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5 Incredible Outdoor Recreation Opportunities in Kansas

Kansas gets unfairly overlooked as a destination for outdoor recreation. This Midwest state is home to unique geology, amazing public land, diverse wildlife, spectacular lightning storms, and endless water. There are many surprising things about the Sunflower State, including just how many sunflowers there are. For your next adventure, consider one of the five following activities in beautiful Kansas.  

1. Gravel Biking

gravel biking in Kansas
Image courtesy of Travel Kansas

In Kansas, gravel biking is king. In fact, Emporia, a city in eastern Kansas, is said to be the “Gravel Grinding Capital of the World.” What makes the Sunflower State appealing to gravel riders is the plethora of winding country roads and beautiful hills that offer adventures for all abilities. 

For those wanting a good introduction to Kansas biking, head about 80 miles northeast of Emporia to Lawrence. On the city’s historic Mass Street, visitors can find Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, a shop that has been helping folks with rentals, expert advice, and route planning for more than 50 years. The shop recommends the Swiss Valley Road loop for those new to the area, as it is generally car-free and travels along some of the area’s iconic roads. The best part is that this route (and all Sunflower recommended routes) start and stop at the shop, so you do not have to transport bikes to a trailhead, if you are renting. 

2. State Parks Galore

incredible-outdoor-recreation-opportunities-in-kansas
Image by John Coletti

Though there are no national parks in Kansas, there are 29 state parks, each offering its own unique recreation. From fishing to mountain biking and horseback riding, there is a state park for every sort of outdoor activity in Kansas.

While each park is worthy of a visit, be sure to visit Kanopolis, the first state park in Kansas. The 1,585-acre park is located on the historic Prairie Trail Scenic Byway –– a migration and trading route taken by humans for thousands of years. What makes this park a must-see is the great diversity of recreation available. The park itself offers the caves of Horsethief Canyon and 31.59 miles of trails to explore on foot, bike, or horse. In fact, in 2000, the trail system at this park was designated as the Kansas Millennium Legacy Trail. 

Surrounding the park is a 12,500-acre wildlife area as well as a stunning lake, providing ample fishing opportunities. The park also manages nearby Mushroom Rock State Park, which features unique mushroom-like rock formations up to 27 feet in diameter made from sandstone and sedimentary rock formed in the Cretaceous Period. Visitors can camp within the Kanopolis at one of two campgrounds, but reservations are required

3. Agritourism

agritourism Kansas
Image courtesy of Travel Kansas

Agritourism in Kansas has been growing over the past two decades as a fun way to engage with and explore the many farms and ranches throughout the state. In fact, the state passed the Kansas Agritourism Promotion Act in 2004, which helps working ranches, farms, and even wineries open up to the public. To date, there are over 5,000 registered agritourism businesses. You should consider visiting at least one, if not a few, during your trip to Kansas. By doing so, you can enjoy outdoor experiences, like interacting with farm animals or camping, while also supporting local farmers and producers. 

One good option is Providence Hill Farm, which allows visitors to play, hike, and do yoga with goats. You can even learn how to make soap or mozzarella here. 

4. Running Rivers

incredible-outdoor-recreation-opportunities-in-kansas
Image by John Coletti

Kansas is home to over 130,000 miles of river and over 120,000 lakes. The abundance of water makes Kansas a great place for paddlers, boaters, and anglers. However, one of the biggest draws to Kansan waters is the Missouri American Water MR340. This race takes place each summer, weather and conditions permitting. It starts at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers at Kansas City’s Kaw Point Park and runs down the Missouri for 340 miles to St. Charles, Missouri. 

Local news reports that 800 people registered for the 2023 race, but this is not for the faint of heart. You can compete solo or as a part of a team, but you will only get 88 hours to complete the miles. The next race is set for July 2024, so if you are feeling up to the challenge be sure to keep an eye out for registration

5. Sunflower Farms

incredible-outdoor-recreation-opportunities-in-kansas
Image by Benjamin White/500 px

Kansas is the Sunflower State because this flower can be found everywhere; see it along the roads, at parks, and in the farmland. While you can peep these stunning yellow flowers almost anywhere, there is no better way to experience sunflowers than visiting the Grinter’s Sunflower Farm in Lawrence. 

During peak season, which usually ranges from late August to mid-September, visitors can walk among thousands of towering sunflowers. For a more up-to-date bloom report, check in with the farm’s Facebook page. Owners recommend visiting in the morning as the light is usually best before 9:30 a.m. and visiting mid-week, if possible, as thousands of people make their way to the flowers over the weekend. It is free to visit, although owners ask for a $1 donation for each flower picked. Bring your camera, well-behaved pups (on leash), and enjoy the views. 

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