National Parks: Tallgrass Prairie, Kansas

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March 21, 2009

Area map of Tallgrass Prairie Natural Preserve, KansasThe Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located in northern Chase County, Kansas (about 90 miles south of Manhattan, where my Swiss ancestors had a farm) in the eastern half of the state. The preserve protects almost 11,000 acres (the majority of the remaining tallgrass prairie in the U.S.) of the diverse prairie ecosystem. More than 500 species of plants, nearly 150 species of birds, 39 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 31 species of mammals thrive in this environment.

Things to Do and See:
To fully appreciate this wildlife variety, you have to get a closer look and immerse yourself in the grass. Take a guided prairie tour on a hiking trail or via bus to experience all the wonders the preserve has to offer. Prices range from $5 to $7 per adult depending on the tour. Tour reservations can be made by calling (620) 273-8494 but you can also make same-day arrangements.

Aerial view of Tallgrass Prairie Preserve ranch house, KansasThe preserve also offers a 10-minute orientation film to introduce you to the sights and sounds of the prairie over the centuries. Don’t miss the historic 1881 ranch house; tours depart every hour on the half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Download the 2009 Schedule of special events PDF to help plan your visit.

There are three public fishing ponds at the preserve for anglers to cast a line for catch and release fishing. The preserve fishing program is available during daylight hours from March 1 through October 31. A valid Kansas fishing license is required for anglers between the ages of 16 and 65.

Hours and Fees: There is no entrance fee for the park but your donations are gratefully accepted. The preserve is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. If you are visiting the park beyond 4:30 p.m. you must move your vehicle to the circle drive to avoid being locked in the parking lot when the rangers close the gates!

Area Attractions: The nearby town of Emporia has loads of small-town charm. While strolling the tree-lined streets you may notice quaint Victorian houses preserved as a testament to the town’s history. The Emporia Visitors Bureau website has plenty of tips for local attractions that shouldn’t be missed. Toward the bottom of the screen on the left-hand side, point your mouse over the Points of Interest tab for details on all the exciting things to do in Emporia. From theatre and nightlife to shopping and worship, you’ll never be at a loss for ways to pass the time. The town also has all the conveniences of a larger community for you to re-supply your RV with fuel, groceries and other necessities during your visit.

Emporia RV Park, Emporia, KansasCamping Info: Since there is no camping at the park, stay at the Emporia RV Park & Campground just 16 miles east of the preserve. It’s a Good Sam Park with good gravel interior roads that is conveniently located off I-35 and US-50. All 36 sites are gravel pull-thrus (21’x 60’) with full hookups (30/50 amp service). The park also features clean restrooms with hot showers, a laundry facility, LP gas and a dump station. The onsite convenience store stocks limited groceries and RV supplies that you may have forgotten to bring along. Rates are $27.70 per night. For a bit of relaxing (or to tire out the kids before bed), the park boasts a fishing pond, horseshoe pit, playground and recreation field.

Kansas is tied with Florida for 3rd place in most tornados per year.

Weather: This part of Kansas has a moderate climate: summers are warm (80-100° F), and winters are cold (10-20° F). Summer storms with lightning and hail are common. Having a light jacket or extra clothes handy isn’t a bad idea to keep dry during these summer storms.

Pets: Pets are allowed in the park provided they are on a 6 ft. leash at all times. Pets are only allowed on two short walking trails, the picnic areas and the ranch headquarters area. Please pick up after your pets and dispose of waste in trash receptacles. For complete details, see the pet guidelines web page.

If you’re from the central Kansas area or have visited Tallgrass Prairie Natural Preserve in the past, please chime in with your stories and tips! Your insights can help others have a fantastic trip.

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  2. Bob, thanks for the tip on the Cottonwood Falls park! I’m sure this will save the more rustic campers among us the hassle of traveling farther down the road for the night (and save some green in the wallet!).

    Great tip!

  3. Ray Huffman

    We have not yet visited Tall Grass Prairie National Park, but hope to in the future. I recommend reading the book, PRAIRY ERTH (a deep map) by William Least Heat-Moon, before visiting the area.

  4. Bob Horton

    We visited the Tall Grass Prairie back in 2007. Wanted to find a place closer to Tall Grass Prairie, rather then drive back east to Emporia Camp Ground, which we saw was filled with road construction workers when we drove by on the way to the Prairie. We were directed by park workers to the nearby town park in Cottonwood Falls (just south of the park). Park only has 6 electric camp sites, but nice park and cost us all of $5 for one night. Can’t beat it. We had ringside seats of evening ball game. We also did a self guided walking tour of the historic town. Add this info to your article for those of us who don’t need full hookups every night.