Kansas City sits on the border between Missouri and Kansas, and has flown under the radar for a while. It is one of the most underrated cities in America. It’s one of those spots that will take you by surprise, offering a lot of local culture, a fascinating art scene, and world-class experiences for a fraction of the price you would pay in other US cities.
Just like any city, it’s to break away from the hustle and bustle and explore a bit of the surrounding areas. Taking a day trip from Kansas City is a great way to experience ranch lands and lesser-known Midwestern regions.
Check out our favorite day trips for an epic time!
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Getting Around Kansas City, and Beyond
Staying in Kansas City is not something the average US visitor does. With a vast history and a thriving Jazz music scene, its worth a visit.
The city has a relatively small city center, making it easy to walk around once you’re in the heart of downtown. Exploring neighborhoods on foot is pretty common. Crossroads Arts District, Power & Light District, Garment District, and River Market are all pedestrian friendly. That being said, the city is a car-dominated location.
Renting a car is the most popular way to get around and take some Kansas City day trips. All the usual car rental companies can be found, with the largest branches located at the Kansas City International Airport and near the Amtrak Union Station. Parking is typically free and easy to find, which is almost unheard of in other cities.
Kansas City also has an extensive public transportation network. The local buses are called RideKC and are reliable, on time, and operate extensive routes around downtown. A one-way fare will cost you about $1.50 and can be purchased using cash on the bus. Alternatively, you could buy a $3-day pass for unlimited rides or purchase a MetroCard that you can top up as you go.
One of the best ways to get around downtown and the city center is on the Kansas City Streetcar. It is totally free to use and runs from the Crown Center to the River Market District. It makes 16 stops over the two miles, operating from 6am to 12am, with limited hours on weekends.
Half-day Trips in Kansas City
Here are some of my favorite half-day trips to take from Kansas City. From horse riding adventures on local ranches, to visiting small historical towns and everything in between, there’s something for everyone.
Are you ready to get to know this hidden gem a bit better?
Holden is a small town about fifty miles from Kansas City, and is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing day trip away from the city. There are no regular bus routes from Kansas City to Holden, so your best bet would be to rent a car and make the hour journey on your own steam.
The old town, that was built in 1857 to house Pacific Railroad builders, has a super small-town vibe and charming atmosphere. It’s one of those places where all the locals know each other personally.
To get your trip started, head over to the main street where you’ll find a bunch of cozy eateries, local products, and boutique shops.
If you’re looking for some fresh air and sunshine, Holden City Park and Holden Downtown Park are great places to go for a low-key picnic with your family. Feel free to pick up some fresh produce in town before settling at the park for a slow afternoon.
There’s also a 380-acre lake in Holden, which really is a beautiful spot to explore on a sunny day. You’ll find anglers and picnicking families dotted around the lake on weekends.
Suggested trips: Alpaca Picnic
LaCygne is a small city in Linn County, about an hour south of Kansas City. Its odd name comes from the river that runs through the town, known as the Marais des Cygnes River. Although it’s classified as a city, LaCygne is really a small town with one main street. Only about 1000 people live there!
Why is it worth a half-day trip, you ask? Well, LaCygne lies in one of the most beautiful valleys in the area, making it the perfect spot for hiking, walking, and camping. Not only is the city built on the banks of a river, but it’s also home to a lake, which is a popular place to fish, do outdoor exercise, picnic, and just get a bit of fresh air.
I would highly recommend taking a stroll through the historic downtown. The buildings on the main street were built in the early 1800s and look like a classic western film set – ideal for a photo opportunity! The LaCygne Historical Society is open on weekend afternoons, and the tour guides will be happy to tell you a bit more about the history of their hometown.
Suggested trips: Isinglass Estate Wine and Ride
Lawrence is a small city just east of Kansas City that has been labeled as one of the most vibrant centers for shopping, dining, and entertainment in the Midwest. If you drive yourself, it will only take you about 45 minutes.
But it wasn’t always a hotspot for food and culture. In fact, this town was the location of a heartbreaking Civil War event. You can learn more about this battle through the carefully curated exhibits at the Watkins Museum of History and the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum.
Massachusetts Street (locally known as ‘Mass’), has even been called one of the most beautiful main streets in the USA. Take a stroll down this wide main street which is lined with lush trees and period buildings to get a real taste of the city. Of course, you’ll be able to pick and choose from some of the city’s best eateries along this road.
Suggested trips: Lawrence Scavenger Hunt
Just a quick hour’s drive from Kansas City, you’ll find the Kansas State Capital of Topeka. Although this city is much smaller than Kansas City, it’s jam-packed with interesting things to see and do.
I think Topeka is a great destination for a weekend away from the city, but it’s also easily done in a day trip. It is even connected with Kansas City via railway.
One of the most popular things to do is to tour the State Capitol, which is a historic collection of buildings with a wealth of history. If art and culture are more your speed, the Mulvane Art Museum is definitely worth a visit. It is home to some incredible local and international artworks. The Children’s Discovery Center is a crowd favorite that has interactive exhibits perfect for young kids.
Once you’ve got a good dose of culture and history, head to the banks of Lake Shawnee for some fresh air. There are loads of picnic spots and walking trails open to the public. In fact, over a million people visit this gorgeous lake each year to play golf, ball games, fish, and camp.
Suggested trips: Scavenger Hunt Experience in Topeka
Full-Day Trips in Kansas City
There are a ton of things to do in Kansas City, but it’s always fun to travel outside and see more of what the region has to offer. These full day trips in Kansas City are perfect for getting out and exploring.
The Missouri River, MO
The Missouri River runs directly through Kansas City. As a matter of fact, it’s the longest river in the States, running all the way from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River 2341 miles away. Aside from having a super fascinating archeological history and supporting generations of indigenous populations, the river is one of the most beautiful places to visit for a day trip in Kansas City.
Of course, you could simply visit the section of the river that runs through the city. But your best bet would be to venture out to a less populated area and explore the more rural parts of the Missouri River.
Some of the most popular riverside activities include bird watching, boating, camping, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking.
Suggested trips: Katy Trail River Route Adventure
Lake Jacomo, MO
Lake Jacomo is a great place to spend a day if you don’t feel like heading too far out of the city. It’s only a 25-minute drive from downtown. The beautiful lake spans 970 acres, and sits in the heart of Fleming Park.
For boat lovers and sailors, this is the place to be in Missouri! There is a limit on the amount of horsepower you can use on a boat, which makes Lake Jacomo one of the more peaceful lakes to visit.
If you’re more interested in history than boating, visit the Missouri Town 1855 for a ‘step back in time’ experience. This whole town is basically a living museum, with over 25 different buildings housing historical tools and furniture set exactly how it used to be in the mid-1800s.
Base yourself around Lake Jacomo for a more quiet Kansas City experience, which is only a short drive from the city center. Why not rent this artsy home for the best of both worlds.
How about spending a day exploring one of Kansas’s most historic cities? Ottawa is just a short hours drive away, and is a top spot for a day trip from Kansas City. Founded in the 1800s, it has a rich past rooted in Civil War and Native American history.
The best way to explore the city is on foot, admiring the exquisite 19th and 20th-century architecture along the main street of the town. Not only is downtown the perfect setting for a picturesque stroll, but it’s where you’ll find some great boutique shops and restaurants.
If you prefer a bit more structure, there are some great museums that can kick start your adventures. I recommend starting at the Old Depot Museum which visually recreates moments in history from over a century ago. You’ll be able to see what an old school, dentist’s office, and general store looked like when the city was first founded.
Right in the heart of Missouri’s Cedar County, Stockton is a small city that is home to the Stockton State Park. The area is only a two hour drive south, a super easy getaway.
Stockton Lake, located in the park, is a bunch of bodies of water that make up a vast lake. It’s a local favorite for sailing enthusiasts and kayakers, and is also known for being one of the most beautiful areas for hiking and rock climbing in the area.
There’s a marina and a beach, which are the perfect spots to relax and grab a local meal on your day trip from Kansas City.
Suggested trips: Tribal Medicine Bag Workshop
Powell Gardens, MO
Powell Gardens are located just forty five minutes east of Kansas City. I love this spot – you’ve gotta spend a full day exploring the gardens and lounging around in the sun.
The gardens are beautifully designed with eight themed display gardens, different exhibitions, and attractive architecture. If you want to get your steps in, there’s a three-mile nature trail that runs through the 175 acres worth of garden.
After your walk you can dig into some delicious local food at one of the park restaurants, which are prepared using homegrown ingredients from the garden.
The gardens are typically open from 9am to 5pm, and charge an admission fee of $10 for one adult and $4 for kids.
You could choose to stay near the gardens in this charming cottage, which is only a short drive back into the city center.
Saint Joseph, MO
St. Joseph is a city with a unique history located just 50 miles north of Kansas City. It’s most well known for being the home of train and bank robber, outlaw, and infamous guerilla Jesse James.
It’s a relatively large city that sees over 70 passenger trains run through it daily on its eleven railroads. No wonder Jesse James got into the train robbing industry!
The town was established in the early 18th century as a popular trading post. But it wasn’t until the California gold rush that St. Joseph grew to be what it is today.
Naturally, the city is packed with historical buildings and unique sites. The Patee House Museum is a beautiful old building that was made famous for being the headquarters for the infamous Pony Express. There are tons of old cars, trains, carousels, and other western artifacts to see.
If you want to see some of the beautiful period homes, head to the Museum Hill Historic District. You could even spend a night here, and stay in a historic vineyard mansion carriage house.
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Final Thoughts on Day Trips from Kansas City
Kansas City can keep you busy for a good week. But, it’s getting out of the city and having some day trips from Kansas City that will be the best bits of your stay.
My favorite trip from this list would have to be a day in Powell Gardens. It’s not too far from the city and is a beautiful spot for both a relaxing, or an adventurous trip. Hopefully, one of the day trips above has caught your eye, and you’ll be enjoying a Midwestern adventure around Kansas City soon!
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