I can already sense the sneers and rolling eyebrows from the traveling naysayers when I express my admiration for Kansas, but I refuse to buy into any of that. While traveling this patch of North American for a segment of The 30 Postcards Project, Kansas Postcard in hand, I was guided from one unexpected Kansan surprise to another.
I'm going to tell you exactly where I think you should stay while you're designing your own Kansas Road Trip, but first let me tempt your traveling tastebuds: Did you know that one of the world's largest deposits of rock salt sits in central Kansas? Or that you can take an elevator down inside of its vast man-made caverns. Did you know that one of the largest collections of spaceflight artifacts and actual spacecraft anywhere in the world is in Kansas? Did you know Kansas has it's own version of Grand Canyon and Monument Rock type features? You may not be impressed with the world's largest ball of twine, largest coal excavator, or largest hand dug well (all attractions in Kansas) -- but would it impress you to know that in 5 short years the town of Greensburg, Kansas went from complete and utter tornadic destruction to the completely rebuilt, greenest town anywhere in the U.S.
Kansas has a grassroots art center which will blow your mind, a set of geologic formations you'd never expect in America's flatlands, BBQ that melts in your mouth, unbelievable Civil War historical sites you've never heard of, festivals which would challenge your notion of 'Flat Kansas', herds of bisons, loads of antiques (I'm serious, they have a lot of antiques), and, oh, did I mention that historic Dodge City is in Kansas?
And now to yet another fantastic reason to put Kansas in your travel crosshairs, which is the chance to stay at one, or hopefully all, of these incredible "Only in Kansas" accommodations (listed in the order I stayed in them):
Hotel at Old Town not only has one of the most prime pieces of real estate anywhere in Kansas' largest city (that's Wichita by the way), but it also is one of the most creatively put together properties I've seen in America. What used to be a Keen Kutter warehouse for tools, home, and sporting goods is now the intelligently transformed four story Hotel combining history & heritage with modern 21st century amenities. Hotel at Old Town knows precisely how to present an impressive, unique accommodation opportunity to its guests avoiding the pitfalls of the mediocre, money-grubbing, dullness that plagues chain hotels. Historical memorabilia greets you upon exiting the elevator, the breakfast is served in an open and inviting atrium (making the experience feel homey), the rooms possess a number of intricate touches crafting a bygone midwestern era, and wireless communication is treated as a necessity (this is my way of saying the internet is free, which is more important to travelers than many hotel chains are willing to admit).
What impressed me the most about Hotel at Old Town was what pops up when you turn on your television. Instead of seeing a series of ads for how to give the hotel more money in the form of spas, restaurants, outrageous mini-bars, etc., there was a cleverly produced short video on everything one can see or do in the city of Wichita. This union of common interest between the Hotel and the city is a rare find. Personally I think any hotel which ties itself to the success of the city it sits in is making the best travel and tourism bet it can make.
Boot Hill Bed and Breakfast sits atop the infamous Boot Hill in one of the Midwest's most famous cow towns, Dodge City. Times may have changed, and the famous names of westward American expansion have faded into the ground, but that doesn't mean you can't take a couple days and soak yourself in Dodge City's myth and mystique. Kurt and Enid, who run Boot Hill B&B, are eager to present you with dozens of options for exploring Dodge City depending on exactly how you like to vacation. Enid is also very eager for you to try her award winning breakfast (the award she's won is the Kevin Richberg: That's the Most Incredible Breakfast in Kansas Award - she earned it).
The location of Boot Hill couldn't be any more perfect for travelers sick of the inside of their cars. The famous cemetery is literally across the street, the wax museum is a few houses down, and the major tourist attraction (Boot Hill Museum and Front Street) is one block away. Definitely ask Kurt for directions to the Santa Fe Trail ruts where an evening visit allows you a gorgeous view of the setting sun over the Kansas plains.
Sunnyland Bed and Breakfast is located in Dodge City's rival town (in a tourism sense) and sort-of next door neighbor, Garden City, whose claim to fame is the country's largest public concrete swimming pool (directly next to the free, and very nicely put together, public zoo). But I found that the real magic of Garden City was in the 1909 Queen Anne Style Brick Home which was my Bed and Breakfast. Fred and Kathryn Askren invite you to join them in one of the most historically decorated homes I've ever seen. Every little detail has been purposely placed by Kathryn's keen eye for decor, and this makes your overnight stay an attraction in and of itself. You can spend a good amount of time just wandering around the house (which is separated from the Askren's living quarters) and enjoying the trip back in time. Make sure you ask for the full history of the property, which is quite a story and worth a good laugh over a wonderful breakfast. Also you'll want to ask for directions to see the Bison herd right outside the city limits.
The Swedish Country Inn is simply adorable. Everything about the small town of Lindsborg, Kansas is adorable. It really is a must-see Kansas masterpiece (and I'm not just talking about the public art which lines the main streets). As the name suggests you'll be treated to everything Swedish, including the breakfast -- which if you've never had an authentic Swedish breakfast before, is full of flavorful delights certain to test your morning palette. The rooms are simple Swedish, and the prices are incredibly reasonable. There are a plethora of nearby attractions including the historical Old Mill, the ultimate Kansas picnic area at Coronado Heights, and of course the dozens of unique Lindsborg businesses. One thing all the properties I've mentioned so far have is a rich history associated with them, and the Swedish Inn is no different. Ask Becky, the owner, to sit down with you and chat about the Lindsborg of her youth; where they've been, and where they're headed.
Circle S Ranch is the definition of "I came to Kansas to have the ultimate midwestern experience!" An enormous property north of Lawrence, Kansas, the Circle S is the place you should journey to with your friends (or your fiance) to "get away from it all," and slow your life down. Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, relaxing, spaing, it's all there -- and they've got a herd of bison next to where you stay (seriously, they're right out the window). The jacuzzi is in a silo structure that you have to see to believe. The food is excellent and every room is designed with its own unique amenities and character (ask for the room with the bucket shower or the one with the bedside whirlpool tub).
Circle S has recently become the site for many "destination weddings," and although I can't speak directly to what it would be like to get married there, I can definitely say that I've already pitched the idea to several of my engaged friends (that way I can return as a wedding guest). But even if you're not tying the knot Circle S has everything you'll need to take the Kansas vacation you deserve (and yes, you do deserve that vacation!). Make sure to ask about the phantom pig which roams the grounds, a sighting will bring you good luck.
There you have it, five exceptional places to stay while road tripping Kansas. Stay tuned for future pieces on why Kansas is not simply a state that you drive through.
If you are just driving through, you're doing it wrong.