Disclosure: Kansas Tourism sponsored this post. However, all opinions and photographs are my own.
Fort Scott, Kansas, is a special place promising unforgettable experiences. Established in 1855, it’s maintained its historic charm while adding remarkable museums, dining, and unique shopping to a list of visit-worthy attractions.
A 1.5-hour drive south of Kansas City or 2.5 hours east of Wichita, the southeast Kansas town makes for a delightful experience.
The Courtland Hotel & Spa
Nestled in Fort Scott’s historic downtown district sits The Courtland Hotel & Spa (121 E. 1st St.), a period-style building dating back to 1906. The hotel’s historic ambiance is clear from the moment you walk inside the oversized glass door to the creaky wood floors.
A building that temporarily housed railroad workers during the early 1900s, the hotel features fully furnished rooms and spacious bathrooms on its second floor. Not only did my room (King Room 1) include double closets and soft bedding, but I was able to work using its high-speed Wi-Fi and stream movies. A grab-and-go breakfast near the coffee station made the stay extra comfortable.
PRO TIP: To book a tranquil spa service, call 620-223-5676 or reserve a service online before your arrival. And if you’re interested in bike rental, ask about the yellow bikes in front of the hotel.
When visiting Fort Scott, you must explore beautiful Gunn Park (1010 Park Ave.). The 155-acre landscape seems to go as far as the eye can see. Families appreciate its playground areas while anglers fish from the banks for scene Fern Lake.
Do you prefer to adventure via mountain bike? Gunn Park Trails wind through wooded scenery along the Marmaton River. It’s the site of the Marmaton Massacre Mountain Bike Race & Festival in September.
For a novice disc golfer, I thought the 18-hole course was approachable. Despite the trees, each hole was pretty spacious, and golfers play from concrete tee boxes.
PRO TIP: The park includes 14 camp sites with electric and water hookups if you travel by RV. The cost is $20/night.
Take a Tour
Fort Scott National Historic Site
Most travelers visit the area to tour Fort Scott National Historic Site (199 Old Fort Blvd.), established in 1842. Fort Scott played an important role in Bleeding Kansas, The Civil War, and westward railroad expansion.
It served as a military outpost on the Indian frontier to keep settlers in Missouri out of the territory and vice-versa. And to contain westward expansion, infantry patrolled the Oregon and Santa Fe trails to ensure safe travel.
The fort lies near the Kansas/Missouri border, an area for Civil War combat. It served as a supply depot, hospital, and top-ranking generals and their families live on-site in special barracks.
Today, the historic buildings are open for self-guided tours every day from sunrise to sunset, or you can join a guided tour from the Visitor Center at 10 am and 1 pm daily. I chose the self-guided option and listened to my phone’s free National Park Service app . I was pleased with the narrator’s thorough description of each building and its use.
PRO TIP: Start at the Visitor’s Center to view a map of the grounds and ask any questions of the park ranger. Its retail area contains books and gifts for all ages.
U.S. Cemetery No. 1
My historic tour of the area took me to Fort Scott National Cemetery (900 E. National Ave.). The resting place for all armed forces members, it pays tribute to the soldiers who severed honorable for the country. Established in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln and the US Congress, it is one of 14 cemeteries in the nation and three in the state.
Open from dawn to dusk, visitors can enter the cemetery on two sides via grand entrances and park along the paved roads before exiting to walk the grounds consisting of 10.5 acres.
Foreman Lopez greeted me at the office and patiently explained the cemetery’s significance and notable gravestones. A poet, Eugene Fitch Ware, who wrote “Jonquil” and “John Brown,” is interred in Grave 1. Sixteen Indian soldiers who were Army scouts and 88 African American soldiers from the Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry are buried in Section 5.
PRO TIP: In search of a particular grave site? Use the video touchscreen at the Visitor’s Center to search the database and print a map.
Gordon Parks Museum
Gordon Parks, originally from Fort Scott, was a world-renowned photojournalist and filmmaker whose work impacted many people’s lives. His images captured the Civil Rights movement, celebrities in candid moments, and the struggle of impoverished people.
Voted Kansan of the Year in 1986, he also published an autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree, about Fort Scott. He directed multiple films, wrote musical compositions, and authored several books.
Located on the Fort Scott Community College campus, The Gordon Parks Museum (2108 S. Horton St.) displays some of his photography collection, piano, movie memorabilia, and personal effects. The museum’s annual Choice of Weapons ceremony, held at the museum, honors a person in uses their art to make a profound difference in the lives of others.
A major fan of his work and one-time photography teacher, I was disappointed to learn that the museum was closed on Good Friday during my visit to town. So, I made a point of finding his gravesite at the Evergreen Cemetery. The black granite tombstone has text on both sides, including a poem, Homecoming, which details how he felt while living in Fort Scott and his hope for the future.
PRO TIP: Plan your visit by checking the museum’s hours, which operate when the college is open.
The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes
Do you have what it takes to step up and help others in need? At Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes (1 S. Main), museumgoers learn about individuals whose bravery propelled them to do the right thing despite the odds. The stories of true heroes amongst us moved me.
Each display features a student-driven project that focuses on someone of extraordinary character. They are the stories of everyday people who made incredible sacrifices, like Polish-born Irena Sendler, who spearheaded a group of people to offer food and shelter to Jewish people. She helped rescue 2,500 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation during World War II.
PRO TIP: Give yourself an hour to tour the museum. Many displays include a video component.
Dolly The Trolley
If you’re short on time and want to make the most of your visit to Fort Scott, a 50-minute narrated tour on Dolly The Trolley is the answer. Parked at the Fort Scott Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Center (231 E. Wall St.), the trolley runs from the first weekend of March to the first weekend of December. View ticket prices and trolley hours here.
PRO TIP: Stop in the Fort Scott Visitor’s Center to stock up on travel brochures and sign the guest book.
Historic brick streets. Boutique shops in every building. Interesting antiques are around every corner. Shoppers on the lookout for a gem of a find will love strolling through the stores in downtown Fort Scott.
Each shop has a visual personality, and most stores carry an eclectic mix of goods, from repurposed furniture and ladies’ apparel to on-trend home decor and vintage items.
During your visit, stop inside The Iron Star (3 N. Main St.), Main Street Vintage & Co. (23 S. Main St.), Sunshine Boutique (18 E. Wall St.), Angie Dawn’s Boutique (108 Scott Ave.), and Treasure Hunt Flea Market (6 S. Main St.) to purchase something special for you or a loved one. This list scratches the surface. I look forward to returning to Fort Hays when I have more time to shop.
During my shopping experience, I appreciated Hedgehog Ink‘s(16 S. Main St.) new, gently used book inventory. As you walk in, ask the employee about the monthly sales special. The books are well-organized and categorized by type and genre.
PRO TIP: You should park the car in the heart of the downtown shopping district and walk to the stores. Take a moment to look for Downtown Walking Tour signs that provide historical context to the area.
Sip & Savor
Common Ground Coffee Co.
Bustling with activity, Common Ground Coffee Co. (12 E. Wall St.) is the place to gather at a large table with friends or sit solo to catch up on work. During my visit, community college students intently studied behind laptops while sipping from coffee cups.
You’re guaranteed to be greeted by a friendly face behind the counter. Not always sure what I want to order, the employee was patient while I asked questions about the breakfast menu options ranging from muffins to fresh-made sandwiches.
PRO TIP: A downtown hangout for locals, the coffee shop hosts live music played by singers and songwriters occasionally. Check the café’s event schedule.
Sharky’s Pub & Grub
What do you get when you mix an Irish bar with an island theme inside a building dating back to 1888? Sharky’s Pub & Grub (16 N. National Ave.) is a favorite restaurant with locals. Every wall space has sports bar memorabilia, funny bumper stickers, and tin signs. Guinness flags drop overhead, and an Irish flag outside the building keeps with the theme.
With 20 beers on tap and an extensive menu, you’re bound to order something that curbs your cravings. They serve “good food and honest drink,” making it a go-to place to grab lunch or dinner. The Asian Chicken Salad was a heaping portion considering it was the “lunch size,” and it paired well with a Lagunitas IPA cold draft.
PRO TIP: Seat yourself wherever you would prefer to sit. If dining alone, pony up to the bar for quick service.
Ooh la la! There is no better place to enjoy a high-end dinner in Fort Scott than Crooner’s Lounge (117 S. Main). Surprisingly, the restaurant offered incredibly affordable Happy Hour specials, a short list of martinis, cocktails, wine selections, and small plate bites. My crab cakes arrived with an outer crust and soft center.
The lasagna (recommended to me by a couple of locals) was scrumptious for dinner. A large portion that two people could easily share came with a house salad and bread. Although I was stuffed, I craved something sweet. My server asked the kitchen to prepare cinnamon ice cream with a caramel drizzle minus the cake for my after-dinner treat. I ate every bite.
PRO TIP: Make a reservation in advance of your arrival at Fort Scott. I also recommend you view the restaurant’s Facebook page to ensure it’s not closed for a private party. When you go, ask about the specials before ordering your meal.
Other Places or Events Worth Checking Out
Would you like to take to the links? Play 18 holes at the highly-rated Woodland Hills Golf Course (2414 Horton St.). If you have time to explore agritourism locations, check out The Lavender Patch Farm, 1553 Plants & Produce, or Fort Scott’s Farmers’ Market. Don’t miss Museum of Creativity, see a show at Liberty Theatre or Danny and Willis Ellis Family Fine Arts Center.
To learn more about Fort Scott, view Kansas Tourism’s directory page. And when visiting Fort Scott, be sure to also plan for an overnight stay in Humboldt, a 48-mile drive west of town.
What did I leave off the list? What unforgettable place would you recommend I visit in Fort Scott during a return visit? Leave your comments below!
If you’re traveling through Southeast Kansas, consider viewing my travel recommendations for Humboldt, Coffeyville, and Pittsburg.