If you’re looking for wide open prairie, unchanged by the years of progress, the Flint Hills area of Kansas is a place you’ll want to check out. Its beauty is unmatched, and some have even called this region magical. In 1906, an explorer, Zebulon Pike, named the area for the flint rock that could be seen through the tall grasses on the prairie. The hills stretch from near the Nebraska border down into Oklahoma.
Every year the area has the Prairie Fire Festival which honors the tradition of annually burning large sections of the prairie to allow for re-growth of the grasses and killing of trees or plants that are unwanted on the prairie. This has been happening long before humans inhabited the area. However, before they arrived on the scene it was lightning that burned the prairie down.
A great way to experience the burning of the prairie, and everything else Flint Hills has to offer, is on horseback. At Kansas Flint Hills Adventures, LLC, you can ride the trails and see the beauty of the area while you ride on a seasoned trail horse along with a guide who will teach you about the Flint Hills history, wildlife, prairie, and what life on the ranch is like. Small groups are accommodated here as well.
Clover Cliff Ranch Bed ‘n Breakfast was built in the 1860s amid the beauty of the prairie, and to this day is still a working cattle ranch. Local lore tells us that Jesse James once spent a night here. The ranch makes available acres and acres of wide open prairie for hiking, fishing and just observing nature at its best. Available here are trail rides on horseback, buggy rides, and authentic chuck wagon dinners; however, those interested must bring their own horse.
Similar to the Clover Cliff Ranch, Sun Rock Ranch Resort, LLC, is a 3,000 acre working cattle ranch originally built in 1877. Sun Rock is family-owned and offers the usual hiking and fishing, as well as camping, hayrack rides, bonfires, and horseback riding that includes lessons and children’s hand-led rides. Suites at the ranch start at $95 for a room with a shared bath, and $115 for a suite with a private bath. Guest houses range in price from $115 to $235. A $40 deposit is required per room per night at booking.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was established in 1996, and is the only part of the National Park Service dedicated specifically to the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Many of the buildings here, including the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch and large three-story barn, are made from limestone. Another building to visit is the one-room Lower Fox Creek School. Also on site is the 1.75 acre Southwind Nature Trail and a one mile wheelchair accessible Bottomland Trail. Bus tours are available from May through October.
For those wanting to experience the pioneer life, they will enjoy the Flint Hills Overland Wagon Train in El Dorado and Country Boys Carriage and Prairie Adventures in Newton, both along the Santa Fe Trail. Both of these offer weekend trips with frontier food served from authentic chuck wagons. Be forewarned though, as living the pioneer life will show you all of the same hardships experienced by the early settlers such as sunburn and sore feet.
Flint Hills Overland Wagon Train charges $160 plus tax for adults and children over 12, $80 plus tax for children 4 through 12, with 4 and under being free. Trailriders are charged $100 plus tax, but they most have their own horse feed. Country Boys Carriage and Prairie Adventures charges $170-$180 for a weekend adventure for adults and children 13 and over, $75 for children 5 through 12, 4 and under are free, and Trailriders pay $100-$105, supplying their own horse and feed. Trail rides cost $50 for one day and $75 for two days, but the rider must have his own horse.