Smoky Hills—Places to Visit

drawing of outline of this region on Kansas map

Smoky Hills--Intro | Smoky Hills--Rocks and Minerals
Smoky Hills--Places to Visit | Other regions

Download fact sheet on the rocks and minerals of the Smoky Hills.

Rock City. The huge sandstone concretions of Rock City are located in an area about the size of two football fields. Two hundred concretions, which weathered out of the Dakota Formation, dot the landscape. These concretions show signs of crossbedding--that is, angled lines that formed in the sand as it was deposited, probably by water currents. Located 3.6 miles south of the town of Minneapolis in Ottawa County, off Kansas Highway 106, Rock City can be visited year round (though the gift shop is open only from May through August). A small admission fee is charged from May to August. For more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce, 213 West Second, Minneapolis, KS 67467 (785) 392-3068.

color photo of field filled with large rounded concretions

Sandstone concretions at Rock City, Ottawa County.

Mushroom Rock State Park. Another place to see sandstone concretions from the Dakota Formation is Mushroom Rock State Park. Balanced on pedestals of softer rock, the spheres are the result of differential erosion of the Dakota Formation sandstone. The park is located one mile south of Carneiro in Ellsworth County.

color photo of mushroom-shaped rock beside tree in winter

Sandstone concretion at Mushroom Rock State Park.

Kanopolis State Park. From the towering sandstone bluffs of the Dakota Formation to the caves and crevices of Horsethief Canyon, this park is a good place to get a feel for the rugged beauty of the Dakota sandstone country. Gypsum crystals (selenite) weather from the shale slopes around the lake. The gypsum is a secondary product derived from the weathering of iron sulfide (mainly marcasite) in the shale. For more information, contact Kanopolis State Park, 200 Horsethief Rd., Marquette, KS 67464 (785) 546-2565.

Russell County Scenic Drive. To see outcrops of Greenhorn Limestone and the red sandstones of the Dakota Formation, take the scenic backroad from Bunker Hill to Wilson Lake Dam. From I-70 take the Bunker Hill exit (exit 193) two miles north, and then turn east on Anspaugh Road. Travel Anspaugh Road about four miles in a northeasterly direction until it intersects Shoreline Road (called South Shore Road on some maps). Follow Shoreline Road to its intersection with Kansas Highway 232 two miles south of the dam.

Sternberg Museum. The newly remodeled Sternberg Natural History Museum in Hays opened in March 1999. Adjacent to Interstate 70 on the northeast edge of Hays, this is a great place to learn more about what life was like at the edge of the Cretaceous sea that covered western Kansas, roughly 80 million years ago. The Sternberg Museum, a part of Fort Hays State University, is named after a famous fossil-hunting family that collected extensively from the Kansas Cretaceous. Many of their specimens will be on display at the Museum, including the famous fossilized fish-within-a-fish. For more information, visit the Museum's web site at http.//

Castle Rock. Located in eastern Gove County are the chalk formations at Castle Rock. The chalk monoliths here and at Monument Rocks in western Gove County were carved by wind and water in the thick chalk of the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Chalk. One of these, a slender spire known as Cobra Rock recently toppled, a striking example of how erosion sculpts the landscape. The chalk was deposited at the bottom of a great inland sea that covered most of North America during the later part of the Cretaceous Period, about 80 million years ago. To get to Castle Rock, take the Quinter exit off Interstate 70 and head south for 14 miles on Castle Rock Road. Although Castle Rock is open to the public, visitors should bear in mind that it is located on private property.

color photo of chalk monoliths

Chalk monuments at Castle Rock in Gove County, showing Cobra Rock before it toppled in 1998.

Monument Rocks. Like the erosional remnants at Castle Rock, Monument Rocks rise above the floor of the Smoky Hill valley in western Gove county. Harder layers within the chalk protect the underlying rock from erosion, creating the distinctive buttes or "monuments." The chalky rocks of Gove and Logan counties are world famous for the fossils discovered in them, some of which were extremely large. One type of swimming reptile, the plesiosaur, was 50 feet long, of which 22 feet was neck. Another, the mosasaur, was a swimming, meat-eating lizard 35 feet long. Monument Rocks has been designated a National Natural Landmark. To get there, head south on U.S. Highway 83 from the intersection with U.S. 40 at Oakley. After 20 miles, head east on Jayhawk Road for four miles, then south for two miles, east for one mile, and south for one-half mile. As with Castle Rock, Monument Rocks is on private property.

color photo of Monument Rocks

Monument Rocks, Gove County.


Buchanan, Rex C., and McCauley, James R., 1987, Roadside Kansas--A Traveler's Guide to Its Geology and Landmarks: Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas, 365 p.

Buchanan, Rex, McCauley, Jim, and Sawin, Bob, 1996, Field Trip to the Kanopolis Lake Area: Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 96-41, 17 p.

Evans, Catherine S., 1988, From Sea to Prairie--A Primer of Kansas Geology: Kansas Geological Survey, Educational Series 6, 60 p.

Jackson, Julia A., editor, 1997, Glossary of Geology (Fourth Edition): Alexandria, Virginia, American Geological Institute, 769 p.

Landes, Kenneth K., 1935, Scenic Kansas: Bulletin of the University of Kansas, State Geological Survey of Kansas, v. 36, no. 18, 52 p.

McCauley, James R., Buchanan, Rex C., and Sawin, Robert, 1997, Fossil Collecting in the Cretaceous Niobrara Chalk: Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 97-62, 14 p.

Tolsted, Laura L., and Swineford, Ada, revised by Buchanan, Rex C., 1986, Kansas Rocks and Minerals: Kansas Geological Survey, Educational Series 2, 60 p.

Wilson, Frank W., 1978, Kansas Landscapes--A Geologic Diary: Kansas Geological Survey, Educational Series 5, 50 p.

Text by Liz Brosius, Kansas Geological Survey. Unless noted otherwise, illustrations by Jennifer Sims, Kansas Geological Survey; photographs by John Charlton, Kansas Geological Survey.

Smoky Hills--Intro | Smoky Hills--Rocks and Minerals
Smoky Hills--Places to Visit | Other regions