15 Best Things to Do in Hays, KS

Hays, KS
MaxMaximovPhotography / shutterstock.com

There are always fascinating things about the Wild West back in the day.

Today, remnants of the Wild West are still seen from well-preserved buildings in many cities across North America's western states, including Kansas.

Whether you're a fan of the Wild West or a simple traveler who wants to learn history and have fun, try visiting the city of Hays in Ellis County, Kansas.

This travel destination is less crowded and more affordable than other trendy places known to showcase the Wild West era.

Founded way back in 1867, Hays was initially a railroad town in Kansas.

Compared to its laid-back atmosphere today, Hays was a bustling town at the height of the Wild West era.

The town was filled with brothels, gambling houses, and saloons.

It was a haven for many outlaws and people with different agendas.

Hays was also home to 'Wild Bill' Hickock, a popular outlaw that became a local legend back in the day.

However, there's more to Hays than its rough past.

Today, the city is home to museums, beautiful parks, historic sites, a vibrant community, and more.

Being the largest city in Kansas's northwestern region, Hays is a center for arts, education, and business.

Hays is a great destination not just to discover the Wild West era; it's also an ideal place to learn and do outdoor activities.

It's a place for those who seek fun and adventure.

So, what's in store for you in this city?

Read on to discover the 15 best things to do in Hays, KS.

Stroll through Downtown Hays

View of Buildings in Downtown Hays
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

Downtown Hays is the best place to walk down memory lane and appreciate the well-preserved architecture from the Wild-West era that you'll see on the buildings lining its red brick road.

These old buildings are home to hundreds of businesses that cater to your wants and needs in the city.

The colorful signages and lights from the businesses that occupy these old buildings make the streets more vibrant.

Main Street along Downtown Hays
Haysksian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Downtown Hays is a must-visit place because of its peaceful vibes and the wide array of shops, restaurants, and services you can choose from.

It's highly recommended to stop by the Downtown Hays Visitors Center to grab a mini-map to guide you to the shops and restaurants to visit.

There are about 22 shops, 25 restaurants, 15 art galleries, and 11 entertainment establishments you can visit in this popular area in Hays.

View of Downtown Hays
Ammodramus, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hike at the Vineyard Park Nature Area

The Vineyard Park Nature Area offers outdoor enthusiasts a scenic walking trail within Hays.

The entire trail is fairly short, covering only around a mile, but you'll be rewarded with scenic wetlands, creeks, and prairies where local wildlife thrives.

Hiking along the trail offers a unique outdoor adventure where you'll come across different wildlife, such as birds, small mammals, and reptiles.

Furthermore, it also has a stocked pond that serves as a fishing area where visitors can lure their lines.

However, each angler is limited to two catches a day regardless of the fish to prevent overfishing.

If you need a place in Hays to hike peacefully with nature, you should head to Vineyard Park Nature Area.

Make a Splash at the Hays Aquatic Center

The Hays Aquatic Park is a popular summer destination for locals and people from Ellis County.

Even if not summer, many people head there to enjoy its exciting features, from its vast pools and waterslides to fountains that are usually found in a great waterpark.

Moreover, Hays Aquatic Center is situated conveniently in the city's heart, making it a very accessible attraction to visit.

Head to the Hays Aquatic Center if you're looking for a quick dip at the pool to cool down.

Over at Fort Hays State University is where you'll find the beautiful Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art, filled with different artworks from local and regional arts.

The art gallery's name comes from Hays State University's former chairs of its department of art, Joel C. Moss and John C. Thorns Jr.

It's where most exhibits and art shows featuring students, guest artists, faculty, and permanent art collections are being housed.

The Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art also participates in the yearly art walks.

Visiting this place is excellent to learn about local arts and culture in Hays.

Check Out Dinosaur Fossils at the Sternberg Museum-Natural History

Canis dirus Leidy, 1858 displayed in Sternberg Museum-Natural History
James St. John, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons 

The Sternberg Museum-Natural History is a popular attraction in Kansas for its dinosaur fossil exhibit.

It's located inside Fort Hays State University, and it's an excellent place to start your Hays travel adventure.

The museum displays a vast collection of dinosaur fossils, ancient artifacts, and memorabilia from the region's history dating back to the 1800s.

It's a must-visit place in Hays for the entire family, especially for kids since they have life-size replicas of several dinosaurs, interactive exhibits, and fun educational stuff.

Fossils at the Sternberg Museum-Natural History
Spacini at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do Outdoor Activities at Aubel Bickle Park

The Aubel Bickle Park in Hays is a popular place for locals to exercise, unwind, and play sports.

It's one of the open-air green spaces in the city where multiple sports facilities, such as a baseball field, a basketball court, a volleyball court, a skate park, and a roller hockey park are open for everyone to utilize.

Of course, like all excellent public parks, the Aubel Bickle Park has all the essential amenities like picnic areas, walking paths, playground, restrooms, and a shelter house.

If you're looking for a place in Hays to sweat out or a place to pass the time, you can check out Aubel Bickle Park.

Another art gallery to visit is the Hays Art Center Gift Gallery.

Compared to the Moss-Thorns Gallery of Art, this one is nestled on downtown Hays, offering everyone a chance to meet local artists and enjoy the beauty of different artworks.

Visiting this art center lets you appreciate the artworks of different local artists who thrive in Hays.

They'll gamely tour you through their exhibits and offer you some information about their inspiration and other cool things about their craft.

To top your visit there, head to the gift shop where you can buy unique souvenirs.

Dine at Thirsty's Brew Pub & Grill

Are you looking for a nice place in Hays to eat, drink, and relax?

You can head to the Thirsty's Brew Pub & Grill in Vine Street, where you can indulge in delicious food and refreshing drinks in a cozy and welcoming setting.

When you're done with your day visiting the city's museums, parks, and art galleries, Thirsty's Brew Pub & Grills is a wonderful place to cap off your day.

This local favorite is popular for its sizzling steaks served on a flat iron and classic American comfort food.

They also serve a wide array of cocktail drinks and delicious desserts.

The place is family-friendly, and its staff is very accommodating, giving you an excellent dining experience.

Have Fun with the Outdoors at the Frontier Historical Park

Big Creek Dam inside the Frontier Historical Park.
IveGoneAway, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Frontier Historical Park was originally part of the Fort Hays U.S Military outpost.

Today, it serves as a scenic outdoor attraction and recreational area in Hays where everyone can have fun.

The 89-acre park is nestled along Big Creek, and it's home to an 18-hole disc golf course, picnic area, walking trails, bridges, and a children's playground.

One of the park's highlights is its disc golf course, where many locals and even visitors test their skills in this unique sport.

The park also has several fishing spots to catch different freshwater fish species like largemouth bass, catfish, and trout.

Buy Unique Antique Collectibles at the Northglen Antiques

The Northglen Antiques is a local shop in Hays widely known for its antique collectibles imported from Scotland.

If you're looking for unique house decor, this shop has something for you, from its vast collection of housewares and furniture to other antique items you won't find anywhere else.

You can also check out Northglen Antique's unique collection of Celtic and Scottish musical instruments, kilts, and jewelry, which are great additions to your current antique collection.

Take Photos with the Merci Boxcars

Merci Boxcars were sent to the United States from France after World War II.

The French people sent these boxcars filled with treasured items and beautiful presents as gratitude and a sign of friendship for the Americans in helping their country be liberated from Nazi Germany.

Fifty boxcars containing precious goods were divided into each state, one for Kansas, which is found in Hays.

Visiting this historical attraction is somewhat interesting considering that many of the Merci Boxcars today have already been damaged or perhaps destroyed.

The one you'll find in Hays is perfectly-preserved with all its original painting and design.

So, seize your chance to take photos with this rare historical attraction, because finding one in pristine condition these days is very rare.

Travel Back in Time at the Fort Hays State Historic Site

View of Fort Hays State Historic Site
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

History buff or not, there's always something special and interesting when it comes to history.

So, head to Fort Hays State Historic Site to learn cool military history.

Locals and visitors are always welcome to explore the vast grounds of this historic site and appreciate the beautifully-preserved buildings dating back to the 1800s.

This open-air museum in Hays is filled with unique exhibits, galleries, and life-size sculptures of prominent personalities in Kansas.

Moreover, the entire historic site covers a vast ground where kids can roam around and have fun.

Shop at the Centennial Plaza

This local shopping mall was recently renovated to provide locals and visitors with more shopping choices and convenience.

If you want to shop for your needs or look for great deals, Centennial Plaza is your best choice in Hays.

This 35,000-square-foot mall has 15 stores and around a dozen restaurants to choose from.

The stores you can visit are Dollar Depot, Brown's Shoe Fit Company, Paper Mart, Mane Attraction, Couture for Men, and Sherwin Williams and Steinert Liquor.

You can check out the Jalisco Restaurant and Osaki Restaurant, which offer delicious Mexican and Japanese food. 

Get Up Close with Bisons at the Frontier Park Buffalo Herd

The Frontier Park Buffalo Herd is a small herd of bison living in a protected pen across Fort Hays.

This small herd of bison is the remnant of the vast herds that once ruled the great plains of North America.

Learning more about this majestic animal that's been hunted down to near extinction back in the day offers you a unique experience.

Today, the herd is protected by the Hays Parks Department.

Taking photos at a safe distance gives you a rare opportunity to see this majestic animal.

Uncover Bizarre History at the Boot Hill Cemetery

One of Hays' unusual but very interesting attractions you need to check out is the Boot Hill Cemetery.

The cemetery tells you different stories of how 'wild and dangerous' Hays was back in the day.

Around a hundred graves are found in the cemetery.

According to local historians, it's called Boot Hill Cemetery because most people buried there died with their boots on, as most of them lived during the Wild West era.

Additionally, the first few mortalities in the city were mostly due to accidental or natural causes.

However, in the mid-1800s, the people who were buried there were due to violence, such as gunfights, racial strife, and suicides.

It's where you'll hear fascinating stories, urban legends, and even creepy stories about Hays' past.

Final Thoughts

Hays is more than just a place to travel back in time to the Wild West.

It has its unique beauty that you'll see in its thriving community and local artists that continue to promote the city in different ways.

Its history is so fascinating that you'll be digging for more from its museums and historic sites.

So, which of these places in Hays you'll be visiting first?

Make sure to bookmark this page to give you an instant itinerary.