I often get requests from readers for weekend getaways in the lower Midwest. Here’s a new one to add to the list, courtesy of my recent road trip. Assuming you start from Kansas City, this itinerary will take two days to complete, with an overnight stay in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. However, you could pick and choose among these recommendations to fit your time frame.
Southeast Kansas Getaway
- From downtown Kansas City, take I-35 south to Olathe and pick up Hwy 169 South. If it’s lunch time, be sure to stop at Beethoven’s #9 in Paola for real German food.
- Continue 100 miles south from Olathe on 169 to Chanute, Kansas, to tour the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. The Johnsons were the first Americans to make documentary films of the native tribes of Africa and the South Pacific. Their adventures will thrill you! This museum is a little-known gem in Kansas’ tourism crown. Seriously, don’t miss it.
If you are a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, you may want to add a 40-minute detour at this point. 33 miles south of Chanute, you can take Hwy 160 West to Independence, and Hwy 75 South to 5701 3000 Rd., Independence, KS, to see the actual land where Charles Ingalls built a log cabin for his family. The tiny Little House on the Prairie historic site now contains a replica cabin, a hand-dug well attributed to Ingalls, a one-room school house and a post office, both from the nearby village of Wayside. The site is a great grass-roots effort to preserve local history. That said, if you’re not already a fan of the Little House books, it probably won’t change your mind.
- If you choose to skip the Little House on the Prairie, continue 50 miles south from Chanute on 169 to Coffeyville, where in 1892 the bank-robbing Dalton Gang met its doom in a spectacular shoot-out. The C.M. Condon & Co. Bank building still stands, and the Dalton Defenders Museum tells the story of the gang’s failed attempt to rob two banks in the same day. It’s a true Wild West tale worth investigating.
- From Coffeyville turn west on Hwy 166, then south on Hwy 75 to reach Bartlesville, OK, your stop for the night. Read this post for more about Bartlesville’s very cool Price Tower.
When you’re ready to leave Bartlesville, you have several options.
- You can go back the way you came, but where’s the fun in that?
- You can drive 20 minutes west to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska. Why not? You’re practically there already. If you stay for a meal, you’ll be too stuffed to care how you get home.
- You can follow Hwy 60 east 40 miles to Vinita, where you’ll join historic Route 66. Take 66 to Joplin, a 61-mile journey that takes an average of 1 hour 20 minutes on the legendary two-lane road. Sound slow? It is. These days Route 66 is very much the scenic route. Be prepared to stop for the quirky towns and stellar views it’s known for. You can make up for lost time in Joplin, where Interstate 49 will let you speed north to Kansas City. Or…..
- You can follow Route 66 to Baxter Springs Kansas, where you’ll turn north on Hwy 69. This route is especially recommended to Civil War history buffs.
- Pittsburg KS is home to rival restaurants Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s. Why not stop at one for lunch? If you’re feeling ambitious (and you didn’t go to the Merc), why not stop at both?
- Fort Scott is the start of your Civil War History lesson. Learn about life in a pioneer army fort (1842-73) at the Fort Scott National Historic Site. The fort served as a Union supply depot, hospital and place of refuge on the western front of the Civil War.
- 20 miles north of Fort Scott, the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site is the only major Civil War battlefield in Kansas. Take the KS 52-W exit off Hwy 69, and drive 1 mile to 20437 W. 850th Rd. A self-guided walking tour is available dawn-dusk, with a visitors center open May-October 10 am to 5 pm Wed-Sat.
- To complete the Civil War lesson, travel 9 miles north on Hwy 69 to Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site. The history of this self-guided site is closely linked to that of Mine Creek Battlefield.
- If you tire of Civil War history, refresh your senses with a stop at La Cygnes Lake and Wildlife Area. You won’t be sorry.
As you leave LaCygne, KS, you have roughly a 1-hr, 15-minute drive to reach downtown Kansas City.
Important to Note:
- Small museums and other historic sites are generally not open on Sundays. Please plan accordingly.
- Most of the museums listed here charge an entrance fee. Follow the links to their websites for details.