Think of the American west and you might visualize huge grassy plains with bison roaming in huge herds. Or you may think the of Gene Autry song – “Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam. Where the deer and the antelope play…” Unfortunately, that land has all but disappeared.
What once covered 170 million acres; today there remains less than 4% of this prairie ecosystem. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, established November 12, 1996 and maintained in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, preserves just under 11,000 acres of original prairie.
Where is Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Located in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve can be referred to as America’s last stand of untouched prairie. Most of America’s prairie lands were plowed under and farmed, but this region was too hilly and rocky. So fortunately for us, it was never farmed.
Here you can see what the American west really looked like… acres of tall grasses waving softly in the breeze and herds of bison roaming free. Go out into the prairie and look in any direction. You don’t see anything… not a telephone pole or a fence or a house or a car. It seems that the horizon reaches for miles.
What to do at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
The highlight of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is the prairie. There are over 40 miles of hiking trails for you to enjoy, of varying distances for all ages and abilities. You would be remiss if you didn’t get out into the prairie. Then just stop, listen to silence and take in the endless expanse. It’s an amazing experience.
When open, the National Park Service also offers a bus tour to take you out into the prairie, or you can walk the road. But be careful of the bison, especially in the spring. That’s a great time to see the prairie wildflowers but the bison are calving, so you have to take special care. We loved the fall when the grasses were at their tallest.
There is also a really interesting visitor center where you can learn more about the prairie ecosystem – one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystems in the world. We weren’t aware how many different types of grasses there were or how complex they are. Did you know that as much as 80% of the plant is underground? They had a model of one, showing a root system that went 10-15 feet deep. That’s how they survived the wild fires that swept across the plains.
You can also visit the old ranch house and barn, and learn more about the stonemason who made this his home.
We especially liked the chicken house and it’s sod roof. Wandering around the ranch, you can picture what it must have been like back then.
Once again, we are so thankful that the National Park Service preserves these special places.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.