Tallgrass is the word you will hear around the Flint Hills: it is a habitat that does not exist anywhere else in North America, and the unique culture that has grown up in and around the tall grass is a terrific reason to visit. Stay at one of the hotels in Manhattan, Kansas listed below so that you can discover this habitat, learn about animals and art and even try a tallgrass beer! Check it all out when you visit these attractions:
The Flint Hills are the last remaining tallgrass prairie ecosystem in North America, and you can learn about the hills’ natural and cultural history at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. The museum is extremely kid-friendly, with lots of interactive and hands-on exhibits. Make sure that you start your visit with the fifteen-minute multimedia immersive experience called Tides of Time. Did you know that the prairie cannot exist without fire, because that is how it renews itself? Learn this and other facts about the natural environment surrounding you, and then explore the lives of the Native American tribes that lived here for centuries. Quizzes allow you to test your knowledge as you go along, and adults can try their hands—and voices—at being an auctioneer!
The Kansas State University Insect Zoo will delight your children—and has been known to win adults over as well. Check out the beehive and understand why “busy as a bee” is an understatement. Other exhibits include the inhabitants of a tropical rainforest and a tropical night-house (in other words, a cave), a giant leaf cutter ant colony, and terraria filled with tarantulas, spiders, scorpions and other arthropods. Oh, and do not forget to see the “kitchen” where bugs have definitely taken over! You may choose a guided or self-guided tour, and note that the museum is closed Sundays and Mondays.
After you have seen the insect zoo, stay in the immediate area and take a walk through the Kansas State University Gardens, a display garden where you can breathe in the heady scent of exquisite roses, irises and daylilies and see berries and other fruits and vegetables along with beautiful landscaping. It is a learning laboratory for the university but free for visitors to explore and enjoy. Your children can continue the insect motif in the butterfly garden and everyone will enjoy taking time to cool off near the large water fountain. The Gardens are currently a work in progress, with an eventual goal of 19 acres of “hardscape and tested ornamental plant material.” Do not miss the sculptures of native Kansas bobcats!
You will see more sculptures, along with paintings, prints, photographs, ceramics, glass and more at the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, which focuses on Kansas art and Kansas artists but with a certain unexpected edgy perspective. There are usually lectures, performances, film screenings and more around the temporary exhibitions, so check and see what is going on while you are in town. The museum is free (with donations happily accepted) and if you call ahead you can also reserve a free tour of both the permanent collection and whatever visiting exhibit is currently housed at the museum.
Your children’s appetite for animals may have been whetted at the insect zoo, so be sure to take them over to the Sunset Zoo where you can explore a number of different animal habitats and the creatures that live in them. Take the African Trail to view primates, hyenas, cheetahs and more. Stroll around the Australian Walkabout for wallabies and emu. Kansas itself is represented by the Kansas Plains exhibit with its prairie dogs and bobcat habitat. Head over to the Asian Trail for sloth bear, tigers, leopards, otters and gibbons or the South American Trail for wolves, anteaters, flamingos and peccaries. Peacocks are roaming free around the zoo—be sure not to feed them—and there is a play space and nature exploration center to check out as well.
If by now it feels like time for a little adult relaxation, then it is time to head over to the Tallgrass Brewing Company, a microbrewery specializing in beers packaged in pint-sized cans. Cans? Yes. They block light better than bottles, seal the beer in better, can be taken more places than glass bottles, and are even better for the environment. The beer inside is unique, with names like Ethos, 8-Bit, and Buffalo Sweat, the latter garnering fantastic praise. Why not see what you think of it? Tours and tastings are available every weekend.
The Kansas tallgrass is a wonderful educational environment that will give both you and your family plenty to do and think about; you will no doubt bring home a new appreciation of this unique environment. Stay at one of the Manhattan, Kansas hotels listed below to start your journey of tallgrass discovery!
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