National Park Travel

Kansas National Parks: All You Need to Know to Visit (2024-2025)

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When you think of Kansas, what comes to mind? Maybe you know about the Sunflower State’s fields of yellow summer blooms, or you’ve heard of a gal with ruby slippers who once called it home…but beyond that, Kansas isn’t known for much. That’s a real shame, as there are 10 national park sites in Kansas – and they offer the chance to learn about American history in the Heartland.

While there are no Kansas National Parks – not the ones that meet that coveted highest standard that draws travelers from around the world – there are other protected lands and sites in the National Park Service system. These include National Historic Sites,, National Historic Trails, and a National Preserve.

Kansas National Parks Hero

I’ve traveled through Kansas a few times on longer road trips across the States, and am always keen to find compelling places to stop, rest, and stretch my legs. Where better than national parks, right? If you’re curious to learn more about the national park units in Kansas, this post will help. By the end, don’t be surprised if you’re eager to visit these ones along with other national parks across the country.

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Washtáge Moⁿzháⁿ (Kaw / Kansa), 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^(Osage),Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, [Gáuigú (Kiowa), Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche), (Pawnee), Kaskaskia, Jiwere, Arapaho peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in March 2021 and was last updated in June 2024.

National Parks in Kansas List & Map

Before jumping into each national park in Kansas in greater detail, it helps to take a high-level look at the map and list of national park units in Kansas – use this to get oriented to understand where each one is and which one(s) you might want to visit.

National Parks in Kansas Map
Click to open in a new tab

The 10 national parks in Kansas are:

  1. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
  2. California National Historic Trail
  3. Fort Larned National Historic Site
  4. Fort Scott National Historic Site
  5. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  6. Nicodemus National Historic Site
  7. Oregon National Historic Trail
  8. Pony Express National Historic Trail
  9. Santa Fe National Historic Trail
  10. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

The map has pins for all of the parks and the trails are the blue lines; it’s worth noting that the trails aren’t exactly accurate on the map since these original trails and the stops and landmarks have been somewhat lost to the sands of time.

Now that you’ve got a high-level sense of the parks and where they are, let’s look at each one in greater detail.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

You’ve probably heard about the Supreme Court decision that justifies this National Historic Site; it’s a landmark to commemorate the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case where the court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Visitors to this national monument in the Great Plains will learn about this case’s history and the courage and hope displayed by the teachers, students, ministers, secretaries, and everyone else involved in this quest for justice and fairness.

Details of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site:

  • Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is typically open year-round; it has been closed indefinitely due to the ongoing pandemic.
  • There is no admission fee for Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.

California National Historic Trail

Named for the final destination pioneers once hoped to reach along this route, the California National Historic Trail was a mid-19th-century highway used for migration to the West.

This trail actually features several routes across Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and California, so there are sites and routes throughout those states. Depending on where you choose to visit, you can also learn fascinating stories and incidents about emigrants, missionaries, and fortune seekers who have traveled westward with golden dreams of a future in the Golden State.

Details of California National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the California National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for California National Historic Trail.

Fort Larned National Historic Site

Another historic national park in Kansas, Fort Larned National Historic Park is a preserved 1860s army post. It features a well-preserved fort and high-quality Sandstone buildings where Guardians of the Santa Fe Trail were sheltered. 

Explore this historic Fort and hike on the nature trail, where you get to experience the full scale of living in ancient times. Throughout the site, you’ll see stables, corrals, stores, offices, and wagons, which are still functional and offer the chance to immerse yourself in a lesser-known chapter of American history.

Details of Fort Larned National Historic Site:

  • Fort Larned National Historic Site is open year-round but hours vary by season.
  • Admission to Fort Larned National Historic Site is free.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Fort Larned National Historic Site.

Fort Scott National Historic Site

This National Park served as a military base for the U.S. Army in 1850 and was eventually used to provide security and store supplies during Bleeding Kansas and the American Civil War periods. Currently, Fort Scott National Historic Site preserves 20 historic structures, 5 acres of restored prairie, and a parade ground.

The best way to visit Fort Scott National Historic Site is on a guided tour of the site to learn about this National Park’s history in the Great Plains and Westward expansion. 

Details of Fort Scott National Historic Site:

  • Fort Scott National Historic Site is open year-round but hours vary by season.
  • Admission to Fort Scott National Historic Site is free.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Fort Scott National Historic Site.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

As you might be able to guess, the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail exists to commemorate the 1803 to 1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, which aimed at preserving historical, natural, and cultural resources in the U.S.

This national historic trail is about 4,900 miles long and runs – from east to west – through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

In Kansas, the trail follows the Missouri River along the northeast border of the state from Kansas City to the South Dakota border.

Details of Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.

Nicodemus National Historic Site

Nicodemus National Historic Site is one of the lesser-known but equally important sites for those who are interested in the American Civil War – I was certainly intrigued by this chapter of history as a young person, but never heard of the site until I began traveling as an adult.

This town celebrates the pioneer spirit of African Americans who fought to seek personal freedom and develop their talents. Tour this historic site and have the opportunity to learn about the history of the African American liberation; it’s also a popular place for Juneteenth celebrations each year.

Details of Nicodemus National Historic Site:

  • Nicodemus National Historic Site is open year-round except Sundays and federal holidays.
  • Admission to Nicodemus National Historic Site is free.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Nicodemus National Historic Site.

Oregon National Historic Trail

You know the old-school computer game – but do you know the actual history? This historic, multi-state trail spans 2,170 miles through Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State.

Within Kansas, head to Alcove Spring near Blue Rapids; there you can see evidence of travelers who once traversed the Oregon Trail. Specifically, look for names carved into the rocks around the spring, including Edwin Bryant, who was part of the infamous Donner-Reed Party. It’s a humbling reminder that those who sought to change their fortunes by heading west as pioneers were both real people and faced almost unbelievably real risks for doing so.

Details of Oregon National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Oregon National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Oregon National Historic Trail.

Pony Express National Historic Trail

You’ve also heard about the Pony Express, right? The Pony Express National Historic Trail was used in the 19th Century for long-distance communication. Men would ride on horses through this trail for ten days or more to deliver mail from Missouri to California, including across Kansas.

This trail ran through eight states and was the only means of east-west communication before the telegraph was invented. When touring this trail, make sure to check out the passport stamp sites and learn more about this mail delivery system’s history.

Details of Pony Express National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Pony Express National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Pony Express National Historic Trail.

Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Spanning about 900 miles through five states (Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico), this trail has become a popularly walked site.

Currently, it is hard to identify its exact routes, so most visitors resort to other means of plying the route. Take the Colorado route to enjoy beautiful scenes of farmlands, mountains, rivers, and beautiful low-land meadows. Other attractions on this trail include Bent’s Old Fort, swimming holes, and bird-watching sites.

Details of Santa Fe National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Established in 1996 to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, this national preserve covers over 400,000 square miles and is home to the Tallgrass Prairie bison herd.

Like national forests, grasslands and prairies aren’t specific sites within the National Park Service system; instead, look for activities that allow you to experience the area; there are hiking trails, private farms that host guests, and ranch sites where you can learn about the bison herd and maybe even spot it for yourself.

Details of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve:

  • Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is open year-round.
  • Admission to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is free.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

While Kansas might not seem like there’s much there, hopefully, you’re now pleasantly surprised! Though there are no National Parks, Kansas is home to 10 national park service units worth exploring. Best of all, they’re diverse and interesting – covering a range from historic sites to natural wonders. The only question is: which one do you want to visit? Have other questions about the Kansas National Parks and how to visit them? Let me know in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  • Chris

    I enjoyed the article but suggest that the name National Park is a bit confusing here. Some, including myself :), would note that these are not national parks. There are a specific number of National Parks in the USA and then many many other national sites of one sort or another.

    • Valerie

      Thanks for the feedback, Chris, but technically, every National Park Service site is a national park – this is the language that the National Park Service uses.

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