The Kansas Flint Hills
Flint Hills Geology  Flint Hills Wildlife  Flint Hills Wildflowers  Flint Hills Destinations

Location of the Flint Hills in Kansas
The Flint Hills is an area of east-central Kansas with a unique character.  It is a high, wide, gently rolling landscape blanketed with the largest continuous area of tallgrass prairie left in the world.  This page of the Natural Kansas website highlights the best sites for wildlife watching in the Flint Hills.

FLINT HILLS WILDLIFE

The animals inhabiting the tallgrass prairie are as unique as their habitat. 

Dickcissel
Dickcissel
photo by Bob Gress

During summer, watch for dickcissels singing from fence wires and tall weeds.  They have a bright yellow breast with a small black bib.  These sparrow-size birds winter in South America.
The upland sandpiper is a distinctive member of the Flint Hills fauna.  Their ethereal bubbling call is often heard before the bird is seen.  They are a migrant, present only during the warm months.

Upland Sandpiper
Upland Sandpiper
photo by Dave Rintoul

Bison
Bison at Maxwell Refuge
photo by Jim Mason

The bison that formerly inhabited this landscape no longer roam free, but you may visit them at Maxwell Refuge.  There, in fact, you may take a tram ride out into the middle of the herd!
Regal Fritillary butterflies are only found in the tallgrass prairie, and may be observed in June-July nectaring at flowers and chasing each other in nuptial flights or territorial disputes.  Dozens of other butterfly species are found here also.

Regal Fritillaries
Regal Fritillaries on Butterfly Milkweed
photo by Pete Janzen

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Mike Blair of Kansas Wildlife and Parks celebrates
the beauty of the Flint Hills in this video.
For more videos from this series, see the KDWP website.
 

FLINT HILLS WILDFLOWERS

   The prairie is more than grass.  Over 800 different kinds of wildflowers bloom in Kansas!  The flower show in the tallgrass prairie begins in March and proceeds in an ever-changing pageant of color and form through October.  A ramble through the fields at any of the wildlife watching sites listed here will produce delights for the careful observer, but many beautiful blooms may be seen along the roadside too.

   There are two peak times for wildflower variety - mid-May through June and August through mid-September.  As with any other plants, the weather pattern determines the sequence and vigor of blooms for any given species.  Timely rains and an abundance of sunshine in this month and cool weather and drought in that month will make a big difference in what can be seen during those times.  Every year is different!  The wildflowers shown below are just a few of the beauties awaiting you in the Flint Hills.
Rose Verbena In spring, watch the rocky outcrops and cutbanks for ROSE VERBENA.  It grows in low clumps and has a very pleasant fragrance.  Its clusters of light purple flowers are a favorite nectar source for butterflies.
In May-June the extravagant blossoms of Missouri Evening Primrose light up the roadsides.  Often growing out of cracks in exposed rock formations, its petals extend more than 3 inches in width. 

The flowers open overnight and fade the following day.  The faded blooms are an attractive salmon orange.

Missouri Evening Primrose
Upright Prairie Coneflower UPRIGHT CONEFLOWER is an early summer bloomer in the tallgrass prairie.  A member of the sunflower family, it is the prairie cousin of Black-eyed Susans.
PURPLE PRAIRIE CLOVER decorates the fields with its unusual violet flower clusters in summer. Purple Prairie Clover

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  FLINT HILLS GEOLOGY

      Extending nearly 200 miles from near the Nebraska border on the north into Oklahoma on the south, the Flint Hills reach their greatest width just south of the Kansas River, about 80 miles.  They owe their existence to the nodules of chert (flint) laid down with the limestones and shales in the shallow seas which covered this part of North America during the early Permian Period over 275 million years ago

     Chert is a very hard mineral and was prized by the Native American tribes as an ideal material for making arrowheads, spear points and cutting tools.  The presence of this hard, weather-resistant mineral in the underlying rock formations slowed the process of erosion, leaving this area higher than the surrounding countryside.  It also prevented this ground from being broken out for agriculture, unlike the tallgrass prairies of Iowa and other locations further east. As a result, the Flint Hills region remains as the largest unplowed remnant of tallgrass prairie in the world.

To learn more about the geology of the Flint Hills,
visit the GeoKansas website, listed in the Links below.

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FLINT HILLS DESTINATIONS

Northern Flint Hills Wildlife Watching Locations

Ottawa State Fishing Lake Lakewood Park Milford Lake Kansas Landscape Arboretum Konza Prairie Pillsbury Crossing Wildlife Area Oregon Trail Nature Park Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake #2 Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake #1 Tuttle Creek Lake Native Stone Scenic Byway Click on a site marker to learn more about it!

bulletKansas Landscape Arboretum (north of Junction City)
bulletKonza Prairie (south of Manhattan)
bulletLakewood Park (Salina)
bullet Milford Lake (north of Junction City)
bulletNative Stone Scenic Byway (southeast of Manhattan)
bulletOregon Trail Nature Park (between Manhattan and Topeka)
bulletOttawa State Fishing Lake (north of Salina)
bulletPillsbury Crossing (southeast of Manhattan)
bulletPottawatomie State Fishing Lake #1 (northeast of Manhattan)
bulletPottawatomie State Fishing Lake #2 (east of Manhattan)
bulletTuttle Creek Lake (north of Manhattan)

Central Flint Hills Wildlife Watching Locations

Herington City Lakes Council Grove Lake Turnpike Cattle Pens Flint Hills Wildlife Drive Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Chase State Fishing Lake Maxwell Refuge & McPherson State Fishing Lake Marion Reservoir Flint Hills Scenic Byway Click on a site marker to learn more about it!

bulletChase State Fishing Lake (west of Cottonwood Falls)
bulletCouncil Grove Lake (northwest of Council Grove)
bulletHerington City Lakes (southwest of Herington)
bulletFlint Hills Scenic Byway (47 miles long, between Cassoday & Council Grove)
bulletFlint Hills Wildlife Drive (58 miles long, east of Cassoday)
bulletMarion Reservoir (northwest of Marion)
bulletMaxwell Refuge and McPherson Lake (northeast of McPherson)
bulletTallgrass Prairie National Preserve (northwest of Cottonwood Falls)
bulletTurnpike Cattle Pens (between Emporia and Cassoday)

Southern Flint Hills Wildlife Watching Locations

Chisholm Creek Park & Great Plains Nature Center El Dorado Lake Butler State Fishing Lake Winfield City Lake Cowley State Fishing Lake Slate Creek Wetland Chaplin Nature Center Click on a site marker to learn more about it!

bulletButler State Fishing Lake (southeast of Augusta)
bulletChaplin Nature Center (west of Arkansas City)
bulletChisholm Creek Park and Great Plains Nature Center (Wichita)
bulletCowley State Fishing Lake (east of Arkansas City)
bulletEl Dorado Lake (northeast of El Dorado)
bulletSlate Creek Wetland (west of Winfield)
bulletWinfield City Lake (northeast of Winfield)

Links to other resources on the Flint Hills:

bulletThe GeoKansas website is a great resource for learning about the geology of the Flint Hills and all the other regions of Kansas.
bulletClick here to see a list of reference books for your travels through the Flint Hills.
bulletThe Flint Hills National Scenic Byway follows Kansas Highway 177 through the heart of the Flint Hills.
bulletThe Flint Hills Wildlife Drive will give you an excellent look at the Flint Hills from well-maintained gravel county roads.
bulletThe Flint Hills Tourism Coalition website lists and describes the range of attractions to be found in the Flint Hills - cultural and historic as well as natural - and has a comprehensive lodging list.
bulletThe human and natural history of the Flint Hills has been the subject of several books.
Find a list of them here.
 
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Questions or comments about Natural Kansas may be directed to Jim Mason