Short Road Trips from Kansas City
There are so many things to love about Kansas City — flowing fountains, the world’s best barbeque, and our Kansas City Chiefs! Beyond that, one of the many reasons I’ve enjoyed making this Heartland city my home for the past 20 years is its location. Whether you drive or fly, it’s easy to head north, south, east, or west when you want a change of scenery from this centrally-located city.
Whether it’s a solo adventure, weekend getaway for two, or family vacation — if you’re searching for fun within a five-hour drive of Kansas City, these are some of my favorite destinations to eat, play, and stay in the Midwest.
Sage Advice: Although each of these locations is a great stand-alone destination, each section is listed in the order I recommend if you want to experience them all.
What's in This Guide
Short Road Trip Destinations North of Kansas City
When you travel about 215 miles north to the Iowa town of Pella, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a quaint Dutch town without leaving the Midwest.
What to Do — Explore the historic downtown that includes the tallest working grain windmill in the US, admire the region’s natural beauty by hiking or biking the Volksweg Trail, and then wind your way up the tallest observation tower in the Midwest for amazing views.
Where to Eat — Dutch Fix (for classic Dutch street foods) and Ulrich’s Meat Market (for Pella bologna and locally-made Gouda cheese), Be sure to try Dutch letters and other delicious pastries at Jaarsma Bakery or Vander Ploeg Bakery. Don’t know the difference between bitterballen and oliebollen? Read this before visiting Pella!
Des Moines, Iowa
Located about three hours north of Kansas City, Iowa’s capital city is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the Midwest.
What to Do — Tour the gold-domed capitol building, enjoy an interactive scavenger hunt, stroll through the botanical garden, wander through Pappajohn Sculpture Park, then hike or bike the Des Moines River Trail. If you plan to road trip to Des Moines in August, don’t miss the Iowa State Fair where you can see the “butter cow,” a bovine sculpture made from butter, and eat a wide range of foods (many deep-fried) on a stick.
Related Article: My Favorite (Mostly Healthy) Road Trip Snacks
Located in central Iowa, Ames is about 45 minutes north of Des Moines. A college town of about 66,000 residents, it’s 230 miles north of Kansas City.
What to Do — Explore the Iowa State University campus, stroll through the Reiman Gardens, hike the scenic trails of Ledges State Park, cool down at the Furman Aquatic Center, and then sip some suds at the Alluvial Brewing Company.
The biggest city in the Cornhusker State, Omaha is about three hours north of Kansas City.
What to Do — Shop the Old Market, walk across the river to Iowa on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, and visit the world-renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. And beginning July 1st, visitors can enjoy the first phase of a $325 million park project along The RiverFront connecting Downtown Omaha to the Missouri River. The lush green mall includes a performance pavilion, dog park, custom playground, sculpture garden, and interactive water features.
Sage Advice: Fill your Omaha bucket list to the rim with 100 Things to Do in Omaha Before You Die.
Where to Eat — Lisa’s Radial Cafe (for breakfast), Block 16 (for farm-to-table street food), Spezia (for lunch or dinner), and Blue Sushi Sake Grill (go for their happy hour). Be sure to save room for ice cream at Ted & Wally’s and a drink at Catalyst, Omaha’s largest outdoor cocktail bar.
Sage Advice: You’ll never run out of delicious places to eat in Omaha with these unique eats and eateries.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest “city” in Nebraska each home football game? Only the actual cities of Omaha and Lincoln will have a larger concentration of people those Saturdays in the fall!
Short Road Trip Destinations East of Kansas City
St. Louis, Missouri
About four hours east of Kansas City, St. Louis is second only to the nation’s capital when it comes to free attractions. So as gas prices soar, you can stretch your vacation budget to the max by exploring St. Louis.
What to Do — Ascend the Gateway to the West’s iconic stainless steel arch for the best view in town. Then surround yourself with beautiful blooms at the nation’s oldest continuously operated botanical garden, meet a Clydesdale at Grant’s Farm, and take an interactive scavenger hunt through Forest Park. You will also want to sample beer at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and check out these unique things to do in St. Louis. And if you visit the Gateway City during baseball season, enjoy a game at Busch Stadium. (It’s okay if you wear a Royals t-shirt!)
Sage Advice: Learn about the people, places, and history between St. Louis and the next step, Springfield, IL, with this self-guided driving tour.
Where to Eat — Park Avenue Coffee (breakfast and a slice of gooey butter cake), Nathaniel Reid Bakery (for one of the best breakfast sandwiches in America), Anthonino’s Taverna and Charlie Gitto’s (for authentic Italian cuisine), Imo’s (for St. Louis style pizza), and Salt + Smoke (for St. Louis style barbeque). Be sure to save room for dessert: Clementine’s (for a scoop of “naughty” or “nice” ice cream, Ted Drewes (for an original custard concrete), and Poptimism (for unique popsicles at City Foundry, St. Louis’s new food hall).
Where to Stay — Drury Plaza Hotel (near the Gateway Arch), Hilton St. Louis (near the ballpark), and Le Meridien St. Louis Clayton (for a conveniently-located suburban accommodation). You’re also sure to enjoy one of these top-rated vacation rentals in St. Louis.
While there are 30 cities named Springfield in the United States, there’s only one in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois’s capital city is about five hours east of Kansas City.
What to Do — Follow in the footsteps of Honest Abe by visiting his former home, presidential library, and final resting place. Then wind your way through a labyrinth of impressive architecture at Frank Lloyd Wright’s “blank check” projects known as the Dana-Thomas House and enjoy an interactive scavenger hunt around town.
Where to Stay — SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springfield Southwest (for traditional accommodations), Inn at 835 (bed and breakfast/boutique hotel), or these top-rated vacation rentals in Springfield.
Short Road Trip Destinations South of Kansas City
Although it’s known as the headquarters of the world’s biggest corporation, Bentonville is full of small town charm just three hours south of Kansas City.
What to Do — Admire the art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, then wind your way along a treed path to the Bachman-Wilson House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Browse the shops in the 16-block historic Third Street District, celebrate the business genius of Sam Walton at the Walmart Museum, go for a long ride in the Mountain Biking Capital of the World, and visit a magnificent Italianate estate.
Where to Eat — Onyx Coffee Lab (for coffee and a quick breakfast), The Hive (for a boozy fried chicken and bubbles brunch), Eleven (for a bite at Crystal Bridges), and The Preacher’s Son (for dinner).
Fun Fact: In 2022, three Bentonville chefs were James Beard Award Semifinalists. Pretty impressive for a town of around 60,000 people!
Related Article: 8 Reasons 21c Bentonville is the Best Hotel in Bentonville, AR
Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond played a big role in making this small Oklahoma town about four hours south of Kansas City a travel destination.
What to Do — Spend a delicious day in Pioneer Woman country by touring The Lodge and eating and shopping at The Merc. Then learn more about the Osage people — including Ben Johnson, an Academy Award-winning actor, world-champion rodeo cowboy, and legendary stunt double — walk across the swinging bridge, and enjoy the beauty of one of the few remaining tallgrass prairies in the world.
About four hours south of Kansas City, Tulsa is Oklahoma’s second largest city.
What to Do — Enjoy the great outdoors at the Gathering Space, take a selfie with the Golden Driller, admire the art inside a sprawling 72-room Italian Renaissance villa, stand at the center of the universe, watch butterflies float through the Tulsa Botanic Garden, and get your kicks on Route 66.
Where to Eat — Antoinette Baking Co (for coffee and breakfast), Wanda J’s (for soul food in the historic Greenwood District), The Tavern (for a fresh take on pub classics), and Mother Road Market (for a smorgasbord of options and a round of Route 66-themed miniature golf at Tulsa’s food hall).
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Sooner State’s largest city is about five hours southwest of Kansas City.
What do Do — Explore the urban riverwalk lined with shops, restaurants, and lots of outdoor space. Pay a somber visit to the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum, tour the capitol grounds, immerse yourself in Western culture, explore Oklahoma with an interactive scavenger hunt, and watch the sunset behind the lighthouse at Hefner Lake.
Where to Eat — Kitchen No. 324 (breakfast or brunch), Nic’s Place (breakfast or lunch), Metro Wine Bar and Bistro (lunch or dinner), and Redrock Canyon Grill (for dinner, dessert, or drinks as the sun sets at Hefner Lake).
Located about 200 miles southwest of Kansas City, the birthplace of Pizza Hut and Air Capital of the World is the biggest city in the Sunflower State.
What to Do — See historic planes, tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, take a long stroll at the Great Plains Nature Center, explore the Wichita botanical gardens, monkey around at the Sedgwick County Zoo, visit the original Pizza Hut, and watch the fire pits around the Keeper of the Plains light up as the sun goes down.
Short Road Trip Destinations West of Kansas City
From amazing antiques to all things Eisenhower, Abilene is the original cow town of the Wild West. This great weekend getaway is about three hours west of Kansas City and was recently crowned the Best Small Town to Visit in the US by TravelAwaits.
Located in the Smoky Hills region, Salina is less than three hours from Kansas City.
What to Do — Visit the Rolling Hills Zoo, cool off at the Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park, and explore the outdoor public art exhibit that features new sculptures each spring. Travel 30 minutes south of town to the Coronado Heights Castle to enjoy a picnic with impressive views.
About five hours directly west of Kansas City along I-70, Hays is home to Fort Hays State University and a historic site that dates back to the Sunflower State’s frontier days.
Where to Eat — Breathe Coffee House (for coffee), The Paisley Pear (for lunch, happy hour, or dinner), and Gella’s Diner (for craft beer, lunch, or dinner). Be sure to try a bierock, a regional specialty with seasoned beef, cabbage, and sauerkraut baked inside of a bread dough square.
Ready to Go?
Use These Helpful Links to Book Your Trip!
- Find low fares with airfarewatchdog and Skyscanner
- Book your plane ticket with Expedia or Kayak
- Or take the scenic route on an epic road trip in a rental car or an RV from Outdoorsy
- From hotels to private homes, find the perfect accommodation with Hotels.com or Vrbo
- Travel in style with a suitcase, carry-on, backpack, or handbag from eBags
- Save on tickets to attractions, sightseeing tours, and more with CityPASS, Tiqets, and Viator
- Don’t leave home without travel insurance from AXA
- Discover the sights, history, and culture of your destination with an interactive scavenger hunt
- Need something else to plan your perfect trip? Visit my travel resources page for more trusted partners. Happy wandering!