Rolling Hills and Tallgrass Prairie
|Mileage||83 miles (133 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||1 hour, 33 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Kansas Highway 177|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Fort Riley, KS▼, Manhattan, KS▼, Council Grove, KS▼, Wilsey, KS▼, and Matfield Green, KS▼|
4.2 average from 34 votes
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The Flint Hills region of Kansas features vast expanses of rolling hills, limestone outcrops and tall grass swaying with the breeze. The largest swath of tallgrass prairie in the United States is a sight to behold and treasure.
Our scenic drive begins in the town of Manhattan and travels to Cassoday on the KS-177. Manhattan is the home of Kansas State University. To reach Manhattan, take exit 313 off of I-70.
Heading south on KS-177, you will be immersed in the splendorous views of open sky, limitless horizon and the mesmerizing dance of tallgrass as you arrive at the Konza Prairie Natural Area (H1), used for research by Kansas State University. This is one of the largest virgin tallgrass prairies remaining in the world. While portions are not accessible to the public, there are three fascinating trails that allow you to experience the geology of Flint Hills and upland tallgrass prairie, the 2.5-mile loop Konza Prairie Nature Trail, 4.4-mile Kings Creek Loop or the 6-mile Godwin Hill Loop. Explore the Hokanson Homestead built by Swedish settlers in 1878, original limestone barn and wildlife observation lean-to just off the Nature Trail Loop. Though it looks void of life, hundreds of species of animals live here including collared lizards, red fox, ornate box turtle, butterflies, and bison.
After crossing I-70, endless fields of tallgrass and wildflowers fill the landscape, much as it has for the last several million years. Originally by nature, and leaned early on by Native Americans, fire is essential to the regeneration of these fields. Today, the fields are burned systematically in spring, keeping trees and heavy brush from growing. The rocky limestone was used by Native Americans for spear heads and tools, and deterred pioneers from settling here, fearing that the ground would be impossible for farming.
Soon you arrive in the town of Council Grove, steeped in history. Walking through the town, one can just imagine the bustling activity as a hub on the Santa Fe Trail. History buffs will want to pick up a brochure with a self-guided tour of 24 historic sites. In 1825, the Government of the United States and the Osage chiefs signed a treaty that allowed free passage along the Santa Fe Trail for Americans and Mexicans — in exchange for $800. The tree under which it was signed no longer stands, but the remaining stump is a shrine at Council Oak (A1).
The Kaw Mission State Historic Site and Museum (M1), on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1851 and served to encourage Kaw children to follow the life of white American culture. It is open to the public and depicts the history of the Kaw Tribe and how they were forced out of the region through Native American artifacts, photographs and video presentation. Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park (H2) preserves 158 acres of Kaw Homeland and includes The Kanza Monument, a limestone tower erected in 1925 as a tribute to the memory of the Kanza people. View the stone ruins of the Kaw Villages and take the two-mile Kanza Heritage Trail along historic sites, wildflowers and stunning scenery. Kansas was named after the Kanza, the Kaw people meaning People of the Southwind. Nearby, Council Grove Lake (W1) is a local favorite for swimming, boating and fishing. A full recreation area, the lake offers many nature trails, an all-terrain vehicle trail and camping.
Continuing south on KS-177, you soon see the Spring Hill Ranch built by S. F. Jones in 1881, now the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (H3). The 11,000 acres of tallgrass prairie is a reminder of the landscape that covered 140 million acres of North America. Today, less than 4% remains, most of it in Flint Hills. Get close up on one of the many front- and back-country trails. Step back in time and stroll the Historic Ranch and Southwind Nature Trail to admire the impressive ranch house, barn, corrals and more built by Stephen Jones in the late 1800s. The Bottomland Nature Trail is wheelchair accessible and features interpretive panels. Don’t miss the free 90-minute ranger-led bus tours April 30 to October 30. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is part of the National Park Service and there is no fee to enter.
Shortly thereafter, you arrive in the town of Cottonwood Falls, home of the Chase County Courthouse (A2). Built of native limestone in 1873, it is the oldest operating courthouse in Kansas and an architectural gem. The Chase County Historical Museum (M2) exhibits a 19th-century school room, dentist office, artifacts from the Knute Rockne crash site and more. The museum is free and donations are appreciated. Just west of town on Lake Road, the Chase State Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area (W2) is a beautiful, serene spot to hike the tallgrass prairies, picnic amid the colorful wildflowers, swim and of course fish for black bass, saugeye, blue gill and more. There are three cascading waterfalls enveloped in beautiful lush forest that can be accesses with a moderate hike.
Our scenic drive comes to an end as you arrive in the town of Cassoday, known as the Prairie Chicken Capital of the World.