Nobody happens upon Fort Larned National Historic Site by accident. If you come here, it’s because you want to. Fort Larned, located in west central Kansas, isn’t near any other major attractions, nor is it on the way to any popular road trip destinations. Only 24,000 people came here in 2014.
Best frontier fort
So why visit it?
Two reasons: First is its historical significance. It’s the best-preserved and best-restored frontier fort from the Indian war period. It served a key function as a guardian of the Santa Fe Trail. And second, the National Park Service has done a superb job of setting the fort up for visitors, with great displays that show you what life here was like in the days of Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody, George Armstrong Custer and Phil Sheridan – all of whom hung out here from time to time. If you can only visit one restored frontier army post, make it this one.
When I visited Fort Larned in December 2010, I loved it. Of course, I had it all to myself. I especially liked the ½-mile nature trail, which takes you through tallgrass prairie and riparian woodland to the Pawnee River.
I highly recommend Fort Larned as a detour if you’re taking a road trip that goes through Kansas.
Fort Larned is open 8:30-4:30 daily. Start at the visitor center, which has a 10-minute AV presentation, along with interesting displays of historical artifacts. Ask the rangers if you can get a one-hour guided tour; these are offered daily May through September. There’s no entry fee, and the guided tours are free. Special “living history” events are held on holiday weekends; the next one will be on Memorial Day in late May.
You’ll find Fort Larned National Historic Site 6 miles west of the town of Larned, Kansas, on SR 156. For directions, go to the NPS website at www.nps.gov/fols/index
All travel services are in Great Bend, 30 miles northeast. Just down the road a piece is the Santa Fe Trail Museum, open Tuesday-Saturday 9-5. It houses informative displays on the Santa Fe Trail and its role in development of the West. Admission is $4 for adults and $1.50 for ages 6-11.