Road Trip: Explore the History and Outdoors in Northeast Kansas

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Road Trip: Explore the History and Outdoors in Northeast Kansas

Road trip! One of my favorite things about living in Des Moines, Iowa is the ease of traveling to other states and cities around the Midwest. Many refer to the Midwest as flat and boring, but if you dig a little deeper and explore you will discover there is so much fun all over including Kansas! Kansas is a big state with many great state parks, important historical spots, great food, and more.

Grab the family or make it a couple’s excursion, and head to Northeast Kansas. Here are 5+ ways to take in history and the outdoors in Northeast Kansas.

Bookmark these other great guides for your road trip travels:

Dinner experience at Saltwell Farm Kitchen with the beautiful Kansas back drop.

Things to See and Do

Ernie Miller Park & Nature Center

Address: 909 North, KS-7, Olathe, KS 66061

Ernie Miller Park & Nature Center is a part of the Johnson County Parks & Recreation District located in Olathe and has been around for almost 40 years. I love how it is kind of hidden in the middle of such a busy city. A great way to get away and enjoy nature on approximately 125 acres. The entire area and nature center are free, but programming does cost. You can enter the nature center where they have a bird-watching room, some small animals to view, and a kids’ area. You can take your adventure outdoors and hike about 3 miles of trails including 1 mile that is paved.

Strawberry Hill

Address: 720 N. 4th St. Kansas City, KS 66101 {location of the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center}

Strawberry Hill is a neighborhood located in Kansas City, Kansas. You will find this history-rich neighborhood on the bluffs overlooking where the states of Kansas and Missouri merge. If you are a history buff and interested in the history of Kansas City, Kansas Strawberry Hill is the place to be. You will learn about the first people who came to the city, how Kansas City became a city, and how families moved up the bluffs to build their homes. Plan a KCK Urban Hike through the neighborhood and learn from the experts!

Moon Marble Company

Address: 600 E Front St, Bonner Springs, KS 66012

A unique and fun spot for all kids and adults! Love marbles? Love games? Moon Marble Company is a great spot to explore. Kids will love all of the toys and marbles to choose from and collect. Adults will love to walk through and see all the vintage games from when they were young. Make sure you stay for a marble-making demonstration! You probably are not aware of what goes into making marbles. You will definitely learn something before you leave!

Watching how marbles are made from Bruce the owner of Moon Marble Company.

Downtown Lawrence

Address: Massachusetts Street is the main street in Downtown Lawrence

Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas which brings tons of fun entertainment, shopping, food, culture, and more. If there is one place to stop in Lawrence, it would be Downtown Lawrence! According to Parade Magazine, it was named “the most popular tourist destination in Kansas.” Take a walk down Mass Street and you will discover a brewery, coffee shop, boutique, independent bookstore, and so much more. Take a look at some of my favorites:

  • Wonder Fair – A gift shop with stationary, whimsical artwork, stationary accessories, and the famous haunted bathroom. Oh yes, and you cannot forget about Dave the in-house orange kitty!
  • Love Garden Sounds – A full-service record store filled with amazing music to choose from.
  • The Raven Book Store
  • Free State Brewing Company – The first legal brewery in Kansas in over 100 years. Opened in 1989.
  • Jungle House – Plant lovers unite!
  • Daisy Lee Vintage
  • The Mad Greek – The perfect lunch or dinner spot serving up delicious, authentic Greek food!
Experiencing the haunted bathroom in Wonder Fair located in Downtown Lawrence.

Fort Leavenworth

Address:  210 Grant Ave. Fort Leavenworth, KS

Plan a day to tour and explore Fort Leavenworth! This active military base is filled with history and a must when you are in the area. This base was established in 1827, is the third-oldest in the nation, and is like a small town with approximately 5,000 people living on base. Fort Leavenworth is open to anyone to come visit just make sure you have a valid photo ID. Some areas that you will want to make sure and stop at include:

  • Buffalo Soldier Monument – We had a chance to listen to the great-grandson of a Buffalo soldier.
  • Frontier Army Museum
  • Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery
  • “The Rookery” – This is the oldest continuously occupied residence in the state of Kansas.
  • Old USDB “Castle” – The old U.S. Military prison
Picture of the great-grandson of a Buffalo Soldier at the Buffalo Soldier Monument located in Fort Leavenworth.

Brown v. Board of Education Museum

Address: 1515 SE Monroe St, Topeka, KS 66612

Brown v. Board was one of four schools that was represented in the lawsuit that ended racial segregation in public schools. A monument decision for our nation, today, you can visit the school that was originally the African American school in Topeka, Kansas. It is a museum that shares the history and stories of this case. You can walk through an old classroom to get a taste of what classrooms were like before 1954, watch slideshows and hear true stories of other’s experiences, and much more.

A look inside an African American classroom before Brown v Board

Kansas State Capitol Building

Address: SW 8th &, SW Van Buren St, Topeka, KS 66612

The Kansas State Capitol Building also known as the Kansas Statehouse is a beautiful, iconic building in the heart of Topeka, Kansas. It is also the tallest building in Topeka. Looking to get a great view of the state, head to the very top dome. Tours are free and it is 296 steps to the very top, then 296 steps down. This experience is not for the faint of heart! Along your climb to the top, you will learn about the rich history of the building made entirely of Kansas Limestone. In addition to climbing to the very top, there is beautiful artwork displayed on the lower level you can experience if you are looking for less of a thrill.

My picture at the top of the Kansas Statehouse after climbing 296 steps!

Plaza Cinema and Memorabilia Museum

Address: 209 S Main St. Ottawa, KS 66067

Love going to the movies? You may not be used to a movie theater like this! The Plaza Cinema and Memorabilia Museum was named the “World’s Oldest Operating Purpose-Built Cinema”. You can visit to watch a new movie release or take the tour which includes a chance to see the first black and white film shown in the theater in 1907. In addition, to watching the film they have fun memorabilia from films over the years including Star Wars, Three Musketeers, Hunger Games, and many more films. Such a fun experience and a walk down memory lane.

Food and Dining

Joe’s KC BBQ

Address: 3002 West 47th Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66103 {The Original Gas Station Restaurant}

You cannot go to Kansas City without eating BBQ and I have been told that Joe’s KC BBQ is the best! They are not wrong. Delicious ribs, burnt ends, BBQ beans … everything hit the spot. I ordered their popular Z-Man Sandwich, slow-smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, topped with two crispy onion rings, on a toasted bun. So good! The food is amazing and the history and decor of The Original Gas Station Restaurant are fun. It is an actual gas station! You can grab a drink at the counter while you wait in line to order your food. Definitely, a can’t miss experience in Kansas City, Kansas.

GG’s Birria Barbacoa Cafe

Address: 1032 Minnesota Ave, Kansas City, KS 66101

GG’s Birria Barbacoa Cafe serves up some of the best Mexican food in Kansas City, Kansas. You can even eat there for breakfast! A fun and spicier way to kick off the day. Did you know that Kansas City, Kansas has a popular Taco Trail? Check out GG’s and fifty other popular taco spots in KCK.

The Mad Greek

Address: 907 Massachusetts St, Lawrence, KS 66044

Kansas is filled with different cuisine options including Greek! The Mad Greek is located in Downtown Lawrence and is a great place to stop for lunch and/or dinner after a day of shopping on Mass Street. You must order the Saganaki which is Flaming Cheese for an unforgettable experience.


Address: 512 E 9th St, Lawrence, KS 66044

Culinaria is a Mediterranean Kitchen located in Lawrence, Kansas. They have limited seating so reservations are highly recommended! Not only do they serve fresh and delicious dishes (try the Fried Chicken Hummus) and cocktails, but their building holds some amazing history as well. The building was originally constructed for the Kansas Cavalry after Quantrill’s raid (The Lawrence Massacre) in the fall of 1863. Another unique spot to dine in Northeast Kansas.

Saltwell Farm Kitchen

Address: 214 N 800 Rd, Overbrook, KS 66524

The Saltwell Farm Kitchen experience is truly magical. It is an amazing way to enjoy the beautiful Kansas backdrop and farm-to-table food. The experience lasts between 3 to 4 hours and includes 5 courses of amazing, unique dishes. While you wait in between your dishes, you are invited to wander the original 1856 McKinzie Farmstead which is beautifully decorated. Grab a delicious craft cocktail too! Reservations are required.

Hanover Pancake House

Address: 1034 S Kansas Ave, Topeka, KS 66612

There is not anything better than a good ma-and-pop breakfast shop! Hanover Pancake House serves up all the classic breakfast dishes including eggs, omelets, hashbrowns, pancakes, and more. If you want to try something new and unique order a Pancake Wrap which is a breakfast burrito wrapped in a large pancake. It’s enough for two people to split!

Somerset Schoolhouse

Address: 28740 Somerset Rd, Paola, KS 66071

The Paola, Kansas area is known for its many wineries. You can plan a tour to visit many during your travels, you will want to put Somerset Schoolhouse on your list. While this is not a winery, it is a speakeasy bar lounge that offers whiskey tasting, beautiful outdoor space, and a speakeasy in the basement. They regularly have events and food trucks. They also serve their own drinks and food that are titled along a schoolhouse theme.

Coming Soon!

Rock Island Bridge

Address: O Kansas Ave., Kansas City, KS 66105

This restaurant and attraction is still in the works, but is going to be huge for Kansas City, Kansas! The Rock Island Bridge which sits 60 feet over the Kansas River is America’s first entertainment district on a bridge. It used to be a 1905 railroad bridge that carried freight into the West Bottoms. After much planning and construction, this must-visit spot is planned to open sometime in Summer 2024. There are many great plans for the area including zip lining, docks for kayaking, and more.

Northeast Kansas Road Trip Map


Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

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