Kansas is a state in the Great Plains region of the United States of America. It is generally considered the center of the country in geographical terms, and one of its nicknames is "the Heart of America." The state's official nickname is "The Sunflower State", due to the abundance of wild sunflower fields in the state, but other nicknames include "The Free State", an homage to the Jayhawker movement that fought against slavery, and "The Wheat State", the most popular crop from Kansas, Thanks to the Wizard of Oz, many non-Kansans (and some Kansans as well) think of it as a place from which to escape; however, there are a lot of great places to visit, particularly if you are interested in the history of the American West. With a little exploration, almost every little town has something of interest.
Kansas is named after the Kansa Native American Tribe that lived in the region.
|Eastern Kansas |
Most of the larger cities are in this region, which is surprisingly hilly and has more trees and water than the other regions.
|Southeastern Kansas |
Part of the Ozarks region, with beautiful hills, coal mining, and endemic rural poverty. Ozark influence wanes the further you get from the southeast corner of the state.
|Flint Hills |
Down the center of Eastern Kansas run the Flint Hills, an area of great geological interest, with some of the last living grasslands of the true Great Plains
|Central Kansas |
A mixture of farmland, rolling hills, and man-made lakes, it is a transition zone between the hilly east and the arid west. Home to Wichita, the largest city in the state.
|Western Kansas |
More rural, with very low population density and a lot of open land. Farming forms the basis of the economy. It is generally drier and flatter.
- 1 Topeka – capital and third-largest city of Kansas, and the site of the Kansas State Historical Society Museum.
- 2 Wichita – largest city in Kansas, is "the Air Capital of the World" because of the large number of aerospace firms located there, from the smallest Cessna to the 787 Dreamliner, or Airbus 380 Wichita has a hand in the design and/or manufacture of the plane. It has a large air museum. It is also home to Wichita State University, which hosts a top engineering school and highly ranked business school.
- 3 Lawrence – home of the University of Kansas. Lawrence boasts the strongest art, music and bar scenes - not only in the state, but anywhere between Chicago and Denver. Lawrence was founded by anti-slavery fighters ("Free-Staters" or "Jayhawkers") shortly before the start of the Civil War. This heritage led to the creation of the University of Kansas' imaginary bird mascot, the Jayhawk.
- 4 Kansas City and environs – smaller half of Metro Kansas City, which spills across the border into Missouri. Kansas City as a whole is much larger and more cosmopolitan than Wichita. The second largest city in Kansas is not Kansas City, Kansas, but Overland Park, Kansas, a wealthy yet nondescript suburb of Kansas City. Overland Park, along with Kansas City suburbs like Leawood, Olathe, and Lenexa make up Johnson County, which is the largest county by population in Kansas, and one of the richest counties in the United States by per capita income.
- 5 Dodge City – historical cattle town, home to Dodge City Community College, Historic "Old Dodge City", and the professional indoor football team, The Dodge City Law.
- 6 Hutchinson – home to the second largest space museum in the world. The museum houses over 13,000 spaceflight artifacts - the largest combined collection of US and Russian spaceflight artifacts in the world, and is home to internationally acclaimed educational programs. The Kansas State Fair is held there annually. The Kansas Underground Salt Museum is the only museum 650 feet below ground in North America. On the state fair grounds is the Annual Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale.
- 7 Liberal – named after pro-liberty settlers. Home to Dorothy's recreated home, a funny name, and a big aircraft museum
- 8 Manhattan – home of Kansas State University. Aggieville is one of the most vibrant places in this college town. The town is affectionately nicknamed "the Little Apple."
- 1 Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail – between May 1804 and September 1806, 32 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery
- 2 Fort Scott National Historic Site – ground zero for the Bleeding Kansas term, the state's slave policy of yesteryear can be thoroughly studied at Fort Scott.
Although Native Americans have lived in Kansas for thousands of years and the first Europeans visited in the late 1500s, most Kansas communities date from the early to mid-1880s. The real development of Kansas didn’t take place until the 1850s when anti-slavery settlers from the North flooded the area to ensure that Kansas be founded as a "free state" (a state that outlaws slavery). Pro-slavery advocates from Missouri attacked Kansas communities during its formative years, including, and most notably, the city of Lawrence, Kansas. This period of "Bleeding Kansas" included a great deal of violence and some people consider this area to have been the cradle of the Civil War. Many organizations and businesses in the state (Free State Brewing in Lawrence, as an example) still proudly display the "free state" name.
Most residents of Kansas speak a neutral American Standard English. However, in the southeastern region there is a faint southern influence – both in accent and word choice. This dates back to the Civil War era; many pro-slavery citizens moved into this part of the state to land grab and sway elections. Many of the communities in the area still have connections to southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas communities.
Curiously, the farther west you go you may increasingly run into German, Russian, or even Swedish speakers. This is due to the large number of immigrants that settled in Kansas during the late 1800s. However, this tends to be a dying trend as younger generations switch to standard English.
If you are driving to Kansas from the east or west, it would be best to take Interstate 70, which runs east to west across the state, running through many towns. There are tolls from Kansas City to Topeka along I-70, amounting to a couple of dollars for a standard passenger vehicle.
I-35 travels from the south center of the state and passes northeast, meeting I-70 in Kansas City. It is the obvious route if you are driving between Oklahoma City and Wichita or Kansas City, and there are tolls on this road.
I-135 travels from Wichita to Salina, connecting the other two major interstate highways.
The vast majority of people flying in to Kansas enter through Kansas City International (IATA: MCI), which is in Kansas City, Missouri. Wichita has the only major airport in the state, with service to about a dozen cities. Several other smaller cities have very limited commercial service. In the southern part of the state, some people drive to Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, or Tulsa, for a larger selection of connections and airlines.
The only regular Amtrak train service is the Southwest Chief, which travels east-west across the state, passing through Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City. This train continues to and from Chicago daily from/to the east and Los Angeles from/to the west. Additionally, Kansas City is served by the twice-daily Missouri River Runner from St. Louis.
- Greyhound Lines provides daily regular service to and from many destinations in Kansas including Wichita, Topeka and Dodge City.
- Jefferson Lines (+1 800-451-5333) offers service from Kansas City, Missouri to Coffeyville, Kansas with stops at Iola and Chanute.
- Beeline Express (+1 316 201-6700). The red line operates from Pueblo, Colorado to Wichita with several stops in between.
The American Discovery Trail connects Kansas with Colorado, Missouri, and both coasts.
The only way to travel in Kansas is to drive. Part of the experience of being in the state is to spend time on the road, which is as interesting an experience as you make it. Take the time to plan a route off of the main highways and see the country. Otherwise, if you require public transportation, Kansas may not be a place for you. Even the larger cities like Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City, buses offer very limited public transportation.
Intercity bus transportation in central and western Kansas is provided by Bee Line Express (+1 316-201-6700). Beeline Express is part of Prestige Bus Lines). Keep in mind that these buses do not have frequent departures. Beeline Express has two routes: blue and red. The blue line runs from Salina to Wichita with stops in Lindsborg, McPherson, Hutchinson and Newton. The redline runes between Wichita and Syracuse with stops in Kingman, Pratt, Greensburg, Dodge City and Garden City.
Information on transit can be found here.
Kansas is regarded to have some of the best BBQ in the nation, particularly on the eastern side of the state, the best known regional food being Kansas City-style BBQ, associated with the metropolitan Kansas City area including Wyandotte County and Johnson County, as well as portions of Missouri. It is a slow "pit" style barbecue; sauce is usually an important component to the finished meal. Well-known restaurants include Rosedale and Wyandotte BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas, Hayward's Pit BBQ and KC Masterpiece and Gates BBQ in Overland Park (Gates, however, is based in Kansas City, Missouri -- an important distinction to some), and Zarda BBQ in Lenexa. KC Masterpiece in Overland Park is the original restaurant that started the chain and its nationally distributed "sweet sauce." In the small town of Spring Hill, K&M BBQ was voted the best BBQ in the Kansas City metro area.
A less famous, but even more traditional, Kansas favorite is the bierock. This is a hot, savory pastry usually containing hamburger, onions, and cabbage that was imported to the state by Volga Germans in the late 19th century, and which has become so well loved that it's even served in schools. It is similar to a Polish pierogi, and perfect for cool fall evenings.
In Crawford County, in the extreme Southeastern corner, there are six "chicken houses." These serve fried chicken dinners, and the side dishes differ from each house. Fried chicken is a distinctive dish in Southeast Kansas, making the region known for their chicken dishes.
The Flint Hills finds the small town of Olpe being home to the state-wide famous "Olpe Chicken House", where fried chicken baskets, potatoes, and steaks are served. Other small towns in Kansas are home to smaller mom and pop restaurants
Lawrence is home to a wide variety of restaurants, much of which are on Massachusetts Street in the historic downtown. Limestone serves delicious, locally sourced, minimally processed & hand-crafted pizza. For gourmet burgers, shakes, and fries, head to The Burger Stand. If you're looking for Mexican food, the Taco Zone is the place to go for affordable and tasty street eats.
Kansas has very complex and restrictive liquor laws. The short of it is that, in many counties, only 6% ABV (or below) packaged beer may be sold outside of retail liquor stores. Drinks by the glass were only restricted to private "clubs" until 1987. Kansas has three dry counties, and the state has not ratified the 21st amendment as of 2020.
The only craft beers easily found throughout the state are Boulevard (Kansas City), Free State (Lawrence), and Fat Tire. Fans of Mexican beer rejoice! There is a huge variety of cerveza that rivals what can be found deep in the heart of Texas.
Crime rates in Kansas are some of the lowest in the nation. Accordingly there is hardly any crime in the state; however, this does not mean that one should be naive during their travel to the state. Always take common sense precautions no matter where you find yourself, but pay particular attention in the more populous areas such as East Topeka, older areas of Kansas City, and North Wichita. All in all, you are very unlikely to experience any problems while traveling through the state.
Kansas is part of Tornado Alley where strong thunderstorms and violent tornadoes develop. They usually occur in the spring but can occur any time of year.
If you are visiting Kansas for a long period of time, it is a very sensible idea to learn about tornado safety and safety for severe thunderstorms. One day could be hot and sunny, another could have violent storms forecasted. Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms with high winds and hail are very common in this so-called "tornado alley" during the spring and summer months. Make sure you keep a radio on in the car, as most Kansas radio stations will update listeners on weather alerts. Should you hear the tornado sirens sounding, locate a suitable tornado shelter at once – do not stay outdoors to get a picture! Also, do not try to outrun the tornado in your car. Tornadoes can shift their paths very suddenly and you may wind up driving directly into it.
Should the skies be cloudy, and the light take on a greenish-yellow cast, this is an indication of an imminent hail storm – again, seek shelter at once.
Refer to the tornado safety article for analysis of the issues here.
Ice storms and blizzards are also common during the winter. As with most weather in the region, these storms tend to be intense, but roll in and out fairly quickly due to lack of natural obstruction (e.g., mountains).
- Nebraska - Much like Kansas, the state's northern neighbor has a rich agricultural heritage, offering visitors a glimpse into America's heartland.
- Missouri - The state's eastern neighbor featuring St. Louis and the Missouri side of Kansas City.
- Oklahoma - Kansas' southern neighbor has been a state since only 1907 and retains some of the pioneer spirit from its early days as a frontier, along with a lot of Native American history and culture.
- Colorado - The Rocky Mountain state borders Kansas to the west and offers a mind-boggling array of outdoor activities.