Just past the hot concrete sidewalks, dripping popsicles, and baseball games that summer brings, a blooming land full of life, color, and expansive skies awaits. Find a path into a prairie of wildflowers 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 eight 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. Located at E 135th St. and Prospect Ave., the park entrance is accessible from 139th St.
The Prairie Center
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. It 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. The park entrance is located at 26235 W. 135th St., Olathe, KS.
Prairie Park Nature Center
Experience the prairie as it converges with wetlands, woodlands and wildlife. Lawrence is home to the Prairie Park Nature Center, 100 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 project that seeks to protect declining populations of Monarch butterflies. Also, keep your eyes open for beavers, deer, and birds of prey.
The park is managed by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department. 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 and tower looking out over 20 acres of prairie grasses and wildflowers, it makes the perfect location to catch a sunset, enjoy a picnic or spot birds with your binoculars.
Wildflowers 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 near Olathe and De Soto.
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.
A new art piece is also on display at the prairie. The “Restoring Refuge” prairie-inspired sculpture was completed in May by Cydney Ross and Alix Daniel, artists in residence for the Art and Natural Resource Residency with Johnson County Park & Recreation District.
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.
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
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. 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.
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. The preserve is also home to a herd of about 100 bison. Experience ranch life at the historic ranch located on the property and talk to a park ranger at the Tallgrass Prairie Visitor Center.
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 join a scenic vistas van tour.
The Tallgrass Nature Preserve is located at 2480 Highway 177, Strong City, KS.
Top Photo: This is the Konza Prairie Nature Trail near Manhattan, KS. Photo by Mary Hammel.