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There are lots of things to do in Kansas with kids! We spent a weekend in Washington, KS exploring nearby hiking and biking trails and attractions. Here’s what we found.
We love going to National and State Parks and seeing the “big things,” but sometimes a weekend away with family can be quieter and closer to home, and just as filled with amazing memories. This was one of those trips. We went to a small city campground and checked out some lesser known attractions, and really used the time to slow down and be intentional with our kids. And let’s be real – that’s what camping is all about, right?
At a Glance
Where we stayed
We stayed at a sweet, little bitty campground in Washington, KS. It’s at the back of their city park, and rents out for $15/night, first come, first served. There’s not even a website! The spot we chose was on the edge of the east side of the campground and faced out into a field, away from any other campers. We had electric, and with a long hose, water as well. (No sewer hookups, but a dump station was located on the way out).
It was actually really great for several reasons – in close walking distance was a dog run, an awesome playground (called Munchkinland), and the city pool (soooooo nice for July camping in Kansas). The kids loved being able to run and play while we were at camp, and it served as a great home base for our day trips.
Rock City Park
Our favorite stop on this trip was Rock City Park in Minneapolis, KS! Imagine driving through the plains of Kansas, and suddenly the fields are filled with huge, otherworldly-looking piles of rock, AND you’re encouraged to run and climb on them. We had so much fun (even when it started raining on us) scrambling around on the rocks and visiting the trails.
If you’ve ever been to Mushroom State Park, it’s a similar vibe, but lots more rocks here (about 200 of them, in fact). Some of these monster Dakota sandstone concretions are as large as 27 feet in diameter, and 15 feet tall. A visit costs $3/adults and just .50/child. Dogs on leashes are allowed as well.
Rock City has been a popular attraction for quite some time – these photos from kansastravel.org show a family visiting the rocks in 1900. Cool, huh?
Depot Market was a fun stop off for fresh produce, cut flowers, and blackberry picking. It’s located inside the 120 year old Santa Fe Depot in Courtland, KS. We loved wandering around the greenhouses filled with beautiful zinnias and sunflowers, and we could hardly get the boys to stop picking fat, juicy blackberries! They made a perfect snack (and later, the most delicious syrup for our campfire waffles).
National Orphan Train Complex
Before our trip, I had never heard of Orphan Trains – which is crazy, because from 1854 to 1929 these trains helped place an estimated 250,000 orphans into new homes!
A quick history – Charles Loring Brace (along with several notable businessmen, including Andrew Carnegie) began a program in 1853 to help care for the neglected children of New York City, called Children’s Aid Society (CAS). The CAS recognized a need to find homes for the many, many homeless children in the NYC & Boston areas, and the Orphan Train system was born. These trains took 10-40 orphans at a time westward with agents to find them suitable new homes.
Our visit to the complex was certainly heartbreaking, but filled with such interesting history. The staff set our boys up with a scavenger hunt to find facts throughout the museum (which they loved), and we walked through an old boxcar and watched an informative video. It was really a fascinating bit hidden history, and well worth the trip.
Admission was $7/adults and $3/children, and the complex is located in Concordia, KS.
Blue River Trail
Blue River Trail runs along the Big Blue River on a retired railroad bed, starting in Marysville, KS, and heading north into Nebraska where it continues on as Chief Standing Bear Trail. The Kansas portion goes about 14 miles and is all crushed limestone flat trail, winding through fields and wooded areas.
The four of us got a late start on our biking day (which is most definitely a mistake on a July day in Kansas), so it was a hot one! But we really enjoyed our ride along Blue River Trail. Sam and Grady biked about 5 miles out, before turning back to get the car to come meet Sully and I just past the Nebraska border. One word of advice – do have a plan for exiting the trail. Looking at our Google Maps, it appeared there was an exit just past the state line, but it turned out to be a farm access “road” that went through someone’s pasture and backyard, soooo, have a solid plan for that.
Either way, it was a great way to get some cycling time in, and the covered bridges near Marysville were a lot of fun to ride through. There are bike and running races that are held on the trail, as well.
Our last stop was Alcove Spring, also near Marysville, KS. The spring is listed with the National Park Service as a stop along the Oregon Trail. It was first discovered by the Donner Party in 1846, and you can still view names carved by emigrants in the rocks around the spring.
Edwin Bryant, a member of the Donner Party wrote on May 27, 1846: “We found a large spring of water, as cold and pure as if it had just been melted from ice. It gushed from a ledge of rocks, which composes the bank of the stream, and falling some ten feet, its waters are received into a basin. . . . A shelving rock projects over this basin, from which falls a beautiful cascade of water, some ten or twelve feet. The whole is buried in a variety of shrubbery of the richest verdure. . . . Altogether it is one of the most romantic spots I ever saw. . . . We named this the ‘Alcove Spring’ and future travelers will find the name graven on the rocks, and on the trunks of the trees surrounding it.”
Unfortunately while we visited, the water levels were too low for the waterfall to be flowing, but it was still a beautiful spot with tons of trails. We did find it a little difficult to find information about the trails online, but know that once you’re there, there are many to explore on foot or mountain bike.
- Campfire Reubens
- Campfire Waffles & Berry Syrup (recipe coming to the blog soon!)
- Breakfast from The Chef on our drive up in Manhattan, KS
What are some of your favorite things to do in Kansas with kids? We’d love to hear in the comments below!
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