Travel Explorer USA

From York, Nebraska (I-80) to Salina, Kansas (I-70) via US-81

Four Lane Highway Links I-80 to I-70
Not too long ago, the state Nebraska and Kansas decided to make a four laned road stretching from I-80 and I-70. It would start from York, Nebraska, travel south through McCool Junction, Fairmont, Geneva, Strang, Bruning, Hebron, past the Nebraska – Kansas border through Belleville, Concordia, Minneapolis, and finally Salina where it meets I-70 and even I-135. It still exists today and serves a good purpose for faster transportation.

US-81
To explain a little better, this US-81 route contributes with I-135 and its purpose as well. If you look at a map, you see I-35 which was once in the central part of the country starting to shift east away from the north central states. With the new roads, there is a faster route for the area that I-35 missed when going east to Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.

In the Dakotas and Nebraska, you realize there is no interstate that runs vertically through the middle of the states. We have history to blame for this. But in short, this new route gives these north central states a faster way to access I-35 in a more direct way to travel to places in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

From the flip side of things, it is easier for the south central states to travel to the north central states as well. It is a step towards making transportation slightly faster in this area.

Here are a few good places to stop along this road from York, NB and Salina, KS:

York
North of I-80 you can truly see the size of the town. US-81 & US-34 mostly bypass the town, but Lincoln Avenue is a main road that runs straight through the town. This is a good stopping point even when traveling along the interstate. Most travelers when in a slight hurry stop south of town rather than in it. They should consider going up a mile if they have the time.

Geneva
To get more options, you can either travel west on F Street or NE-41, whichever comes first. You could stop at Shell for gas, Dollar General for a snack, or even Subway for a nice, healthy lunch.

Hebron
Most of the stops are again west of the highway. Lincoln Avenue is a good way to enter the city from the highway. You can find another Dollar General here as well as a Casey’s. The airport and the country club is south of the town near US-136.

Pawnee Indian Museum Kansas
Pawnee Indian Museum Republic Kansas USA

Belleville
North of US-36 and east of US-81 is where the city of Belleville resides. Up north is a Love’s, a speedway, swimming pool, and Rocky Pond. For anyone looking for businesses you can find in most places, there is a Super 8 hotel near a Dollar General, Casey’s, and even a DQ where you can stop for a treat.

POW Camp Concordia Kansas USA
POW Camp Concordia Kansas USA

Concordia
You don’t have to leave the highway too much at all to stop at a DQ, Sonic, McDonald’s, Subway, Arby’s, and more. South of town they even have a Walmart. It should fill most needs someone would like during the trip.

Kenwood Cove Salina Kansas
Kenwood Cove Salina Kansas

Salina
This city is blessed to have four lane roads in all four directions. When US-81 reaches Salina, people traveling south have the option to travel west to Hays and Denver, east to Topeka and Kansas City, or south to Wichita and Oklahoma City. Taking I-135 south by Salina gives you more options rather than I-70, but there are still enough stops north of Salina by I-70 to support travelers along their way. US-81 continues south with I-135 after Salina to Wichita and beyond.


Historic Fort Hays Kansas USA

Fort Hays Historic Site Kansas USA
Fort Hays Historic Site Kansas USA

How to get to Hays, Kansas, USA
Via I-70, US-40, and US-183 lies the town of Hays, Kansas, one of the more popular places in the area. Hays and Salina were a big deal when the interstate was first built. If you have noticed when you first approach an interstate, it will have north and south or west and east directions depending on the interstate. With that they will have an important town name in addition to the sign so people know where things are. West of Hays, you will get names of towns on the signs that aren’t even in Kansas such as Limon or Denver in Colorado. East of Hays you will get signs for Salina, Topeka, Kansas City, St. Louis, etc. Based on that information, we can figure that Hays is recognized more than some cities in the state. 

Old Fort Hays Historical Marker
Old Fort Hays Historical Marker

In addition to the interstate and US-183, there is Bypass US-183 that travels around the southwest parts of town, including Fort Hays State University. If you are traveling from East I-70 to South US-183 or from North US-183 to West I-70, this is an excellent way to skip town traffic along Vine Street or US-183. Vine Street is one of the main roads in town with many places to eat. The road actually named “Main Street” takes you through downtown, the library, pool, park, etc. There are also enough businesses north of the interstate to choose from.

Fort Hays Historic Site Kansas USA
Fort Hays Historic Site Kansas USA

Besides Fort Hays State University, you can visit the Sternberg Museum, Old Fort Hays, a golf course, country club, and more parks. My family likes to visit a park east of Main Street and just north of Bypass US-183. There is a playground, picnic areas, and a great view of Big Creek from the bridge going over it. We like the location of Hays mostly because it is a nice halfway point to meet up with family out west. We have many places to stop for food right off the interstate along US-183 north or south. Occasionally, even though it is slightly off track for us, we like taking the bypass so we can check out more of the town and Fort Hays.

Jellison Covered Bridge - Fort Hays University Kansas
Jellison Covered Bridge – Fort Hays University Kansas

Fort Hays State University Kansas

In the southwest part of Hays, there is the university of Fort Hays State. Along Bypass US-183, you can view some of its sports complexes such as the tennis and baseball fields and their basketball stadium. Slightly east, you can find its campus and educational buildings. 

Fort Hays State Kansas
Fort Hays State Kansas

There is a nice bridge otherwise known as the Jellison Bridge. If I had to pick a cool place at the university, this would be a top pick. Looking south from South Campus Road, it is cool to see the length of the bridge over the water and through the trees. This is a route for students to get to and from the Custer, McMindes, and Agnew Halls or the Performing Arts Center and Nursing Departments. 

Jellison Covered Bridge - Fort Hays University Kansas
Jellison (Covered) Bridge – Fort Hays University Kansas

The main campus extends as far north as North Campus Drive, as far east as Elm Street and Lewis Drive, and as far west and south as the Big Creek Trail. Again, all sports complexes however are near Bypass US-183 west of the trail. There are signs that will help guide you to the fields and stadiums. For people living out west, they consider this to be a decent sized and popular college. K-State and Kansas Universities are all located in the east of the state and Wichita State being centrally located south. This is most likely the next best choice after these three public colleges. There are many community colleges you can find in western Kansas towns such as Garden City, Liberal, Dodge City, Colby, Goodland, etc. 

Fort Hays State University Kansas USA
Fort Hays State University Kansas USA
Fort Hays State Kansas
Fort Hays State Kansas

After everything mentioned, for any future college students, the choice is yours. Visitors can tour at times and see its beauty with all of the buildings, trees, and water such as Big Creek in the background of the college. It looks satisfying enough to be a decent university that deserves to be seen by more people. Feel free to stop by and check out the university! It might be the one for you! 


Waconda Lake Kansas

How to get to Waconda Lake, Kansas, USA
Waconda Lake out in north central Kansas is located west of Beloit and east of Downs. There isn’t much at all in the south part of the lake. All of the activities and important parts are up north. The lake extends as far west as Cawker City and as far east as Glen Elder.

Waconda Lake, Kansas, USA.

South of Cawker City, you can take Lake Drive for some scenic views. South of Glen Elder, you can take Glen Elder Dam Road for more scenic viewing. Additionally, even if you are just travelling along US-24 & K-9 north of the lake, it does cut through part of the lake so you can have another decent view looking south.

World's Largest Ball of Twine, Cawker City, Kansas, USA
World’s Largest Ball of Twine, Cawker City, Kansas, USA

Fun Fact: Cawker City, Kansas has the world’s largest ball of twine for any photographers out there!

Glen Elder State Park, Kansas, USA
The town of Glen Elder is a decent town with a view of the lake daily. West of the town is Glen Elder State Park, or the state park used to visit Waconda Lake. Restrooms and showers are nearby the Pawnee, Kanza, Kaw, Arikaree, and Takoda campgrounds and the Glen Elder Marina. US-24 & K-9 is the main route to get to Cawker City and Glen Elder. If you are coming south on K-128, you can just keep on going straight even after its end and it will take you directly to the campgrounds and the state park. Coming west on US-24 & K-9, the turnoff after Glen Elder Dam Road seems to be a more direct way to access the state park. It is an unnamed road south of the highway but north of it, the street is called 190 Road.

Boat Ramp at Waconda Lake, Kansas, USA

Cawker City and Glen Elder are both small towns but are very near Waconda Lake. US-24 & K-9 run through and near these cities which give these towns some more popularity. Since it is closer to Glen Elder, they named the state park after the town and gave its citizens a better view of the town. However, I am a little more familiar with Cawker City since some of my family has lived there before.


Cedar Bluff State Park Kansas

Cedar Bluff Reservoir is a lake out west in the state of Kansas. If you were to look at a map of western Kansas, this is most likely the first lake you would notice from its size. The main way to get there is by taking K-147 via I-70 or K-4. There are also ways to get there from US-283. I like taking this route through the Smoky Valley when I am going south or even north coming from family out west. 

Cedar Bluff State Park Kansas USA
Cedar Bluff State Park Kansas USA

Going east from US-283 or west from K-147 south of the lake takes you to the Cedar Bluff State Park-Shop. It is just another area to visit at the south end of the lake. Traveling on K-147, you can spot a fish hatchery to the east. There is a nice dam and a 14 foot tall bridge over the Smoky Hill River along the way north to Ogallah and I-70 or south to Brownell and K-4.

However, I recommend going towards the northeast part of the lake where Cedar Bluff State Park is located. This is where my grandparent loved to fish. We go here mainly to remember them and also enjoy the great scenery of the lake. The wood branches coming out of the water really caught my attention for some reason. Maybe I’m not the only one who enjoyed that look so I thought I might mention it. There will be enough restrooms near the campgrounds of the park if you wish to visit. 


El Dorado Lake Kansas

How to get to El Dorado Lake
El Dorado Lake is one of two great big lakes closest to Wichita, Kansas. To the west is Cheney Reservoir which you can get there from Wichita by taking via K-251 from US-54 and US-400.

To the east is the El Dorado Lake which you can get to from Wichita by taking via K-254. US-54 and US-77 also meet up in the town of El Dorado.
K-177 runs on the east side of the lake and I-35 runs through the north part of the lake and even cuts through a part of it. If you look on the map, you can tell that the south and the east part of the lake have more activities since it is more accessible to the two-laned highways. 

El Dorado Lake Kansas USA
El Dorado Lake Kansas USA

Driving via K-177
Driving via K-177, you can visit the Shady Creek Area or the Bluestem Area.

Shady Creek Area
Towards the south you can find the Shady Creek Area by taking Access Road to NE 6th Street. You can find tons of designated camping areas with a boat ramp to use as well as plenty of restrooms. It will be a right turn after the park station unless you want to go to the Shady Creek Sales & Service building. If you are taking Access Road west from the highway and you don’t want to take NE 6th Street to the campgrounds, just continue west to find more excitement by the Walnut River.

Bluestem Area
To the east north of the Shady Creek Area you can find the Bluestem Area that includes some cabins, more campgrounds, and a swim beach. There are many restrooms and showers you can use to clean up, change clothes, etc. Apart from the highway and anywhere east from it the area is surrounded by the lake on both sides. This is in my opinion probably one of the cooler places to visit for the day.


Milford Lake Kansas

Milford Lake is the biggest lake in the state and you can see why when you look at it on a map. There are many ways to get there since it is so big, so I will just share how to get there from I-70 coming from both directions. If you are coming east, you can take Milford Lake Road north to East K-244, and the alternate route (Alt K-244) will take you to North K-57 faster. Or if you are traveling west, simply take North US-77 to North K-57 and get to the same place. There you can either stay south at the Rolling Hills Park or ride the dam up north to Milford State Park

Before I continue, let me tell you more background information about the lake. Milford lake is known for fishing and boating. Many state competitions involving these activities are held specifically at this lake for its size. This is somewhere you should consider if you are into fishing and boating. There are many places for you to do these things here which is why I recommend this lake in particular to you.

East Rolling Hills Park Beach Milford Lake Kansas
East Rolling Hills Park Milford Lake Kansas

Last time I visited Milford, our family decided that East Rolling Hills Park is where we would swim. There is a nice beach located in this area after a few right turns once you are on the road directed by signs on K-57. There were a few playgrounds and restrooms near the beach that came in handy and there were plenty of trees on the west side providing a lot of shade for us in the evening. There is an outlet, fish hatchery, and nature center on the east side of the highway as well on the south side. Also to the east of the lake, you can even go golfing at the Rolling Meadows Golfing Course.

Taking a trip up north to Milford State Park, there are more swimming beaches, picnic benches in shade, more fishing spots, and more with plenty of restrooms and showers provided nearby. There is an overlook of the lake just right after the dam where you can go free of charge with a playground aka North Overlook Park. We visited here a time or two for a nice rest, a fun time on the playground, and a time for good pictures to keep for memories. There is a lot of housing and lodging north of the lake and east of the state park that are right next to the lake and have a decent view of everything in the comfort of their own homes. 


Kanopolis Lake Kansas

Kanopolis Lake is located west of Salina and Lindsborg, and east of Ellsworth and the town of Kanopolis. You can get here via K-141. Take K-140 or K-4 to get to this highway.

Up north you can find more campgrounds and hiking grounds to take. For the people wanting to ride a boat, a way to do it is going to the Buzzard Bay Boat Ramp. My youth group took me here once and it was pretty interesting. We went hiking, and then made a campfire to cook hotdogs and smores. There is one public swimming beach along Beach Road. The best way to get here is by taking Vendago Road west. It splits into Horsethief Road and Beach Road and you can navigate from there depending on your desired destination. 

Langley Point State Park Kanopolis Lake Kansas USA
Langley Point State Park Kanopolis Lake Kansas USA

Down south include more campgrounds, but most importantly, in my opinion, a better beach for swimming. There are showers and restrooms nearby. There are also some included up north for the activities up there. The way to get there is by taking Langley Point Road.

Langley Point State Park Beach Kanopolis Lake Kansas USA
Langley Point State Park Beach Kanopolis Lake Kansas USA


On the other side of the highway, the same road is called Riverside Drive. This is how you get to the outlet which requires another left turn. This is where the Smoky Hill River comes back from the lake and meets Sand Creek. Last time I went here, I saw people swimming, so I assume you can swim as well. There are restrooms in the same area. Or if you don’t like the water, it is a good place to take pictures.


Kansas Turnpike (KTA)

The Kansas Turnpike Association (KTA) is responsible for keeping the toll road in good conditions. It travels west from Kansas City to Topeka then down through Emporia to Wichita, and then finally takes a dive south in Oklahoma. You can take this route via West I-70, West I-470, South I-335, and South I-35. It is approximately 225 miles long in total. You can also look at it from a reverse angle where the directions are north and east instead, taking you to Missouri. 

Tolls may not be fun to pay for, but there are some benefits to it. First of all, there are places you can stop on the toll road instead of getting off to go through town traffic and then paying to get back on again. Additionally, there is an extra lane added to the two normal lanes so the road isn’t so jammed with traffic. Since it is after all a toll road. you can trust that it is a good, steady road to travel on. There are always improvements being made to the road. Less traffic will merge on the road since there are less exits than usual. Getting a KTA sticker costs money, but it allows you to keep driving without stopping because they have added cameras to capture a look at your license plate so they can bill you later. If you prefer to drive more conveniently, you can consider taking the toll or even getting a sticker at the front of your car if you wish. 

As mentioned previously, there are service areas that provide food, restrooms, gas, shops, information spots, etc. You don’t have to pay to get off or on with these along the way. Here are where these locations are based off of mile markers you can find off to the side of the road or even between North & South / West & East Interstate on which you are traveling.

Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve Kansas
Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve Kansas exit from I-35 at Emporia Kansas

Kansas Welcome Center
Service Area (Mile Marker 26) Get to know some more about the state of Kansas, visit the EZ GO store, stop by Phillips 66 for gas, or grab a bite at McDonald’s while you are taking a break from driving.

Towanda Service Area (Mile Marker 65)
If you care to stop by, there are a couple of ChargePoint charging stations you can use or take Dunkin’ or Hardee’s to go.

Matfield Green Service Area (Mile Marker 97)
Go ahead and take a look at the Al Larsen Memorial or stop at another Phillips 66 to get some gas or a snack for your travels. Another Dunkin’ to go? If it’s open why not have another one?

Emporia Service Area (Mile Marker 132)
By this point you are not far from the halfway point of the turnpike. You are either approaching Emporia or have just left. If you wish, you can grab a bite to eat at McDonald’s, get gas at Valero, or stop at the Fast N Friendly store.

Topeka Service Area (Mile Marker 188)
You have many options in this service area: Hardee’s, Pizza Hut Express, Dunkin’, Taco Bell, Phillip’s 66, and Kansas Originals Market. Need a charging station? There’s a couple east of the building.

Lawrence Service Area (Mile Marker 209)
If you want to visit the EZ GO store, you can find one in this service area. Additionally, there is yet another McDonald’s and yet another Phillip’s 66. Once again, you have charging stations to use located east of the building.

There are two main toll plazas at each end of the turnpike for the people coming from or going to Oklahoma / Missouri. They are known as the Eastern Terminal Toll Plaza and the South Terminal Toll Plaza. These are located around mile markers 16 and 216. Pretty cool how they are almost exactly 200 miles apart from each other.


Places to Stop on I-70 In Kansas

Kansas Museum of History
Kansas Museum of History Topeka Kansas

If you are traveling out west to Colorado or east to Missouri through Kansas via I-70, there are some towns you can stop at along the way to your destination. More specifically, I shall give some suggestions that have enough variety.for you. I will list the exit numbers, the town, and some reasoning. It is up to you which place is more convenient according to the pace of your travel. From Kansas City to Topeka is the Kansas Turnpike that I will talk about in the future.

Topeka (KS Capital City) (Exits 355-366)
It is expected to be a big city and it is. The west part of I-470 is not a toll road unlike the east part once it meets up with I-335. I feel there are many more options in this part of the city that are much closer to the road. If you want to keep traveling through, you can take your pick which way to go. You can see more downtown on I-70 and I-470 bypasses most of it. If you don’t mind the toll you can get on ahead of time taking I-470 east.

East Rolling Hills Park Beach Milford Lake Kansas
East Rolling Hills Park Milford Lake Kansas near Junction City Kansas USA

Junction City (Exits 295-300)
From Topeka to Junction City there really aren’t a lot of places to go that are right close by. You can find some but they might not have what you are looking for. Junction City has plenty of good options. If you so happened to check out K-State University before heading here, just take K-18 to make your way to Junction City and the interstate. Fort Riley is east of the town right between the K-18 exit and the main town. We normally take exits 296 & 298 for food whenever we travel in that direction.
Check out Milford Lake!

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum Abilene Kansas USA

Abilene (Exit 275)
Exit 272 has a Love’s Travel Shop you can stop at to get gas and a few snacks. The main road is at Exit 275 where it meets up with K-15 and is most likely where you want to stop if you stop at all here. Most options are south, but there are a couple north from it. You can learn more about Eisenhower if you go to the south part of town taking K-15 if you wish.

Salina (Exits 250-253)
It seems like a small town at first, but there are many more options by taking I-135 south at Exit 250. There you find a much bigger looking city, so you should be able to find the maximum amount of options this way. However, if you wish to stay near the interstate, take Exit 252 to K-143. Going south into town takes some time but connects to downtown. Up north is the quickest solution for rushed travelers. The travel store might be a convenient short stop on the north side of the road.
Check out the Rolling Hills Zoo!

Russell (Exits 184 & 189)
There are more smaller towns along the way, but don’t have too many places that are familiar to most people. However, if this is something that interests you, there is Wilson (Wilson Lake), Dorrance, and Bunker Hill for example. The town of Russell is a bit bigger and will have more options than the ones along the way. Just take north US-281 at Exit 184 or the main exit or take Business US-40 at Exit 189. 

Fort Hays Historic Site Kansas USA
Old Fort Hays Historic Site Hays Kansas USA
across from Ft Hays State University and Big Creek Park.

Hays (Exits 157 & 159)
This is considered a major city in this part of the state. Be more than happy to take Exit 159 to get on US-183 and travel either direction north or south. Going south gives you more options, but there are also a number of places on the north side. Or if you care to take Exit 157 for Bypass US-183, you can go by Fort Hays State University and the west part of town. This is what I like to do occasionally when I’m travelling west.

WaKeeney (Exits 127 & 128)
Traveling west from Hays, you could stop at Ellis at Exit 145, but WaKeeney in my opinion is a better choice if you have already stopped in Hays. South of the interstate on US-283 is a travelstore connected to a McDonald’s with a drive-thru. This is probably the best place to stop in WaKeeney. It is pretty easy to spot right to the side of both roads and we usually stop here most of the time when we travel.

Annie Oakley Kansas USA at Buffalo Bill Cultural Center
Annie Oakley Kansas USA at Buffalo Bill Cultural Center

Oakley (Exit 70 & 76)
What exit you take can depend on your direction of travel. Both exits are good because they both have good rest stops and gas stations to get gas and a short snack. You can take Exit 70 for US-83 and Exit 76 for US-40. Exit 76 has a big gas station with multiple places to go. However, Exit 70 takes you to Buffalo Bill Cultural Center and also has a Cenex with a restaurant next door. You could even take both roads instead of the interstate if you were really curious about the town of Oakley. 

Colby (Exits 53 & 54)
The main exit would be Exit 53 since it connects with K-25. It is one of the main roads of the town. Just travel up north and find something there. Whenever we would travel west, we would stop here before heading to Colorado to get to somewhere like Denver. We just always found something there like the McDonald’s close by the interstate.

Goodland (Exits 17 & 19)
West of Colby, US-24 joins the ride, you pass by Brewster followed by the time zone change. An hour behind is Goodland. Exit 19 leads to Bypass US-24 which comes back with K-27 at Exit 17. This is the main exit to get something to go in my opinion. This is really the last big stop before the state line. Kanorado at Exit 1 is the last town in Kansas and it is a pretty small one. Then you shall make your entrance into Colorful Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Burlington is the first available stop in Colorado 13 miles west from the state line. We also like to stop here sometimes.

Rest Areas
There are many located along the interstate if you want to use the restroom or just stop driving for a bit. This is not including the toll road. Here is roughly where they are at based on mile markers: 336, 309, 265, 224, 187, 132, 96, 48, 9. These are what I can find and remember. If you are coming east from Colorado the rest area at around mile 9 is a welcome center for anyone new coming through the state.