The state of Kansas has quite a few lovely small towns that you can visit as weekend getaways or you can combine a few to make a great Kansas road trip. Many are also reachable as day trips from larger Kansas cities like Topeka, Lawrence, Overland Park, Manhattan, and Salina. While there’s no one definitive list of the best Kansas towns, the ones listed here are places I think deserve a visit!
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How to Get to the Best Kansas Small Towns
If you are new to this part of the world, you might be shocked at just how hard it is to get around without a car. If you are flying into Kansas, I have tips for renting a car below. Getting almost anywhere out of the cities without wheels is very difficult. I should know – the first two years I lived in Kansas I didn’t have one. I was basically stuck!
Tips for Renting a Car in Kansas
It’s awfully hard to get around Kansas without a car. Trust me, I’ve tried! During the four years that I lived in Kansas, I didn’t have a car for almost two years. I felt stranded most of the time. If you don’t have a car, you can rent one for your travels.
I use Discover Cars when I rent cars on my travels. You’ll be able to pick up a car at any airport or in your hometown.
Check availability and get a quote for a rental car for your trip here.
The Best Small Towns in Kansas
The Sunflower State has no shortage of beautiful small towns, so it’s hard to narrow the list down. Wherever you go in small-town Kansas, USA, you’re bound to find something to enjoy! Here are my favorites, in no particular order…
The eye-catching European architecture in pastel colors is one of the many reasons that Lindsborg is beloved as a quaint and charming Kansas town. Nicknamed “Little Sweden,” the small town of less than 3500 is famous for its Swedish heritage and the festivals that are held there.
It was founded in 1869 when Swedish immigrants settled here. Lindsborg is located in McPherson County. While here, the Meadowlark Trail is a must-visit.
Another can’t-miss site in Lindsborg is the Coronado Heights Castle, one of the most famous castles in Kansas.
Located less than thirty minutes south of Salina, Lindsborg is roughly three hours from Kansas City, two hours from Topeka, and just an hour from Wichita.
Cottonwood Falls’s charm has been recognized and this town of less than eight hundred has been declared to be the most beautiful town in Kansas. It’s known for the Chase County Courthouse, which is a stunning building built in the French Renaissance style.
Cottonwood Falls was founded in 1854 when a Native American trader settled a cattle ranch. For those who are fascinated with art, there is the Flint Hills Gallery, which is the art studio of Judith MacKay, the first artist of the Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie.
While here, make sure to visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, one of the national parks in Kansas.
Cottonwood Falls is located in Chase County, and the drive to get here is about an hour and fifteen minutes from either Topeka or Wichita.
Galena’s charm shines through, and those who visit swear by her picturesque quirkiness. Route 66 briefly passes through town, putting this town of less than three thousand on the map and making it one of the most visited small towns in Kansas.
The town was founded in 1877 when the natural mineral form of lead sulfite was found there while mining. There is an old gas station that was converted into a Route 66 Cafe that also has a display of the Pixar car, Mater.
Galena is located in Cherokee County and is fifteen minutes from Joplin, Missouri, one hour from Bella Vista, Arkansas, an hour and a half from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and three hours from Wichita.
Fort Scott is dotted with brick roads which give it a charming historical feel. It is famous for being a US Army District headquarters during the Civil War and for being
Fort Scott was founded in 1855 as part of a group of frontier forts. Fort Scott National Historic Site takes you through local Civil War history and is one of the National Park Service sites in Kansas.
While larger than some of the truly tiny towns on this list, Fort Scott has less than nine thousand residents and has real small-town appeal. Located in Bourbon county, Fort Scott boasts that it is “About an hour from Kansas City, far enough away to take a deep breath and relax.”
It’s also located on the Frontier Military Historic Byway, one of the best scenic drives in Kansas.
Lucas is a farming community that has no shortage of eccentricity. Nicknamed the “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas” and Lucas is famous for being the home of the Garden of Eden, an American folk art wonder. There’s also the Outsider Art Museum, Deeble House, and other eccentric art locations for those who want to see Kansas off-the-beaten-path.
The town was founded in 1877 as the Blue Stem community. The historic Old Tobias Water Tower is a water tower that also doubles as a jail and is a sight to see.
While here, head out to Wilson Reservoir, which is one of the best beaches in Kansas!
Come and experience this tiny town for yourself! With a population of less than four hundred, it’s a perfect way to escape the crowds. You can get here in seventy minutes from Hays and three hours from Topeka.
Abilene’s well-crafted architecture is the tip of the iceberg of this charming little town. President Dwight D. Eisenhower grew up in Abilene and was buried at Eisenhower Center.
There’s history here beyond President Eisenhower, of course (though don’t skip a visit to the Eisenhower Presidential Library). Abilene was founded in 1857 but wasn’t given the name until 1860, taken from a Bible verse with the meaning “city of the plains.”
The town has become a favorite of those looking to do some Wild West tourism, as it has saloons featuring cancan dancers and reenactments of cowboy fights.
It is located on the north side of the Smoky Hill River. The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad transport passengers back to the days when Kansans reached their destinations by rail.
This town of fewer than seven thousand residents welcomes tourists with open arms, but don’t confuse it with Abilene, Texas! Located in central Kansas, Abiline is thirty minutes east of Salina, ninety minutes west of Topeka, and ninety minutes north of Wichita.
Atchison is a little riverside jewel that is bursting with historic charm. It’s famous for being the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, which it celebrates with an annual Amelia Earhart Festival every July.
Atchison was founded in 1854 and was named in honor of Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison. It is located along the Missouri River and is twenty-five miles northwest of Leavenworth.
The Atkinson Country Courthouse is a favorite location to visit and was built in the early 1890s. Now a historical museum, it’s one of my favorite modern-day castles in Kansas.
Junction City is known as the hometown of Fort Riley. The town was founded in 1858 and got its name due to its location at the junction of Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers in Geary County, forming the headwaters of the Kansas River.
The Geary County Historical Society is an exhaustive Historical Museum in a three-story Limestone building, which was once the Junction City High School back in 1906.
Junction City is a great place to base yourself for a few days while you explore both the town and the Flint Hills. You can visit Geary County State Park if you want to spend some time fishing or hiking.
While the town is larger than most on this list, at about twenty-three thousand residents, a visit here is still a great way to unwind and see a hidden gem in Kansas where life moves at a bit of a slower pace. Make sure to see the U.S. Cavalry Museum and Custer House as well as spending time out on the water.
Getting here is easy since it’s located right on I-70 just twenty minutes from Manhattan (and Kansas State Univeristy!) and forty-five minutes from Salina.
This quaint town of Riverton is another popular small town in Kansas due to its location on Route 66. It is known for being one of the only three towns in Kansas that Route 66 runs directly through, so it gets significant tourism throughout the year.
The town was originally called Luwell and was founded in the 1860s. Rivertown is located in Cherokee County, which is near the southeastern corner of Kansas. It’s closer to Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma than to Wichita or Topeka!
The Old Riverton Store is a local treasure of old-fashioned shops and a deli with a room paying homage set Route 66.
The town has less than a thousand full-time residents, but when the Route is hopping you won’t find it empty!
This charming town is a place like home. It is famous historically for people traveling through the Smoky Hill Trail on their way to find gold in Denver.
Wamego was founded in 1866 and was named for a Potawatomi Native American chief. It is located at the intersection of Route US 24 and K – 99, and the Kansas River flows along the edge of the city.
Today a town of less than five thousand resident, Wamego is home to the Wizard of Oz museum, which features a collection of more than 25,000 Oz artifacts, as well as a Tulip Festival that is held every spring.
Wamego is easily reachable from northeastern Kansas since its forty-five minutes west of Topeka and twenty minutes east of Manhattan.
This town of less than three thousand people is worth a visit to see the Albany Historical Museum.
Sabetha was founded in 1854, and the name comes from the Sabbath, which was the first day the settlers arrived. It is located in Brown and Nemaha counties.
The Lane Trail Historical Marker marks where settlers once were led through a safe route to Kansas.
Located in far northern Kansas, Sabetha is an hour north of Topeka, near the border with Nebraska.
The quiet town of Council Grove has a charming lakefront that makes for a great peaceful and relaxing retreat. It is famous for having the Council Grove Historic District which consists of six discontinuous areas that are important to the history of the Santa Fe Trail and American migration to the West.
It was founded in 1858 and is located in Morris County. Kaw Mission State Historic Site was a missionary church and school for boys and can be visited today.
This town of less than three thousand residents boast charm far larger than its population, so don’t skip it! Council Grove can be reached in forty-five minutes from Emporia and about an hour from Topeka.
Nicknamed as the “Queen of the Cowtowns,” the charm is found in what once was thought of as the wickedest little city in America. Dodge City is famous for having a rich Wild West history of outlaws, cattlemen, and gamblers.
The town was founded in 1872 and became a trade center for travelers and buffalo hunters. It is located in Ford County. Visitors can go to the Boot Hill Museum, where they will go back into history, visiting many of the artifacts from the past cowtowns.
The largest town on this list at about twenty-seven thousand residents, its an important place to visit in Kansas to learn about important towns in Kansas’s past.
Located in southwestern Kansas, Dodge City is about two and a half hours west of Wichita. Come and plan to stay for at least a few days, because once you’re here you won’t be longing to get out of Dodge!
Paola’s charm is found in her quiet, hometown atmosphere. The hamlet of less than six thousand residents is famous for being the first town west of the Mississippi River to use natural gas commercially. Yes, that’s the kind of claim to fame that we brag about around these parts!
It was founded in 1859 and was built around a square; the name came from a town on the western coast of Italy. Visitors can go to the Nighthawk Winery to enjoy wine and outdoor live music.
For historic charm, stroll through Paola Park Square, stopping at the gazebo, learn the area’s rich history at the Miami County Historical Museum, and snap a picture of the stunning Miami County Courthouse.
Located in Miami County, Paola is fifty minutes from Kansas City and forty minutes from Overland Park.
The last of the three towns on this list located on Kansas’s portion of Route 66, Baxter Springs is known for being the first cowtown in Kansas. It was founded in 1868 along the Spring River.
One of the very many interesting things to see here is the Decade of Wheels which is a cafe that is on many people’s Route 66 bucket list.
Leavenworth was established in 1885, but it wasn’t until 1906 that it was incorporated. It is located at the junction between Route 73 and Kansas Highway 92.
History buffs will love Tara Mansion, which is a Victorian-era home that also serves as the home of the Leavenworth County Historical Society and a museum.
The town of about four thousand residents has an unually high number of important must-see sites and monuments.
The historic downtown is stunning. Make sure to also visit the Buffalo Soldier monument, which one reviewer experienced as a “historical journey through African-American contributions to the defense of our nation.” You will also want to see the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, the Frontier Army Museum, the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, and Weston Bend State Park.
You can reach Leavenworth from Kansas City in about forty minutes and forty-five minutes from Lawrence.
This tiny town of less than eight hundred residents holds the key to learning about an important era of Kansas history. Lecompton is known by many as the “birthplace of the Civil War, where slavery began to die.”
Founded in 1854 it is located in Douglas County near Lawrence and the University of Kansas. Anyone interested in history can visit the Territorial Capital Museum, which is a house where territorial meetings once took place.
While here you can go on a self-guided walking tour through Lecompton’s most important historic areas.
This town of less than four thousand people, Hesston was established as Elivon in the 1870s. The town’s name came into use in 1886 with the founding of a new town and the Elivon post office was renamed. Hesston is an important Mennonite community in Kansas. A highlight of your time here, make sure to visit the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains botanical garden.
Hesston is forty minutes north of Wichita and fifty minutes from Salina.
Located near the Big Blue River in northern Kansas, Marysville is a city of about three thousand residents located an hour north of Manhattan near the Nebraska border.
Marysville was one of the first stops on the Pony Express to be opened west of St. Joseph, Missouri. While in town you can visit the museum housed in the original barn where the ponies were stored!
If you love small town USA festivals, Marysville has them in abundance. Come to town for Big Blue River Days, the Mother’s Day Market, and Black Squirrel Night.
This town of about one thousand residents boasts English and German heritage. It was here that Volga Germans living in Russia came to settle the Kansas prairie. They brought their religion with them and built a series of Roman Catholic churches, including the stunning St. Fidelis Catholic Church in 1911, which is also known as the “The Cathedral of the Plains.”
Come in August to experience Herzogfest, the town’s German celebration featuring great German food, music, drinks, and costumes.
Victoria is ninety minutes west of Salina.
Located in south Central Kansas, Winfield is a town of about twelve thousand residents. It was named after Reverend Winfield Scott, who promised to build the town a church if they named it after him.
The town has some ghosts (though it’s not exactly a ghost town) since the Kansas State Asylum for Idiotic and Imbecile Youth was the town’s main employer for over a hundred years.
While here, pay a visit to the Cowley County Historical Museum, the Wheat State Wine Company, and the town’s many vibrant murals.
Winfield is fifty minutes southeast of Wichita and ninety minutes northwest of Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Home to a secret waterfall and holding the interesting status of “living ghost town,” Elk Falls is an often overlook southeastern Kansas town that belongs on any Kansas road trip, especially when you’re venturing into the Flint Hills. With a population of less than one hundred, this teeny, tiny town offers out-sized fun!
Located ninety minutes from Wichita, I promise, it’s worth the drive!
Another wild west town with ties to Ingalls, Oklahoma (my favorite Oklahoma ghost town), Coffeyville was once home to the Dalton Gang. Located in southeastern Kansas, Coffeyville is located two and a half hours from Wichita and eighty minutes from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Kansas Travel Resources
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for your trip make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I have used World Nomads when I travel since 2016, and I happily recommend them.
Getting coverage is important whenever you’re more than a hundred miles from home in case of an accident, sickness, theft, etc.
Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.
Pin this Guide to the Best Kansas Small Towns for Your Kansas Adventures!
Stephanie is a born-and-bred Oklahoma mom and travel expert who has been to over fifty countries. After living in Eastern Europe for four years, she has moved with her family back to Oklahoma to write about her favorite places growing up: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, & Route 66!