Kansas is dotted with uniquely pretty spots replete with the state's iconic small-town charm. From the picturesque Leavenworth to the artistic haven of Lucas, a roundup of the 13 prettiest towns can help you plan a trip to remember. Each locale stands out for its significance, with examples including Leavenworth's historical architecture to the vibrant art scene in Emporia. With outstanding beauty clear in the riverfront town of Atchison, explorers and road-trippers can experience everything from the Wild West history to a town connected to Amelia Earhart. The Sunflower State has something to offer for any traveler's penchant.
Starting in the northeastern section of Kansas, the town of Leavenworth is famous for its Bavarian-style architecture that acts as a beacon through time. It's right alongside the Missouri River, making for rich plenty of photo opportunities. Among these gorgeous areas are the Leavenworth National Historic District, the 1854 Frontier Fort, and the Gingerbread Castle. For those looking to explore the town's local individuality, the Leavenworth Farmers Market is a must-visit spot every Saturday from May to October. For history buffs and architecture enthusiasts, this is one of the must-see Kansas towns worth a stop on any road trip.
The town of Emporia is tucked away in the eastern-central zone of Kansas. It's a beautiful city with a relatively high population for a town. The over 25,000 residents, and its presence as one of the oldest towns in the state, make Emporia both active and picturesque. This Kansas gem boasts an impressive literary heritage, being the former residence of renowned author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Emporia's scenery inspired "Little House on the Prairie," showing just how pretty and life-altering the Flint Hills genuinely are. To mark the moment, stopping at Emporia Book Company (one of the oldest continuously operating bookstores in the United States) is a great way to celebrate literature before continuing your journey.
Thanks to the Missouri River, Atchison proudly touts an impressive panorama replete with forest, rolling hills, and water critters that make any drive pretty. Its claim to fame is the world-renowned aviator Amelia Earhart. Within Atchison lies the Santa Fe Trail Museum and the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, holding steadfast to the legacy of the enigmatic pilot. Its downtown is ideal for walking and biking, but the Santa Fe Trail is even better for that pretty Kansan appeal. For any adventurer, aspiring pilot, or just someone with a dream, Atchison is a picturesque setting to revel in that inspiration.
Coffeyville is a small spot in the center of Kansas, making it one of the most central locations in the United States. What's its reason for renown? The town has maintained an impressive Wild West history to draw tourists to the once-rough, now-kitsch spot. A pretty spot in Coffeyville is the Chisholm Trail downtown zone. It was a major 19th-century cattle-driving route. The area is also the site of the Coffeyville Massacre, where two outlaws found their doom. Thankfully, the town is much quieter now. Each historical site represents a different perspective; Dalton Defenders Museum offers a captivating narrative of the Dalton Gang's attempted bank robbery in the city. Western movie fans unite and hit up Coffeyville to get a real picture to remember.
Galena, nestled in Kansas's southeastern corner, epitomizes quaint charm. Despite its size, it boasts a proud legacy, highlighted by its role in the Santa Fe Trail and its 19th-century prominence in the limestone quarrying industry. Must-visit sites for an iconic snapshot include the Galena History Museum, Arts Center, and the renowned Galena Cheese Factory. It's an ideal stop for those looking for a quiet spot to take in the peace and friendliness of Kansas.
In the north-central part of Kansas, Lindsborg is a treasure trove of Swedish heritage. Its vibrant downtown invites visitors to explore gems like the famed Swedish Bakery. The Lindsborg Art Association offers a visual feast of Swedish-inspired artworks from local artists and beyond. Set against rolling prairies, the town boasts the majestic Bethany College, renowned for its striking Swedish architecture. Lindsborg is a delightful journey into Sweden's architectural charm, reminiscent of the nation that gave us Ikea.
If you feel like going somewhere with a remarkable historical legacy, consider Abilene and its ties to (former) President Dwight D. Eisenhower's boyhood home. Along the great plains, its tourism scene centers around the allure of America's 34th president. The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is definitely worth a look, especially if you can catch a glorious Kansas sunset as the backdrop. To further sate the urge for beauty, the Abilene Arts Center is a place of diversity and cultural reverence for the area's history. It's ideal for a slower-paced trip, with plenty to do at a calm pace.
Cottonwood Falls visitors benefit from easy travel and a serene environment. With only 850 residents, the town is perfect for those exploring the plains via bike or hike. Its position within the cresting Flint Hills and Smoky Hills makes Cottonwood Falls the picturesque masterpiece that it is. The essence of a small town comes through in the Cottonwood Falls General Store or the bakery and art gallery, each named after the town. Be sure to check the hours of operation before making a stopover, but planned out correctly, Cottonwood Falls can make for a pretty relaxing family vacation in Kansas.
In the heart of east-central Kansas lies Council Grove, a town just a short distance away, no matter where you are in the region. Designed with pedestrians in mind, the town's layout allows visitors and residents to navigate easily, fostering a secure and inviting environment evidenced by its notably low crime rate. Due to its proximity to the Santa Fe Trail, the town's preserved buildings elegantly reflect its rich historical significance. This rich history is perfectly juxtaposed with the natural beauty of the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Refuge. Yet, the real gem of Council Grove is its Farmers Market, which runs from May through October and is conveniently situated near the Santa Fe Trail Museum. For those eager to experience the vast landscapes that helped shape the American West, trail rides are available - whether on horseback or foot - offering an immersive journey under Kansas' expansive skies and through its gentle landscapes.
An enthralling item on the Kansas prettiest town tour is Wamego, ringing in at around 4,400 (residents, not the TV show). It's an essential stop for any film or history buff, being the home of iconic "Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum. This effectively informs the entirety of the town's tourism ecosystem. Just click your heels three times and conjure images of Kansas, and Wamego is the picture in your mind. It has a tallgrass prairie ecology that makes it tornado-prone, making it essential to check the weather and plan. When you do, visit the Oz Museum to learn the tale's history or head over to the Oz Winery for a tipple. This Kansas town put the state on the map internationally.
Belleville is a cute town just to the north of central Kansas. It touts fewer than 2,000 residents, meaning low crime and a safe place to have a relaxing getaway. It dates back to the 1850s; its icons include the quirky Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings and the Dinner Bell Cafe. Both are replete with American fare, offering beauty in food, scenery, and art. The High Banks Museum tells the tale of the topological feature through narrative. There is enough nature to explore, museums to visit, and quaint spots to camp or stay the night to make Belleville a worthy stop for a peaceful trip focusing on aesthetics.
So small it almost falls off the map; Kansas has a northeastern town called Lucas. Therein reside around 400 people and is a compelling stop for its rich connections to the Grassroots Art movement. Starting in the 1960s, Lucas showcased objects made of recycled material, turning man's waste into real art. It boasts the Garden of Eden, created by civil war veteran and artist Samuel Dinsmoor. The Grassroots Art Center and Lucas Farmers Market make it ideal for an autumn trip. That said, there is something that the town can offer in any season.
Right in the heart of Barton County, the town of Elinwood touts a unique charm with its proximity to the Arkansas River. Along the Santa Fe Trail, this town has a rich trade history. Essential as America's bread basket, its downtown zone is easy for car, bike, or travel on foot. Tourists can travel the trade routes that got the United States through the Industrial Revolution, while more outdoorsy adventurers can capture exquisite scenery from the surrounding wilderness.
Embarking on a journey through the 13 most picturesque towns in Kansas takes you across expansive fields, alongside the meandering river valleys, and through the sweeping plains. Each destination has its unique allure, from the intriguing history of Amelia Earhart to the landscapes that inspired "Little House on the Prairie." Dive into the legacy of the "Wizard of Oz" creator in his hometown and tread the paths of ancient trade routes. As you set out, ensure your backpack holds a camera, sunscreen, a riveting book, and a pair of binoculars. These 13 gems encapsulate the Sunflower State's vast beauty and rich heritage.