Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Tallgrass Preserve entry sign
- All photos by Jim Mason
|Chase county, Kansas is the setting of William Least Heat Moon's best
selling book Prairy Erth. The county seat is Cottonwood Falls, site of a
beautiful French Renaissance style courthouse built in 1873. A mile north is the rodeo
town of Strong City. Two miles north of Strong City on K-177 is the 10,894-acre
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
First established in the late 1870's as the Spring Hill Ranch by a Texas
cattle baron named Stephen Jones, it was known more recently
as the Z Bar Ranch.
It was purchased by the National Park Trust in 1994.
180 acres were set aside by Congress in 1996 as the Tallgrass Prairie National
Preserve. The TPNP is managed by the National Park Service to preserve,
interpret the ranch home site and the surrounding tallgrass prairie rangeland. The
property was designated as a National Historic Landmark
On February 17, 2005 the Kansas Park Trust purchased that part of the property
owned by the National Park Trust and then conveyed it to The Nature Conservancy
in April of 2005.
On a bluff overlooking Fox Creek Valley is the stately Second Empire style ranch house,
built in 1881 of native stone - with a huge stone barn and stone outbuildings.
Interpretive tours of the house are available as
staffing permits. The house and barn are otherwise open for
self-guided tours during regular hours, 9 - 4:30.
|The massive stone barn has ground-level entrances on each of its three
stories! Within are many historic artifacts and
displays telling the early days of the ranch.
A short orientation video
can be viewed here as well.
|A delightful nature trail, starting in front of the ranch house, meanders
north through creekside woodland then upward via tallgrass prairie to a ridgetop vista of
the ranch. Begin your hike by strolling through this old gate in the fieldstone
fence. Pick up a brochure at the driveway kiosk.
If you want to see the interior of the property, park staff
conduct 7-mile long bus tours through the vast grasslands of the ranch three
times daily from the last Saturday in April through the last Sunday in October.
The tour lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes and are free. The tour stops on the high point of the ranch, where one can
see the Flint Hills stretching to the horizon in all directions like massive waves at sea.
The wind whispering through the bluestem completes the feeling of being on an
"ocean of grass", as it was often described by pioneers.
Managed fires sustain this tallgrass prairie of switchgrass, Indian grass,
little bluestem and big bluestem which provides sustenance for the cattle that still roam
the range from late spring through mid-summer. Assorted hues of prairie wildflowers appear
and disappear throughout the growing season, in the ever-changing prairie panorama.
Big bluestem and Indian grass may reach heights of 8 feet or more in September on
the lower slopes. Greater prairie chicken, upland sandpiper, eastern meadowlark,
dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, common poorwill, common nighthawk, red-tailed hawk,
northern harrier and American kestrel are just a few of the avian representatives of the
prairie who will greet you here.
The Flint Hills in June on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
A new visitor center is presently under construction.
Restrooms are available.
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The Southwind Nature Trail
(1.75 mile loop) and
Bottomland Trail (1/2 to 3/4-mile
loop) are right by the visitor center. Those
and the preserve's 41 miles of backcountry hiking trails (ranging
from 3.8 to 13 miles in length) are open 24 hours a
day, year-round. Camping is not allowed.
You can download a trail map from
their website. Here are brief descriptions of three of the routes:
Scenic Overlook Trail
(6.4 miles round-trip): This trail follows the bus tour route (improved ranch
road) to the scenic overlook area. Along the trail, visitors will see limestone
outcroppings, one of 26 human-made ponds on the preserve, remnants of stone
fences, and native prairie wildlife.
Pasture Loop (3.8 mile loop): This trail winds along existing ranch
roads and a mowed path through upland prairie. From May through July, cattle
graze on the hillsides and valleys.
Red House Trail (6
mile loop): This hike passes through upland prairie and natural drainage areas.
Several cultural features of the historic ranching era can be viewed along with
wetland prairie flowers and a scenic grove of cottonwood trees.
Click the icon to find a birding list for Chase County.
Click the icon to locate nearby Geocaches
For more Wildlife Watching sites in the Flint
Hills, click here
Emporia, travel U.S. 50 sixteen miles west to Strong City. Cottonwood Falls is one mile
south on K-177 and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is two miles north (on the west
side of K-177).
Open daily 9 to 4:30. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's
For a Google Map for this site,
The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service
cooperatively manage the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Contact the Preserve
at (620) 273-8494 if
you have specific questions about use or management of this site.
Click here to visit the
web site of the Kansas Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Click here to visit the National Park
Service web site for the Tallgrass Preserve.
Funded by the
Chickadee Checkoff Program
Click here for a brochure!
Kansas web site
the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks
Re-publication of site content in any form other than for personal use
requires written permission. If you are a Kansas resident, please
assist with this and other wildlife viewing and conservation programs
by contributing to the Chickadee Checkoff on your state tax form.
Questions or comments about Natural Kansas may be directed to
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism