The 34th state is often perceived as pancake-flat. Nothing of note defines the landscape. Some might even think that from the middle of the state, one can see as far as Nebraska. Sandwiched between Missouri to the east and Colorado to the west, Kansas often gets a bad rep. However, in a study reported in National Geographic, Kansas is not among the five flattest states in the country. The flattest state is Florida. True, there are regions of Kansas that are flat, perhaps even boring. All states have such patches. Yet the Sunflower State is also defined by awe-inspiring rolling hills and spectacular geological formations. In these most picturesque small towns in Kansas, one can get a true picture of a state that is among the most disparaged in the country.
Nestled along the 1,469-mile-long Arkansas River in southwestern Kansas’s Ford County, Dodge City has a population of about 27,000. With its post-card beauty and breathtaking appeal, Dodge City is one of the most underappreciated towns in the Sunflower State. To get a better perception of its worth, the Thrillist, in a ranking of the Best Small Town In Each State, identified Dodge City as the finest small town in Kansas. There are also many inviting restaurants that any taste bud will remember for a long time, such as Prime On The Nine. Dodge City boasts an amazing array of historical attractions that visitors may not get enough of. If in doubt, check out the world-famous Boot Hill Museum, for instance, where one can set foot on the original Boot Hill Cemetery located in the heart of modern-day Dodge City.
Nestled along the picturesque shoreline of the Smoky Hill River, Abilene serves as the county seat of Dickinson County in central Kansas. Boasting a population of less than 7,000, Abilene exudes the small-town allure complete with wide-open spaces characteristic of towns its size. In a January 2020 article, House Beautiful, the New York City-based interior decorating magazine, ranked Abilene as the most beautiful small town in Kansas. The hometown of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene’s attractions include the Eisenhower boyhood home, now a designated national landmark, together with the presidential library and burial chapel. Besides these information-rich properties, no one goes to Abilene without checking out the historic Seelye Mansion, voted among the eight wonders of Kansas architecture.
With a population of only about 800, Cottonwood Falls is a Kansas gem visitors will find uncrowded, unhurried, and, most of all, insanely gorgeous. The mere fact it sits on the picturesque banks of Cottonwood River imbues it with such gasp-inducing sylvan splendor that will leave first-time visitors blown away. Aside from the fact this town sits right next to a beautiful river, a tributary of the Minnesota River, it also lies along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, a location that gives visitors one-of-a-kind views of the native grasses and flowers of the tallgrass prairie. This is among the last remaining tallgrass prairies in the United States. Aside from a downtown that features the oldest courthouse west of Mississippi, outdoor enthusiasts will want to check out the Chase Lake Falls located right in town.
Curled up along the western bank of the Missouri River, Atchison boasts more than 20 sites that have a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Strolling through the quaint streets of Atchison, one is immediately struck by the picturesque Victorian-style architecture that defines the townscape—and that gives a glimpse into the town’s past. One of Atchison’s claims to fame is that the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean once called it home. That is Amelia Earhart, one of America’s most celebrated citizens. Today, visitors who have discovered this little secret never leave Atchison without checking out the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum. Known for its spine-chilling ghost legends, experiencing the Haunted Trolley Tours is another must-see attraction that should be on the menu.
Curled up on the picturesque banks of the Kansas River, Wamego is a Kansas stunner known for its association with the legend of the Wizard of Oz. The Oz Museum in Wamego boasts one of the largest collections of privately-owned Oz memorabilia in the world. From the earliest Baum books to numerous other artifacts and memorabilia to a movie theater where one can rewatch the story as a way of refreshing the mind, Wamego is all things Oz. Besides the world-famous museum, history buffs will want to check out the historic Schonhoff Dutch Mill. The story of the 40-foot mill is the story of a young Holland immigrant who surprised that Kansas farmers were still grinding their grains by hand, went on to build a sturdy windmill. A reconstructed version of the historic windmill stands in the eastern portion of Wamego City Park, a gorgeous place that is also an attraction by itself.
A town of about 2,100, Council Grove sits in eastern Kansas along Highway 56. The Flint Hills region of Kansas will interest any nature lover as it is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. The charm of this slow-paced town lies in its rolling hills landscape, beautifully adorned by wind-swept prairies and sparkling lakes. Many will find the panoramic views encircling Council Grove enchanting. Originally a stop on the historic Santa Fe Trail, Council Grove is just what a history lover will backpack for. Boasting not less than 25 historic spots, including the Hays House Restaurant., the oldest, continuously-operating restaurant west of the Mississippi, a visit to Council Grove is a step back into history. For those who will want to seek the pleasures of water, Council Grove Federal Reservoir—or Council Grove City Lake—are idyllic options.
A town of about 36,800, Leavenworth rests on the west bank of the Missouri River. Leavenworth was founded as a city in 1854, and soon emerged as a springboard to the West. Today, one of Leavenworth’s claims to fame is it being the first official incorporated town in Kansas. Whether one will want to stroll through the 28 blocks that make up Leavenworth’s shopping district, set eyes on Fort Leavenworth, the third-oldest active military installation in the United States—and the oldest Army post in continuous existence west of the Missouri River—or take a brief ride on the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, a Kansas byway gem known for its panoramic vistas, Leavenworth, should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
First settled by a group of Swedish immigrants, Lindborg is today known as "Little Sweden" for its well-preserved historic buildings. With a population of only 3,700, Lindborg punches far above its weight as far as the number of attractions goes. There are many fascinating sites in the town’s Heritage Square, where one can marvel and wonder, and some are a bit off-the-radar that are no less fascinating. Coronado Heights Castle, for instance, 4.6 miles northwest of Lindsborg, is arguably the place a Spanish conquistador gave up his search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. Alternatively, Stenhuset, translated as "Stone House," with its 20-inch-thick walls, is the oldest house in town. It is on the northwest corner of West Grant and South Washington Streets.
Known as the "Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas, "Lucas is often mentioned among the most picturesque small towns in Kansas. Secreted in the Smoky Hills region, a picturesque stretch known for its limestone-composed hills, Lucas is a stunner that will fascinate a nature lover. While the town boasts many sites that would pique anyone’s interest, the Lucas Travel Plate is a not-miss. Located on the west side of Highway 18, Lucas Travel Plate is reputed to be the World's Largest Souvenir Plate. The colorful plate was built in 2007 by Erika Nelson, a researcher, creator, and curator of the World’s Largest Things. And with Wolf Creek, a tributary of the 397-mile-long Saline River meandering along the southern edge of Lucas, all the pleasures of water are within easy reach.
Nestled on US Highway 36 in the northwestern corner of Kansas and named for a Kansas cavalry captain, Norton is another picturesque Kansas gem that is easy to fall in love with. Boasting a population of about 2,700, Norton is as small as appropriate for someone seeking a slow, unhurried pace. Fortunately, the town also provides many big-town conveniences many feel they cannot do without. An outdoor lover’s paradise, Norton provides several options for those who love hunting, hiking, or fishing. For those looking for somewhere to sit to view the sun sink out of the horizon, Norton is just as ideal. Part town, part rural, a visitor to Norton can spend an hour sating a craving in some inviting Chinese restaurant in the town’s business district or launch out four miles west to Keith Sebelius Reservoir, the number one fishing lake in Kansas.
Galena, Kansas, may just be as charming as its more popular namesake in the Land of Lincoln. Hidden in the southeastern corner of the state, setting foot in Galena will feel like a discovery. Galena boasts a population of about only 2,700 and the title of the oldest mining town in Kansas. Named for the natural mineral form of lead sulfite discovered in the environs, Galena, around the turn of the 20th century, was home to nearly 30,000 residents. Today, strolling through the streets of downtown Galena brings to view many old buildings that offer a glimpse into the town’s glory days. For some sylvan charm, however, Schermerhorn Park features a nature center, a cool cave, picturesque trails, and a noisy creek.
While many perceive Kansas as the flattest state in the country, the facts tell a slightly different story. The Sunflower State is not among the five flattest states in the US, and even if some swathes are flat, they are anything but boring. Carpeted with panoramic, wind-swept prairies, the over-hyped flatness of Kansas is of a gasp-inducing kind. Spread out in the state are picturesque small towns such as Galena, Council Grove, and Dodge City that, for their quaint downtown streets and beautiful backdrops, will leave a first-time visitor in awe.