Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Independence, KS

  • Published 2023/02/26

Located in the southeast corner of Kansas is the beautiful city of Independence.

Formerly called “Haytown,” Independence was once inhabited by a band of Oswego men who wanted to found a city.

Independence lies along the banks of the Verdigris River near Elk City Lake.

The city jumpstarted its economic growth by discovering natural gas and oil fields.

Today, Independence is known as a trading and processing center for agricultural products.

You’ll also find 137 years’ worth of origin stories of historical sites that tourists have come to love.

Check out 20 of the best things to do in Independence, KS.

Explore Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo

Exploring Riverside Park and Ralph Mitchell Zoo will eat up your whole day with the many attractions and tourist spots you can check out.

Ride the antique carousel, play a round of minigolf while learning about Independence history, or enjoy a train ride that circles the parking area.

Inside the park, you’ll also see the historic Shulthis Stadium, where people played the first lighted and organized baseball game in 1930.

Meet some animal friends from the wild and know more about them as you tour the Ralph Mitchell Zoo.

Founded in 1914, Riverside Park began as a 50-acre land donation that sits along the Verdigris River.

Renowned landscape architect George Kessler designed the park.

The park became home to other attractions like playgrounds, tennis courts, bandstands, and other establishments a few years later.

The Ralph Mitchell Zoo was added to the park in 1925, with lions, tigers, and bears headlining its list of attractions.

Visit the Independence Historical Museum and Art Center

Sitting along N 8th St. is the Independence Historical Museum and Art Center, an art lover’s dream.

The Ladies Library and Art Association operates the museum and art center, featuring a wide range of exhibits and displays that showcase the evolution of Independence.

Visit the permanent exhibits across all 24 rooms, and learn about the lifestyle of Independence’s early settlers and the history of the oil industry.

Artifacts of Indian culture, sculptures, antique china, crystals, and other pieces also decorate the museum’s walls.

Walk a bit further, and you’ll see a large exhibit dedicated to military life, an 1869 furnished log cabin, an 1884 school classroom, and an antique and toy collection.

The Independence Historical Museum and Art Center also host various activities that promote multiple artworks, such as quilt fairs, arts and crafts fairs, the Verdigris Valley Art Exhibit, and various musical and social events.

Check Out the Little House On the Prairie Museum

Situated 13 miles southwest of Independence is The Little House on the Prairie Museum, a non-profit historic site that preserves the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The museum educates the public about Wilder, her The Little House on the Prairie books, and prairie life during the late 1800s and 1900s.

You’ll experience living a simple life and glimpse baby Carrie’s birthplace as you enter the museum.

Carrie was Laura’s sister.

The site features a one-room schoolhouse from 1972, a farmhouse, and a post office.

Walk around and check out Charles Ingalls’ hand-dug well, which was instrumental in helping historian Margaret Clements discover the site of the Ingalls family homestead.

Of course, the tour wouldn’t be complete without stepping inside the Ingalls Family Cabin.

Drop by the Independence Science & Technology Center

The Independence Science and Technology Center opened in 1992 as an educational hub with a fun twist.

The center greets you with a life-sized Albert Einstein to welcome you to the premises.

Check out displays of the Deinonychus, komodo dragon, rockhopper penguin, dodo bird, and more.

Let your hair defy gravity with the Van der Graaf machine.

You can also ride the anti-gravity simulator or take your kids to watch the Ho model train and play with the Thomas the Train display.

Traverse the Table Mound Hiking Trail Head

Witness tons of picturesque views by traversing the Table Mound Hiking Trail Head.

Designated as a National Recreation Trail under the US Department of the Interior’s National Trail System, the Table Mound Hiking Trail Head takes two hours to complete.

The trail begins at the Scenic Overlook near the dam and Timber Road Campground situated northwest of the State Park office.

Pass through vertical rock walls, boulder fields, and cave-like formations as you explore the trail.

Wind through the forested hills and drown in the sound of birds and rustling leaves before crossing a couple of small creeks.

Attend the Neewollah Festival

If you’re planning to visit Independence sometime in November, you might want to attend the Neewollah Festival.

Neewollah (which is “Halloween” spelled backward) is an annual Halloween festival that began in 1919.

The nine-day celebration consists of endless festivities, ranging from parades to music shows.

During this time, downtown Independence is the place to be.

The population grows from approximately 8,500 to 75,000 inhabitants, all wanting to experience the Neewollah Festival.

Witness parades like the Doo Dah Parade, Kiddie Parade, and Grand Parade.

See adults-turned-kids during the Doo Dah Parade, where adults dress up the way they did during their younger years.

Catch the Kiddie Parade to glimpse the finest Halloween costumes for kids.

You can also check out the Chili Cook-Off, Musical and Queen Neelah Pageant, and the Great Bandstand Entertainment.

Shop World-Class Fragrances at Magnolia Scents by Design

Treat your sense of smell and drop by Magnolia Scents by Design along N Pennsylvania Ave.

Make your home a cozier place to live in with candles and wax, aroma mists, oils and reeds, and incense.

You’ll also find a wide selection of body care products like gel soap, lotion, bath salt, body spray, and more.

Shop for flowery scents like rose petals and lilac, or check out fragrances that remind you of the beach, like mermaid isle and Caribbean teakwood.

Founded in 2006 in the kitchen of Brian Hight and Ryan McDiarmid, Magnolia Scents by Design is a local shop that began by selling soy candles as Christmas gifts.

Using the most nourishing, natural, and robust products available, Magnolia Scents by Design evolved into the world’s best-selling scent shop, handcrafting candles, soaps, and body products using various aroma combinations.

Take a Swig of Craft Beer at Indy Brew Works

Nothing beats an ice-cold glass of beer to end a tiring day.

At Indy Brew Works at Downtown Independence, you’ll get your fix of expertly crafted beer.

Although the microbrewery had only opened in 2018, it’s already become a local favorite, and for a good reason.

Indy Brew Works operates under Robert and Jessica Box and Master Brewer Tim Hardy.

Expect only the best handcrafted brews from the microbrewery’s German-trained master brewer and a day (or night) filled with good times.

Also, don’t forget to swing by Indy Works Brewery for weekly bingo and music!

Spend Family Day at Riverside Beach Family Aquatic Center

Spend a much-needed family bonding time in the calm waters of the Riverside Beach Family Aquatic Center.

Beat the heat at the Ash Youth Center Pool and work on your strokes.

Adults are also welcome to try the center’s water aerobics program to get fit with minimal pressure on their joints.

If you want to learn to swim, the Riverside Beach Family Aquatic Center also hosts summer swimming lessons with the Independence Recreation Commission.

Catch Live Performances at the William Inge Center for the Arts

Art is celebrated in many forms, and at Independence, the performing arts is one of them.

Founded in 1982 on the campus of Independence Community College, the William Inge Center for the Arts is a playwright’s haven.

The William Inge Center for the Arts celebrates William Inge, a local playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award.

The William Inge Center for the Arts celebrates the William Inge Theater Festival every year, where you can catch live productions of the creations of playwrights across the country.

Enjoy the festivities of the three-day celebration in the form of participatory theater workshops, panel conversations, and performance events.

Swing by Veterans Freedom Square

Veterans Freedom Square in Riverside Park recognizes and honors US military veterans in Southeast Kansas.

Building the memorial square began with a fundraising event in 2015, with the groundbreaking ceremony a year later.

Walk around the square, and you’ll see Veteran Pavers, which honors active-duty personnel and veterans that served in the US military during peacetime or wartime.

You can also check out the Patriot Markers that honor service members and American patriots.

Events like essay writing contests and the Veterans Parade of Honor are also held at the square.

Find One-of-a-Kind Souvenirs at Fleas-An-Tiques

From authentic typewriters and tableware to figurines and dolls, Fleas-An-Tiques has it all.

Swing by this store if you’re looking to take home unique souvenirs from your trip to Independence.

Fleas-An-Tiques is your one-stop-shop for primitives, antiques, and great collectibles.

What’s more, they’re sold at reasonable prices, so you’ll get the best value for your money.

Dine at Sam’s Southern Eatery

You can’t possibly leave Independence without eating at Sam’s Southern Eatery.

Enjoy a great selection of southern-style dishes with a low-price guarantee.

Indulge in the favorite shrimp salad, a plate of fish fillet topped with Sam’s special sauce, or grab a bite of the single southern burger.

Sam’s Southern Eatery was established in 2008, with its first store opening in Shreveport, Louisiana.

You can now find Sam’s Southern Eatery in over 51 locations in nine southern states.

Enjoy a Relaxing Day at Ane Mae’s Coffee and Sandwich Shop

Sit back, relax, and enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee at Ane Mae’s Coffee and Sandwich Shop.

Situated on the corner of Penn and Chestnut, Ana Mae’s offers a great selection of coffee, baked goods, and sandwiches that will surely leave you wanting more.

Grab a bite of your scone, muffin, or quiche while sipping on great coffee.

Don’t forget their ham, egg, cheese, lettuce, and tomato sandwich on panini bread.

Ana Mae’s also serves a delectable soup of the day, giving you a burst of different flavors every time you visit.

Satisfy Your Cravings at El Pueblitos Mexican Restaurant

Swing by El Pueblito’s Mexican Restaurant and satisfy your cravings for great food.

At El Pueblito’s, get your fix of authentic Mexican food.

Indulge in El Pueblito’s taco salad, Pollo Mango, Enchiladas Rancheras, and more.

For dessert, treat yourself to a plate of sopapilla, fried ice cream, or a slice of cheesecake.

Do Some Tricks at Independence Skate Park

Independence Skate Park is a great addition to your itinerary if you’re an avid skater or BMX hobbyist.

While not particularly big, the skate park gets the job done by offering a good range of ramps and a bit of bars to practice a few tricks.

The surrounding area is also a great place for families, as you can do some light strolling along the neighborhood.

Quiet and peaceful, the surrounding areas of Independence Skate Park makes it a great place to just skate in peace.

You can find the park along North Pennsylvania Avenue.

Splurge on Dairy Products at Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store

Signage of Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store

Ichabod, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store is a 3-in-1 food chain that offers burgers, ice cream, and a small grocery store featuring their dairy products.

A famous Oklahoma-based restaurant and grocery store, this place is a can’t-miss if you haven’t tried it yet, especially if you’re already in Independence.

Their cheeseburgers make for a satisfying lunch, and their various ice creams made from the freshest dairy is something that’ll make you come back.

If you want to try their other dairy products, their neat little grocery store is a great place to splurge on.

Bruam’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store can be found along West Main Street.

Visit the Historic Independence Public Library

Facade of the Independence Public Library

Kaethesson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Independence Public Library is more than just a library as it dates back all the way to 1907, now being more than a hundred years old.

The library’s architecture and interior design make this a great tourist attraction to take photos of, most especially its picturesque facade that looks almost as if it’s meant for a postcard.

While a beautiful building, you can also count on it for its solid collection of books—perfect for reading and studying.

The amenities are also fresh despite its age, featuring well-lit rooms and spacious study spaces.

Found along East Maple Street, Independence Public Library is an easy addition to any kind of itinerary.

Have a Blast at Stoney’s Grub and Pub

If you want to experience the country-style late evenings in Independence, few offer the level of fun as Stoney’s Grub and Pub, located along West Main Street.

A staple among locals, this pub has it all—offering scrumptious food, amazing atmosphere, live music, and even a pool table.

The staff here is also courteous and fast, making the experience all the more seamless.

Tons of locals congregate here at night, especially if there’s a live band performance that’s sure to rock the place.

With amazing food like their chicken fried steak coupled with a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, you can’t go wrong visiting Stoney’s Grub and Pub.

Take Your Pooch to Independence Dog Park

Independence Dog Park is another great recreational space, this time dedicated to the fur parents and their pooches who need some off-leash time during the trip.

Securely fenced with a divider between small and large breeds, Independence Dog Park gets the job done in terms of safety and convenience.

There’s also a ton of trees here during the spring and summer months, giving you plenty of shade while your dogs wick off some pent up energy.

The grass here is also well maintained which makes it a popular place for locals to congregate, giving you a chance to immerse yourself with the community as well.

Independence Dog Park can be found along East Beech Street.

Final Thoughts

With the many attractions and things to experience in the city of Independence, it’s hard to stay put even just for a few hours.

Indeed, Independence is truly a must-visit city for those looking to relax, enjoy, and have a good time.

So, what are you waiting for?

Book a trip to Independence today and begin your adventure!

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