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Hike the wild lands of Kansas City and beyond

By Tina Moessner


Just past the hot concrete sidewalks, dripping popsicles and baseball games that summer brings, a blooming land full of life and color awaits. Find a path into a prairie of wild flowers and tall grasses just around the corner or down your favorite scenic byway.

Kansas City is surrounded by thousands of acres of prairie. This time of year, the prairie is flowering and will flourish with hundreds of native flowers and grasses into early autumn. Grab your hiking shoes, a friend and your camera and see the region as it used to stand tall with grasses and wild flowers. Hike over streams and through woodlands to discover open expanses of prairie land.

We found seven locations that offer prairie views and educational experiences that allow visitors to interact with the prairie in the way that suits them best. Enjoy short hikes, long treks, picnics, fishing and camping, or catch the sunset.


Jerry Smith Park and Saeger Woods Conservation Area

Kansas City, MO

Just a few miles from congested Kansas City traffic lies one of the few remaining remnant prairies in Missouri. Situated on 35 acres of now-restored prairie, Jerry Smith Park and Saeger Woods Conservation Area are great places to escape the city for a little prairie heaven.

Wind through the prairie in late summer and early autumn and gaze at blooming big bluestem, blazing stars and the largest known population in Missouri of eared false foxglove. If you walk on a clear night, you might come across birdlife like the American woodcock, a squat bird known to frequent the park that lays low in grasses before shooting into the sky and swiftly returning, singing its call.

The main hike is about 2.5 miles and the south loop provides a 1.5-mile hike. The Kansas City Parks and Recreation and Missouri Department of Conservation manage this land. For more information about the park, call Kansas City Parks and Recreation at 816-513-7500 (Jerry Smith Park) or the Missouri Department of Conservation at 861-655-6250 (Saeger Woods). Located at E 135th St. and Prospect Ave., the park entrance is accessible from 139th Street.

The Prairie Center 

Olathe, KS

As the largest prairie in the metro, The Prairie Center offers a 300-acre view of tallgrass prairie just five minutes from downtown Olathe. Walk around remnant and restored prairie and through shaded woodlands. With six miles of mowed trails, The Prairie Center is also a popular place to run. Observe wildlife near one of the eight ponds, walk through a bedrock creek or take your fishing rod to a community lake and try to catch a few.

The primary goal of the Prairie Center is to preserve local and native plants and flowers. The Prairie Center is open to the public from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, for trail walking or fishing. Dogs must be on a leash. Pit toilets are available. For additional park information, visit Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (link or call 913-856-7669. The park entrance is located at 26235 West 135th Street, Olathe, KS.

Prairie Park Nature Center

Lawrence, KS

Experience the prairie as it converges with wetlands, woodlands and wildlife. Lawrence is home to the Prairie Park Nature Center, 80 acres of nature preserve right on the edge of town. Spend an afternoon of prairie education hiking through six miles of trails, fishing at Mary’s Lake or learning more about natural habitat, wildlife and birds of prey at the center’s education building. Observe Monarch butterflies in flight. The center has been designated a Monarch Waystation Site by Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas project that seeks to protect declining populations of Monarch butterflies. Also, keep your eyes open for beavers, deer, birds of prey and bobcats.

The park is managed by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department. For additional information, visit the city of Lawrence website, or call 785-832-7980. The center is free and open to the public 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 – 4 p.m. Sunday. It is located on the east side of Lawrence at 2730 Harper Street.

Kill Creek Prairie

Johnson County, KS

Good for those who want more prairie and less hike, Kill Creek Prairie is a short walk to a wide expanse of prairie. With an observation deck looking out over 20 acres of prairie grasses and wild flowers, it makes the perfect location to catch a sunset, enjoy a picnic or spot birds with your binoculars. Take your tripod to help you snap photos.

Wild flowers bloom from May through early October and include several species of goldenrod and Mead’s milkweed, a rare plant of the tallgrass prairie. Located 30 minutes from the metro, Kill Creek is a nice getaway located outside of Olathe, 24 miles from Lawrence.

Kill Creek Prairie comprises 20 acres of more than 200 plant species situated in the 880-acre Kill Creek Park. Additional park activities include hiking, biking, equestrian trails and lake recreation.

Check with the Johnson County Park & Recreation website or call 913-312-8833 for more information about park conditions. The observation deck is about a quarter of a mile from the entrance. Park at Shelter 1 and look for the clearly marked sign. Kill Creek Park is located at 11670 Homestead Lane, Olathe, KS.

Snowball Hill Prairie

Cass County, MO

This 22 acre prairie, within a 76 acre tract, was acquired and saved in 2015 by the Platte Land Trust and Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF), and is owned by MPF. The prairie is named for the isolated hill on which the prairie occurs. This prairie ranges from the drier hilltop to a mesic prairie at the base of the hill.  A mesic prairie is a native grassland dominated by big bluestem, little bluestem and Indian grass. It occurs on loam, sandy loam or silt loam soils on level or slightly undulating glacial outwash. Snowball Hill Prairie is considered one of the highest quality prairies remaining in the Kansas City region. Plans call for prairie reconstruction on some of the adjacent land.

Snowball Hill Prairie is located just west of I-49 south of Harrisonville, MO. Take exit 157 and turn west to follow 275th Street. Turn left on Brickplant Road. Look for South Belle Plain Road on the left, and the turn into Snowball Hill Prairie on the right. There is room for two cars to pull in, but the rest of the lane is closed off with a gate that will need to be climbed over. The “address” is 19866 E. 275th St.

Konza Prairie Biological Station

Manhattan, KS

Get out of town to experience the prairie Kansas-style. With views of the Flint Hills and the Kansas River Valley, Konza Prairie is a mirror into the geological and natural history of Kansas. Six miles south of Manhattan, KS, roam through forest, across creeks and over limestone ledges into the native tallgrass prairie. The geology makes for moderate hiking, with occasional climbs and narrow pathways. Six miles of hiking trails are open daily from dawn to dusk.

Take the Nature Trail Loop, a 2.5-mile round trip hike, for views of the Flint Hills and Kansas River Valley. On the trail, you’ll stumble upon the Hokanson Homestead. Founded by Swedish immigrants in 1878, it nears Kings Creek and a gallery forest. The site includes the original limestone barn and an observation exhibit for wildlife. For the same great views with more mileage, additional trails include Kings Creek Loop, a 4.4-mile round trip, and the Godwin Hill Loop, a 6-mile round trip. With about 300 bison living in the Konza Prairie, you might just spot a few along the way.

The Konza Prairie is a field research station owned jointly by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University. For additional park information, visit Konza Prairie Biological Station or call 785-539-1961. The park is located at 100 Konza Prairie Lane, Manhattan, KS.

Prairie State Park

Barton County, MO

Turn your hike into a getaway and take a trip to see the largest remaining tallgrass prairie in Missouri. With 4,000 acres of park, Prairie State Park makes an impressive place to see all the critters attracted to the biodiversity the prairie offers. Located in Barton County, the park is just two hours south of the metro, making it a great day trip or overnight camping trip. Watch the stars appear over the wide expanse, hear the prairie grasses blow or listen to a coyote howl. The park offers backpack camping areas near its hiking trails.

From early spring to late fall, with 380 native plants spotted, every season of prairie is represented here. Visit the park’s Regal Nature Center for exhibits on prairie grasses, bison and more. Grab a wildflower or bird guide and hike one of many trails from .5 mile to 4 miles to spot the plant and wildlife diversity that the park offers.

For additional information, visit Missouri State Parks or call the park office at 417-843-6711. The park is located at 128 NW 150th Lane, Mindenmines, MO.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Strong City, KS

Roll through the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and stop by the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, considered one of the eight wonders of Kansas. With more than 40 miles of hiking trails open 24 hours, visitors can escape into back-country trails or follow trail brochures through prairie, into valleys and views of the Flint Hills and near historic sites like a one-room schoolhouse off the Southwind Nature Trail. Experience ranch life at the historic ranch located on the property and talk to a park ranger at the park’s new Tallgrass Prairie Visitor Center, which received the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold designation.

Operated by the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy, the park offers unique ways to experience the prairie. Grab your mobile device for a phone tour of the historic buildings and prairie overlooks, or listen to the scenic Flint Hills driving tour.

The Tallgrass Nature Preserve is located at 2480 Highway 177, Strong City, KS. Visit the National Park Service or call 620-273-8494.


Top Photo: This is the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Schwartz Prairie in St. Clair County.


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