Kansas City has always been at the crossroads. The California, Oregon, and Sante Fe trails all passed through here during the pioneer days. The Chisholm Trail brought cattle drives from as far as Texas to the rail yards of Kansas City during the old west times.
At the intersection of two interstate highways that bisect the United States into almost perfect quadrants, Kansas City is still at the crossroads. Which make it the perfect place to launch a road trip.
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When we think of road trips, we usually think of beaches or mountains. And typically we think of the midwest as flyover country. However, there are some treasures to be discovered in and around this Mid-American city.
Whether you live in KC and are looking for good road trip ideas or are just passing through, make sure you check out these top things to do in Kansas City – a midwestern gem.
One Day in Kansas City
If you have just one day to visit Kansas City, there are a couple of things that you must do.
- Barbecue – Kansas City is known for its barbecue, and you are spoiled for choices. As a local, one of the favorites is Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s). You will notice that the original location is inside of a gas station. Don’t worry! It’s not sushi. Try it and you will see why gas station BBQ is a really good idea.
- Downtown Kansas City – Over the past few decades there has been a revitalization of the downtown area. Unlike most big cities, Kansas City has relatively light traffic even downtown. Don’t miss the Power and Light District, Union Station, and The Country Club Plaza. And of course, the cultural center in the Crossroads Arts District.
The Best Day Trips From Kansas City
Most people would recognize Lawrence as the home of the Jayhawks. Or the eponymous song by Josh Ritter. But this little college town will surprise you. With a historic downtown perfect for walking, shopping in boutiques, or enjoying a craft beer.
On your way from Kansas City, stop by Davenport Winery between Lawrence and Eudora. Get a bottle of Charlotte’s Red or Mandolin if they are available.
Clinton Lake is just outside of town for a little R&R, fishing, or camping.
On the Missouri side, you have Weston. Believe it or not, they have amazing orchards all around this little town. Spend a fall day picking apples and going to the annual AppleFest.
And if you like to discover good restaurants no one has heard of, Tine and Cellar is truly underground. No, literally it is built in an old cellar several stories underground. They have amazing food and are naturally cool during the hot midwest summers.
If you decide to stay, try camping at Weston Bend State Park in the summer. In the winter, bring your skis or snowboard to Snowcreek. They probably won’t host the Olympics anytime soon, but its pretty good for flatlanders.
The Best Weekend Road Trips From Kansas City
Lake of the Ozarks, MO – 2-1/2 Hours Southeast of Kansas City
Only a couple of hours away, Lake of the Ozarks is a long, winding reservoir situated within two state parks: Lake of the Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park – Kaiser, Mo
Lake of the Ozarks is the largest and one of the most visited State Parks in Missouri. Over 2.5 million visitors come for camping, swimming, and water sports.
Holiday weekends can be especially crowded with boaters coming from hundreds of miles around to gather into one of the largest floating parties in the country.
Although a popular destination, there are some arms and coves that you can have all to yourself for a little quiet camping spot or fishing spot.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park – Camdenton, MO
The other State Park on the shore of the Lake of the Ozarks, Ha Ha Tonka is much more laid back than the party scene often exhibited by its neighbor.
Most famous for the Ha Ha Tonka Castle ruins, there are plenty of shoreline to explore. Additionally the geography creates caves, bluffs, and sinkholes unique to this area.
Omaha, NE – 3 Hours North of Kansas City
Another midwest city with a small town feel is Omaha. Less than 3 hours away, this is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Families travel from surrounding states to visit the award winning Henry Doorly Zoo.
Omaha also lays claim to inventing several foods including the Reuben, Butter Brickle ice cream, cake mix, and TV dinners. Hey, they never claimed to be healthy.
For more ideas, here are some of the best things to do in Omaha.
Branson, MO – 3 Hours South of Kansas City
In case you have never heard of Branson, think of it as a mix between Nashville, Dollywood, and Las Vegas.
Over the years, the city continually outgrows itself. Everything from live country music to go-karts and outlet malls. People come from hours away to spend a weekend in Branson.
Centered around old west living, Silver Dollar City is an amusement park set in the 1800’s. From rides, to shows, to craftsmen making everything from baseball bats to taffy, there is something for the whole family.
St. Louis, MO – 3-1/2 Hours East of Kansas City
Known as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis is only a 3-1/2 hour drive from Kansas City. Take a ride up to the top of the Gateway Arch and look over the city in this famous landmark.
For starters, there is so much to do for families. The City Museum offers fun and education year-round. While Six Flags is just about having fun from late spring to early fall.
Speaking of education, the St. Louis Zoo and Aquarium are a way to get up close with one of the most diverse varieties of animals in the midwest.
St. Louis is much bigger than most of the cities mentioned in this article. For more ideas of what to do, here are some ideas for the top things to do in St. Louis.
The Best Road Trips From Kansas City
One of the obvious advantages of Kansas City is the fact that it is right in the middle of the country. So any of the contiguous states are accessible by a road trip.
However, we’ve narrowed down some of our favorites that are all within a roughly 8-12 hour drive. This sounds like a lot of driving, but when you consider the diverse landscapes you can end up, it’s pretty amazing to leave KC early in the morning and have dinner in the mountains, the Gulf, or the Great Lakes.
Denver, Colorado – The Best Mountain Road Trip From Kansas City
Denver is less than 9 hours from Kansas City. Plus you gain an hour driving there. So its basically an 8 hour drive that feels like 9 hours…
Just on the outskirts of the Rockies, Denver is the perfect destination on your way to the mountains. Stop in for supplies and grub before heading into the wilderness.
In the summer, hike or backpack Rocky Mountain National Park. In the winter you will find some of the best skiing and snowboarding.
Or take it farther and launch your own Rocky Mountain road trip.
Galvaston, Texas – The Closest Beach Road Trip From Kansas City
The obvious drawback for living in the center of the country is the distance to the east and west coasts. While either one make for a great road trip, there is a much faster way to get to the beach.
You can get to Galveston, TX in about 12 hours. That means you can scrape the ice off of your windshield in the morning and walk on the beach by the evening.
From there you can spend the weekend relaxing. Or you can take the family to the Kemah Boardwalk for rides, shopping, and eating.
Great Lakes Michigan – The Best Midwest Road Trip From Kansas City
The summers in Kansas City get hot and humid. To escape you have two choices. Heading west to the mountains or heading north.
The Great Lakes offer a reprieve from the sweltering humidity of the plains. And Michigan is covered in white sandy beaches without sharks or pirates.
You can be at the SOHA Surf Shop in 9 hours. That’s right, a surf shop in Michigan.
They are also well known for their abundance of craft breweries and farm stands lining the back roads. In season, fresh cherries and berries are among the best road trip snacks.
Bourbon Trail Kentucky – The Best Whiskey Tasting Road Trip From Kansas City (never drink and drive; always have a designated driver or hire an Uber)
Kentucky is probably most popular for Bluegrass and Bourbon. Or horse racing. No, maybe butter cake.
Whatever you have heard about Kentucky, its probably true. The Bourbon Trail is set in beautiful horse country. With miles of gently rolling emerald green grass fields outlined by long white fences, it is truly remarkable to experience.
Most of the distilleries are set in historic buildings, so even if you’re not into whisky the architecture is worth the trip. And they each have their own style.
We recommend Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve to go from the laid back, rustic feel to the more refined. And if you want to get in on the ground floor and see guys that really roll up their sleeves, go to Glenns Creek Distillery. They are in the former Old Crow distillery grounds.
The Best Cross Country Road Trips From Kansas City
Being so close to the center of the United States makes every part of the lower 48 states drivable within a couple of days.
Seattle is 27 hours to the northwest, San Diego is 24 hours southwest.
Driving northeast you can be at Mt Katahdin in 26 hours. Or southeast is only 24 hours away.
Olympic National Park, WA
This is where is gets real fun because a road trip is just as much about the journey as the destination.
With your choice of stops along the way, you can visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, cross the Snake River in Idaho, and take a little detour to hike miles of trails near Portland, Oregon.
But once you get there, you will be immersed in old growth forests covered in moss and the sound of the Pacific coming to rest on the incredible rocky coast.
Take a new route on the way back with stops in Montana and South Dakota. Or take some more detours to Banff in the north or to Yellowstone National Park on your way home.
Here are some other suggestions for some of the best road trips in North America. See if there’s one you would like to get to from Kansas City.
Which Road Trips From Kansas City Will You Choose?
We’ve barely even scratched the surface of the best road trips from Kansas City. Being in the center of the country affords reasonable drive times to anywhere. Within 24 hours you can be at the Pacific or the Atlantic. You can be in Zion National Park in bout 18 hours. Or take a road trip to Yosemite in 27 hours with stops in Denver and Las Vegas along the way.
And it is a great place to stop on a cross country road trip. But we will leave that for another article.