Why You Should Vacation In That Small Midwestern Town

When deciding to take a vacation, it’s easy to feel the need to go the distance. Fly to Italy, a long road trip to one of the coasts or maybe just a trip to another state. But sometimes, the best vacation is right in our own backyards. Which is why my partner and I decided to make the journey to a small town in western Kansas and why it probably won’t be our last.

The Dining Room at the Teller Room in Oberlin, KS

The Teller Room, Oberlin KS

When I decided to ask my girlfriend if she wanted to drive nearly six hours to the middle of nowhere Kansas, I wasn’t sure what she would say. The reason for the trip was to visit The LandMark Inn located in Oberlin, KS. The only reason I had heard about the bed and breakfast was thanks to my Kansas Public Radio MemberCard. The card offered a discount at the adjoining restaurant, The Teller Room.

After our initial trip was cancelled due to a weekend of freezing weather in March, we opted to change the trip to a date in May. Where, hopefully we’d be able to enjoy warmer weather and we would both be vaccinated from COVID-19. Thankfully, both were true. And we set out on a Friday afternoon to Oberlin, Kansas.

The FS4 Room at The LandMark Inn

Our bedroom at the bed & breakfast

It takes just under six hours to get from Kansas City, MO to Oberlin, KS. For the drive there we decided to take I-70 to 23 Highway. Leaving Kansas City in the mid-afternoon, we made it to Hays by 5:00 pm and were into Oberlin by around 8:00 pm. If you are unfamiliar with driving through western Kansas, some call it boring. But you would be hard pressed to find an area that offers such wide open views and a place where the sky seemingly touches the land.

When we arrived in Oberlin, we were greeted by a classic Kansas community. As someone who grew up in a town with single grocery store and no stoplights, even a town of 1,700 doesn’t feel like a small. But, Oberlin is a small town with a quaint Main Street. Gary, the Inn Keeper, pointed us in the direction of some good eats which ultimately led us to the Re-Load Bar & Grill.

Exploring Oberlin and the Surrounding Area

When thinking about a community in western Kansas, you may be wondering what there is to do. But, Oberlin and the surrounding area have quite a bit to offer. After a delicious breakfast at the Teller Room, we decided to walk around and see what we could find.

Breakfast at The Teller Room

We started our day at a local museum. Specifically, The Last Indian Raid Museum on South Penn. We easily spent a couple of hours at this museum because it covered quite a bit. From a one room schoolhouse to old Commodore computers, there’s a lot to see and read at this museum. Our favorite part was outside, where you were able to explore a variety of old buildings and learn about the history behind them. Those that have an appreciation of Kansas history are sure to enjoy this amenity.

After our time at the museum we spent a bit of time walking around downtown Oberlin. There are a variety of shops to checkout and the area is simply relaxing to be in. Then, we decided to explore the unique environment offered by western Kansas. I’ve written before about spending time in this region of Kansas. And it is a beautiful place to be.

Located under an hour away is the Prairie Dog State Park. As its name suggests, there is a fairly large prairie dog population. But there are also some great walking trails with plenty of informative signage along the way. By far, our favorite part was watching the prairie dogs run around and play together. It is rare to see such a large prairie dog town, and this state park is the place to do it.

Prairie Dog State Park

Prairie Dog State Park is located on Keith Sebelius Lake and is right near Norton, KS. Because of this, we opted to stop by Norton to pick up some lunch and experience a different small town. It is just as worth a visit as Oberlin is.

Sinclair gas station in Norton, KS

The Journey Home

After a couple of days in Oberlin, it was time to head back to Kansas City. But, the journey home would not be without its own adventure. On the way back from Oberlin lies Lebanon, KS. The home of the Geographic Center of the United States, and the Center Chapel. Instead of heading back down to I-70 a short detour on Highway 36 can be taken. Which will lead you to this exciting part of Kansas.

The U.S Center Chapel

The geographical center of the lower 48 states

The point of this trip was to simply take advantage of my KPR MemberCard. But as a native, rural Kansan, I always feel a deep connection to towns like Oberlin. I can’t promise you that same feeling, but I can say that the members of these communities appreciate visitors. And that is something that makes the journey worth it.

Two Scenic Views on Kansas Highways Worth Stopping At

It’s no secret. In the state of Kansas, we have a vast and sprawling system of highways. In fact, as a part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, a portion of I-70 was one of the first completed highways. Needless to say, it is clear that Kansans love their roads. And this love isn’t just limited to Kansas. If you’re from the Midwest, chances are a 10-hour road trip seems like a walk in the park.

A major benefit of taking these long road trips is the ability to get out of the car, and truly take in your surroundings. With plenty of Kansas Historical Markers located throughout the state, as well as scenic views, finding a place to stop and rest while road tripping in Kansas is not a difficult task. And I’ve picked two of my favorite spots that are worth stopping at if you’re in the area.

Bazaar Cattle Pens

If you’ve driven the Kansas Turnpike between Emporia and Wichita, you’ve likely noticed an exit sign for the Bazaar Cattle Pens. What was once used for loading and unloading cattle in the Flint Hills is now a beautiful overlook with access on both sides of Interstate 35. The area is located about 15 miles southwest of Emporia, and will provide you with a beautiful view of the Flint Hills.

When you visit, you can likely expect heavy wind and maybe some cattle. Some say Kansas is where the land meets the sky. And with the expansive view of the Flint Hills you can get at the Bazaar Cattle Pens, you are likely to agree with that sentiment. Parking is plentiful, with space to walk around for different vantage points.

K-177 Overlook

Located about three miles south of Manhattan, KS on K-177, this spot will also give you a unique perspective of the Flint Hills. It overlooks the Kansas River Valley and is on the northeast corner of the Konza Prairie Biological Station. The station is a joint project, and it is one of the largest stretches of land dedicated to the preservation and research of tallgrass prairies. With over 8,600 acres, the Konza Prairie Preserve is something all Kansans should experience.

Whether you are driving to Manhattan, or cruising down I-70, the K-177 Overlook is a stop worth making. The location has benches and a small shelter. Which makes it ideal for a brief snack break, all while taking in the open landscape that Kansas has to offer.