The story of this city in central Kansas begins in 1887 when one of the world’s largest salt deposits was discovered close to the Arkansas River.
That immense seam was formed in the Permian Period, 275 million years ago when Hutchinson was at the bottom of the sea.
Salt made fortunes for humble folk like Emerson Carey (1863-1933), who arrived in Hutchinson on foot and died a multimillionaire, not before helping to bring the Kansas State Fair to the city where it remains to this day.
The incredible salt mine museum, Strataca is one of two national-level attractions in the city, the other being Cosmosphere, which has a world-beating collection of US and Russian space artifacts.
More than 30 years after salt was first discovered in Hutchinson, salt mining remains a cornerstone of the city’s economy. So if you want to get a feel for this place, the salt mine museum on the east side of Hutchinson needs to be your starting point.
The museum is right on top of that gigantic salt deposit and gives you the chance to descend 650 feet underground in just 90 seconds via a double-decker hoist.
You can take a guided tour of the immense chambers left behind when the salt has been mined.
The mining gallery displays machinery, manual tools, dynamite and other objects used by salt miners over the last 100+ years, comparing them to 21st-century technology, while the Permian Room shows off tens of millions years of history, through the strata formed on a sea bed in the Permian Period.
Finally, Strataca offers many ways of exploring the mine’s many miles of tunnels, on the Salt Safari, 30-minute Dark Ride and the old-time Salt Mine Express, into tunnels left untouched for more than half a century.
The largest combined collection of US and Russian spaceflight artifacts on the planet awaits you at the Hutchinson Community College campus.
This mind-blowing assemblage has its roots in the planetarium that was established at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in the early 1960s.
You won’t find more Russian space artifacts in one place outside of Moscow, and only in Washington, D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum has more US space artifacts.
Among the countless astounding pieces are the Command Module Odyssey from Apollo 13, a piece of moon rock from Apollo 11, Redstone and Titan II launch vehicles from the Mercury and Gemini programs and a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
On the Soviet side you’ve got the flight-ready backup to Sputnik 1 and a Vostok and Voskhod 2 capsules from the early and mid-60s.
From Germany, you can view a piece of the Berlin wall, as well as a genuine V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket from WWII. As well as these awesome artifacts, there’s a science lab with demonstrations, a planetarium, digital dome theater and a food court.
3. Hutchinson Zoo
In Carey Park, this modern zoo has been around since the mid-1980s and is mainly home to species from Kansas and the United States.
Hutchinson Zoo plays a vital role in wildlife rehabilitation thanks to the Cargill Wildcare Center, treating around 500 animals each year.
In the zoo’s habitats you’ll see prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, raccoons, North American river otters, bison, fish and aquatic animals at the aquarium, as well as a number of exotic species such as tamarin monkeys.
Another big attraction at the zoo is the Prairie Thunder Railroad, a miniature railroad that winds through the site, giving a fantastic view of the bison in particular.
4. Kansas State Fair
Continue north on Main Street through downtown Hutchinson and you’ll soon come to the sprawling venue for the Kansas State Fair, which has been held in this city since 1913.
A 10-day celebration of Kansas agriculture, the fair is an event without equal in the state, attracting around 350,000 people each year.
It all kicks off on the Friday after Labor Day, with a slew of fiercely contested competitive departments for anything from livestock to baking to giant vegetables.
These are combined with scores of food vendors, a world-class midway, educational exhibits and grandstand events like concerts, auto races and demolition derbies.
5. Carey Park
Near the Arkansas River in the south of Hutchinson, the city’s premier park was developed during the Great Depression when hundreds of local residents were employed on Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects.
The lagoons at Carey Park are holdovers from that time, and nowadays the park is packed with modern facilities and attractions.
As well as Hutchinson Zoo, you’ve got the Salt City Splash Aquatic Center, the 18-hole Carey Park Golf Course, a baseball stadium, skate park, disc golf course and an improved trail network connecting with Hutchinson’s Jim P. Martinez Sunflower Trail.
6. Downtown Hutchinson
It’s easy to see that Hutchinson has put a lot of investment into its downtown commercial district, transforming the streetscape as well as parks as far south as Arkansas River and Carey Park.
Today’s Hutchinson is an effervescent kind of place, with community events, fine turn-of-the-century architecture, pulsating entertainment, independent shops and services, and diverse restaurants.
Also here is one of the largest antique districts in the state, the kind of place where you could lose all track of time hunting for decorative arts, collectibles and vintage furniture.
7. Sand Hills State Park
There’s a spectacular and ecologically rich dune system on Hutchinson’s northeastern shoulder, protected by a 1,120-acre state park.
The dunes here are wind-deposited sands, blown from the Arkansas River at the end of the Ice Age.
These have been fixed in place by the roots of sand prairie grasses, and rise as high as 40 feet, with sloughs and marshes in the low-lying areas.
You can make your way through this unusual landscape along 14 miles of trails, broken down into eight different routes for nature interpretation, hiking and horseback riding.
There’s also a campground at Sand Hills State Park with 64 sites, 44 with water, sewer and electricity, and 20 with just water and sewer.
8. Reno County Museum
A block east of Main Street is a great local history museum in the stately Great American Life Building (1919).
The collections for the Reno County Historical Society are immense, and go into richly detailed exhibits painting a vivid picture of local life across 150+ years.
The Transportation Gallery is a treat, with a rare 1903 Ford Model A, a 19th-century Schuttler wagon and a 1929 Indian Ace motorcycle, to name a handful.
There are also profiles of important figures from Reno County’s past, a history of the Hutchinson Police Department and lots of information about the county’s three traditional income sources, which were salt, the railroads and grain.
9. Historic Hutchinson Fox Theatre
Exploring downtown Hutchinson your eye will be drawn to this exquisite Art Deco movie palace from 1931, designed by Kansas City’s Boller Brothers.
The Fox Theatre has still got its original neon marquee, and has a beautiful facade with projecting pilasters and metallic glazed terra cotta tiles sporting vegetal, floral and geometric reliefs.
Seating 1,221, the theatre was closed in 1985, before being purchased and renovated by a non-profit organization, and reopened in 1999.
Full of original interior details, from light fittings to stair railings, this is a stunning place to watch concerts, comedy, dance and musicals, as well as independent and classic movies.
10. Yoder Amish Community
The largest Amish community in Kansas sits about 15 minutes south of Hutchinson, in unincorporated Yoder.
The Amish settled here in the 1880s, and if the name sounds Amish appropriate, it’s because it actually comes from one Eli M. Yoder, the son of an Amish bishop who set up a homestead at this spot in 1870.
Today people visit from across the region to pick up time-honored Amish specialties like handmade quilts and other traditional crafts, as well as smoked meats, preserves and homemade desserts.
The best time to come is Yoder Heritage Day in August, with events and attractions like buggy races, a quilt auction, wagon rides, a parade, petting zoo, live music and a fireworks show.
11. Reno County Farmers’ Market
This farmers’ market is a real community event during the summer months. There’s a permanent pavilion at 115 W 2nd, hosting markets on Saturday (mid-May thru October) and Wednesday mornings (mid-June through October).
If you’re here for seasonal fresh produce, the peak season is of course June through August, but you’ve also got tempting baked goods, confectionery, jams, honey, eggs, and kettle corn, along with a wealth of crafts from jewelry to candles to home decorations.
There’s an indoor winter market in December, while live music is always part of the fun.
12. Hutchinson Art Center
Dating back to 1949, the non-profit Hutchinson Art Center has been given a modern renovation in the last few years.
The updated gallery space hosts exhibitions by regional and national artists, as well as shows sourced from an impressive collection, built up over 70+ years.
As a linchpin for Hutchinson’s cultural scene, the center is also a venue for community events, a big schedule of classes and live music.
And if you want to support talent from the Reno County area, there’s also an assortment of locally produced painting, sculpture, prints and crafts for sale.
13. Dillon Nature Center
On the way to Sand Hills State Park there’s a 100-acre preserve in Hutchinson’s suburbs. The Dillon Nature Center is a designated National Urban Wildlife Sanctuary, growing more than 300 species of woody plants, hundreds of wildflower species and native grasses.
More than 200 different bird species have been spotted at the nature center, and you’re sure to see some along the three miles of trails.
There’s a stocked pond for fishing, bird watching areas, a natural playscape for children and a 10,000-square-foot visitor center with a gift shop, terrariums and superb interpretive exhibits.
14. Hutch Putt
Out by the Hutchinson Mall on the way to the airport there’s an 18-hole mini golf that opened in 2017. The first thing to say about Hutch Putt is that there’s an absence of tacky mini golf cliches like windmills and cheap fiberglass models of animals.
What you get are cleverly laid holes, with interesting changes in elevation and neat landscaping, with two ponds and a creek.
You can pay a little extra for unlimited play, and there’s a stand selling merch, cold drinks, ice creams and other snacks.
15. Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm
Northwest of Hutchinson off K-96, the rancher couple, Joe and Sondra Hedrick, have set up an exotic animal farm, combined with a bed & breakfast.
Guests can experience something out of the ordinary, waking up to the sights and sounds of kangaroos and ostriches, but you can also get in touch to organize a tour.
The farm has giraffes, zebras, camels, peacocks and many more exotic creatures, and these often appear at animal exhibits at state fairs.
On a tour you’ll get to know about the animals’ routines, diet and character, and will get the chance to feed the kangaroos or take a camel ride.