On the west flank of the famous Flint Hills, the seat of Cowley County has twice been named among the 100 Best Small Towns in America.
And little wonder, as Winfield is a lovable place, with a dynamic downtown area, beautiful architecture and a sprinkling of youth thanks to Southwestern College.
One of many annual events in Winfield is the Walnut Valley Festival, devoted to acoustic music, and staging national and international competitions across five days.
Many of Winfield’s get-togethers take place at the picture-perfect Island Park, which has hosted festivals since the fabled Chautauquas of the late 19th century.
1. Downtown Winfield
Winfield’s central commercial district has a rare vitality to it, with a constant stream of events throughout the year and a diversity of welcoming local businesses.
Within a few blocks there are stores for gifts, jewelry, fabrics, home appliances, antiques, contemporary fashion, games, vintage clothing, specialty foods and a butcher, along with a gallery, and performing arts center.
For dining you’ve got grills, Italian, BBQ, diner classics, a burger joint, a pizza parlor, Mexican, sweet treats and more.
Some of the many celebrations downtown include a Christmas lights parade and music crawls in May and September.
2. Island Park
This delightful public space in the northwest of Winfield hosted Chautauquas at the turn of the 20th century, and continues to be a gathering place for the community.
There’s a farmer’s market all through the summer months, and in the holiday season you can come for the stunning Isle of Lights show.
True to its name, Island Park is detached from the rest of the city by a moat, and you can take a gentle walk or bike ride along the tree-lined paths that weave through the park and skirt the water.
There’s a neat, castle-themed playground for kids, along with a serene Peace Garden, a waterfall and a set of pavilions and shelters that can be rented.
3. Walnut Valley Festival
Dedicated to acoustic music, the Walnut Valley Festival is a sensational five-day event held on the 3rd weekend of September since 1972.
Bluegrass is the main genre at the festival but a wide range of acoustic styles, from Cajun to Irish folk, are represented at the four stages. If you didn’t think folk music could be competitive you’d be mistaken.
There’s a whole program of national and international championships for bluegrass banjo, mandolin, autoharp and more.
The flagship event though is the hotly-contested National Flat-pick Guitar Championships. Also on the agenda are workshops and a large juried arts and crafts fair.
4. Historic Homes and Caton Homes
One man who left a lasting impression on Winfield’s cityscape was the architect Bill Caton (1895-1993).
He was born in Winfield and went to college at Kansas State in Manhattan. While posted in England during World War I, Caton fell in love with the quaint residential architecture of the Cotswolds, with rustic limestone walls and timber frames.
He brought that style back to Winfield, at a time when the industry-driven economy was flourishing. Caton received numerous commissions, to the point where there’s barely a street in the city without one of his houses.
There’s a high concentration along 10th Ave and 11th Ave in particular, and it’s fascinating to see how his style changed as the century progressed.
You can pick a leaflet for a self-guided tour, and there’s a downloadable version online, complete with detailed accounts of each property.
5. Walnut Valley Farmers’ Market
Memorial Day weekend through September there’s a super farmers’ market at Island Park on Saturday mornings.
This is always a lively event, mixing family activities with exceptional local produce. Depending on when you come, this might be berries, cantaloupe, sweet corn , tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, watermelon, squash, apples and pumpkins.
This being Kansas there’s also prime grass-fed meats, as well as baked goods, cut flowers,eggs, honey and a wide assortment of arts and crafts.
The Saturday on or before July 4th is always a treat, with face painting, live music and an adoption event by the local branch of the Humane Society.
6. Cowley County Historical Society Museum
You can immerse yourself in the history of Cowley County at this museum a couple of blocks west of downtown Winfield.
The setting is a converted elementary school building, constructed in 1893. Exhibits here chart the 160-year history of settlement in the area, displaying hundreds of objects including furniture, clothing, volumes of photographs, items relating to local business, industrial tools, home appliances and farming implements.
The historical society organizes a number of events throughout the year, such as Celebrate Cowley County History, at Baden Square in April.
7. Wheat State Wine Co.
This winery was founded in 2008 when the owner/winemaker, Chris Tyler, planted his first vines on the family farm.
Since then, Wheat State’s methodical process and commitment to quality has helped earn accolades like Kansas Wine of the Year and Bronze and Silver at the Texas International Wine Competition.
These run the gamut from a sweet dessert wine to a dry Cabernet Sauvignon, so there’s something for all palates.
The winery is in a bucolic spot in the Walnut River valley, and you can come by without a reservation for free wine tastings and tours of the vineyard and winery.
You’re also free to picnic on the grounds, and sip wine on the beautiful patio here.
8. Cowley County Barn Quilt Trail
A great way to see more of the Flint Hills scenery around Winfield is on this trail created to honor the area’s agricultural heritage and promote rural pride.
As part of a movement that first started in Ohio, wooden squares with vivid designs inspired by traditional quilt patterns have started appearing on barns across the region.
The Cowley County Barn Quilt Trail is on a longer trail, linking 22 counties in the Kansas Flint Hills.
At the most recent count there were 22 barn quilts in Cowley County (up from just one in 2014), and as these are mostly on backroads, the trail will take you to corners of the county you might otherwise have missed.
The Cowley County website has published printable and downloadable maps to help you find them all.
9. Winfield Aquatic Center
One of the great things about being a kid in Winfield in summer is this outdoor pool, which has enough attractions to keep youngsters entertained during the school break.
The focus here is a 50-meter, eight-lane pool with a deep end that serves as a diving area. On one side is a zero-depth entry area, a bit like a bay, with an extended shallow space for families to wade in.
Where this area meets the main pool is the splash down for the park’s two slides, one a drop and the other twisting from its stone platform.
There’s also a separate pool for littler bathers (48 inches and under), a brand new splash pad, and a lot of space on the sidelines for parents to relax.
10. Winfield City Lake
As the name tells you, this lake, about ten miles northeast of downtown Winfield, belongs to the city and is open as a public park.
Also known as Timber Creek Lake, this is a man-made body of water, built in the post-war years as part of a system of flood defenses and couched in the tallgrass prairie typical of the Flint Hills.
The lake is surely the area’s best location for birdwatching, with something new to see in every season, from eastern bluebirds, loons and scoters in winter to a diversity of shorebirds in spring and fall.
Winfield City Lake is also a haven for outdoor activities, with a public beach on the northwest shore, and facilities for boating, fishing and camping (permits and licenses apply).
11. Cowley County Stone Arch Bridges
It is thought that there are only 1,700 historic stone arch bridges remaining in the United States. And of these, 18 can be found in Cowley County.
These rustic structures, all built before 1920 are a source of pride, and several are on the National Register of Historic Places. You can download a detailed map of the bridges at the Cowley County website.
Several, like the Elrod Bridge, Floral Bridge, Thomson Bridge, Silver Creek/Andes Bridge and the Black Crook and Poor Farm Bridges, are within a five-mile radius of Winfield, for a comfortable driving tour.
All are on public roadways, but are usually surrounded by private land so you may need permission to get the best angle for photographs.
12. Quail Ridge Golf Course
This scenic municipal course is on the Walnut River in the south of Winfield, in a blissful landscape typical of the Flint Hills.
The playing surfaces at Quail Ridge are rated as some of the best for miles, with bent grass greens, zoysia fairways and fescue roughs, along with beautiful patches of native grasses framing many of the holes.
The course was landscaped in 1992 by the Tulsa architect Jerry Slack, and among the signature holes there’s the treacherous par 4 3rd, guarded by water on the left, and the par 13th, in which you have to clear a water hazard to reach a low, rolling green flanked by sand traps.
13. Cowley County Waterfall
One sight that warrants the drive from Winfield, is this magnificent waterfall around half an hour away. Just off US 166, the Cowley County Waterfall can be reached on a trail from the Cowley State Fishing Lake.
When we compiled this list, the path to the falls was narrow, steep and rocky, requiring good shoes.
But if you make it you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful curtain of water, about 25 feet tall and enclosed in a rocky bowl shaded by hardwood trees.
14. Cherry Street Park
Along the tracks in the southeast of Winfield is a verdant neighborhood park that stands out for its family-friendly facilities.
One is the splash pad, which opened in the summer of 2021, and has quickly become a go-to for local families on hot days.
The other is the nine-hole disc golf course, which has been here since 1988. To go with these amenities there’s play equipment, a basketball court, a winding trail that runs throughout the park and several shelters.
15. Winfield Murals
Winfield has a long-held reputation for the vibrant murals, painted to a high standard on many of its buildings.
As long ago as 1999 named the “Mural Capital of Kansas” in the fall of 1999 by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
The city has published an interactive map with 13 stops, at the time of writing, or you can pick up a printed leaflet from the chamber of commerce. Eight of these works are clustered within three blocks of the intersection of Main St and 9th Ave downtown.