Kansas Scenic Drives: Flint Hills Scenic Byway

This map details Flint Hills Scenic Byway.
This map details Flint Hills Scenic Byway.

The Flint Hills Scenic Byway is a modern road easily reached from the Kansas Turnpike, I-70, U.S. 50, and U.S. 56, but it is a scenic trip back in time. Panoramic views of now-rare tallgrass prairie, Native American historic sites, the still visible wagon ruts left by the countless thousands who traversed the Santa Fe Trail, and of course, the stark beauty of the Flint Hills all greet the visitors to this area.

The area, as with so much of the Great Plains, became the site of friction between the indigenous people and the European pioneers. Treaties were needed as far back as 1825.Meaningful historic sites all along the Flint Hills Scenic Byway tell the tales of the native people groups, the pioneers who came to homestead in these hills, and those who merely passed through on their way to seek their fortune elsewhere in the Old West.

The geologic time period in the Flint Hills represents the Permian Period, with the area being covered by the shallow Permian Sea some 250 to 290 million years ago. The marine fossils, time, and the effects of nature worked together to create the unique topography of the Flint Hills: flat-topped hills of limestone and flint and verdant valleys, all accented by the preserved tallgrass prairie and cattle ranches that have been operating for generations.

One of America's newest national parks, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has nearly 11,000 acres of virgin, never-plowed prairie safeguarded. The preserve protects a nationally significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Of the 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie that once covered the North American continent, less than 4 percent remains, primarily in the Flint Hills of Kansas. This makes it one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world. The preserve has two hiking trails that give visitors the opportunity to experience this exquisite prairie first-hand. It is a treat to stop and listen, perhaps hearing as the pioneers did from their Prairie Schooners, the wafting waves of this grassland ocean as the wind whistles through the bluestem and other native grasses. The beauty that will greet guests is striking and unforgettable.

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