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Kansas typically isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think adventure activities, but it’s time to put the flat, cornfield stereotype to bed once and for all. Yes, there is farmland, but there are also world-class cities (Kansas City and Wichita, looking at you), fun college towns (Lawrence and Manhattan), and natural attractions everywhere you turn thanks to 28 state parks dotted across every corner of the state. In fact, the whole notion of a flyover state is a silly generalization if you ask me. Everywhere has its beauty if you are willing to explore beyond the surface.
Whether you’re looking to hike, bike, or try a new active pursuit, you’ll find plenty of incredible landscapes to get your adventure on in the Sunflower State. Here are just a few of the epic experiences you never knew you could have in Kansas:
Fly a Vintage WWII Biplane – Benton, Kansas
A mecca for av geeks, the Stearman biplane is one of most iconic airplane designs in history (which was eventually sold to Boeing). Authentic flight trainers for WWII bombers and pilots in the 1930s and 1940s (these planes are not replicas), you can actually take to the skies for a joyride and scenic flight. You’ll sit in the front of the two-seater, open-air cockpit as your pilot navigates the skies doing acrobatic turns and smoke signals entertaining the onlookers below. If you’d prefer to admire the aircraft from afar, don your best pre-war garb for an epic photo shoot or simply watch the planes take off and land from the on-site bar and grill, which is literally on the runway.
Take Sailing Lessons – Cheney, Kansas
It may not be the great lakes or the coast, but that doesn’t mean Kansans don’t like their watersports. And with 150+ lakes in the state, there is no shortage of places to beat the heat. The Ninnescah Sailing Association in Cheney State Park offers both youth and adult sailing lessons throughout the summer. As one of the windiest lakes in the USA, it makes learning to sail a breeze (literally). Once you master the classroom portion, you can captain your own Sunfish, sloops, and catamarans. If you just want to get out on the water for the day, the marina across the park rents motorized pontoon boats for up to 10 people. There are often races and regattas so pop on through to see what the seamen have going on.
Go Skydiving – Wichita, Kansas
While there are technically drop zones in every state, that doesn’t mean the experience is the same everywhere. Not even close. Beyond what landscape you’ll see flittering to the Earth, most facilities are run independently. I went for the first time in Chicago, which was for lack of a better term, a moneymaking operation. You’re herded in a huge group through a classroom with 20+ strangers, suited up, and in and out. It just didn’t feel very personal for such an expensive, heart pounding bucket list item that many wait their whole lives to do.
The experience in Kansas was totally different. The folks at Air Capital Drop Zone really want you to love skydiving as much as they do. As my second time jumping out of a plane, I was much more relaxed, having a bit of insight into what to expect, and I didn’t have the horrible stomach drop feeling like I was on a never-ending rollercoaster. It was one of those bucket list items I never thought I’d get to do again (since I wasn’t stoked on the first experience), but I’m so glad I got a redo and would recommend skydiving in Kansas for anyone’s first jump.
Explore Underground – Various Locations
Most people think Kansas is flat, but that barely scratches the surface of what’s on offer. Multiple areas of the state have underground rock formations and even secret passageways. Kanopolis State Park is famously known for Horsethief Canyon Trail, which has expansive grasslands, deep canyons and sandstone bluffs concealing the hard-to-find Faris Caves, a hideout carved by one of the original settlers. Little Jerusalem is an entirely new state park (opening later this year) that are made out of the same million-year-old rock formations as the Badlands in South Dakota. And if you just want to go back in time, head to the Ellinwood Tunnels, a series of underground passageways that were popular during the Prohibition era (or at least pop through for a drink at the speakeasy).
Go on a Wildlife Safari – Various Locations
You won’t see the “Big 5” in Kansas, but you’ll still see plenty of animals that call the Midwest home. Rodents, woodland creatures, and hoofed mammals are all common, but the star of the show is the bison (especially for the fellow CU Buff fans out there). Maxwell Wildlife Refuge offers covered wagon rides to view one of the nation’s last surviving herds of wild buffalo, while Indian Creek Bison Ranch offers personalized meet and greets with their herd of 20 right in their 150-acre backyard. It’s a crazy sight as the giant animals amble towards you waiting to be fed and hard not to gawk at the adorable babies.
Ride the Dunes – Syracuse, Kansas
Syracuse Sand Dunes Park is the nation’s newest sand dune park and the first to open in more than 45 years. Owners can take their ATVs and dune buggies out for a spin on more than 1300 acres of sprawling sand hills to rip, flip, and tear it up to their heart’s content. They don’t rent 4x4s in the park, so make a friend and offer to ride shoddy for the thrill of a lifetime.
Do Absolutely Nothing – Sylvan Grove, Kansas
The summer heat and humidity can be stifling in Kansas, but thankfully lakes and watery reprieves appear like oases just about everywhere you look. Wilson State Park is one of the most popular for hiking, mountain biking, camping, and hammock sittin’ (yes, that’s a verb) and often ranks as one of the prettiest in the state for its rocky outcrops and bluffs. Whether you want to get active and take advantage of the warm weather or make it a lazy day at the lake, there’s no wrong choice in this “choose your own adventure” story.
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