Eat, Play, Stay: Topeka

Topeka, along the Kansas River, has a number of great trails (including near Cedar Crest, the Governor’s Mansion), interesting history, and an active arts scene. Check out our recommendations of where to eat, what to see, and where to stay while you’re in the capital city.

Eat

Hanover Pancake House (1034 S. Kansas Ave. Open 6:30am to 3pm Sundays, 6:30am to 2:30pm Monday through Saturday).

In business since 1969, this mainstay diner style restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, and it was voted Topeka’s Best Place for Breakfast in 2016.

Order up! The Burger Stand

Burger Stand (1601 SW Lane Street, College Hill. Open 11am to 10pm Sunday and 11am to 2am Monday through Saturday).

It’s impossible to pick one best burger here, but I’m a fan of the Smoke (Applewood smoked bacon, gouda cheese & chipotle-cocoa ketchup) and Black & Blue (Blue cheese & granny smith apple chutney).

The restaurant has a couple of dining areas, and they’ve got a pool table, foosball table, and pinball machines. The service was quick, and the food delicious.

Hazel Hill Chocolate (724 S. Kansas Avenue. Open 10am to 7pm. Closed Mondays).

Handmade in small batches on-site, the chocolate treats here are incredible. You can get just one, with truffles costing $2.25, or you can stock up and get them by the box.

Moburt’s (820 S. Kansas Avenue. Open 10am to 6pm. Closed Sundays).

For your own cooking, you can add the gourmet touch with an impressively large range of salts, sugars, and spices — espresso sugar, wild blueberry sugar, Hawaiian black sea salt, gingered Thai sea salt, ground Vietnamese cinnamon, pretty much anything you can think of and many you wouldn’t have thought of before. The staff are great at advising for the best pairings.

Play

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (1515 SE Monroe Street. Open 9am to 5pm daily).

It’s a trailhead for the Landon Nature Trail, and it’s also the place to learn about the historic desegregation decision made in 1954 that helped change schools in America for the better with indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (4400 SW 10th Ave. Closed Monday, open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, open 1pm to 5pm Sunday. Kids and adults $7.75, seniors $6.75, and under 12 months, free).

In the southwest corner of Gage Park, also home to the Topeka Zoo, is the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center filled with interactive exhibits. The outdoor classroom area has a zipline, music garden, treehouse and more. Inside, there is an art play space, puzzle garden, science gallery, and more with activities for babies, toddlers, and elementary school age kids.

NOTO Arts District (800 and 900 Block of North Kansas Avenue. Keep in mind that many of the shops are closed on Mondays and/or Tuesdays).

The best time to visit is for the First Friday Artwalk, but if you can’t make it then, there’s still plenty to see. A mix of artist studios, antique stores, boutiques and a handful of cafes.

See that statue on top? You can climb practically all the way to it!

Capitol Dome Tour (300 SW 10th Street. Tours are free and run Monday through Friday: 9:15, 10:15, 11:15 a.m., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15 p.m. Saturday: 10:15, and 11:15 am., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, and 3:15 pm. Keep in mind, if it’s too hot, tours will be cancelled).

296 steps and you’ll be at the top of the nation’s only state capitol dome where you can walk outside. The tour starts with checking out some of the capitol building’s many murals, and then you head behind the scenes and up, up, up.

It’s a bit intense if you’re scared of heights, but there are protective railings and a tour guide to put you at ease. And the views from the top, especially on a clear day, are impressive You can also turn back at any point. Read more about it here.

Ted Ensley Gardens (3650 SE West Edge Rd. Open 6am to 11pm).

You can boat, fish, sail, and swim at Lake Shawnee, but there’s more to the area than water activities. Along the west side of the lake are the Ted Ensley Gardens. Trails through the arboretum, a meditation garden, and over a thousand types of flowers and trees, it’s a pleasant, pretty spot.

View from a Capitol Plaza Hotel room

Stay

Capitol Plaza Hotel (1717 SW Topeka Boulevard. Rooms from $109).

Next to the Kansas Expocentre, the Capitol Plaza Hotel is a great place to stay. It’s pet-friendly and non-smoking complete with an indoor pool, hot tub whirlpool, and exercise room.

You get free WiFi throughout the hotel, and there are two restaurants — the Falling Water Grille and Water’s Edge Lounge.

There’s plenty of parking, the beds are comfy, and I must admit that even as an adult, I’m always a fan of glass elevators — this one overlooks the garden atrium.

Part of the Great Mural Wall of Topeka near the Capitol Plaza Hotel in summer 2016

It’s also a few minutes walk from the Great Wall of Topeka-Mural along SW Western.

Ramada Inn Downtown (420 SE 6th Avenue. Rooms from $84).

If you want to easily access history, stay at the Ramada Inn Downtown as it has the in-house Holley Museum of Military History. Along with this unexpected amenity, the hotel has three restaurants: Madison Street Diner, Maddie’s Cocktail Lounge, and Uncle Bo’s Bar, which has live bands every Friday and Saturday night.

Along with the seasonal outdoor pool, there’s an indoor pool and hot tub. Each room has a microwave and mini-fridge, and they have a free hot and tasty breakfast. You get free WiFi, and in the fitness center, you can take a yoga class.

Celebrate Earth Day in Kansas

Earth Day is on April 22, and while we think everyone should care about the earth everyday, it’s special to get together to support the planet. Here are a few places across Kansas where you can celebrate Earth Day from family-friendly activities to recycling.

HutchinsonDillon Nature Center

Tall Tales and Terrific Trees – April 23 from 1 to 2pm – Families with children ages 3-10 years old: Join us and Amy Johnson from the Hutchinson Public library as she reads tree-rific tree tales on the hills in the Playscape. Then children will make a leaf craft and families can explore the trails in search of trees and seeds. Free!

Lawrence – South Park

The 17th Annual Earth Day Parade & Celebration on Saturday, April 22. Parade at 11am and Celebration in South Park from 11:30am to 4pm with exhibits, food, and kid’s activities.

Manhattan Sunset Zoo

Party for the Planet on Saturday, April 22 from noon to 4:30pm. $5 for adults, $3 children (2 and under free). Family friendly games and events including a zoo-wide scavenger hunt with prizes.

Overland Park InterUrban Art House

Clothing & Textile Recycling Event on Saturday, April 22 from 9am to 2pm, you can drop off clothing and textiles to be reused or repurposed. If it’s fabric, you can bring it here and it will be donated and kept out of the landfill.

Pittsburg – Southeast Kansas Recycling Center

Free paper shredding on April 22. Get 25 pounds of documents shredded for free. They also take plastic bags, glass, plastic, e-waste, metal, and more.

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge – Visitor’s Center

On Saturday, April 22 from 9am to 1pm, there will be guided nature walks, presentations on pollinators, tours of the butterfly garden, and a lunch provided by Friends of Quivira. Free!

 

What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with First Lady Mary Brownback of Kansas

We were honored to be invited to a reception at Cedar Crest Mansion in Topeka for the Kansas Book Festival this past September, and we were able to chat with First Lady Mary Brownback of Kansas. We reached out to her again recently to get her thoughts on what’s so special about the Sunflower State, and here’s what we found out!

Cedar Crest Mansion. Photo by Mark Conard

Cedar Crest has many trails close by – it’s particularly unique to have public trails so close to a governor’s mansion – what value do you feel public trails and public lands have in Kansas?

These public trails and lands give so many of our residents the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature, to see and experience so many new things.

I think about people living in large, metropolitan areas and, not that there aren’t opportunities for those people to enjoy the great outdoors, but it seems the opportunities are fewer and farther between.

Do you see a lot of trail users at MacLennan Park and Cedar Crest?

Every single day. Regardless of weather, there are plenty of people who will bring their dogs for walks on the trail. When the weather is nice though, the trails are full of walkers, runners, bikers and hikers, alike. There are many who come to fish at the ponds, as well.

What are some of the biggest Kansas misconceptions you think people have?

I think two of the biggest misconceptions about Kansas are that Kansas is flat and that there’s nothing to see or do here.

View from MacLennan Park. Photo by Jonathan Conard

Out of staters often think of Kansas as “flyover country” – what would you say to change their minds?

If they’re only flying over Kansas, they’re sure missing out on a lot. The Flint Hills are absolutely beautiful, the college and university campuses are wonderful and, in my travels across the state, I’ve seen some of the most unique main streets with artisan shops and local flair.

When you think of Kansas, what’s the image that comes to mind?

Without a doubt, I picture “home.” This is the state where I grew up, where I live among some of the friendliest people in the world. It’s where I’ve put down roots with my own family and raised my children. There’s no place I’d rather be.

For someone who’s never been to Kansas, do you have any recommendations for where to go or what to see?

There are so many great places to take a first-time visitor to our State. A walk around the campus of the University of Kansas (my alma mater!), the Flint Hills, the Kansas Cosmosphere and the salt mines in Hutchinson all immediately come to mind.

But there’s also the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays and the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. So many great attractions that make Kansas such a special place.

At the Kansas Book Festival with Mary Brownback.

For someone who grew up in Kansas and feels like they’ve seen everything there, do you have any recommendations for where to go or what to see?

Many of my answers for this question could overlap with the question above. If you’ve grown up in Kansas, you’ve surely had a tour of the State Capitol. But with the recent renovations, that is definitely a site that you’ll want to plan to visit again; it’s absolutely beautiful.

If you’ve never been to Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita or the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure in Salina, those are a couple of the more unique zoo experiences that you’ll find in this area.

Finally, most Kansans get a good laugh out of the fact that we’re home to several “world’s largest” sites but if you haven’t seen it before, the world’s largest hand dug well in Greensburg really is quite the sight.

What makes Kansas special for you?

Many of my fondest memories have taken place in Kansas. Having spent the majority of my life here, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is home.

Don’t miss the sandhill crane migration at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

From around Valentine’s Day to April Fool’s Day – the cranes come through Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Recent sightings at the refuge have included sandhill cranes in the thousands on the west side of Big Salt Marsh.

Kansas is a part of the “central flyway” – a migratory route for a variety of birds between Canada and Central America and the marshes and wetlands of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge provide an ideal resting and refueling spot.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Some crane facts

Sandhill cranes are passing through Kansas on their way north to breed from their southern wintering locales.  The birds, which can be 3-4 feet tall, gather in large groups during migration — strength in numbers.

At night, the waters and marshes are an ideal resting spot as any predator coming upon them will disturb the water, notifying the cranes that danger is near.

If you see two flying together, it’s likely a mated pair. If it’s three together, it’s likely to be a family group — juvenile cranes will stick with Mom and Dad for the first 10 months or so.

They can be noisy birds with distinct calls — rattling bugling type sounds that can be heard up to a mile away. Click to listen to them here.

They mate for life, which can be 20 years. Mate selection happens after courtship in the form of dancing — leaping, bobbing their heads, displaying their wings. One example is a male will fling a piece of grass or vegetation into the air as if to say “Look at me, choose me, I can build a good nest.”

They also have distinct “displays” and you can tell from their body language what they’re trying to say. Bowing, stretching their necks, jumping – each display communicates something unique.

Stop by Quivira National Wildlife Refuge — the Big Salt Marsh is one of the best places to see the cranes. It’s open daily from 1.5 hours before sunrise to 1.5 hours after sunset.

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

“And when in the great future of the matchless State, farm shall be added to farm, and town to town, and the great cities of the future shall have come, the mounds shall still stand and still keep silent watch over the noble landscape forever beneath their feet.” -William G. Cutler 1883

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View from South Mound

One of the most striking natural landmarks in Wilson County are the Twin Mounds which rise up to an elevation of over 1,000 feet to tower over the surrounding plains.  Noted by William G. Cutler in his 1883 “History of Kansas”, early hikers were said to take a “well-worn path” to the summit and upon reaching the pinnacle can see “unrolled before him one of the finest sights of the new world. Southward runs the somber timber lines which mark the course of Fall River. Westward lies the second mound and between the fertile fields to the far north can be seen the fringe of the Verdigris”

The mounds still keep watch over Fredonia and present a sweeping view of the Fall River valley. The South Mound is now graced by a picnic area, playground, observation tower, and what appears to be the largest American flag west of the Verdigris. Through the work of the Kansas Trails Council and the Cultivate Fredonia Healthy Living Action Team, the South Mound also regained a short trail network that allows hiker and bikers to explore the rocky wooded areas along the rim and steep slopes of the mound.

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Flag & playground on the South Mound

In a patriotic spirit, the trail network is christened the “Old Glory Trail” and trail segments include the 0.34 mile Liberty Trail which traverses the rim of the mound, and a slightly longer loop trail lower on the hillside known as the Freedom Trail.  Both trails have a natural surface and the upper trail offers sweeping views off the side of the mound and some fun rocks and boulders for a little off-trail scrambling. Check out the map below for the trail location and route options.

Where to see bald eagles in Kansas

Where to see bald eagles in Kansas

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Bald eagle pair in Kansas. Photo by Bo Rader.

The return of the bald eagle has been a remarkable success story.  After being pushed towards extinction, the eagle steadily recovered under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  In Kansas, nesting eagles made a return to the state in 1989 at Clinton Reservoir and have been increasing in numbers ever since.

As the winter cold sets in, eagles push south in search of open water.  In Kansas, mid-January is typically the ideal time to search for eagles along secluded coves of major reservoirs in the eastern half of the state.

For a good hike with a chance to see bald eagles, we recommend the Eagle Ridge Trail at Milford State Park or the Chaplin Nature Center trails by the Arkansas River.  Throughout the month of January there are events throughout the state that celebrate the recovery of this iconic species. Each of the following events offer educational programs and guided viewing tours for the public.

January 7th: The first opportunity for guided eagle viewing is at Tuttle Creek Reservoir with a program and vehicle tour starting at the Manhattan Fire Station (Kimball & Denison Ave) from 9:00 – 12:30.

January 14th: Eagle Days at Milford Lake. The nature center at Milford Lake hosts an annual eagle day event that includes programs and guided bus tours running from 9:00 – 2:00 to view eagles along the lake. Admission to the state park is free for the event and there’s also hot chocolate and popcorn for all!

January 21st: Kaw Valley Eagles day celebrates the natural history and recovery of the bald eagle in Kansas with a family-friendly event at Free State High School in Lawrence. There will be presentations, activities for the kids and viewing expeditions.

January 28th & February 4th: Chaplin Nature Center will offer a short educational program and guided hike along the nature center trails to view eagles.  Meet at the visitors center at 10:00 to join the fun.

Our Sunflower Journeys episode premieres 11/10/16

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Our segment with Sunflower Journeys was filmed in August at the Konza Prairie, and it will premiere at the end of the Recreation episode that’s airing on 11/10/16 – episode 8 of Sunflower Journey’s 29th season.

About Sunflower Journeys: Kansas’ longest running local history program, KTWU’s Sunflower Journeys, travels the highways to bring Kansas stories home to viewers. And now, there are various ways you can see KTWU programming. Sunflower Journeys airs three times a week on KTWU. Thursday at 8 PM, Friday at 2:30pm, Saturday at 5:30PM and the following Wednesday on KTWU’s Enhance channel at 7:30pm. Sunflower Journeys also airs on KCPT in Kansas City, KPTS in Wichita, and Smoky Hills Public Television in the western part of the state. Check local listings for airtimes on those stations.