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A sea of grass waits for ‘Tall in the Fall’ in the Flint Hills of Kansas
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting activities logical for Americans as they venture out in a time of coronavirus.)

tallgrass prairie flint hills kansas
Tallgrass Prairie; image by Tom Adkinson.

STRONG CITY, Kansas – If you’re an American suburbanite who mows a one-acre yard, try to imagine your yard 170 million times bigger. That’s how much tallgrass prairie used to cover the middle of the nation – from Indiana to Kansas and from Texas to Canada. Only a tiny percentage of that vast expanse of grass exists today, and the best example is a 10,894-acre patch called the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas. The National Park Service protects the preserve, and staff and visitors are looking ahead to “Tall in the Fall,” the time in September and October when the deep-rooted grasses reach their maximum growth for the year.

tallgrass prairie national preserve
Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve; image by Tom Adkinson.

Bison once were abundant here, Native Americans knew how to live in harmony with this ecosystem and some of the famous Texas cattle drives of the 1800s used to pause in the Flint Hills to allow their cattle to fatten up on prairie grass before their final miles to railheads and then onward to dinner tables. The preserve, about 80 miles northeast of Wichita, offers a look into that past with three front country nature trails, backcountry hiking trails, an orientation film at a visitor center that blends into the land and a 12-stop cellphone tour that tells the history of the prairie, a one-room schoolhouse and the 1881 Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch.

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(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published August 21, 2020

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