imagination can envision what it would have been like for the Native Americans who hunted bison on the plains or the early homesteaders who established family farms that have lasted for generations. 

Even though the lack of tourist attractions causes much disdain to Kansas teenagers, most adults are at peace with our lack of tourism. When we feel the need for the kind of excitement that comes with world-class tourist destinations, we travel outside of our state and face congested traffic, overpriced parking, and noise, light, and air pollution. Then, we come home to Kansas saying, “that was a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

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