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1948 painting by Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World
What makes Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve unique?
I am reminded of the painting, Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, every time we visit Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a designated national park. The fields of bluestream, switch grass, and Indian grass stretch for miles in all directions. It’s an enchanting site to behold, regardless of the season. We visited the preserve during the months of January and April of 2016. The tall dry blades of winter made way for the vast, bold green meadows of spring.
At one point in time, prairie land covered about 1/3 of our country or 1.4 million acres of North America. Today, less than 4% remains, the bulk of which lies within the 11,000 acre expanse of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. In fact, tallgrass prairie is the most endangered ecosystem in North America.
The land has experienced much in its centuries of survival: ever evolving and multiplying species roaming air and land, Native American generations thriving on the land’s rich resources, and the eventual settlement of outside influence. Industry and development superseded and the prairie acreage decreased significantly.
Today, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a haven to a plethora of winged-creatures, ground dwellers, fish, and most notably bison. The flora and fauna spring about as the seasons change. It is a site to see; a spectacle for any outside enthusiast!
A Side Note
Visiting Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve for the first time (mid-January 2016) gave me an excuse to finally earn a cancellation stamp in my newly purchased National Parks Passport. The National Parks Passport is a blue pocketbook that lists all parks in the country, arranged by region. Blank pages follow each region listing, designated for commemorative stamps and cancellations. For the most part, national parks participate in this passport program. They each have what is referred to as cancellation stations that supply the free labeled/dated stamps and may have additional passport add-ons for sale. The passport makes for a fun, inexpensive, compact souvenir for full time RVers!
Get started on your own adventure exploring the over 400 national parks around America. Don’t be empty handed. Purchase your very own National Parks Passport.
What should visitors expect to see and do at Tallgrass Prairie?
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve offers an array of outdoor recreation. One trip to the preserve is not enough time to experience the nearly 40 miles of nature trails, catch and release fishing, and wildlife viewing.
The national park also hosts a number of free special events and programs throughout the year. The Stellarium Program and Night Sky Program allow visitors to learn about constellations. Fire in the Flint Hills takes place early spring and demonstrates the yearly practice of controlled prairie fires and its benefits with vegetation and wildlife.
During the summer months, the prairie entertains its guests with guided bus tours and horse back riding. Symphonies in the Flint Hills is a musical production that begins in June. Visitors flock to hear beautiful music amidst the open fields.
The video below highlights our first trip to Tallgrass. After perusing the visitor’s center, we toured the Spring Hill/Z Bar Ranch and hiked the almost two mile accompanying Southwind Nature Trail. We learned all about the beginning and progression of this ranching establishment. Visitors can take a self-guided audio tour of the property by simply plugging a designated code into their cell phone. Codes are posted at various markers throughout the buildings. Our favorite buildings were the three-story barn and school house. Guided tours are available at the Ranch House. We were unable to tour the house as we had spent much of the day awe-struck on the trail and also had our dog in tow. Pets are not allowed in the buildings.
What are the hours of operation and admission?
The trails of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve are open year round, 24/7. The visitor’s center, which houses nature exhibits, a screening of Tallgrass Prairie’s evolution, brochures and maps, and a variety of souvenirs has varying hours, depending of the time of year. Summer hours (May thru October) are 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Winter hours (November thru April) are 9 AM thru 4:30 PM. These hours apply to other buildings around the park like, among others, the Ranch Complex and Ranch House. The buildings of Tallgrass are open most holidays, but it is always a good idea to call in advance for confirmation.
Admission is free but the park does accept donations and welcomes visitors to purchase items from their gift shop. Leashed dogs are welcome, but are not admitted on all trails, especially those leading to Scenic Overlook Trail heavily populated by bison. The trail map, provided at the visitor’s center or via online link, indicates dog-permitted hiking locales as well as fishing holes, picnic spots, parking, and restrooms. Camping is not an advertised option.
Where is it located?
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located just north of Strong City, Kansas in the Flint Hills region. From Wichita, we headed northbound on Interstate 135, then east on Highway 50 towards Strong City, and finally headed north on Kansas 177 Scenic Route until we came to the national park’s entrance sign.
Yet another gem within the borders of Kansas, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a rare beauty. For more information on places to see and experience in and a round our nation, check out our Trail Guide page. If you have visited some of these sites or have a suggestion on nearby sites, leave us a comment below! Happy trails!