Underneath the surface of Kansas lie an untold number of mysteries. An otherworldly salt cave older than the dinosaurs, called Strataca, allows visitors to see the unreal landscape far below the prairie floor.
Aboveground, the state offers intriguing attractions by preserving its Wild West history of dramatic gunfights and tough pioneers. Not only does Kansas’ past fascinate visitors, but its present beauty also gives them plenty to admire. The Sunflower State boasts a world-class botanical garden and parks that showcase stunning tallgrass prairie vistas. Groups can admire the past and present while enjoying Kansas’ many charming and group-friendly cities across the state.
Visitors descend 650 feet underground in less than 90 seconds at Strataca in Hutchinson. Formerly known as the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, the site explores an ancient salt bed. Groups can marvel at one of the largest salt deposits in the world with various tour options, including a self-guided tour and an underground train ride. Tours relate the history of the machinery used by salt miners since the discovery of the Kansas mine in 1887. The Underground Vaults and Storage Gallery displays movie memorabilia hidden underground for safekeeping from the elements. For an in-depth experience, groups can opt for the 30-minute Dark Ride tram tour that traverses a maze of chambers and stops for a moment of complete darkness. The tram ride also allows visitors to fill a souvenir bag with salt crystals.
Butterflies flit about the 2,880-square-foot butterfly house at Botanica, a horticultural paradise in Wichita. The seasonal butterfly garden is one of 30 themed gardens at the site, among them the historic Shakespeare Garden for Elizabethan-era plants and flowers. The 18-acre site showcases 4,000 plant species, calming koi pond pavilions, natural landscapes and numerous sculptures. The 2011 Downing Children’s Garden offers interactive sections for youth, such as the Monster Woods, Granddaddy’s Musical Maze and the Sunflower Fountain. Groups can arrange guided tours and catered box lunches.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Tallgrass prairies once dominated the Midwestern landscape. This once-abundant ecosystem lives on at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Strong City, located in Kansas’ Flint Hills region. Bison herds graze on native grasses here with a backdrop of tallgrass and wildflowers blowing in the wind. Groups can choose from 40 miles of trails, a driving tour or a narrated bus tour in the summer. A stop at the visitors center provides information about the ecology and history of the area, alongside a gift shop.
Up and Coming
Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum
In July 2019, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum unveiled new exhibits and updated features after a year of renovations. The Abilene museum now offers new minitheaters where guests can hear Eisenhower’s words firsthand on a variety of events, including D-Day. The museum also offers tours of the president’s boyhood home, where he lived from 1898 until going to West Point in 1911. Groups can wrap up their tours at the Place of Meditation, a chapel that marks the burial site of the president, the first lady and their son Doud Eisenhower.
Boot Hill Museum
Visitors will feel the floor shake during an immersive buffalo stampede video when Dodge City’s Boot Hill Museum completes its current $5.5 million expansion. Set to open later this year, the nine new permanent exhibits will add 13,000 square feet to the already popular museum. The interactive experience allows guests to walk down the dusty streets of Dodge City’s Wild West days. Groups can watch re-created gunfights, listen to Miss Kitty croon in the saloon or dine on a country-style dinner.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
In 2020, Kansas opened its 28th state park, called Little Jerusalem State Park. The park preserves a mile-long valley of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs that encompass the state’s largest Niobrara Chalk formations. Groups can walk on trails that Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody once rode while marveling at the site’s geological beauty and abundant wildlife.
Chateau Avalon in Kansas City creates a royal atmosphere for its guests. Opened in 2004, the upscale boutique hotel features 23 separately themed rooms divided into three categories: Luxury, Adventure and Classic suites. The D’Nile Lounge on the first floor serves cocktails and small plate dinners surrounded by Egyptian decor. The hotel also offers a spa on the top floor for Swedish massages, aromatherapy and scrubs. The castlelike structure sits across from Kansas City’s Legends shopping district and the Kansas Speedway.
Built by prominent anti-slavery activist Shalor Eldridge, the Eldridge Hotel sits in downtown Lawrence about five minutes from the University of Kansas. Eldridge rebuilt the original structure in 1863 after Confederates burnt the anti-slavery waystation, along with the rest of the city, during the Civil War. The hotel underwent an extensive refurbishment in 1925, then again in 2004. The 48-room hotel offers an on-site salon, bar services at Jayhawker and American-style fare at the restaurant Ten.
Hays House Restaurant
Groups can feast at the oldest continually operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River at the Hays House Restaurant in Council Grove. First opened in 1857 as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail, the steakhouse has lasted partially because of its award-winning chicken fried steak, fried chicken and seafood dishes. For dessert, diners are advised to try the restaurant’s specialties of fresh strawberry and peach pie with a dollop of homemade ice cream. The restaurant also boasts a fascinating history: Seth Hays, the great-grandson of Daniel Boone, built the restaurant, which would one day serve Jesse James, Gen. George Armstrong Custer and other historic figures.
New Theatre and Restaurant
Broadway musicals accompany beloved American cuisine at the New Theatre and Restaurant in Overland Park. The dinner theater has featured stars from stage, film and television in its past lineups, including Barney Martin from “Seinfeld.” The site began as the Glenwood Theatre in the 1960s and was transformed into a 617-seat dinner theater in 1992. The revolving stage, orchestra pit and 2015 addition of 4 million LED lights make a performance at the theater a dazzling event. The dinner theater is known for its desserts, including a chocolate cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream.