With our family spending so much time at home the past few months, we were ready for a getaway. Now that Dylan and I are both working again...we wanted a getaway that didn't require a lot of travel time...and since we're always looking to make our budget stretch as far as we can - our trip to explore western Kansas came to be. Monument Rocks has long been on my list of places to go...but it's not exactly on the way to anywhere. It does make for a perfect weekend getaway destination and is well worth your effort to go. I'll break down where we went, where we stayed, how much we spent and share some tips we learned along the way to make your visit even more amazing than ours.
~6:00 Saturday morning: we woke with the birds, threw our bags in the car, packed a cooler of snacks, beverages and lunches. We put the kids in their road trip clothes the night before...so all we had to do was pull them out of bed and buckle them in the car. The trip from Wichita to Oakley, KS is about 4 hours. Our boys normally need an afternoon nap, so we encouraged them to sleep during our drive so we could skip nap time and not regret our decision. This seemed to work pretty well.
COST: just your gas! Time: ~4 hrs
~10:45 Saturday morning we arrived in Oakley. Our first stop was the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center but since it doesn't open till 11AM, we had a little time to stop by the Smoky River Quilt Shop. (I love to sew.) It's a cute little shop with loads of beautiful and fun fabric, lots of patterns and helpful staff! If you're into sewing of any kind, not just quilting, I recommend a stop!
COST: depends on how much you buy! Time: it depends! Ha!
11:30 Saturday morning: We arrived at the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center. Laurie Millensifer greeted us a gave us a tour. There are several neat educational exhibits for kids I'd say maybe 10 and under...including a friendly bison, and cornstalk that will measure your height and a wall where you can match the poop to the animal. As you can imagine - my boys were all about the poop. The main attraction is the bigger-than-life bronze statue of Buffalo Bill about to hunt a bison. It's huge. Buffalo Bill wasn't born in Oakley, but the legend of Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show was. William Cody earned his fame when he was a contract bison hunter to provide meet for the soldiers at Fort Wallace. After a contest to see who could hunt the most bison in a day, Buffalo Bill Cody won 69 to 46. And from thenceforth he was known. There's a little more to the story but you'll have to visit to learn that for yourself! We spent about an hour and a half here which included a picnic lunch at a handy shaded picnic area with a view of the bronze sculpture.
COST: FREE! Time: 1.5hrs
1:00 Saturday afternoon: We headed over to the Fick Fossil and History Museum. It's barely 4 minutes from the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center and shares its building with the Oakley Community Library. This stop is also free and and has a number of interesting large dinosaur fossils from Kansas, many old tools, mineral specimens, and shell & mineral folk art. As we learned on our trip....Kansas was once upon a time under the ocean which is proven by the huge amount of shell and shark teeth fossils you'll see as you explore the western Kansas landscape. The main attraction here if you have younger kids is a neat fire truck they have on display that your kids can climb in and get fun pictures with. There's also a small gift shop. There's a lot of history both behind and in the Fick Fossil and History Museum...but if you have kids with you an hour should be enough for you here.
COST: FREE! Time: 1hr
2:00 Saturday afternoon: We hit the road for Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark. The site is about 30 minutes (28 miles) south of Oakley. It's also very rural (read: middle of nowhere) and Oakley is your last sight of civilization so make sure you have enough water and snacks to get you through. With hubs and I and the three kids we went through two 16 oz. bottles of water and two 20 oz. gatorades on a cooler-than-normal June afternoon. This was my favorite part of the trip because it's so accessible to view, explore and enjoy. It, too, is free to visit. There's some signage explaining how Monument Rocks came to be and since the stone formations are made of soft "chalky" rock they ask that you not damage the stones. That Kansas weather changes this rocky formation on a yearly basis. There's also no shade here....so after about 45 minutes our littles were whining about the heat, that they were thirsty and ready to go.
COST: FREE! Time: 1hr
3:00 Saturday afternoon: We headed back to Oakley for a swim at our hotel. The city of Oakley very kindly hosted us at the Sleep Inn just off highway 40. Anytime we stay at a hotel with a pool the boys are thrilled so this provided some much needed heat relief and fun for everyone. Plus, for our pet-loving friends....it's pet friendly! As a bonus, the hotel offered several deals for delivery from the local Pizza Hut so we were all in and had dinner delivered. We used our picnic cooler for some sides and drinks so this helped stretch our budget even further!
COST: FREE for us, but just $95/night & your stay includes breakfast! Time: 2.5hrs
5:30 Saturday evening: After everyone get to clean-up, cool-off and fill their bellies it was time to head to Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. Visiting this park in the evening serves a couple purposes: it takes the heat off the day and gives you the chance to see the park on a guided tour with a wildlife ranger in a way that you couldn't otherwise. It's another 30 minute drive south of Oakley and again - it's in the middle of nowhere. So make sure you re-stock your cooler of beverages and snacks! We met with Ranger Sarah Kay who took us off the trails to see more of what the rock formations and wildlife in Little Jerusalem have to offer. It was well worth it. If you forego the tour you can still hike around the rim of the park, but a ranger is the only way to go down into the rock formations without incurring fines. The tours are offered at 9AM and 6PM. Keep your eyes open for wildlife here. We saw several lizards and toads and Ranger Sarah told us she's even seen pronghorn amidst the formations. The story here is similar to the of Monument Rocks. As their website explains:
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park showcases a mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs of eroded Niobrara Chalk, a layer of rock deposited about 85 million years ago. Niobrara Chalk was formed by sediment that settled at the bottom of an inland ocean called the Western Interior Seaway which covered most of central North America roughly 140 to 70 million years ago. The sediment became compressed over time, and the seaway floor was lifted by the same tectonic shifting that formed the
It's an absolutely beautiful place and when all was said and done, even with three boys under the age of 5...we spent almost 2.5 hours here. You could spend more or less time easily.
COST: $5 per vehicle to park Time: 2.5hrs
9:00 Saturday evening: we arrived back in Oakley and enjoyed a gorgeous Kansas sunset. We got the boys cleaned up (we were ALL covered in dirt) in pajamas and settled in for popcorn and a movie. Most importantly we wanted a good night's sleep to be up and at 'em in the morning for more of our fun adventure!
COST: FREE! Time: not long enough! Ha!
8:00 Sunday morning: Due to our long, tiring and fun day before the boys slept in!!! We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel and let the boys enjoy another swim. I have to say - the pool at the Sleep Inn in Oakley is one of the nicer pools we have enjoyed. It may not be fancy per se, but the temperature of the water was perfect - warm enough to get right in and swim and play - and so was the pool room. As in, I could get in and out for various reasons with the kids and not freeze! It was great! Even our youngest, Shepherd, enjoyed it and he is very sensitive to pool temps! After we got dressed, packed up and checked out we started our way back home on I-70 planning to stop at the Sternberg Natural History Museum.
COST: FREE! Time: 2.5hrs
10:45 Sunday morning: DETOUR! We like having goals for our trips, but also appreciate being spontaneous and stopping to see or do something we may not have known about ahead of time. One of my Brevity followers suggested visiting Castle Rock near Quinter, KS and when we saw the signs for it off I-70...we decided we should give it a go. This turned out to be quite an adventure. I had read online that if it's rained anytime recently, the roads out to this site can be treacherous. They're not kidding. It had been several days since it last rained and the ruts in these roads were a challenge for our minivan. There were a couple times I had Dylan get out of the van to check and see if we could get down or up a hill safely before finding out firsthand. We ended up parking at the top of a bluff and hiking down to enjoy a picnic lunch. As my husband
said, he thought we could make it...but if we didn't, it would be really bad. And since you're again in the middle of nowhere...it would be a long wait for a tow. We enjoyed lunch, more beautiful views and climbing for the boys then hit the road for Hays again!
COST: FREE! Time: 1hr
1:30 Sunday afternoon: We arrived at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays. This museum currently has a fun dinosaur exhibit the kids loved. The museum is small enough to keep young ones attention but big enough to have some really neat exhibits, like their hall of animals, the dinosaurs, the Prairie of the Sea and even a kids discovery room! Plus, while it's currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns, there's a fossil excavating site for kids, where kids can dig out their own fossils! You can even see the famous "fish within a fish" fossil here! The dinosaur exhibit had several realistic looking, robotic dinos that had our middle son guessing whether or not they were real! Definitely worth a stop if you have a young dino lover!
COST: $24 for our family of 5 Time: 2hrs
3:30 Sunday afternoon: At this point the Kansas weather had turned on us and it was obviously going to storm....so we drove the rest of the way to Salina for dinner!
COST: FREE! Time: 1.5 hrs
5:00 Sunday evening: We arrived in Salina at Martinelli's, a suggestion from a friend of mine who is originally from Salina. A great local Italian restaurant that's know for its family-style meals. We loaded up on pasta, used the bathroom, packed back into the minivan for the home stretch.
COST: ~$35 for a family style meal for 5 Time: 1 hr
7:30 Sunday evening: we arrived home in time to unpack and let the kids burn off their last energy outside catching lightning bugs!
This road trip is one of my favorites so far because it fits so well into a weekend. The travel time is manageable, and everything was so affordable....especially if you pack a cooler of food and do picnic lunches like we did. In total, including your gas, hotel, 1 dinner and park fees....this trip could cost you as little as $200!! If you've made the trip...make sure to share what you loved about it in a comment below, and if you haven't been - let me know if you have any questions about something I may have left out! When you go....make sure to tag Brevity in your pictures and let the places you go know you learned about the visit from Brevity!! Our goal in traveling is to encourage other families to explore and enjoy adventures together. Spending a weekend in Oakley, KS will create memories for everyone to enjoy for a lifetime!