Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
Stroll through a unique prairie ecosystem
Once there was tallgrass prairie as far as the eye could see, flowing like a green ocean from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains and from Texas up into Canada, covering some 400,000 square miles. That was the prairie of the buffalo and the Indian, our pioneer ancestors who, as they moved west, never imagined that their settling and ploughing and building could possibly put a dent in its vastness. But it did.
Today, less than four per cent of the tallgrass prairie remains, just isolated pockets preserved in an effort to retain their richness for future generations. One such is Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a 10,894-acre former cattle ranch, designed to educate visitors about the prairie ecosystem, Kansas’s ranching heritage and the pre-settlement landscape.
Visitors can tour the preserve’s historic buildings and grounds, which on many summer weekends are staffed by living-history interpreters building rock walls, working in the garden, churning butter and performing other tasks of ranch and farm life common between the 1880s and 1930s. The schoolhouse feels completely authentic with its period desks, schoolbooks and blackboards. Nature trails allow you to explore woodlands by the creek, tallgrass prairie (hiking from the park headquarters to the schoolhouse and back) and a section of lowland prairie that’s been restored after decades as farm- and ranchland.
From May through October, daily bus tours take visitors deeper into the prairie, with explanation of its geology, Indian and Western history, and biological diversity. The area is home to 40 to 60 different kinds of grasses, and 300 species of herbs and flowers, not to mention coyotes, jackrabbits, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and more. Those wanting an even closer view can hike the preserve’s backcountry trails.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is located midway on the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, which stretches along 47 miles of Highway 177 from Cassoday in the south to Council Grove in the north.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.