Last revised: December 31, 2023
By: Adam Burns
There is currently only one heritage railroad operating throughout Kansas, the Abilene & Smoky Valley based in Abilene. They continue operating trains through the fall season, including a special event for Halloween.
When the air turns crisp and nature's paintbrush sweeps across the landscape, Kansas reveals its hidden autumnal beauty.
While renowned for its vast prairies, the state boasts a captivating display of fall foliage that attracts visitors from near and far. If you are interested in viewing the state's fall colors beyond just a train ride, below are some of the best locations to witness the vibrant hues. From golden canopies to fiery reds, these picturesque destinations offer a breathtaking spectacle that will leave you in awe.
Konza Prairie Biological Station
Located in the Flint Hills region near Manhattan, the Konza Prairie Biological Station provides a unique opportunity to witness fall foliage in a natural prairie setting. As the season unfolds, the tallgrass prairie transforms into a tapestry of warm hues, including golden grasses and splashes of red and orange from sumac and sassafras trees. The sweeping vistas and wide-open skies make for a truly captivating experience.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Situated in the heart of the Flint Hills, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City offers an enchanting display of fall foliage against the backdrop of undulating prairies. As the prairie grasses turn a stunning golden hue, scattered trees, such as cottonwoods and Osage orange, add pops of color to the landscape. Explore the preserve's trails and witness the serene beauty of autumn in this unique ecosystem.
Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway
Venture west to the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, near Medicine Lodge, to witness the fall foliage amid a striking terrain of rolling hills and rugged canyons. As the foliage transforms, the hills come alive with vibrant shades of red, orange, and gold. The scenic byway offers numerous viewpoints and opportunities for photography, allowing you to capture the breathtaking beauty of the landscape.
Clinton State Park
Located near Lawrence, Clinton State Park offers a picturesque setting to admire the fall foliage. Nestled along the banks of Clinton Lake, this park boasts a diverse mix of trees, including cottonwoods, oaks, and maples, which explode into a riot of colors during autumn. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the trails or rent a kayak to experience the vibrant foliage mirrored in the calm waters of the lake.
Wyandotte County Lake Park
In the Kansas City area, Wyandotte County Lake Park provides a serene escape amidst fall's splendid colors. The park's diverse tree species, such as maples, sycamores, and hickories, create a stunning kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows. Take a leisurely drive along the park's scenic roads or explore the hiking trails, immersing yourself in the beauty of the changing seasons.
Nestled near Junction City, Milford Lake, Kansas's largest lake, offers a picturesque backdrop for fall foliage viewing. The lake's shoreline, adorned with a variety of trees, including cottonwoods, ash, and hickories, provides a canvas of vibrant autumnal colors. Enjoy a scenic drive around the lake or find a peaceful spot to savor the breathtaking vistas and reflections in the tranquil waters.
While Kansas may be renowned for its vast prairies, it also embraces the season of fall with a mesmerizing display of colorful foliage. From the sweeping prairie landscapes of Konza Prairie and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to the rugged beauty of Gypsum Hills and the serene lakeside settings of Clinton State Park and Milford Lake, Kansas offers a myriad of stunning locations to immerse yourself in the autumnal splendor. Embark on an unforgettable journey through these picturesque destinations, where nature's palette unfolds
(Abilene): The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad was founded in 1993 as a living history museum project dedicated to preserving the legacy of the railroad industry in Kansas by highlighting the interconnectedness of railroads, the people, and the land in the state.
Today, the railroad operates the old Rock Island between Abilene and Enterprise (here most excursions stop for half-hour layover in the town). The highlight of the railroad is its scenic excursion trains. Passengers can step aboard vintage railcars and embark on a leisurely journey through the picturesque Smoky Valley.
The 10-mile round trip takes travelers through the Kansas prairies, offering breathtaking views of rolling hills, open fields, and the meandering Smoky Hill River. As the train glides along the tracks, the rhythmic chugging of the steam locomotive and the gentle sway of the cars create a nostalgic ambiance that transports passengers to a bygone era.
Throughout the year, the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad hosts a variety of special event trains, adding a touch of excitement and entertainment to the railroad experience. From holiday-themed rides to murder mystery dinners, these events offer a unique twist on the traditional train ride. Families, history enthusiasts, and railroad aficionados can delight in these immersive experiences, creating cherished memories.
The railroad does not host official fall foliage excursions. However, train rides continue through the autumn season allowing guests to view the region's colors. In addition, they host "The Great Pumpkin Express" where kids and the entire family can enjoy meeting Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang during the Halloween season.