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Looking for Things to Do in Southwest Kansas?

Looking for Things to Do in Southwest Kansas?


By avatar  Stacy
Posted On 01/21/2019 17:32:05
Trip Date 10/03/2018  

Destinations | Kansas | Dodge City | Larned | Liberal | Fort Larned | Dorothy's House | Tourist Sites in Kansas | Historical Sites in Kansas | Things to See and Do in Kansas | Family Friendly Ideas for a Kansas Road Trip



Our eight week RV adventure to see some of the southwest United States took us first from Texas to Kansas City, Missouri to visit family. Leaving Kansas City, I have to admit that I wondered what there would be for us to see during our three night stay in southwest Kansas. The good news is that I was pleasantly surprised and we actually could have filled more time seeing the sights.

If you are considering a road trip that will take you through southwestern Kansas, take a look at this post for some sightseeing ideas. Whether you are traveling alone, with a spouse or significant other or even with some youngsters, there is something for everyone. There's even great news for the budget traveler as many of the sights we will introduce to you are either free or low cost!



Fort Larned, Kansas

While on the road in route to Jetmore, Kansas, Scott noticed a sign advertising Fort Larned. After sitting in the car for about 4 1/2 hours with only a quick stop to fill up our gas tank, the fort's location was perfect for a "get out and stretch" break. We agreed that if there was parking for "RV There Yet?" and the entrance cost was reasonable, we'd spend some time exploring. An internet query answered both questions about Fort Larned - entrance was free and a section of the parking lot is devoted to buses and RVs!


Entrance to Fort Larned National Historic Site

Entrance to Fort Larned National Historic Site

Once parked, we crossed the footbridge over the river and were amazed at what we saw and learned in our 1 1/2 hour visit. Originally built to protect and secure the US mail route along the Santa Fe Trail, the role of the fort changed several times once the railroad was complete and used for mail transit. Nine of the original buildings surrounding the parade grounds have been restored and a self-guided tour helps visitors get a feel for the daily life of those who served.


Front Porch of Company and Commanding Officers' Quarters

Front Porch of Company and Commanding Officers' Quarters

Barracks at Fort Larned

Barracks at Fort Larned

The goal was an authentic frontier fort circa the late 1860s, and in our opinion the restoration was a success. The nine buildings were built between 1866 and 1868 with much of the original structures still intact. Only one of the buildings standing today, the octagonal blockhouse, was rebuilt from the ground up.


Blockhouse (Left) and Commissary (Right) at Fort Larned

Blockhouse (Left) and Commissary (Right) at Fort Larned

Many of the interior rooms have period furnishings and even the flag flying atop a 100-foot flagpole has 37 stars as did the US flag in 1868. We got lucky as a volunteer blacksmith was on site during our visit to provide a demonstration.


Period Furnishings at Fort Larned

Period Furnishings at Fort Larned

Barracks at Fort Larned

Barracks at Fort Larned

Hospital at Fort Larned

Hospital at Fort Larned

Fort Larned's US Flag circa 1868

Fort Larned's US Flag circa 1868

Blacksmith Demonstration at Fort Larned

Blacksmith Demonstration at Fort Larned

Commissary at Fort Larned

Commissary at Fort Larned

The fort was a privately owned ranch from the 1880's and into the 1960's when it was acquired by the National Park Service. We learned that much of the graffiti that we saw was from visitors to the fort during those years.


Graffiti at Fort Larned

Graffiti at Fort Larned

The fort is open seven days a week (closed only on public holidays) from 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM and there is no admission fee. Although not one of the first buildings that you approach when entering from the parking lot, the Visitor Center is the ideal place to start your visit. The exhibits and short ten minute video help to set the stage for better understanding the history and life at the fort.



Dodge City, Kansas

Did you know that between 1872 (when the railroad reached Dodge City) and 1874, it has been estimated that 850,000 buffalo hides were shipped out of the city? Then, beginning in 1875, cattle drives from Texas brought over five million longhorns which replaced the buffalo as a revenue source. People from all over came to this city to take advantage of the opportunities of the last frontier. The significant influx of people is said to have brought lawlessness - that is until some legends such as Wyatt Earp brought law and order to the city's streets.


Welcome to Dodge City

Welcome to Dodge City

Of the three cities that we are introducing you to in this post, we found the most to do in Dodge City. Although we only spent a day seeing what we could, there was definitely more that we could have seen before "getting outta Dodge"! Here's some ideas to consider for a visit to this city which was founded in 1872. If you only have one full day and want to see most or all of the attractions on our list, you may want to pack a lunch ... or there are plenty of restaurants in the area ranging from fast food to family dining or international cuisine.



Cattle & Feedlot Overlook

Since cattle have such a long history in Dodge City, why not take the opportunity to check out a Feedlot Operation. Located on Wyatt Earp Blvd., the main road leading in to historic Dodge City, you'll find an overlook directly across from Dodge City Regional Airport. From this vantage point, you'll have an excellent view of a large cattle operation still in business today. There's also signage which gives you some historical information of how the cattle industry became so important to the area.


View from Cattle and Feedlot Overlook

View from Cattle and Feedlot Overlook

Driving a Little Closer to Get Up Front and Personal with a Cow

Driving a Little Closer to Get Up Front and Personal with a Cow

Take a Trolley Tour or Walking Tour of Old Dodge City

Between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend, visitors can join one of the regular daily Historic Trolley Tours departing from the Visitor Information Center. The one hour long tour offers an overview of the area at a price of $8.00 for adults ($5.00 for children).

As our visit was during the off-season, we picked up a guide for the Historic Dodge City Walking Tour at the Visitor Information Center. With 77 points of interest including life-size (and even some larger than life) bronze statues, walk of fame style "medallions" and storyboards, you can take a look at the list and the provided map and search for your favorites.


Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp

Medallions for Roger Ewing, Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake and Ben Bates

Medallions for Roger Ewing, Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake and Ben Bates

El Capitan

El Capitan

Custom Pole Art Banners in Dodge City, Kansas

Custom Pole Art Banners in Dodge City, Kansas

Boot Hill Museum

One of Dodge City's biggest attractions is located at the original site of the Boot Hill Cemetery. It was at this cemetery that people with no friends or money were buried in the early days of the city. The cemetery got its name as the deaths were often sudden (some due to shootouts) and many of the burials were of people who died with their boots on.



With 35 sites listed on the guide provided upon paying the entrance fee ($12.00 for adults or $9.00 for children; 10% off season discount), visitors can easily spend a good part of their day at Boot Hill Museum. (In fact, just seeing what's for sale in the large gift shop housed in the former Great Western Hotel can take a good while for anyone interested in souvenir shopping!) During our off season visit, the two of us spent over two hours wandering through many of the museum exhibits and seeing only a portion of the 28,000 artifacts. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, there's even more to see including:

  • World Famous Boot Hill Gunfights (12:00 PM and 7:00 PM daily)
  • Can Can Lessons
  • Deputizing
  • Country Style Dinner (6:00 PM nightly; extra cost)
  • Long Branch Saloon Variety Show (7:30 PM nightly; extra cost)
  • Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant (extra cost)
  • Old West Photo Parlor (extra cost)


Welcome to Boot Hill

Welcome to Boot Hill

Great Western Hotel (Gift Shop, Admissions, Theater & Business Offices)

Great Western Hotel (Gift Shop, Admissions, Theater & Business Offices)

We started our visit in the theater where we viewed the introductory video presentation. In our short visit, we had time to see the jail, stroll through the cemetery and quickly look at some of the exhibits in the Boot Hill Building. We spent most of our time touring the exhibits along Front Street, a replica of the 1876 Dodge City, before ending in the church.


Fort Dodge Jail

Fort Dodge Jail

Boot Hill Cemetery

Boot Hill Cemetery

Front Street

Front Street

Located outside of the gated area, visitors can also see the train depot and even enter the Santa Fe Locomotive.


Santa Fe Locomotive

Santa Fe Locomotive

Wright Park

If you didn't grab a bite to eat in the museum you may be getting hungry, and if you have kids along they may enjoy a break from all of the history. Located just a couple of blocks off of Wyatt Earp Blvd. on North 2nd Ave. is Wright Park, Dodge City's largest park. In addition to picnic tables and shade trees, there is a dog park, playground, a free zoo open daily, a seasonal water park named Long Branch Lagoon ($7.00 adults / $5.00 children) and more. If the weather is nice and you brought your lunch, this is the perfect place for a picnic - or you can pick something up from one of the many restaurants in town.



Wild West Heritage Buffalo & Longhorn Exhibit

Make sure to save a little time before the sun goes down to see the Wild West Heritage Buffalo & Longhorn Exhibit. Located less than four miles from Boot Hill Museum (near Comanche Ave. and Hwy. 50), you can (hopefully) catch a glimpse of animals like those who played such a big part of Dodge City's history. Although he never looked our way, we did quickly spot He-Man, one of the two Longhorns.


Wild West Heritage Buffalo & Longhorn Exhibit's He-Man

Wild West Heritage Buffalo & Longhorn Exhibit's He-Man

Of the four American Bison, we finally spotted the gold buffalo bull Wyatt who, along with either Miss Kitty or Miss Belle, finally sauntered closer to the viewing area.


American Bison at Wild West Heritage Buffalo & Longhorn Exhibit

American Bison at Wild West Heritage Buffalo & Longhorn Exhibit

Santa Fe Trail Ruts

Back in the 1800's, the Santa Fe Trail was a commercial highway which connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. A preserved section of the original Santa Fe Trail now owned by Boot Hill Museum is located just nine miles west of Dodge City. We have since learned that we could have seen the ruts in the ground along the original wagon trail used beginning in the early 1820s. I sure wish we had known about this before leaving the area as it would definitely have been worth the short drive to see history from the bridge overlook and hike the trail to the tracks.



Liberal, Kansas

While on our southbound drive from Kansas City, we spotted a sign advertising what looked like a unique Wizard of Oz attraction. After reading a bit about it online, I decided that it was a must see. Based on our route, it made sense for us to visit while in route from Jetmore, Kansas to Amarillo, Texas, so I patiently waited for three days!

Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz

Before arriving, I called to confirm the availability of parking for our RV. We were pleased to hear that there was a lot just down the street where we would be able to leave "RV There Yet?" during our visit. After parking, we found the outdoor exhibits where we wandered along the Yellow Brick Road and listened to "Dorothy" sing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road".


Yellow Brick Road outside Dorothy's House

Yellow Brick Road outside Dorothy's House

Dorothy with Toto outside Dorothy's House

Dorothy with Toto outside Dorothy's House

Guided tours of Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz are available daily at a cost of $7.00 ($4.50 for kids). During my online research, everything that I read referenced Dorothy (dressed in a gingham dress with ruby slippers) leading visitors through both Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz. I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed to learn that "Dorothy was at school" so our tour would be led by another staff member. (We learned that the application process for "Dorothy's" requires high school girls to have teacher recommendations. In addition to previous community involvement, applicants must also write an essay and participate in an in-person interview. Once hired, the training course takes about two weeks and Dorothy's are required to maintain good grades in order to continue in the role.)


Dorothy's House, a 1907 era Kansas "Farmhouse"

Dorothy's House, a 1907 era Kansas "Farmhouse"

Ruby Slippers and Suitcase inside Dorothy's Bedroom in her House

Ruby Slippers and Suitcase inside Dorothy's Bedroom in her House

The Tin Man and Lion inside The Land of Oz

The Tin Man and Lion inside The Land of Oz

The tour wraps up in a room filled with memorabilia including the actual model of the home filmed in the tornado scene in the original 1939 "The Wizard of Oz" movie.



Coronado Museum

Either before or after your tour of Oz, plan to spend some time walking through the Coronado Museum - after all, your Dorothy's House tour admission is paid on the museum's ground floor. All set in a former residence originally built in 1918, permanent exhibits range from the Native American Indians to the early years of Seward County including the "Wild West" years. In addition to having a collection of antique photos and documents, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits.


Railroad Exhibit at Coronado Museum in Liberal, Kansas

Railroad Exhibit at Coronado Museum in Liberal, Kansas

Tips for Visiting Southwest Kansas

Here's a few tips to help plan your travels through and time in southwest Kansas:
  • Depending on your final destination, all of these sites can be visited as day trips from a single place of lodging (or, if you are traveling in an RV like we were, from one campground / RV park). Dodge City is central to all of these sites in southwest Kansas, so it is the likely choice - plus to take advantage of all that it has to offer will take several days. For us, it just made sense to hit each on our drive as we were traveling past them anyway.


    Route from Fort Larned, Kansas through Dodge City to Liberal, Kansas

    Route from Fort Larned, Kansas through Dodge City to Liberal, Kansas

  • Before you go, be sure to check out the Fort Larned website for the most up to date information about events scheduled during your visit.
  • If you are interested in a tour led by a Fort Larned Park Ranger, you may have more luck during the summer months unless you make a reservation in advance. To inquire about the tour schedule or request a tour reservation, call 620-285-6911.
  • If you have more time and are interested in history, check out Santa Fe National Historic Trail for some ideas of more sites to see along your driving route.
  • Visit Dodge City is a great place to begin planning any visit to Dodge City.
  • Although prices are higher and I'm sure that the city will be more crowded, there is also more to see and do in Dodge City between Memorial Day and Labor Day, especially if you are traveling with kids.
  • If you are planning to visit Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz, call (620) 624-7624 or e-mail joanne.schs@swko.net to inquire about the times when Dorothy led tours will be available. Although this is especially important if you are traveling with children, in my opinion the tour experience will be enhanced even for adults.



Horse Thief Reservoir

If you are an RVer (or interested in staying in a yurt or cabin), check out our post titled Review: Horse Thief Reservoir for a place near Dodge City to hang your hat. With a selection of outdoor activities (both land and water), plus some elaborate seasonal events, it's a park to which we would happily return for another stay.

Sightseeing in the State of Kansas

What tourist sights would you most recommend to a fellow traveler who is planning to spend some time in Kansas?




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Looking for Things to Do in Southwest Kansas?






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Created On 01/17/2019 17:13:24  
Updated On 04/01/2019 20:38:58
Scheduled On 01/18/2019 15:32:05
Posted On 01/21/2019 17:32:05
Last Editor Scott
Location  Dodge City, Dodge City, KS, United States
LinkId  SouthwestKansasSites
StoryId  1547763204672





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