Disclaimer: This post was done in partnership with Friends of Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. All opinions are mine and photos are mine.
The dust kicked up behind the car’s tires as we made our final approach to Maxwell Wildlife Refuge (2565 Pueblo Rd) in Canton, Kansas. Male elk rested on a hill silhouetted in the distance. An adult bison grazed in the foreground.
Our adventure at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge’s Old-Fashioned Christmas on the Prairie was going to be the perfect outing.
ABOUT MAXWELL WILDLIFE REFUGE
John Gault Maxwell, who immigrated from Scotland 1859, became a farmer grain dealer in McPherson County. He was enamored by the Kansas prairie and devoted to preserving it and the native wildlife.
After his death, he willed $75,000 to purchase land that is used by Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, a non-profit organization, to be used for educational purposes. Located on the Kansas Prairie Trail Scenic Byway, the refuge opened in 1951 with ten buffalo and six elk. Now, it flourishes with up to 250 animals each spring.
The contributions of Kansas Department of Wildlife, volunteers, and supporters make Maxwell Wildlife Refuge what it is today, one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING A VISIT
For those who love nature, there is no better place to spend the holiday or anytime of year than Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. Old-Fashioned Christmas on the Prairie is an opportunity for people of all ages to take a tram tour to view bison and elk before returning to the visitor’s center for cookies, cider, and hot chocolate.
The visitor’s center also serves as an education opportunity to learn about early settlers on the land and all types of wildlife from coyotes to large game that roam the region.
GET UP CLOSE WITH WILDLIFE
During Old-Fashioned Christmas on the Prairie, we boarded a tram covered in windows and took a 45-minute tour of the prairie to view wildlife. Santa and Mrs. Claus waived goodbye as visitors boarded two trams of about 20 people each.
Keeping warm with a lap blanket, we listened to volunteer tour guide, Les, inform us about native grasses and wildlife.
He was a fantastic tour guide provide our group with extensive information about animal behavior as our tram followed the path of a feeder truck depositing pellets for the bison to eat.
We watched as the bison excitedly sought out food within feet of our tram. Stopping periodically, we took photos of the bison as they grazed, took dust baths, and communicated with their young. Calves ran to catch up with their mothers who kept a safe distance from dominant males.
Our tram tour meandered through the prairie before making a u-turn to return to its starting point. Fortunately, we were able to see bison for most of the trip.
PRO TIP: You more likely to see elk from the tram tour if you reserve a seat on the first tram of the day. Once they feed, they roam to distant area of the prairie.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOLIDAY ENTERTAINMENT
After the tour, tram passengers headed indoors to warm up and excitedly grabbed complimentary warm drinks and snacks. To the children’s delight, Santa and Mrs. Claus asked them to gather at their feet for storytime.
The looks on the kids’ faces was precious as each one became captivated by the narrative.
Parents snapped photos and chatted amongst themselves between bites of cupcakes and cookies. Afterward, Santa gifted a holiday-themed goodie bag to each child.
My take-home gift? I purchased postcards featuring photography taken by volunteers. Elk stood statuesque at sunset. Bison graze on prairie grasses under illuminated Kansas clouds.
I couldn’t resist taking my photo with Santa, who was eager to meet me. Perhaps I was the only adult who snapped a photo with the jolly ol’ guy? I felt like a kid again hoping for his approval and excited to tell him my Christmas wish.
TOUR CALENDAR & SPECIAL EVENTS
Old-Fashioned Christmas on the Prairie, which occurs four times every December, is one of many events at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.
You can also reserve a seat on a public tram tour on the weekends or take a guided trail ride. Adventurers who attend Mountain Man Rendezvous during fall learn from reenactors what it was like to explore and trap on the land in the early 1800s. The refuge also hosts school groups for educational tours.
If you visit during the spring, you’ll see a multitude of newly-born calves and fields of Kansas wildflowers. View the refuge’s calendar of events.
Battlehill RV Park provides fully equipped campsites in the area and nearby McPherson State Fishing Lake is a popular spot for anglers.
SCHEDULING A PRIVATE TOUR
Small group tours of the refuge via a suburban are available if scheduled at least 48 hours in advance. The duration of the tour depends on the chosen activities.
UPCOMING PLANS AT THE REFUGE
A section of land with a trail system is under development allowing visitors a unique perspective of the area. Stay tuned for announcements via Maxwell Wildlife Refuge’s Facebook page or via its blog.
My time at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge was one I’ll never forget because it connected me with the Kansas prairie in a way I’ve never experienced before. I suspect you’ll feel the same after your visit.
A family-friendly activity, Old-Fashioned Christmas on the Prairie is the ideal way to celebrate the season.
When visiting Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, consider exploring nearby towns to grab a meal and see the sites.
Use my travel guides, Must-Visit Places in McPherson, Kansas for a Day Trip and 10 Outdoor Activities That Make Lindsborg, Kansas Unique as inspiration for a day trip.