Kansas

Kansas map

State Coordinator

Ryan Stevenson
Herington, Kansas 67449
Rstevenson@discoverytrail.org
(785) 223-3687

General Overview of Trail

The American Discovery Trail through Kansas is 570 miles long and begins in Johnson County on its eastern border by crossing the state line just west of the Watts Mill area on the Indian Creek Bike Trail. While on the ADT in Kansas, you will walk in the footsteps of the pioneers, the Great Plains Indian Tribes, and many a western hero or bandit. You will see the unique geological formations of Kansas, follow the rivers, view the gorgeous Flint Hills (via the Flint Hills Nature Trail between Ottawa and Council Grove) and Smoky Hills, and watch birds at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Refuge. Most of the route through the Sunflower State is on paved or gravel back roads. About 28 miles of the route in Johnson County is
on paved shared-use trails.

As you venture westward, the distance between towns increases and the sources of clean water become increasingly rare. The central section has many streams and rivers; however, purification is necessary. Further west, water is less plentiful, and the area can sometimes be arid. Weather can be unpredictable in the state and can become severe very quickly. Remember that you are in “tornado alley” (during spring and summer) and that heat indices can reach 110+ degrees F (43C). Winter blizzards, especially in western Kansas, can create whiteouts with wind chills of -50 degrees F (-45C) or lower.

Detailed Trail Description

Total length of the trail in Kansas is 570 miles, consisting of eight segments, mostly on roads or road shoulders.

Leawood (MO line) to Lawrence – 52 miles

After crossing into Kansas, the route through the metropolitan area combines low-volume roads, some with sidewalks, and a developing system of trails in Leawood, Overland Park, Lenexa, and Shawnee. One exciting part of this route is Corporate Woods, where the trail winds between the many buildings of the business park. Many people who work here walk or ride their bicycles from home. After passing Shawnee Mission Park, the trail stays south of the Kansas River and heads west through Clearview City, Eudora, and Lawrence.

Lawrence to Herington – 127 miles

Both the Oregon and Santa Fe national historic trails pass through Douglas County. The American Discovery Trail generally follows the Santa Fe Trail route for the remainder of the way west through Kansas. At Lawrence, the American Discovery Trail follows the Kansas River Levy Trail, crosses the Kansas River into downtown Lawrence, and visits Massachusetts Street, which is a popular shopping and dining
destination. The trail uses bike-friendly streets and a local rail trail through town. This part of Kansas and the next 200 miles are anything but the flat image that most folks may have in their minds. The landscape in physiographic terms is known as Osage Questas, or hill-plains with rather steep slopes, and includes the Flint Hills, where the bluestem pastureland varies from 100 to 400 feet in elevation. 

From Lawrence to Ottawa, the trail parallels U.S. 59 Highway, which has a wide paved shoulder. However, most of the route is along “old 59,” which is a frontage road off U.S. 59.  Between Ottawa and Council Grove, the route uses the Flint Hills Nature Trail.  The active railroad near the trail from Ottawa to Quenemo is the busiest rail line in Kansas!  You will see freight trains while traveling in this section. At one time, Council Grove was the last and most crucial outfitting post on the Santa Fe Trail. There are 12 historic sites here, including the Madonna of the Trail, a 16-foot memorial to the courage of pioneer mothers, and the Old Kaw Mission and Museum.

Herington to McPherson – 58 miles

The American Discovery Trail continues back roads and crosses the Maxwell Game Preserve. There are herds of bison and elk and an observation tower. McPherson State Fishing Lake offers primitive camping. In McPherson, the first man-made diamond is on display in the McPherson Museum.

McPherson to Great Bend – 75 miles

The landscape begins to gain elevation slowly, and the hills lessen as the American Discovery Trail enters the Great Plains. Kansas usually produces more wheat than any other state, which becomes very evident to the American Discovery Trail traveler. The salt mines that have been in operation since 1890 near Lyons are not so apparent. This land was occupied by the Quivira Indians, and artifacts of their sixteenth-century culture are exhibited in the Coronado-Quivira Museum.

At Great Bend, the American Discovery Trail joins the Arkansas River and follows it to Canon City, Colorado, about 500 miles west. The towering concrete grain elevators at Great Bend signal that this is the regional grain center. It was also the area’s oil capital, and pumps still extract crude oil from underground reserves beneath the wheat fields. Fort Zarah was located here and guarded the Santa Fe
Trail until 1869. South of Great Bend is Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, a birder’s paradise, where over 250 species of birds have been observed.

Great Bend to Kinsley – 56 miles

The American Discovery Trail goes north through Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, a 19,000-acre natural land sink once a favorite hunting ground for the Cheyenne Indians. Pawnee Rock State Historic Site was a prominent landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. The 100-foot-high red sandstone outcrop was the site of many Indian ambushes.

Larned is the midway point along the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail Center Museum and Cultural Center is located here. Also, Fort Larned National Historic Site is one of the most complete preservations of a western fort. Fort Larned was built in 1859 to protect the mail coaches and commercial wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail. Farther along the Arkansas River is Kinsley, once a railroad boom town but today a quieter agricultural center. Kinsley is noted for being exactly halfway (by highway, not by trail) between San Francisco and New York City, 1,561 miles from either city.

Kinsley to Dodge City – 53 miles

Dodge City was called “Hell on the Plains” and the “Wickedest Little City in America.” Its infamous Front Street was one of the wildest on the frontier, with a well-stocked saloon for every 50 residents. This is where cowboys, cattlemen, buffalo hunters, gunfighters, soldiers, and railroad men all gathered to the delight of the brothel keepers and morticians. Boot Hill got its name because so many men died with their boots on. There was a high-class side to Dodge City as well. In 1879, the Dodge City Cowboy Band, which performed at the Long Branch Saloon, gained national attention because of its good musicianship.

Dodge City to Garden City – 64 miles

The American Discovery Trail continues along the Arkansas River on mostly gravel roads to the Cimarron River, where the Santa Fe Trail is divided into the southern or Cimarron River and the northern or mountain route. The mountain route, followed by the American Discovery Trail, was developed in the 1840s because it provided more water sources than the usually dry Cimarron route. Garden City is the center of one of the state’s most intensively irrigated regions, producing bumper crops of wheat, corn, and alfalfa. A 4,000-acre state game preserve is home to a large herd of bison.

Garden City to Coolidge (CO line) – 78 miles

The American Discovery Trail through Kearney County follows the river Road north of the Arkansas River. At Kendall, the River Road goes south of the river through Hamilton County, past Syracuse, to the Colorado border near Coolidge. The route through Hamilton County was the first section of the American Discovery Trail to be signed with American Discovery Trail markers.

The most up-to-date, detailed trail directions are published in the ADT Data Books.

Affiliated Trails

Parks

  • Shawnee Mission Park
  • Pomona State Park

Points of Interest

  • Flint Hills
  • Smoky Hills
  • Madonna of the Trail
  • Cottonwood River
  • Great Plains
  • Maxwell Game Refuge
  • Arkansas River
  • Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
  • Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area
  • Santa Fe Trail Center Museum and Cultural Center
  • Fort Larned National Historic Site
  • Corporate Woods
  • Dodge City
  • Old Kaw Mission and Museum
  • Coronado-Quivira Museum
  • Pawnee Rock Sate Monument

Organizations

Adjoining Trail States:  Missouri Colorado