With exciting outdoor attractions, fun and educational museums, a multitude of dining choices and one-of-a-kind entertainment options, it’s easy to build a collection of memorable moments in Wichita. There’s also much to be found just outside the city. If you’re looking for a fun day trip idea, these eight ideas can get you started.
A less-than-an-hour drive to Hutchinson opens up a day full of unique attractions. The Smithsonian-affiliated Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum features one of the most significant collections of U.S. and Russian space artifacts in the world, second only to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Visitors take a journey from Earth to the Moon and beyond through a combination of the Hall of Space Museum, Carey Digital Dome Theater, planetarium and live rocket demonstration shows.
Of 16 salt mines in the U.S., the Hutchinson Salt Company mine is the only one that has a museum that allows the public to go into an active salt mine. Strataca is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas and takes visitors 650 feet underground. You’ll see artifacts and displays describing the mining industry, short videos showing technology advancements and a display of several original movie costumes being preserved in the climate-controlled mine. There is an age restriction, so plan for all visitors to be ages 4 and up.
Hutchinson Zoo – Not much is free these days, but the Hutchinson Zoo is. For a suggested donation of $2, you can see more than 100 animals, dig for dinosaur bones and play in the rope spider web. After a fun day in Hutchinson, you’ll surely work up an appetite. Carriage Crossing is a home-style eatery offering an endless variety of from-scratch entrees and pies. This gem is worth the drive to Hutch by itself for the great food and adorable gift shop with all manner of delicious treats. It is located on K-96, 45 minutes from Wichita and only about 10 minutes southeast of Hutchinson, so plan a stop there on your way to Hutchinson or on your way back to Wichita.
Take a drive out on U.S. 160 a few miles west of Medicine Lodge, which is an hour and a half southwest of Wichita. View the rugged red terrain of hills, valleys and cedars, and you can see that Kansas is anything but flat. The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway is a beautiful pastoral drive between Medicine Lodge and Coldwater displaying an abundance of wildlife and wildflowers amidst the beautiful red Gypsum Hills. The area is known for its stunning rust-red buttes and mesas capped by layers of sparkling white gypsum. The Gypsum Hills scenic byway is 42 miles that stretch from the western limits of Medicine Lodge to the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 183 at Coldwater.
Stops along the way include the Carry A Nation Home & Stockade Museum, which is a National Historic Site at Medicine Lodge, Comanche County Historical Museum in Coldwater and many other sites. It is beautiful, breathtaking country anytime of the year. Explore the back roads, and take a side trip to Sun City and spend some time at Buster’s Saloon, which sits in a building dating back to the 1870s. You’re sure to find a delicious meal, a cold drink and area ranchers, oilmen, birders and bikers.
Lindsborg, a little more than an hour from Wichita, is often called Little Sweden U.S.A. and is a sister city to Munkors, Sweden.
Experience the people, festivals, events, history and heritage that makes Lindsborg so unique like the many galleries and shops along main street including the Courtyard Bakery and Courtyard Gallery. Stop at the Hemslojd, a gift and woodworking shop where you can visit with the craftsmen and artists, rent a quadricycle for a rolling tour of the town. Be sure to leave time to eat at the Swedish Crown Restaurant. Located in the heart of Lindsborg, this restaurant features a mix of traditional Swedish dishes and American favorites with a unique twist. Another popular stop for food and refreshment is the Ol Stuga, where you can enjoy a "Brent Nelson" and a cool one while catching up with the locals.
The town has a year-round makers festival along Main Street on the second Friday evening of each month. Fall is a great time to plan a trip, especially during a Hyllningsfest year (odd number years). In early to mid-June, you’ll find a lively downtown, where storefronts are painted and people are donning costumes.
Nearby Coronado Heights is the southern-most bluff in a series of seven, known as the Smoky Hills. The hill is located northwest of Lindsborg. It is believed that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his men viewed the prairie from this lookout point 300 feet above the valley floor.
Start with Santa Fe Lake Falls, located just east of Wichita at Santa Fe Lake in Butler County between Andover and Augusta. They are worth seeing in any season, particularly winter when ice formations may form around the falls, making them especially beautiful. Grab a bite to eat for lunch at the Beaumont Hotel. It’s filled with photography and vintage plane advertisements attesting to the longtime popularity amongst the private pilot, motorcycle and classic car enthusiast, and western history buffs.
Check out the Cowley Waterfall, named #12 Most Beautiful Waterfall in the U.S. by Yahoo Travel. Located along U.S. Hwy 166, this unique fishing, hunting and camping destination is the perfect family adventure. While you’re in the area, bring your sweet tooth to Dexter and stop at the Henry’s Candy Company. Operated by the same family for more than 50 years, the factory is a must stop for the young and young at heart.
Near Elk Falls, a teeny town home to about 200 people, is another popular waterfall. Elk Falls are situated near the Iron Truss Bridge that was built in 1893. More mouth-watering food can be found in nearby towns. Just a short drive west will bring you to Swinging Bridge Café in Moline. Or go a little further up the road, and enjoy the New York style pizza at Poplar Pizza in Howard.
Located in the rolling hills of southeast Kansas and edging the Kansas Flint Hills sits Winfield – home to excellent restaurants like Biederman’s Bistro & Catering, extraordinary outdoor recreation at Island Park, exciting history and the internationally known Walnut Valley Festival. Evolving from three days in 1972 to its current five days the third weekend of September annually, the Walnut Valley Festival endeavors to produce "family fare" entertainment on four stages simultaneously, a large quality, juried arts and crafts fair, workshops and acoustic instrument contests. What began with 10 acts and two contests now boasts 30 to 40 acts and eight contests, including two international contests, five national contests and one Walnut Valley contest. Though the festival is called "bluegrass,” it is now a blend of all kinds of acoustic music: bluegrass, folk, old-time country, a little bit cowboy, some Irish, blues, Cajun, jazz and more; and the bluegrass is both traditional and progressive.
The Flint Hills Scenic Byway is 48 miles on K-177 and provides a glimpse of where the West begins in the vistas of open spaces and undisturbed views of rolling hills covered with dense prairie grasses, wildflowers, and the endless sky that are the Tallgrass Prairie. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, just north of Strong City, offers a one-room school house, hiking trails and an historic ranch. Pioneer Bluffs, a historic ranch in Chase County, recreates life in 1916. With a classic early 1900s farm house, barns and distinctive mile-long limestone fence, Pioneer Bluffs is a National Register Historic District.
Cottonwood Falls boasts one of the most photographed courthouses in Kansas. Plus, the Chase County Historical Society Museum tells much of the history of the area including when Notre Dame coaching legend Knute Rockne’s plane crashed in 1931 near Matfield Green, and Native American and ranching stories of the county.
In Council Grove, the Kaw Mission showcases the heritage of the Kaw Indians, the Santa Fe Trail and early Council Grove. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday. If you’re hungry, have a meal at the Hays House, which was built in 1857 and is said to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.
Just about an hour north of Wichita, Salina is home to great shopping, restaurants, cultural events, sports facilities and the Rolling Hills Zoo and Wildlife Museum. After viewing more than 350 animals at this zoological park, quench your thirst and enjoy “buy ‘em by the sack’ burgers at Cozy Inn in downtown Salina, complete with a walk-up window, outdoor dining area or a very cozy counter dining experience inside. During your time in downtown Salina, stop in at one of the many specialty shops. For a wide selection of some of the finest chocolates from coast to coast and around the world, see what Sweet on You has to offer.
Before you head home, enjoy a candlelight dinner at Martinelli’s Little Italy, which is known for its traditional Italian fare and bringing a slice of Italy to downtown Salina. Then, take in a show at a true cornerstone of Salina's historic downtown district, the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts. This beautifully renovated historic Fox Theatre presents a tremendous variety of performances year-round, from live theatre to film to music, comedy concerts and dance performances and is home of the Salina Symphony. You'll also enjoy changing exhibits in the Watson Gallery.
Include Salina as part of your summer plans, and attend the Smoky Hill River Festival. This premier arts festival takes place every June.
Just west of Wichita is Lake Afton, 720 acres of recreational fun for the whole family, including fishing, boating and swimming.
Kansas' first state park, Kanopolis Reservoir, State Park and Smoky Hill Wildlife Area, features more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. There are also bountiful opportunities for fishing, hunting, and photography. Kanopolis is only an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Wichita near Marquette.
A popular boating destination, the Marion Reservoir boasts nearly 10 square miles of water and is only an hour and 15 minutes away. Four park areas offer picnicking and camping sites, swimming beaches, boat launching ramps, water hydrants, sanitary facilities, fireplaces, playgrounds and group shelters.
Just a short drive west of Wichita, you can find hiking trails, campgrounds and areas for both swimming and boating. Cheney Lake is considered one of the top sailing lakes in the United States.
One of the top state parks in America based on fishing, boating and family fun, El Dorado Lake is just northeast of Wichita and features campgrounds, hiking trails, swimming and boating areas, and fishing.
Kingman State Fishing Lake, located about 30 minutes west of Wichita, features a shelter, picnic tables, pit toilets, and fire rings for campers, picnickers and fishermen.
Approximately two hours northeast of Wichita is the state’s largest lake, the 16,000-acre Milford Reservoir, State Park and Wildlife Area. It’s a popular destination for hunting, fishing, hiking and recreation.