Council Grove is a small city in Kansas, but it has dozens of wonders to see and new adventures to experience.
The city became a rendezvous point for wagon trails headed west after the first treaty for the right-of-way for the Santa Fe Trail.
In August 1825, the city received its name from the US commissioners who met with Native American tribes under a tree named “Council Oak.”
Today, many of the city's historical sites remain well-preserved.
The small area is a great place to learn more about the history of the Native Americans and Council Grove’s early years.
Here are the best things to do in Council Grove, KS:
Visit the Kaw Mission State Historic Site
The city of Council Grove is home to many historical sites that helped build its culture and heritage.
If you find yourself walking along North Mission, you’ll see the Kaw Mission State Historic Site.
The Kansas Historical Society currently administers the site.
From 1851 to 1854, Kaw Mission served as an educational institution for at least 30 Kaw boys before the US government relocated them to Oklahoma.
After the relocation, the building was sold to the Huffaker family in 1865, which was then sold to the state of Kansas in 1951.
Today, the facility serves as a museum, which is a great place to start if you’re looking to get quick bits of information about the city’s history.
You’ll also find a bunch of Santa Fe Trail exhibits, a Kanza photo gallery, city artifacts, and Kansas history and travel books.
Look for Letters at the Post Office Oak
Among the many places worth noting in Council Grove is the Post Office Oak along East Main Street.
Aside from its historical significance, it’s widely known that the tree, situated in front of the old post office, served as a messenger post for travelers.
Travelers used to leave notes on the tree, informing others about the current trail conditions, hence the name “Post Office Oak.”
Unfortunately, the tree died in 1990.
You’ll still see the stump left behind, as it’s considered a significant part of Council Grove.
In front of the post office stands a stone house built in 1864.
Today, it's a museum operated by the Morris County Historical Society.
Stop by the Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park
Retrace the steps of the Native Americans when you make your way to the Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park.
You'll find it southeast of Council Grove.
The Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park spans 168 acres, encompassing other properties from the 1840s until 1872.
As you explore the park, you’ll come across the Kanza Monument, a limestone tower standing at 35 feet, established by Council Grove citizens in 1925.
You’ll also see the ruins of one of the three Kaw villages in the area, which primarily served as stables for their horses instead of residential areas.
Also situated along the heritage park is the Kanza Heritage Trail, looping through the Kaw Heritage Park and connecting to the Flint Hills Nature Trail.
Visit the Last Chance Store
Find yourself taken back in time when you visit the Last Chance Store along West Main Street.
During the 1850s, the store served as the final stop where trail travelers could buy their supplies before embarking on their respective journeys, hence the name “Last Chance.”
Situated on the city's edge, the Last Chance Store remains the oldest commercial building in Council Grove.
Most of the customers who graced the store were traders from Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache Native Americans.
During the trial years, the Last Chance Store became known as the most famous trading site in Council Grove.
Explore the Wilderness at Council Grove Wildlife Area
Lovers of the great outdoors will find themselves having a good time hanging out at the Council Grove Wildlife Area along the Neosho River.
Explore the wilderness and enjoy the silence as you wander through the area, fishing, and hunting for wild animals.
Take your pick between two fishing streams before hopping on a boat to explore the water.
Find the best fishing spot for catching crappie, channel catfish, white bass, and much more.
Hunters are bound to find white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, quails, squirrels, and rabbits hiding in the woodlands, croplands, and small native grass tracts.
You’ll also find a reservoir in the area, combining a steep, rocky shoreline with shallow mudflats.
Enjoy the View at the Flint Hills Scenic Byway
Council Grove is arguably one of the cities in Kansas where you can find a bunch of nature trails with great views.
Park your car by the roadside or ride your bike to explore stunning views at the Flint Hills Scenic Byway.
During your trip, you’ll come across dozens of native grasses and flowers of the tallgrass prairie, one of the largest remaining landscapes in America.
The scenic byway also holds some historical significance.
Many native tribes, such as the Kaw and Osage, have lived there during the area's early years.
The Flint Hills area is also a popular region where settlers navigated the Santa Fe Trail.
There’s no single perfect place to hang out in the byway.
Its entirety is already a great destination to chill out, watch the sunrise, or even the sunset.
Find the Hermit’s Cave
Along Belfry Street, two blocks from Main Street is a majestic cave that wanderers are bound to find as they explore the grounds of Council Grove.
Sitting on top of a small mound is a stone cave known as the Hermit’s Cave.
The cave is a famous historic site that tourists definitely can’t miss out on.
A popular story about the Hermit’s Cave is that the Italian religious mystic Giovanni Maria Agustini lived there for a while.
Agustini lived inside the cave during the spring of 1863 and later left Council Grove on a wagon train.
People have debated who the real hermit was because Matteo Boccalini, a Franciscan friar, arrived in the area after Agustini’s departure.
Boccalini erected a cross in front of the cave during his stay and later left to teach the last sacrament to those walking along the trail.
Set up Camp by Council Grove Lake
Council Grove Lake is one of the best places where you can enjoy spending time with your family in the great outdoors.
Known for having the best fishing spots in the city, the area surrounding the lake also provides excellent hunting opportunities.
Whether in the early morning or before sunset, you can set up camp and enjoy a myriad of outdoor activities.
The best part is that the campsites have most of the stuff you need, so you don’t have to worry about anything else.
You can also try watersports activities, such as pleasure boating, skiing, tubing, personal watercraft, or sailing.
At night, you can enjoy a late-night barbecue and sit around a campfire just chatting with the people closest to you.
Traverse the Flint Hills Nature Trail
Drown out the city noise and enjoy the quiet and calm environment of the Flint Hills Nature Trail.
The trail used to encompass a rail line but is now a non-motorized area where people can enjoy going on scenic walks or riding their bikes.
As you explore the trail, you’ll come across one of the few remaining tallgrass prairies in the world.
Head east, and you’ll find yourself in front of the Marais Des Cygnes River.
Marvel at the sight of crystal waters, natural bluffs, and other scenic views that will make you want to stay for days.
Dine at Hays House Restaurant and Tavern
You can’t possibly leave Council Grove without swinging by Hays House Restaurant and Tavern along West Main Street.
Established in 1857, Hays House is more than your average restaurant.
It holds over a hundred years’ worth of historical significance to the city of Council Grove.
The Hays House building was formerly a trading post and a rental space for the US government to hold court and distribute mail.
Today, much of Hays House retains its historic structure, such as the basement that contains the original bar and the Judd family’s crystal room.
Aside from enjoying the restaurant’s rustic atmosphere, indulge in its best-selling Kansas steaks, pasta, burgers, and more.
You might also want to check out their spirits menu for a glass of craft cocktails or wine.
Book a Stay at the Cottage House
You’ll find many good places to stay at Council Grove, but the Cottage House along Main Street is arguably one of the best places.
Built in 1867, the Cottage House started as a three-room cottage and blacksmith shop catered to travelers.
Today, there are approximately 26 rooms in the building, ten rooms in the adjacent motel, and two cottages.
Despite serving several generations of tourists, the Cottage House still maintains its classic interior, which only adds to its charm.
Beautiful lace curtains cover the windows as antique furnishings gracefully adorn the motel’s rooms.
Enjoy a Home-Cooked Meal at Saddlerock Cafe
If you’re looking to grab a bite of an American-style breakfast, try swinging by Saddlerock Cafe along South Sixth Street.
Whether you want eggs for breakfast or a hearty plate of blueberry pancakes, you’ll find almost anything homemade in this dainty restaurant.
The food is so great and affordable that you’ll think you were sitting at home as you munch on your grandma’s recipe.
You can also try specials like the smothered sausage egg and cheese, Indian tacos, and much more.
Saddlerock has been in the business for over a decade, serving thousands of tourists and locals with family-friendly, healthy, and delectable food.
Satisfy Your Cravings at Trail Days Cafe
The historic Trail Days Cafe at the Rawlinson-Terwilliger Home is situated along West Main Street.
Also considered a historical landmark, the cafe takes you back to the 1800s with its classic and charming interior.
Not only that, but the servers also live up to the whole classical vibe, as they, too, are dressed for the part.
Enjoy a serving of Swedish meatballs and a slice of chocolate cake during your stay.
Otherwise, try the German schnitzel, log cabin soup, and more.
As you dine at this one-of-a-kind restaurant, you’ll also learn many historical facts about Kansas.
Explore the Neosho Riverwalk
Take a step back from the busy city life and bustling streets, and make your way towards the Neosho Riverwalk along West Main Street.
Take your time as you clear your headspace, and take in the relaxing environment surrounding the trail.
The area is perfect for walking around even at night, thanks to the well-lighted walkways.
However, if you want to explore during the day, you'll feast your eyes on far more stunning views.
Visitors are also welcome to ride their bikes along the paved walkway.
As you walk around, you’ll also catch a picturesque view of the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway.
It's one of the many tourist destinations you shouldn’t miss out on while in Council Grove.
Take a Picture of the Madonna of the Trail
Tourists looking to beef up their Instagram feed can hunt for the Madonna Of the Trail statue along East Main Street.
Dedicated to women pioneers of the US, the statue is one of the 12 replicas scattered in the states along National Old Trails Road on Route 40.
The Madonna Of The Trail monument is a symbol of faith and courage from the women who were able to conquer the wild.
The sculptor August Leimbach created the sculpture.
Currently, the Kansas State Society National Society Daughters of the American Revolution funds the sculpture.
Join an Art Class at Alexander ArtWorks
Since 2018, Alexander ArtWorks offers a variety of glass art and metal signage.
But what makes this art shop different from the rest, you may ask?
This art shop hosts classes and workshops for those interested in stained glass art.
So, come by with your open mind and your ready hands, prepared for a new art hobby!
Alexander ArtWorks is on Main Street, right at the core of the Flint Hills.
Spot and Take a Photo of the Guardian of the Grove Statue
Council Grove has a cacophony of statues and public art sculptures that are worth checking out.
One of these is the Guardian of the Grove Statue.
This statue depicts a Kaw Warrior in a relaxed stance.
Standing eight-foot tall, it represents the significance of Native American culture that Council Grove continues to celebrate.
Symbols you can find in the statue include a shell-shaped base, designs on the warrior's leggings, a pipe, and a skin robe draped over the warrior.
These all offer deeper meanings of the Native American culture, as well as the hidden gems and places of the city.
You can find the Guardian of the Grove Statue at the intersection of East Main & Union Street.
Visit the Historic Custer Elm Tree Remnant
If you're visiting Council Grove for its historical landmarks, the historic Custer Elm Tree Remnant should be a vital part of your itinerary.
This legendary tree is where General George Armstrong Custer and his cavalry took shade in 1867.
However, it caught Dutch elm disease and eventually died in the 70s.
A remnant of the tree still stands today, protected under a shaded pavilion.
It also comes with a marker to help you learn more about the tree and its role in Council Grove's history.
You can find the Custer Elm Tree Remnant within the park of the same name.
Savor Craft Beer while Relaxing at Riverbank Brewing
Nothing quite tastes like the craft beers served at Riverbank Brewing.
And for this reason, the brewery is a must-visit.
Started by a five-member friendship group, it presents a wide selection of craft beers brewed in-house.
From margaritas and adult grapefruits to earthy ginger beer, your alcoholic beverages are endless!
Be sure to pair your glass with a charcuterie box or a flatbread.
You can get to Riverbank Brewing when you come by West Main Street.
Learn About Council Grove’s Wildlife at the Pioneer Nature Trail
The Pioneer Nature Trail is one of the exciting routes at Council Grove Lake.
This 1.25-mile trail is an ideal spot for wildlife exploration and historical discovery.
Featuring two loops, this trail offers an in-depth look into the buffalo wallows you can still see remnants of within the trail.
While these wallows were mostly for the benefit of the buffaloes taking residence in the prairie regions of the country, they have soon become the homes and nests for a variety of wildlife.
Spot wildflowers blooming across your path and butterflies in the air.
You are free to explore the grass-covered trail from sunrise to sunset, so gear up for an adventurous trek into the woods.
The Pioneer Nature Trail is on Highway 177.
Council Grove is arguably one of the best places to visit in Kansas.
If you’re only planning to stay for a few days, you might want to think again.
A day or two won’t be enough to explore everything the city offers.
Start planning your trip today!