The National Parks in Kansas are primarily focused around historic and plains area culture and landscape. While the Sunflower State does not have any of the major 63 National Parks, there are 5 National Park Units and 5 National Trails that within the state. The 5 National Park sites include 3 National Historic Sites, a National Historic Park, and a Preserve.
National Park Units in Kansas
While none of the 63 major National Parks are in Kansas, there is a lot to explore in the state. There are incredible historic sites to explore such as landmark civil rights cases, black homestead, and more. There’s even a rare opportunity to see native prairie lands that have disappeared in many other locations.
Brown vs. Board of Education National Historical Park
Established in 1992, the National Historic Park preserves one of the most pivotal moments in US civil rights history. The 1954 landmark decision changed the face of America, it’s education system, for the future with the desegregation of America schools. This Historic Park, preserves the campus of Monroe Elementary School in Topeka Kansas, one of the desegregated schools that made up the lawsuit.
Within the park, you can visit classrooms, learn about the history of Jim Crow Laws, and impact of the laws. There are self-guided as well as ranger led tours of the school. There are plans to expand the historic site to include sites and information about other schools that were part of the landmark case.
Fort Larned National Historic Site
Built in 1859, Fort Larned was an US Army Post on the American Frontier, protecting wagon trains as they made their way west along the Santa Fe Trail. The fort and town of Larned are named for Colonel Benjamin F. Larned (the Paymaster General (basically CFO) of the army at the time). The site continued to operate as a army post until about 1870 when it’s protection was no longer needed. Afterwards it became part of a ranch that operated in the aera.
The National Historic Designation came in 1964, and since then the site has preserved several period buildings including barracks, shops, warehouses, and officer housing, and defensive structures.
Fort Scott National Historic Site
Located in central Kansas, Fort Larned was a US army base built in 1842 which at the time was at the end of US settlements going west. The fort was protection for travelers heading west along with supply lines and other activities. It saw tumultuous times in US history including the Civil War and Bleeding Kansas (violent civil unrest in the territory). The fort was built during the territory days up through Kansas statehood in 1861.
In the 1870s the fort became abandoned by the US military and started to deteriorate until 1965 when the National Park Service provided funds to rehabilitate the site. Following this in 1978, the site became the present National Historic Site managed by NPS. These days visitors can explore the history of the site, including officer, dragoon, and infantry barracks, a hospital, guardhouses, stables, and other buildings.
Nicodemus National Historic Site
Western Expansion and homestead is a hallmark of the American Midwest and Kansas in particular. What’s fascinating about Nicodemus National Historic Site, is that it was an African American homestead town and site. Following WWII many black American left places like Kentucky for opportunities at settlement and prosperity.
The history is an interesting one. There was lots of advertisements and encouragement, and sadly the site did not meet the promises. African Americans came with their stuff expecting a town and settlement to find none of it. However, through work and preservice they built a community. Even if sadly the area saw decline when the railroad skipped over Nicodemus.
These days visitors can learn about the history of the site, explore various buildings such as the township hall, historic churches, and a schoolhouse. You may even meet descendants of the original community in the area or even working at the site!
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
These prairie grasses once covered the vast majority of the American plains. It was a common site to see these grasses as well as the other plant and animal life in the area. However, with the expansion of homesteading and farming, much of the original grasslands were lost, with only a fraction remaining.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was established in 1996 to preserve and maintain the heritage of these grasslands. The site even maintains a bison herd, a reminder of the herds that once dominated the landscape. Visitors to the site can explore the history and ecology of the prairie lands. There are miles of hiking trails and the ability to witness bison and other wildlife in the region.
National Trails are historic, scientific, and nature trails that traverse parts of the United States. These trails often cross through multiple states with some famous ones going over 1,000 miles. Most National Trails are not fully administered by the National Park Service and often have multiple agencies and private organizations managing all or part of the trail. Kansas is blessed with 5 National Historic Trails that cross the state related to Western US Expansion.
California National Historic Trail
California National Historic Trail covers over 5,000 miles of trail (over several branches) and traces the historic emigrants who traveled across the west in search of rich farmland and gold. The trail itself hits portions of 10 different states across the west.
Among sites to see in Kansas include, Alcove Spring, Scott Springs, Hollenberg Pony Express Station, and Prairie Village wagon ruts. [ CA CO ID KS MO NE NV OR UT WY ]
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
The Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail runs about 4,900 miles from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to Astoria Oregon. Along the trail you can visit quite a few National and State Park sites that comprised the journey of the Corps of Discovery. It follows the historical trail of the Corps as well as the preparatory sections between Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Sites within Kansas include White Cloud Interpretive Center, Fort de Cavagnial, and the Atchison County Historical Museum. [ IA ID IL IN KS KY MO MT NE ND OH PA SD WA WV ]
Oregon National Historic Trail
One of if not THE most famous of America’s historic trails. The Oregon trail follows more than 2,000 miles and cross states from it’s start in Independence Missouri through it’s terminus in Astoria Oregon. There are an incredible amount of places to visit along the trail including several other National Park units.
Sites in Kansas include Alcove Spring, Strang Park, Oregon Trail Gravesite, and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. [ ID KS MO NE OR WA WY ]
Pony Express National Historic Trail
So crazy, but yet so ingenious too. The Pony Express brought mail from Missouri to California (over 1,800 mile) in 10 days! Young men would ride and drop mail bags for other men to take and continue on the journey on. The service itself only lasted about 18 months, but the legend still enthralls Americans to this day.
The Trail touches the Northeast part of the state with sites to visit including, Hollenberg Pony Express Station, Marshall’s Ferry, and Marysville Pony Express Barn. [ CA CO KS MO NE NV UT WY ]
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
The Santa Fe Trail was a Historic Trail connecting Franklin Missouri with Santa Fe New Mexico. The trail was a commercial as well as emigration “highway” of wagons traveling west that touched 5 different states. The trail was two ways and used for commerce that saw use by both Mexican and US traders. Following the treaty of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the trail became a national road connecting settled parts of the American Southwest with areas further east.
Sites within Kansas include, Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop, Swanson’s Swales, Cimarron National Grassland, Dodge City Santa Fe Trail ruts. [ CO KS MO NM OK ]
Check out Nearby States National Park Sites