Calling one just to run through its vast prairies, Kansas is a truly diverse state whose small towns are the epitome of a big-city respite. Whether in a mood to revisit the Wild West, transport into the "OZ," or anything in between, this list comes a-brimming with a small-town charm.
The name derived from the biblical term meaning "city of the plains" fits the town's location amidst the Kansas prairie. A stagecoach stop when it was "born" in 1857, the historically-rich Abilene is the famous setting of the childhood home of President Eisenhower that is open to visitors along with the presidential library and museum. Transforming into a railroad town on the Kansas Pacific Railway in 1867, one can witness history on the streets through interesting old architecture, museums, and a theater. There's the architecturally-significant 25-room Georgian-style Seelye Mansion, while the American Indian Art Center showcases native culture through different crafts from various tribes. Set at the end of the historic Chisholm Trail, Abilene is a scenic town from one side and a fun, Old West-style community from another. For an accurate taste of the Wild West, the Old Town Abilene features saloons with cancan dancers and re-enactments of gunfights.
A picturesque community bounded by the Missouri River in northeastern Kansas, Atchison is the famous birthplace of Amelia Earhart. Featuring an architecturally-rich townscape, the significant Victorian-style buildings include the Santa Fe Depot, St. Benedict's Abbey, and Benedictine College. The many stunning Victorian homes built by the early residents along the brick streets include Amelia's childhood home constructed by her grandfather in the 1860s. For more varied history, one can visit the Atchison Country Historical Society Museum and the Atchison Rail Museum. There's also a belief that many of these buildings are haunted, with tours, events, mystery dinners, and spiritual readers, celebrating 'Haunted Atchison.' The unique ambiance after dark evokes a certain kind of charm that makes many visitors want to stroll through town after the sunset to see what happens or to prove that nothing does. The Amelia Earhart Festival is the town's foremost annual celebration in July.
Not all Kansas is flatlands, with the popular depiction of running through the plains. Known as the "Strong City," the town sits in the heart of the Flint Hills, which make part of the last major segment at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to the north. Offering second-to-none hikes in the area, the Preserve features a unique atmosphere pleasing to all senses, from the tickling breeze and fresh grasses to the birds singing while the eyes feast on the natural beauty around. The Southwind Nature Trail to the Lower Fox Creek School comes with an 1881 historic ranch house and a chance of running into one of the 100 bison that live on the Preserve. The scenically charming townscape comes with the Cottonwood River Bridge and four historic buildings that have been listed on the country's National Register of Historic Places. Built with native limestone from the Flint Hills, the regal old Chase County Courthouse is an authentic 1874 Second Empire-style architectural gem, looking down the street of the historic business district. The brick-paved streets house many shops and restaurants, making the town an excellent base to explore the charmingly lush and wild natural environs around. One can listen to or join in the great Emma Chase Friday Night Music weekly concerts in-town for a fun pastime.
Located on the Santa Fe Trail connected to Franklin, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, since the 19th century, Council Grove is a well-manicured community that brims with small-town charm as a popular getaway for the city dwellers. The town was named after an accord between the European Americans and the Osage Nation that let settlers pass through to the West in their wagon trains. Aside from all the modern comforts, the center area booms with a unique selection of stores and eateries that have been there since the beginning of the 19th century, such as the historic Hays House Restaurant from 1857. Other historic sites include the Kaw Mission State Historic Site and Museum and the school for boys of the Kaw American Indian tribe from 1851. The old Post Office with a Post Office Section Art mural painted by Charles B. Rogers is especially beloved by the culture fans.
Established in 1872, the town was settled by cowboys and gamblers who referred to their new home as "The Wickedest Little City in America." Embracing the nickname as a joke, Dodge City is a charming town comprising a modern community, while its history can be further explored at the Boot Hill Museum or via the Dodge City Trolley. Its Wild West roots are apparent in the famous Marshal Dillon's home, as well as the connection to the television classic Gunsmoke. The vibrant downtown offers a selection of shops along with the Trail of Fame with medallions on the sidewalk recognizing the actors and other celebrities, as well as statues of Marshal Dillon, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday. The Boot Hill Distillery teaches how whiskey is made, while the charming boardwalk comes with the popular Longhorn Saloon pouring the famed sarsaparilla. The Dodge City Days comprise a 10-day event featuring various attractions, such as an old-fashioned cattle drive.
Having begun as a fort active from 1842 to 1873, the town has seen everything from the Permanent Indian Frontier, to the Mexican War, to Bleeding Kansas, to Civil War. The community around the fort also survived the mayhem of the wars, devastating fires, and political turmoil over the past two centuries, leaving a trail in the quiet historic downtown filled with beautiful Victorian buildings. The impressive old-western architecture is complemented by brick streets and shops offering relics of the past, while the Fort Scott National Historic Site comprises 20 buildings with period-appropriate furnishings dating to the 19th century. Charming, in more heart-wrenching ways, Fort Scott is well-known for its "Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes" that started with a heroic Catholic social worker, Irena Sendler. Upon rescuing more than 2,500 Jewish children from Warsaw during the Second World War, she buried the list of their real names in jars across the street from the German soldiers' barracks. With nearly all of the children orphaned by the end of the War, it inspired the center and more heroes to tell their stories. The Gordon Parks Museum is filled with memorabilia of Gordon Parks, the first Black man to direct a major movie, The Learning Tree autobiography, filmed in town.
Known as "Little Sweden USA," the very instagrammable Lindsborg is a charming community established during an influx of Swedish settlers in 1869. The friendly little town is proud to showcase its rich heritage through various fun adventures and cultural activities, such as the signature Svensk Hyllningsfest biennial celebration of the Swedish pioneers and Swedish architecture. Home to many beautiful historic buildings of various architectural styles, there's the Swedish Pavilion transported from the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis that focuses on the town and its people from 1870 to 1910. The works of the prolific artist Birger Sandzén who arrived in Lindsborg from Sweden in 1894, can be scouted in numerous art museums around the world, including the memorial gallery in town. The Red Barn Studio is the former working studio of Lester Raymer, now housing his work in varied media forms. One can also visit the Old Mill Museum for in-depth history, as well as The Hemslöjd Swedish Gifts for a Dala holiday horse as a cherished memory to bring home.
A town with under half-a-thousand residents, Lucas is a perfect destination for the urbanite tourists to relax in the quaint-paced atmosphere away from the city. Called the 'Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas,' the town comes with unique buildings made from Post Rock limestone. Started as a project by a retired Civil War veteran, S.P. Dinsmoor, in 1904, the S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden is a peculiar place. Presenting a 'log' cabin made of Post Rock limestone and 200 unique concrete sculptures around, it is the epitome of the town's devotion to creating and preserving beautiful folk art. Other marvels can be found at the Grassroots Arts Center, along with the quirky Bowl Plaza public restroom that was named the 2nd best restroom in the nation for its mosaic decorations. Every Saturday before Labor Day Weekend brings about the annual Adams Apple Festival, with an art show, a fun run, and the gourmet experience of the Scottish Highland Games.
Named after a Potawatomi Native American chief, the charming town has always been all about entertainment. Its most notable landmark, the Columbian Theatre, built in 1893, is a world-renowned place beloved by young and old. Hosting frequent, exciting, and different-genre performances, The Wizard of Oz, is especially popular, with over 1,000 artifacts and film props housed at the Oz Museum. In turn, the museum inspired the creation of the same-themed businesses in the area, such as bike rides down the Yellow Brick Road, various eateries, and the Oz Winery offering award-winning wines galvanized by the famous musical. The lush, 15-acre Wamego City Park, named the best in the state, provides a wholesome family pastime. It contains tennis courts, horseshoe pits, a 19th-century stone Dutch Mill, and the Historic Museum and Prairie Town Village for day-full of explorations.
There's no better place to feel as free than the wide-open skies and the quaint atmospheres of these small charming towns in Kansas after being enclosed by the city's skyscrapers. Upon visiting, one will surely have a special memory, such as feeling part of the "Westerns," stories of cowboys, and famous books, to reminisce about forever after.