Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Flint Hills culture is built on prairie grasses.  Too rocky to be tilled, the rugged limestone underlying the prairie soils spared the majority of this landscape from the homesteaders plow.  While the sodbusters moved on to more amenable locations, the ranchers established a stronghold in the Flint Hills.  The expansive cattle ranches throughout the area have effectively kept large contiguous tracts of tallgrass prairie intact to this day.   While much of the Flint Hills is in private hands, there’s no better place to experience the sublime beauty of the prairie than at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Strong City.  A multitude of hiking trails follow old ranch roads throughout the preserve, and the trails are open 24/7 affording opportunities for night hiking as well. Kids will enjoy hiking the Southwind Nature Trail to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse, a one-room country school, built in 1882 and still standing strong.

Ranch house

Stephen Jones Ranch House Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School
Photo by Mark Conard

The schoolhouse is open for tours on Saturdays from 12-4 during May-June and September-October. Hard-core hikers will want to experience the expansive backcountry trails that start behind the historic stone barn, and we recommend the Scenic Overlook Trail or Crusher Hill Loop for spectacular views of wide-open prairie. Watch your step when crossing through Windmill Pasture as bison roam freely through this area and there have been recent reports of aggressive behavior. Front-country trails winding along Lower Fox Creek are sheltered from the wind and are a great spot to view a diverse assortment of wildlife.

If you’re able to visit this weekend (April 26th) there’s a special event “Let’s Experience the Great Outdoors” sponsored in partnership with Backwoods, which includes opportunities for volunteer service, kids activities, crafts, and demonstrations.  There are great hiking opportunities as part of the event and knowledgeable park rangers will lead a family-friendly hike along the Southwind Nature Trail (12:30 – 1:30), a longer nature hike into the backcountry (1:30 – 3:30) and even a special night hike from 9:00 – 10:00 PM.

After a day on the trail, take some time to experience the ranching culture of the Flint Hills,  which is still alive and strong in the nearby towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. The annual Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City will be held from June 5-7 and is the longest-running consecutive rodeo in Kansas.  Cottonwood Falls is also home to the legendary Emma Chase Cafe and Music Hall. The food is certainly good but the main attraction each Friday night is the acoustic jam session. Check out the full schedule of performers and get ready for some authentic music from the heart of the Flint Hills. It’s an experience like no other and has been named one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Customs” by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  Each Friday features a different genre, ranging from acoustic country, gospel, bluegrass, and old-fashioned rock-n-roll.

 

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