Road trip! One tank is all you need to visit these tiny towns in Missouri and Kansas

The village of Arrow Rock, roughly 100 miles east of Kansas City, boasts a population of 62, but it has more to offer visitors than most towns 10 times its size. Make that 100 times its size.

The entire village is a National Historic Landmark, complete with buildings dating as far back as its founding in 1829, and it is the site of a state park, museums, a professional theater, boardwalk storefronts and more.

Arrow Rock, simply put, is a tiny town with a ton to offer.

It is not alone in Missouri and Kansas, which might be rivals in many ways but share one feature — charming small towns.

A year ago, we assembled a guide to interesting places to visit relatively close to Kansas City — say, one tank of gas each way — that included St. Louis, Wichita, Omaha and Des Moines. This summer we go small.

Really small. So small that favorite getaway spot Weston (population 1,641) is well over our limit of 1,000 inhabitants.

We’re also narrowing the driving distance to places within a one-tank roundtrip, or about 200 miles. Some towns are day trips, others might be places to visit on the way to somewhere else. Almost all have antique shops, boutiques, restaurants and museums that will keep visitors occupied for most of an afternoon.

“There are so many wonderful little communities,” travel writer Diana Lambdin Meyer of Parkville said.

Meyer describes many of these same towns in the recently released 17th edition of “Day Trips From Kansas City,” which the late former Star entertainment writer and restaurant critic Shifra Stein originated in 1980.

Two spots Meyer has added in the updated “Day Trips” are Lecompton, a Kansas town northwest of Lawrence filled with historic significance, and Plattsburg, just northeast of Kansas City. It features Victorian architecture and a high-quality bakery.

“There are some gorgeous homes up there,” Meyer said. “Plattsburg was a fun discovery for me this time to add to the book.”

Plattsburg is too large for inclusion in our tiny towns listing. So is Wamego, Kansas, near Manhattan, but it also is special in Meyer’s estimation.

“They’ve got the big Wizard of Oz Museum,” she said. “But then … where lots of towns have their hearts on parade or their cows on parade or whatever, they have Toto all around town. And something about Toto the dog, I just love it. … You drive along, and there’s just lots of Totos standing around, and it makes me smile.”

Hermann, Missouri — between Jefferson City and St. Louis — also is worth a mention, even though it also is too large to qualify for our listing. In February, Travel and Leisure magazine named the popular Missouri River town one of the “20 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the U.S.”

Missouri and Kansas have plenty of other small towns worth checking out. Here is a guide to the smallest of the small, plus suggestions for other day trips and a few more highlights. Towns are listed by distance from Kansas City.

The Territorial Capital Museum is in a building that was intended to be the Kansas Capitol before Topeka was designated as the state capital. It instead housed Lane University in Lecompton.


Jamesport (556 population, 82 miles): Amish stores and businesses, horse-related operations; multiple antique shops.

Brunswick (788, 91): Pecan Capital of Missouri boasting pecan farms and world’s Largest 20th Century Pecan; Sew Sweet, a nationally recognized quilting shop.

Blackwater (175, 91): Iron Horse Hotel; West End Theatre; on the route to Arrow Rock.

Arrow Rock (62, 100): Huston Tavern; Arrow Rock State Historic Site visitor center; Lyceum Theater; Ferry Landing Site; Missouri Folk Art Shop and Gallery.

Rocheport (239, 115): Katy Trail; Les Bourgeois Vineyard; multiple B&Bs; short drive to Warm Springs Ranch, official breeding facility of Budweiser Clydesdales.

Westphalia (406, 173): Westphalia Vineyards winery; Painted Rock Conservation Area.

Bethel (129, 183): Historic German colony; multiple buildings on National Register of Historic Places; Bethel Fest Hall restaurant.

Vienna (528, 194): Clifty Creek Conservation Area; antique stores and boutiques; Maries County Jail and Sheriff’s House.

The Volland Store is the social and cultural center of Alma, Kansas, presenting art exhibitions and community programming.


Lecompton (592 population, 51 miles): Motto is “Civil War Birthplace — Where Slavery Began to Die”; Constitution Hall and Territorial Capital Museum.

Paxico (212, 93): Historic district; Prairie Fire Winery & Candle Co; Wyldewood Winery & Cellars.

Alma (799, 102): Alma Creamery; Volland Store; Native Stone Scenic Byway; Wabaunsee County Historical Museum.

Strong City (399, 128): Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve; Flint Hills National Scenic Byway; famous for rodeo each summer.

Cottonwood Falls (821, 130): Flint Hills; French Renaissance-style courthouse; art galleries, boutiques, antique shops; five National Register of Historic Places listings.

Riverton (893, 147): Old Riverton Store, oldest store still operating on Route 66; Brush Creek Bridge (aka Rainbow Bridge).

Elk Falls (109, 188): Calls itself “World’s Largest Living Ghost Town” and “Outhouse Capital of the World”; Rock Garden; 1893 Iron Truss Bridge and Elk Falls.

O’Malley’s 1842 Pub, an underground drinking establishment, is one of Weston’s many attractions.

Other day trips in Missouri

Parkville (7,177, 11): Park University, English Landing Park.

Excelsior Springs (10,553, 28): Elms Hotel and Spa, Hall of Waters.

Weston (1,641, 33): O’Malley’s 1842 Pub, Holladay Distillery.

Plattsburg (2,214, 38): Sugar Whipped Bakery, operated by Kansas City native and former New York City pastry chef Melissa Fahlstrom.

Lexington (4,564, 52): Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, four historic districts.

Warsaw (2,127, 88): Drake Harbor, Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks.

Lamar (4,301, 120): Harry S Truman Birthplace State Historic Site.

The Chase County Courthouse is the centerpiece of downtown Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.

Other day trips in Kansas

Baldwin City (4,882, 48): Baker University, Midland Railway.

Paola (5,786, 50): Downtown Park Square.

Atchison (10,694, 51): Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, Muchnic Art Gallery.

Osawatomie (4,280, 52): John Brown Memorial Park and Museum State Historic Site.

Hiawatha (3,246, 93): Davis Memorial, close to three casinos.

Wamego (4,860, 108): Oz Museum, Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie Park.

Council Grove (2,111, 120): Flint Hills National Scenic Byway; more than 25 historic spots.

More trips in Missouri

California (4,515, 130): Finke Theatre, Cultural Heritage Center.

Hermann (2,180, 189): Deutschheim State Historic Site, multiple wineries.

Mansfield (1,227, 215): Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum, Bakersville Pioneer Village.

Two of the best small towns to visit in the U.S. are in Kansas, says new national list

More trips in Kansas

Marysville (3,417, 150): Pony Express Home Station & Museum, Black Squirrels on Parade.

Abilene (6,468, 152): Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, C.W. Parker Carousel.

Lindsborg (3,496, 197): Lindsborg Old Mill & Swedish Heritage Museum.

Concordia (5,032, 212): National Orphan Train Complex, Camp Concordia POW camp.