Interstates are convenient and fast, but did you know that highways in the US often offer the same comfort and speed, but with the ability to slow down? A perfect example is US Route 36 through Kansas, which is a great alternative to Interstate 70.
There are less than 10 traffic lights on Route 36 in the United States (commonly referred to as Highway 36) through Kansas, making it a quick option for travel across the state. The small towns you travel to will greet you with a smile and an opportunity to experience things you won’t find anywhere else.
Here are some of the best reasons why you should take Highway 36 instead of I-70 through Kansas, heading east to west.
Note: I visited this route as a guest of the US Highway Association 36 in April 2022. All opinions are mine.
- 1 1. Seneca’s hand dug well
- 2 2. The Pony Express route
- 3 3. High Banks Hall of Fame and National Midget Auto Racing Museum
- 4 4. Dine At Sweden Creme
- 5 5. Geographic Center of the United States
- 6 6. Home On The Range Cabin
- 7 7. Destination kitchen
- 8 8. Landmark Inn
- 9 9. Last Indian Raid Museum in Decatur County
- 10 10. St. Francis Motorcycle Museum
- 11 Highway 36 has it all
1. Seneca’s hand dug well
With more than 130,000 bricks, 100 stone ropes, 570 barrels of cement and 20,000 feet of lumber, this masterpiece is just over an hour away in Kansas, heading west on Highway 36.
The second largest hand-dug well in Kansas, Seneca Hand Dug Well, is 34 feet wide and 65 feet deep. In 2006, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The fountain ceased to be used in 1937, and since then two new fountains have been dug, along with a million-gallon tank near Seneca.
There is free parking near the site, making it easy for everyone to see this masterpiece up close. Tours are available by appointment at (785) 336-2294. Prepare a picnic lunch and enjoy the view of the fountain from one of the nearby picnic tables.
2. The Pony Express route
In the 1860’s, postmen rode horses to deliver mail using a relay-style system. This service was called Pony Express. From April 1860 to October 1861, this short-lived mail service had a route to Kansas. When you travel on Highway 36 in East Kansas, you will travel the exact route that the riders took.
Visit the Pony Express Museum and Barn in Marysville. You will see saddles, wagons and all sorts of tools that were used during the Pony Express Route era. There is a small fee to visit, and the main level of the museum is wheelchair accessible.
3. High Banks Hall of Fame and National Midget Auto Racing Museum
Belleville, Kansas is home to one of the most unique museums I’ve visited. The High Banks Hall of Fame and the National Midget Auto Racing Museum will inspire you to take part in a car race. If you’re not a fan of cars, give this museum a try. You will be excited about something or someone when you visit this museum in Belleville.
This museum exhibits the first official NASCAR trophy and midget cars from 1949, which are small race cars with a high power-to-weight ratio. You can also see spring cars, micro midget cars, Indy cars, modified cars and more.
Donations are accepted and you can plan to spend at least 1 hour on these beautiful cars.
Tip: After visiting this fun car museum, drive to Belleville High Banks Speedway Fairgrounds to see where these cars ran.
4. Dine At Sweden Creme
Sweden Creme is right off Highway 36 in Mankato, Kansas. The restaurant is known for burgers and ice cream.
The day I visited it, the restaurant was full of people enjoying the famous burgers from Sweden Creme. I ordered a burger and I can attest that it was one of the best burgers I indulged in while I was in Kansas. The ice cream dessert arrived for me and it was as good as the burger - over the counter.
It is rumored that people will travel for hours to enjoy a meal at Sweden Creme. After eating here, I understand why people will go hiking. If a fat, juicy burger screams at you, start mapping your route to Mankato, Kansas.
5. Geographic Center of the United States
The geographic center of the United States is located near Lebanon, Kansas. You will drive a few miles of gravel to reach this site. Sign the guest register and visit the roadside chapel. I have always enjoyed visiting this site at the beginning of the day. When you turn east, away from the geographical center, the view of the gravel road you walked on is memorable. There is a large car park and there is no charge.
You may remember seeing this site in a Super Bowl commercial starring Bruce Springsteen.
6. Home On The Range Cabin
You’ll see signs along Route 36 for the famous Home on the Range Cabin, officially called the Higley Cabin. Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote the song Home on the Range. Shortly after his election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said Home on the Range his favorite song, which drew national attention to the song. In 1947, Home of the Range became the official song of the state of Kansas.
As you walk through the grounds near the Range Cabin house, there is a spirit that you will feel. I felt like I was being lured to another place in time. It was reassuring and yet exciting. There is no charge for visiting the site and there are plenty of parking spaces.
Spring brings an annual celebration of the city to raise funds to keep the land clean and welcoming to all visitors. In the city, there are sports tournaments, billboards with athletes and much more.
7. Destination kitchen
Destination Kitchen is a must see in Norton, Kansas. This charming store will captivate you as soon as you set foot on the door.
Destination Kitchen offers baking utensils, cooking utensils, crockery and anything and everything you need to make your kitchen a success. Their baking products are great to take in the morning. They also serve lunch from Monday to Saturday. For a quick lunch, take an individual pizza in the oven with a plate from their fresh salad bar. You can plan to spend 2 hours in this fun store.
8. Landmark Inn
A stop with three different experiences awaits you at the Landmark Inn. The Landmark Inn in Oberlin, Kansas offers a commercial property, a guest house and a restaurant. Book your overnight stay in this classic 1886 Bank of Oberlin building.
Landmark Inn has been noted as one of the most romantic accommodations in Kansas. With so many rooms to choose from, your stay will most likely be one of the most memorable in your life.
Before you leave your room, go through the merchant. You will find scarves, jewelry and boutique items.
I’m a connoisseur of bread pudding, and the Landmark Inn restaurant had one of the best bread puddings I’ve ever eaten. The menu in the restaurant changes frequently, which gives you a reason to visit again and again.
9. Last Indian Raid Museum in Decatur County
One museum you don’t want to miss while traveling on Route 36 is the Last Indian Raid Museum in Decatur County.
With over 15 well-maintained buildings, including 13 original buildings from 1885 to 1952, this museum is one of the most organized museums I have visited. The museum covers a Native American raid from 1887, along with other battles and violations in the city. Visitors will learn about Wild Bill Hickok, buffalo hunters and the life of the 1800s.
The museum is wheelchair accessible, with guided tours and self-guided tours available. If you have any questions during the visit, the friendly staff will be happy to help. A small fee is charged at the door.
10. St. Francis Motorcycle Museum
St. Francis, Kansas
St. Motorcycle Museum St. Francis Francis, Kansas, is home to nearly 150 vintage motorcycles from more than 40 manufacturers. The motorcycles are spread over 10,000 square meters in the museum. You can be close to everyone. I’m not a motorcyclist, but I stop at this museum when I’m in western Kansas.
They are open daily from 10:00 to 17:00, except for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Donations are accepted at the door, with a suggested entry fee of $ 7. Volunteers will greet you with a smile and are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Highway 36 has it all
Here’s a look at what you can experience while traveling on this alternative route through Kansas. Depending on your schedule and budget, you can spend as little or as much time as you like in each location. Each of the above stops offers hours of fun.
You will also find several parks that offer hiking, camping, fishing and wildlife viewing as you travel along this route. Many of these parks offer accommodation, and many of the cities on Highway 36 also offer unique accommodation in the area. If you know that you will be in an area for a long time, book your accommodation in advance.
Travel at a pace that you enjoy and enjoy every moment of your journey. After all, when was the last time you traveled hundreds of miles on a U.S. highway that didn’t have dozens of traffic lights along the way?