Love small towns? Well you’ll certainly be in luck in Kansas, where there are plenty of small towns and country-style hospitality even bleeds into Kansas’s biggest cities. During your trip, you can easily pop into many of the small towns that surround the state’s main features like Greensburg’s big well, the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, the Monument Rocks, and of course, the tallgrass prairies.
Kansas attracts family travelers, cyclists, bird watchers, equestrian riders, foodies, adventurers, motorcyclists, history buffs, and more. For those who love a good story, many of the small towns in Kansas have an interesting history that often involves bandits, cancan dancers, and shootouts. Some of the local museums or historical exhibits are more entertaining than their big city counterparts.
As for natural landscapes, Kansas’s flat terrain of wheat fields, rolling hills, and endless skies make for some seriously incredible sunsets. The wide-open roads and fields seem to appeal to travelers in search of a unique experience that’s well off the heavily-tread path. Wherever you go, a local will likely point you in the right direction for the town’s local evening lookout.
Lets explore the best small towns to visit in Kansas:
Lecompton, with a population of a little over 600 people, is one of the United States of America’s most important cultural and historical sites. Lecompton was not only where the Civil War started, but also where the cruel practice of slavery began to die. In 1857, a Constitution was drafted that would make Kansas a slave state. There was immense pushback from the anti-slavery political party, and ultimately this was one of the greatest factors that led to the Civil War.
Today, Lecompton has a handful of historical sites where you can learn more about the interesting history of the region and the Civil War. Some must see exhibits are in the Territorial Capital Museum and the Constitution Hall.
2. Council Grove
Council Grove is an interesting small town with a rich history. Before Council Grove officially became the town of Council Grove, it was part of the Santa Fe Trail, a road that would connect Missouri all the way to New Mexico. In Council Grove, you can take a self guided informational tour that teaches participants more details on the history behind the area.
Visitors should visit the Council Grove Reservoir and drive along the Flint Hills National Scenic byway. For a true small town experience, you also have to stop and grab a bite to eat at Hays House Restaurant and Tavern, a locally owned pub serving delicious American fare.
Located close to the Big Blue River, Marysville is a small town that takes pride in its interesting history, welcoming community, and beautiful nearby landscapes. Marysville was the first home station on the Pony Express route west of Missouri, and travelers can learn more about this fun fact at the local Pony Express Museum. There are also a variety of other museums like the Doll Museum, Lifetiles Murals, and art exhibitions.
Marysville also has a beautiful town park with a free pool, steam locomotive, and a 1901 Union Pacific Depot. For animal lovers, keep an eye out for the local squirrel population – who’s fur is an incredible jet black!
Atwood is a small town known for its friendly and helpful values. It’s located along the beautiful Beaver Creek in the northwestern part of the state, though the main feature of this small town is Lake Atwood. At Lake Atwood, you can hike, fish, camp, play, play baseball, and even golf. In the winter, visitors can go sledding down frosty nearby hills.
Throughout the year, Atwood hosts fun events like barbecue festivals, races, restored car shows, free county fairs, and an exciting 4th of July celebration. Tourists are welcome to any event that takes place and are often treated as if they were a local.
Imagine landscapes that spread as far as the eye can see, farm to table meals, and historic attractions. You can get all this and more in Norton, a small town near the Kansas-Nebraska border. The town offers a variety of outdoor recreation activities like fishing, water sports, camping, and hunting at the Prarie Dog State Park and Sebelius Reservoir.
There is also the Norton Motor Cross Track, where you can watch motorcyclists race around at top speeds or even hop on a bike yourself. In the evenings, stop at the Norton Theatre, a venue hosting two screens that features two new releases nearly every night.
Walk into Lindsborg and you might be wondering if you’ve walked into an entirely new country altogether! Lindsborg is as being the “Little Sweden” of the United States and even has a Dala horse, a Swedish wooden horse, as its mascot. All throughout the town, locals, businesses, and even policemen place Dalas everywhere to keep with tradition.
In Lindsborg, you can enjoy witnessing the thriving arts community at one of the many galleries and studios, shop at a world-famous Swedish gift shop, visit the McPherson County Old Mill Museum, and dine at any of the local restaurants serving deliciously hearty meals.
Lucas, a small town of just under 400 residents, is a wonderful place to visit for travelers interested in geological wonders, art, small town living, and natural landscapes.
Despite having such a small population, the residents of Lucas have managed to nab the title of being the Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas, where unique grassroots art can be found on nearly any corner. The most notable feature is S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden. S.P. Dinsmoor was a retired Civil War Veteran who built incredible concrete sculptures depicting people in their daily life all around his home. Today, visitors can take guided tours and catch a glimpse of the artwork for themselves.
The small town of Wilson is also known as the Czech capital of the state, paying homage to the Czech Republic every year with their Czech Festival that attracts thousands of attendees from all throughout the state.
The small town also has five churches and hosts the Kansas Originals Markey and Gallery, one of the state’s largest exhibitions featuring local artists and craftspeople. Just outside of the town is Wilson Lake, known for having the clearest water in all of Kansas. There, you can fish, swim, go boating, and explore the surrounding trails. For even more natural sights, there is the Wilson State Park with campsites amidst stunning limestone formations.
Before you head to Wamego, you must watch the American classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Wamego is the true Oz, and even hosts an Oz Museum with movie memorabilia, an Oz winery, Oz gift shops, and even Oztoberfest, where live performers turn the streets of Wamego into the real-life yellow brick road.
Aside from the Oz overdose, Wamego is close to natural parks perfect for outdoor travelers looking to fish, hunt, camp, canoe, horseback ride, hike and more. There is also a thriving arts scene with exhibits displaying just how much talent one small town can have.
Abilene is a historical treasure trove, with five world-class museums all within walking distance from one another. But don’t let the plethora of museums fool you – this small town is far from being boring. Abilene has held onto its history by maintaining saloons complete with cancan dancers and gunfight reenactments that pay tribute to old-fashioned times.
Abilene was once the home of President Eisenhower, who now has both a museum and library in his honor. Other must-see stops are the Seelye Mansion and the Native American Art Center. Don’t miss the opportunity to hop onboard the 100 year old train through the Smoky River Hill Valley trail and dine in their wooden car.
If you’re into paranormal travel, Atchison is also supposed to be one of the most haunted towns in all of the United States, partially because of its deep pioneer history. There are over eleven haunted tours to choose from that range from dining with spirits, learning ghost hunting 101, walking through cemeteries, and even one with an Edgar Allen Poe twist. Whether this is all tall tale or truth is something you’ll have to find out for yourself.
On a less creepy note, Atchison is also the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, one of the country’s greatest explorers. Each year there is the Amelia Earhart festival, where residents continue her brave legacy.
12. Cottonwood Falls
Cottonwood Falls makes the perfect escape away from any semblance of stress or busyness. This small town in Chase County is surrounded by rolling hills, a thriving songbird population, and the Cottonwood River. Residents of the area take pride in maintaining the peaceful, pristine feel to the region. Tourists can spend their time at restorative retreats or head out for non-stop action. No matter what travel style you have, you’ll feel comfortable in Cottonwood Falls.
While in Cottonwood Falls, go for a scenic walk through the Flint Hills, dine at the local eateries, and browse the folk-art galleries. There are also a handful of specialty boutique stores to browse in between time spent relaxing and exploring.
Paola is a small town with a thriving community with a beautiful Historic Downtown Park Square. This square surrounded by Victorian architecture has an interesting and varied history. Over the years, it’s been a main gathering place for Native American tribes, horse racing track, parade and circus area, and now it’s still a wonderful place to hang out.
Visitors can browse the many specialty boutique shops in the Paola business district or head to the outskirts to fish, camp, swim, and explore. Being just twenty minutes from Kansas City, Paola is a wonderful day or half day trip.
Coffeyville is one small town that’s always had a lot of heart. Back in the mid 1800s, a group of bandits known as the Dalton boys was causing chaos in the nearby small towns, robbing banks, small shops, and citizens. Coffeyville staged a shootout and shot the outlaws dead. Afterwards, this small town became known as the “town that stopped the Daltons.” A fun exhibit about the scene is now at the Dalton Defenders Museum.
Today, Coffeyville has a handful of fun attractions that are a must-visit when tourists come to town. Sites like the Brown Mansion, Midland Theater, and the Walter Johnson Park Campground are interesting stops spread between the town’s many public parks.
Colby is well known as being an oasis on the plains of Kansas, where you can enjoy small-town living surrounded by endless fields of wind-blown grass. For those who grew up reading novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder, there is the Prairie Museum of Art and History to browse. You can easily spend your days relaxing and taking in the experience of true country living.
Colby also hosts Pickin’ on the Plains, a gathering of incredible bluegrass musicians who come from all around the region to perform folk tunes and melodies for anyone who wants to listen. Travelers on a budget will also score sweet deals at the Southwind Antique Mall.