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  • Writer's picturethebackpackingblotskes

5 Surprising Sights in the Sunflower State

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Toto, I've a feeling we aren't in Montana anymore...

This post is sponsored by Kansas State Tourism

Being from Big Sky Country, we haven't spent much time in the mid-west. Given the opportunity to explore this unknown territory, we were excited to see what we could find. Having never been to Kansas, our only point of reference was from the American classic film, The Wizard of Oz. We also knew that there would be sunflowers, and that was about it. We quickly learned that Kansas is the land of Dollar General and ahh-mazing Mexican food, as we began our road-trip through the northwest part of the state. But soon into our journey, we realized there was so much more to Kansas than just that...

Quite similar to what we would find in southeast Montana, this badlands park with its unique chalk bluff formations, holds its own unique beauty. We timed it perfectly, arriving just before sunset. The setting sun created a dramatic backdrop for photos, casting a beautiful evening glow across the valley.

With two different trails to choose from, you have plenty of room to roam. The Overlook Trail is a short one-quarter mile and the Life on the Rocks Trail "winds 1.5 miles along the rim of the rocks with multiple bends to provide a variety of views and two scenic overlooks," according to the website.

Guided tours are provided by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, if you'd like to get a closer look and adventure deeper into the badlands. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to take a tour but certainly would've liked to!

Slideshow of family photos from the state park (click right)

To spare you the confusion, there is a scenic byway and a scenic drive - not the same thing! The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway is "a 42-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 160 from Medicine Lodge in Barber County to the highway's junction with U.S. 183 just north of Coldwater in Comanche County". The Gypsum Hills Scenic Drive is a 22-mile loop through the Red Hills region in Barber County and is what we would recommend doing!

The deep red color of sand is striking , as it contrasts with the greenery, making for a very bold display of colors. It was also fun to observe the oil wells, as it is something we don't see much of in our part of Montana.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of a gushing waterfall, we were too late in the year for that. But we had a blast wandering around this gorgeous lake, exploring, sightseeing, riding bikes and skipping rocks. We had the entire place to ourselves. It was so peaceful and serene.

You'll find this hidden gem just a short 20 minute drive east of Arkansas City. Plan to visit in the spring or after a heavy rainfall, in order to see the waterfall. We went in August and it was dry as a bone but beautiful, nonetheless.

Slideshow of Cowley State Fishing Lake (click right)

Like something in a fairy-tale, the tunnel of trees is full of magical mystery and wonder. The imagination runs wild in this storybook setting. The bending of the Osage orange trees creates the most enchanting tunnels to venture through. I really thought I was going to end up in Narnia, as we journeyed through the slightly eerie yet fascinating tree tunnels.

Located in Wichita, visit the tunnel of trees at the Great Plains Nature Center.

Where will your imagination take you?

As we neared the end of our time in Kansas, we made one final stop at Geary State Park, south of Junction City. As mentioned earlier, our timing was off in regards to the dryness that August brings, however, there was enough rushing water for us to get a good taste of what the falls would look like in the spring.

Formed by the outlet of Geary State Fishing Lake, the falls are just a short hike across the dam, at the northeast end of the lake. Once across the dam, the path begins to descend and I will say, it's a bit of a steep slope. Be sure to wear proper hiking shoes. But what you'll find at the bottom is worth every ounce of effort in getting there. Let's just say, I had to remind myself we were in Kansas... not at all something we expected to find in a state known for its vast prairies.

Waterfall collage

Lush green foliage

Isn't she lovely?!

A huge THANK YOU to Kansas State Tourism for hosting us and sponsoring this trip. We were pleasantly surprised, to say the least. This experience shed a whole new light for us on what Kansas has to offer and we will gladly sing its praises from here on out. With so much to see and do, consider Kansas for your next family vacation! #tothestars

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