Northeastern Kansas Road Trip | Hiking in Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve | Cottonwood Falls, Marion, Junction City, Clay Center, Washington, and Marysville, KS | March 2021
On day 2 of our mini Kansas road trip, we awoke to the brisk morning air and a colorful sunrise over the lake. Curtis made dinosaur oatmeal on our camp stove (the Breakfast of Champions) and we packed up our tent, ready for another day of driving, courthouses, and some hiking.
We began today’s adventure by driving back through Cottonwood Falls, which is the county seat for Chase county. The experience we had here on this early Sunday morning was truly a county counter’s dream: empty streets, charming main road, a nearby park with a pedestrian bridge over the river with a small waterfall in view, and best of all, the cutest courthouse we’d ever seen. Experiences like this are exactly why we love our county-counting hobbies; how else would we have stumbled across this adorable little town?!
After our walk around Cottonwood Falls, we drove to our main focus of today, and the reason why this area had been on our radar: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Throughout the last 7 months in the Omaha area, we have learned about prairie ecosystems and how the majority of the Midwest used to be made up of tallgrass prairie. Most of that land has turned to farms since the mid-19th century, but this area of the Flint Hills in Kansas is preserved and protected, giving a glimpse of how this country once looked.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has almost 11,000 acres of prairie, with plenty of hiking trails to enjoy. Since we had Charlotte with us we were limited to the dog-friendly trails, but even then there were plenty of miles to explore. We hiked the 3 mile Fox Creek Trail loop in the East side of the park, and then another 2 miles through a recent prairie burn area. The latter half also took us past historic barns and a schoolhouse.
Walking through the burned area with the blackened ground surrounding us gave me flashbacks of backpacking Mauna Loa…though it was much windier here (which is ironic considering the trail to Mauna Loa was closed due to high wind while we were there). Despite the harsh winds, the weather was really quite pleasant. I think this was the best time of year for us to hike here with Charlotte, as I’m sure the summer months are much hotter with hardly any shade, though likely significantly more green. Without Charlotte, we would have been able to take other trails that had the potential to see bison, but we were happy with the hiking we were able to do this morning.
After spending most of the morning here, it was time for our long trip back to Omaha…made even longer by first driving further West to bag the next county over and see the Marion county courthouse. Following that, we began heading generally North and saw courthouses in Junction City, Clay Center, Washington, and Marysville before taking US 77 back into Nebraska. Each of the courthouses were more visually appealing than yesterday’s and we enjoyed each one, but once we returned home and looked at each of the pictures we realized that several of them looked almost exactly the same, to the point where I was second guessing which ones were different courthouses and which were just different views of the same courthouse. Oh well, that’s still better than plain old office buildings!
Thanks to this weekend’s trip, our Kansas county map is looking more full in the Northeastern corner, with only one ‘hole’ which belongs to Pottawatomie county. Of course, that one hole is now exactly what my focus goes to when looking at our maps, so I guess that means we’ll have to return sometime soon!