Kansas City may be known for its mouthwatering barbecue, endless fountains, vibrant jazz, Royals baseball, and of course, die-hard Chief’s Kingdom football fans. But did you know that K.C. is a great jumping off point for numerous exciting travel adventures and exhilarating escapes throughout the Midwest? They’re just waiting for you to explore in a single day trip from Kansas City.
Sure, any native Kansas Citian will tell you that life in the KC metropolitan area—which includes cities along both the Kansas and Missouri border—is nothing short of an amazing experience. Places like Power and Light, Westport, 18th and Vine, Zona Rosa, and West Bottoms, provide the region with a well-assorted mix of energetic bars and nightclubs.
You can grab international cuisines at City Market, visit fun children’s centers and museums like Deanna Rose Farmstead, Lego Land, and SEA Life Aquarium, and go shopping at Crown Center, Country Club Plaza, and Legends Outlet. Union Station and the National World War I Museum and Memorial are central locations for festivals, picnics, fireworks shows, symphony concerts, and incredible views of the city. Or you can experience some local history and culture at the American Jazz Museum or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
One could go on and on about all the fun attractions and things to do in Kansas City, but we get it; sometimes, the best travel experiences lie just outside of the city, and the region has plenty of awesome places to see that are worth the drive. Here’s a roundup of our seven favorite day trips from Kansas City.
Let Nature Reinvigorate Your Spirit at Powell Gardens
Located in Kingsville, MO, Kansas City’s Botanical Garden is better known as Powell Gardens. Wait, you’ve visited a botanical garden before, right? Beautiful gardens, astonishing architecture, peaceful nature trails, and so much “feng-shui” oozing out of every direction that you wish their decorator could transform your own home. Sound familiar?
Well, what truly separates Powell Gardens from the rest are its incredible numbers. Housed across a whopping 970-acres are over 6,000 species of plants, eight incredibly crafted and themed garden displays, and three miles of nature trails.
The gardens also feature plenty of festivals and rotating exhibitions each and every year. Our favorite, can’t-miss festival is the family-friendly Festival of Butterflies in July, which brings in a variety of butterfly species from around the world.
Immerse Yourself in the Beauty of the Flint Hills
The Flint Hills might just be the most beautiful natural landscape you’ll find in Kansas. Picture, in every direction, a sprawling, lush green tallgrass prairie spread across gentle rolling hills for as far as your eyes can see. May as well take in some nature on your day trip from Kansas City.
Truthfully, you won’t even have to get out of your car to enjoy the epic views. There are plenty of roads and byways that pass through the Flint Hills, with an occasional scenic overlook platform set up for those looking to stop and admire the remarkable greenery. But if you’re like me, I’d say sit back, roll the windows down, throw on your favorite mellow travel songs, and just… cruise.
The Flint Hills offers various nature trails and family friendly areas for visitors to meander around on foot, too. In fact, we recommend heading down to Flint Hills Trail State Park for cycling and horseback riding, or to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Visitor Center, where you can hike and see wild bison! Pomona State Park is also worth exploring.
And remember, the best time to explore Flint Hills is in the spring, summer, and fall.
Step into the Past at Strataca Underground Salt Museum
You take an elevator 650 ft. below the surface. It takes 90 seconds just to descend, and once the doors open, you’re met with 150 miles of salt mines formed some 275 million years ago.
Wow. Yeah, we know. Visitors to the Strataca Underground Salt Museum have a chance to not only unearth rich information about the history, purpose, and current use of the salt mine via galleries and exhibitions, but they are also invited to take guided train and tram rides throughout the dark chambers to view salt deposits up-close.
We recommend buying the $34 combo pass that includes underground admission, the Dark Ride, Train Ride, and the Salt Safari Shuttle.
Enjoy the Wildlife at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Back in 2014, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium claimed the #1 spot on Trip Advisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for Zoos and Aquariums across the globe. Today, the zoo and aquarium still reign supreme as not only the most highly coveted attractions in their field, but are also the top things to do when visiting Nebraska, bringing in over 2 million visitors annually.
The zoo, spread over 130 acres, is home to a variety of animals hailing from diverse regions across the globe, from elephants, zebras, and lions of the African Grasslands to pandas, snow leopards, and rhinoceros of the Asian Highlands.
Visitors can also view butterflies and wild insects like scorpions and spiders up-close, or step inside the world’s largest indoor desert to see venomous snakes, and inside North America’s largest indoor rainforest to view howler monkeys and crocodiles. You’ll probably forget you’re in Omaha.
Additionally, the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium features penguins, pufferfish, eels, jellyfish, and sharks, to name a few.
Kids and adults alike are sure to have a wonderful time visiting Omaha’s Henry Doory Zoo and Aquarium.
Lay Your Eyes on Breathtaking Scenery at Four State Lookout
Four State Lookout is considered one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Geography by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Located in White Cloud and along the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway, Four State Lookout encompasses a wooden observation deck that gives visitors a spectacular panoramic view of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa, all at once.
There are no rolling hills here—just a sweeping view of flat, lush grasslands and the Missouri River beneath a big beautiful sky.
If you’re the type that enjoys getting out of the city and peering out at beautiful natural landscapes unbothered by crowds, traffic, pollution, and loud noise, then this relatively short drive to Kansas’ Four State Lookout is the perfect day trip for you!
Experience the Closest Thing to Paradise at Lake of the Ozarks
Millions of people flock to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks all year round to experience boating, beaches, water activities, resorts, hiking, fishing, camping, horseback riding, caves, golf, shopping, wineries, breweries, and so much more.
Want to rent jet skis, yachts, wakeboards, or go parasailing? You got it. How about knocking down a delicious cocktail at a swim-up pool bar, or docking your boat right at a bar located on the lake? Temperatures at the caves are about 60 degrees all year round, so why not explore any one of them — we highly recommend touring Jacob’s Cave — in any season?
Look, there’s no doubt you can have a memorable time at Lake of the Ozarks. But, and there is a but, if you truly want to experience the full, grandiose package of fun entertainment, thrills, and endless natural beauty that comes with a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, we’d say clear your schedule for at least a week!
Step Foot Inside the Iconic Gateway Arch of St. Louis
That’s right, St. Louis is but a mere four-hour drive from Kansas City, meaning you could leave by 6am, arrive by 10am, and that’ll give you plenty of time to explore the city’s top attractions.
Let the kids roam at City Museum, for instance, which is a playground and pavilion that has become a staple for top activities to do with children in the city.
If you’re one to enjoy nice walks and serene natural scenery, pay a visit to Forest Park, a 1,326-acre public park home to beautiful walkways, ponds, manicured forestry, an art museum, science center, St. Louis Zoo, and an occasional festival or two throughout the year.
Furthermore, you can’t leave without a visit to St. Louis’ most iconic landmark, Gateway Arch National Park. We’re pretty sure you’ve seen pictures of the Gateway Arch in magazines and on TV at least a few times in your life. Well, did you know that you can take a tram ride to the top of it? Plus, surrounding the arch is a gorgeous park, riverboat cruises, helicopter rides, and plenty of lively places to grab a drink and/or a bite to eat.