If the start of school has been pushed back in your community, and you didn’t get a chance to take a vacation this year (thanks Covid), look no further than these 10 small communities in Kansas and Nebraska for a quick day trip or weekend getaway! We polled some of our employees for their favorite, or most memorable, trips in Kansas and Nebraska that way you don’t even have to risk leaving our region to have some fun.
- Castle Rock Badlands/Monument Rocks: These natural land forms are located in Western Kansas south of i70. What was once the floor of a vast inland sea, the chalk formations have been carved by erosion over time and the result is some pretty impressive land forms for a state most people believe to be totally flat. Be sure to plan your trip carefully and do some research. These natural sites are located on private property, but the landowners currently do allow visitors to the area, provided you follow the posted rules and respect the land.
- Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, KS: Located in Liberal, KS this museum is the home of more than 100 aircraft, making it one of the largest air museums in the country. What makes this museum special is that around 50 of the aircraft came from the same private collection. If you’re looking for an experience like the National Air and Space Museum, you’ll be disappointed, but the sheer size of the collection in such a small town, lack of crowds, and minimal travel expenses totally make up for it. Call ahead to schedule a guided tour.
- Hutchinson, KS: While a trip to Hutchinson is usually reserved for a trip to the state fair, there are two year-round activities to consider. First, the natural salt mines might be a place of interest if you have a couple of hours to explore 650 feet below the surface. There are a variety of tour and ticket options, so plan ahead and also plan to take a jacket. Due to their location, the mines stay a cool 68 degrees year-round. Next up in Hutchinson is the Cosmosphere. Founded in 1962 as a public planetarium, it is home to the largest combined collection of US and Russian spaceflight artifacts in the world. It is also an affiliate of the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. The hours have recently changed and masks are required, so if you’ve been before it’s good to familiarize yourself with any changes by visiting the official website.
- Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala, NE: These state recreation areas are about 9 miles NE on Highway 61 outside of Ogallala, NE. The reservoir is Nebraska’s largest with more than 30,000 acres of water at capacity. There’s also considerable space to camp with campgrounds that are open year-round. Expect to get a park permit and pay an overnight camping fee if you’re sticking around, but generally reservations are not necessary beforehand. Be sure to have a backup plan though since literally everyone has taken up outdoor activities and camping as a hobby during 2020. Contact Nebraska Game and Parks if you’d like to make inquiries about current capacity before hitching up your boat and making the trek.
- Nicodemus, KS: If current events have you looking to educate your school-age family members about our nation’s past, consider a trip to Nicodemus, KS. Founded in 1877, Nicodemus was a refuge from the Reconstruction-era South for freed slaves and black Americans. Today, a few residents remain as well as several of the original buildings from the settlement. The Township Hall is the only building operated by the National Park Service and open to the public; the rest of the buildings within the historic site are private property. Visitors who wish to see the exteriors of these buildings may do so on a self-guided or ranger-led tour.
- Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, KS: Located near enough to Wichita to offer some back-to-school shopping options and a variety of hotel accommodations, the wildlife park in Goddard is a unique zoo experience because of the additional special options available. For an added fee you can schedule a meet-and-greet with a number of animals or schedule a behind-the-scenes experience. The zoo is owned and operated by Jim and Sherri Fouts and is one of the largest family-owned facilities in the country. The Fouts built the attraction through years of dedication to the animals, hard work and the support of private donors.
- Skyline Park and Azura Trails in Topeka, KS: If you like physical activity, and live in the Topeka area, a quick day trip to Skyline Park might be in order. The main trailhead is on Skyline Parkway on the East side of the park, but once there the trails consist of four connected loops of approximately 4.3 miles. The highest point of the park is Burnett’s Mound and is also the highest elevation in Topeka. From the north summit the whole city of Topeka can be seen.
- Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden, NE: For a truly unique experience take a trip to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village. What’s that? In 1953, Warp opened a one-of-a-kind attraction. A self-made millionaire, he purchased a dozen buildings in his hometown and relocated them to an artificial town square on 20 acres in rural Nebraska. Then, he surrounded the village with exhibit halls, 16 to be exact, filled with historical items all grouped into themed buildings. Admission is affordable, but the attraction is not open in the winter months, so schedule your trip accordingly.
- Big Brutus at West Mineral, KS: If heavy equipment is your thing you’ve likely already heard of this rural Kansas attraction. In 1985 Big Brutus was dedicated as a museum and later designated a Regional Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. So, what is Big Brutus? A giant electric shovel, the biggest in the world, weighing 11 million pounds. It cost $6.5 million in 1962 and was used to mine coal in Southeast Kansas for over 20 years. And since a visit to Big Brutus might not take an entire day hook up to route 66 which runs through Kansas. In Galena you’ll find a truck that was the inspiration for ‘Mater’ in the Disney movie, ‘Cars.’
- Carhenge in Alliance, NE: If you’re looking for a truly unusual experience, look no further than Alliance, NE. The result of some family reunion creativity in 1987, Carhenge is a memorial to the father of Jim Reinders, the original owner and creator of the attraction. So, what is it? If you’ve ever heard of Stonehenge, then what you’ll find in Alliance is a replica of the site, but constructed entirely of 38 cars spray-painted gray. Say what? That’s right. The dimensions of classic cars from the 50’s and 60’s are nearly the same size of the stones at the well-known site in Wiltshire, England, so Reinders decided to build a monument to match the proportions.
Keep in mind that some of these attractions are the perfect place to visit during a pandemic due to their remote locations or access to fresh air, but others may have restrictions or changes to their schedule and availability during this unusual time. A simple search online can help you learn more about all of these online attractions before planning your trip. Give us a shout in the comments if you have already visited one of these ten places or have other inexpensive ideas for travel.