Experiencing the Great Outdoors in Wichita
If you’re anything like me, you come to life during the summer. Long evenings, green grass, barbecues, beers, beautiful lakes and a warm breeze are all you need to feel refreshed and stress-free, no matter what else may be going on in your world. Even if you’re a strict fan of the Seattle-esque doom and gloom weather with rain and clouds, there are several outdoor places in Wichita that can help you zen out and feel your best during the heat.
Great Plains Nature Center
The Great Plains Nature Center is a hidden gem right in the middle of town near K96 and Woodlawn. Although they do have an indoor museum and gift shop if you need to cool off, the outdoors is where you really want to be. This nature center is designed to to educate you about the flora & fauna of the Great Plains and reconnect you with nature—all at no cost. The hiking trail is a two-mile long paved trail, right inside the peaceful Chisholm Creek Park. Bring a camera and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like geese, turkey, deer, birds, turtles and fish as you’re walking through their home.
In addition to wildlife and walking the trails, you can feed the animals by purchasing an ice cream cone full of feed for 25 cents. Many people feed the turtles that swim up to the dock, then break the ice cream cone into small pieces to feed them, as well. If you want to have an outdoor picnic or grill your own food, there are areas for that too.
You can even bring the kids for a relaxing day at GPNC—in fact, bring the whole school to make it a field trip! Ok, it may not be relaxing for you, but it will be fun and informative. They prefer that the tour guide talk about topics that are inline with the kids’ current school work, so call ahead to check on your options. Other than field trips, they also host family programs, summer teacher workshops, scout programs and more.
Nestled in the heart of Wichita is one of the most beautiful places around us—and it’s called Botanica. Located at 701 Amidon since the late 80’s, Botanica’s goal was always to enlighten people through educational, artistic and cultural experiences, and assist in the promotion of community development.
There are nearly 30 gardens you can walk through at Botanica, all with different themes. No matter which garden you choose to visit, you can expect to be immersed with plants, culture and beauty. Open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended hours on Tuesday and Thursday from April until September, you have plenty of time to get lost in this natural world.
Botanica also hosts several events such as Daily Drop-In activities, Family Game Night and Tuesdays on the Terrace during the summertime. Tuesdays on the Terrace is a nice event to attend after getting off work, where you can enjoy food, drinks, live music and nature. Check it out during the months of June through September.
Pawnee Prairie Park
Pawnee Prairie Park, located in west Wichita, is a 625-acre park full of life. The trails, both paved and unpaved, are primarily used for walking leashed dogs, riding horses and walking and observing wildlife such as deer, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and more.
Unfortunately, bicyclists aren’t allowed at Pawnee Prairie Park due to safety issues with the horses and their riders, but it’s still a great park in Wichita to visit if you aren’t a cyclist.
Sedgwick County Zoo
While most Wichitans have already visited the Sedgwick County Zoo, I’ll still include it in this list because it provides such a fun adventure for the whole family. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), you can be assured that you’re supporting a facility dedicated to wildlife conservation, providing excellent care for animals and a better future for all living things.
There are several different exhibits to walk through that are categorized appropriately: North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Tropics, Amphibians and Reptiles, Cessna Penguin Cove, KOCH Orangutan and Chimpanzee Habitat and the Children’s Farms. All of the location exhibits feature animals that are indigenous to the area, providing an educational, yet exciting experience for children and adults.
Tanganyika Wildlife Park
Located just outside of Wichita in Goddard, Tanganyika provides an interactive experience with animals to help strengthen the connection between people and the natural world. With so many activities to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one. You can:
- Hang out with one of Africa’s rarest species, the Okapi.
- Swim with penguins.
- Have a meet and greet with an animal of your choosing, such as a pot-bellied pig, African crested porcupine, honey badger, black-footed penguin and more.
- Have a private evening off the giraffe deck to enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres with family and friends.
- Have a behind the scenes tour with penguins.
- Paint an animal of your choice, or let the animal paint for you!
Tanganyika Wildlife Park has more interactive experiences than any other zoo in Kansas. If you love animals, you’ll definitely want to visit this summer.
Lake Afton is a cool spot to check out if you don’t want to spend hours driving to the lake. The 258 acre lake is good for boating, water skiing, fishing, swimming and camping, including both RV and tent sites with all the expected amenities.
After dark, check out the Lake Afton Public Observatory to explore our universe. Through the provided 16-inch telescope, you can view the night sky’s wonders such as Saturn and its rings, the Moon with its craters and mountains, glowing clouds of gas, star clusters and distant galaxies that are vast in comparison to our Milky Way.
Sedgwick County Park
Located in northwest Wichita, this park is a staple of our community. With four lakes, you can choose to bird watch, fish, feed the animals or just relax. Over four miles of paved pathways loop around the park going through open and wooded areas, which are perfect for biking, jogging or rollerblading.
Make your visit to Sedgwick County Park a day-long excursion. With the option to grill, play basketball, volleyball, horseshoes and more, you can have fun with the whole family.
This beautiful park located in Riverside features an 18-hole disc golf course, lily pond, nature trails and plenty of wildlife. With wooded areas and long stretches of lawn, plus artificial springs and brooks, this is a great place to go if you need to relax.
Although Turner Falls isn’t located in Wichita, or even Kansas, it’s too good to leave out of this list. Located in Davis Oklahoma, Turner Falls is a slice of heaven that you would never expect to see so close to home. Not only are the 77ft waterfall and cold refreshing streams a must-see, but they also have hiking trails, caves, campsites, cabin rentals and great food.
Turner Falls provides the perfect mini vacation with family or friends. With natural swimming areas, sandy beaches, bathhouses, picnic areas and water slides, you’ll definitely want to stay all weekend so you have plenty of time to explore.