Room to roam: Kansas has plenty of it. Where will your next adventure be?

A hiker takes in scenary at Cedar Bluff State Park in northwest Kansas, above. Below, a sailboat traverses Cheney Lake. Courtesy photos

By MeLinda Schnyder

In a year when travel was stymied in unpredictable and unprecedented ways, some people still went exploring. 

A record 8.6 million people visited 28 Kansas state parks in 2020. State Park Director Linda Lanterman credits residents looking for recreation outlets within driving distance during the pandemic or canceling out-of-state vacations for in-state getaway.s

The previous high attendance record was 7.9 million, and Lanterman noted that occurred in 2001 when travel was impacted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Tourism officials expect the increase in exploration to continue this year as those deferred openings and celebrations get rescheduled and travel restrictions lift. Already, Lanterman said, reservations are nearing capacity for camping during 2021 holiday weekends at state parks, where there are 10,000 campsites and more than 120 cabins and yurts.

If you’re planning an outing to a park for a specific feature, be sure to check ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks. Each park has a website with alerts and notices about current conditions.

The event calendar at travelks.com looks restocked for the year, and attractions are getting back on track. Nine new exhibits at the Boot Hill Museum are now open, and Kansas’ first minor league baseball game in 14 years will be played in May at Riverfront Stadium in Wichita.

Signature events including the Wichita Riverfest (June 4-6 and Sept. 30-Oct. 3), Symphony in the Flint Hills (June 12), Country Stampede (June 24-26), Dodge City Days (July 30-Aug. 8) and the Kansas State Fair (Sept. 10-19) are scheduled.

The Grassroots Art Center in Lucas is celebrating 25 years with a special exhibition through Oct. 31 and special events throughout the year. “Flying Free: 25 Years of Grassroots Art” features original works of self-taught, outsider art by 121 Kansas and 19 national artists.

One of the most widespread commemorations this year is the bicentennial of the Santa Fe Trail. Two hundred years ago, a small group of traders led a pack train from central Missouri to Mexico’s northern colonial outpost, creating America’s first international road of commerce to present day Santa Fe, New Mexico. Activities and events are planned throughout the year along the National Park Service designated Santa Fe National Historic Trail, which cuts a 500-mile diagonal path across Kansas.

“Everyone is looking for what they can do with their family this summer, and fantastic experiences are waiting just down the road in Kansas,” Kansas Tourism director Bridgette Jobe said. “Take a road trip to find a new adventure – whether that’s a visit to the Fort Scott National Historic Site to learn more about Bleeding Kansas, a hike at our newest state park Little Jerusalem Badlands, or traveling to buy local beef from a producer and seeing Kansas along the way.”

If you need inspiration, take a look at the photos accompanying this article and this list of 21 places and things in the state to experience in 2021, published by Kansas Tourism in January.

Agritourism, from experiencing a cattle drive to joining harvest at a working farm

Brewery tours

Byways: 12 formal byways – nine scenic, two of which are National Scenic Byways, and three historic byways

Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area near Great Bend

Drive-in theatres in Dodge City, Kanopolis, Kansas City and Wichita

Eisenhower Presidential Museum, reopened in 2019 after renovations, in Abilene

Emma Chase Friday Nights live music in Cottonwood Falls

Field Station: Dinosaurs in Derby

Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area with multiple sites in eastern Kansas

Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas in Lucas

Historic sites: 16 state-owned historic sites and 27 national historic landmarks

Kansas State Fair Sept. 10-19 at the fairgrounds in Hutchinson

Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott

Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant Sept. 24-26 near Medicine Lodge

Nicodemus, the oldest preserved black settlement west of the Mississippi River, in northwest Kansas

Rock formations, from the Niobrara chalk formations of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park to the sandstone concretions of Rock City and the Dakota formations of Mushroom Rock State Park

Santa Fe Trail: the first international road of commerce marks 200 years since its creation with events and activities along the trail that crosses Kansas diagonally

State parks: 28 state parks spread across Kansas with a variety of terrain, features and activities

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City

Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard

Wineries or wine trails in the state, which combined with Missouri as one of the largest grape-growing and winemaking regions in the U.S. before prohibition

Learn more about each of these ideas, and see Kansas’ latest travel safety guidelines, at TravelKS.com.

Editor’s note: As we went to print, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was still warning that travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. Find the CDC’s travel requirements and recommendations at cdc.gov.

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