Drive Between Denver and Kansas City: Road Trip Tips & Info
While I’ve tried hard on this site to demonstrate that the Great Plains are beautiful and dynamic, it’s hard to deny one thing: Kansas is flat. And as you drive the entire length of Kansas, plus a bit of Colorado, on the drive between Denver and Kansas City, you might not be particularly exciting if you are facing a road trip between these two cities.
I’ve actually done the drive between Kansas City and Denver – just once – on my way home from college in Iowa. While I spent most of the drive in the dusk, dark, and dawn, I saw that Kansas (and eastern Colorado) are truly flat and you can see for miles and miles.
If you’re planning this same drive and want to know all about it – how long it is, how long it takes, and where to stop along the way – read on. By the end of this post, you’ll know everything about the drive between Denver and Kansas City.
In this post, I promote travel along a route that crosses the traditional lands of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Cheyenne, Arapaho, Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), 𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^(Osage), Washtáge Moⁿzháⁿ (Kaw / Kansa), Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), Pâri (Pawnee), Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Denver to Kansas City Distance
TL;DR: How long is the drive between Kansas City and Denver? The direct drive from KC to Denver (or vice versa) is 598 miles (962 km) and should have a drive time of 8 hours, 40 minutes in normal traffic.
As the crow flies, it’s 556 miles between Kansas City to Denver. Luckily, since the route between Denver and Kansas City is relatively straight, the driving distance is roughly the same.
On average, you can expect to cover approximately 600 miles on your road trip (without any detours to visit spots along the way.)
As a heads up, your final driving time depends a lot on your start and end points within each city.
Kansas City to Denver Drive Time
A nonstop drive from Denver to Kansas City takes approximately 8 hours and 30 minutes. Someone actually driving nonstop is highly unrealistic – if not impossible, since you’ll at least need to stop for gas and/or to recharge for your electric vehicle.
Unless you’re traveling with a friend and can take driving turns, or you are really time-constrained, the chances you’ll make quite a few stops along the Denver to Kansas drive are quite high.
So, let’s say you’re planning to make a road trip out of your Denver to Kansas drive. To get a better idea of how long this road trip would take, including gas, meals, and a few touristy stops, you can expect to be on the road 10 hours; that may also mean you want to take an overnight stop somewhere too.
No matter which direction you drive (eastbound to Kansas City or westbound to Denver), you’ll cover the same mileage and will take about the same time. Unlike other routes, the reverse driving route for these two cities is quite the same.
11 Stops to Make on Your Drive between Denver and Kansas City
Even if you’re not making it a two-day road trip, there still are nice places you can stop and stretch your legs. Below you can find the best spots along the route. At almost 9 hours straight, the drive between Denver and Kansas City has at least something you’ll enjoy along the way. In this post, I’m covering stops headed eastbound; if you’re traveling westbound just reverse the list to choose stops in the order you’ll pass them while driving.
1. Old Town Museum
Nestled in the heart of Colorado, Old Town Museum is a great place for history buffs and families. This small museum has something for everyone. Scattered around, there are up to 20 authentic pioneer buildings, ranging from a prison to a barbershop to a boarding house.
There’s also a cool indoor gallery where you can see numerous antiques from Burlington’s early days (1880s-1940s), like a printing press and covered wagon, old cars, and displays on the history of Indigenous People. The museum is easily accessible from I-70 near the Colorado/Kansas border.
2. Gc30 Mingo (The World’s Oldest Active Geocache)
You’ll need a little more determination and a sharp eye to find this stop on your drive between Kansas City to Denver. “Gc30 Mingo” is the seventh geocache created in the world and the first in Kansas. For those who don’t know, geocaching is an activity in which a container holding many items is hidden at a particular location for GPS users to find via coordinates posted on the internet.
Once you find Mingo, you can sign the logbook inside and check what previous geocachers left or leave something yourself! Besides the obvious excitement of finding the geocache, the place offers some of the best views of the western Kansas plains.
3. Fick Fossil & History Museum
Fick Fossil & History Museum is a fun and interesting stop to make on the drive between Denver and Kansas City. Located just about four miles off 1-70, the Fick is a free museum that houses a number of interesting large dinosaur fossils from Kansas, many old tools, mineral specimens, and shell and mineral folk art.
Since most of the exhibits have a lot of information about the people who contributed to them, the museum is a good place to learn about the local people of Kansas. You can also see plenty of old pictures from high school parades, football teams, and special events.
4. Wilson State Park
Located on the south side of Wilson Reservoir, Wilson State Park is a great open spot to catch some fresh air and stretch your legs. Kansas’ premier recreation hotspot, the park has two areas, Hell Creek and Otoe. Both offer many activities, from wildlife watching/photography, boating, fishing, horseshoes, biking, hiking, and swimming.
If you visit during warmer days, don’t miss the chance to swim in the refreshing water before continuing your drive.
5. Central Mall Aquarium
Kansas is an excellent place to explore local sea life as well as land fossils. Located inside a nice mall, the Kansas Fishes aquarium is the largest free-standing tank display in the state. The aquarium features a wide variety of mid-western fishes in a simulated mud bank backdrop and trees from area rivers that recreates a typical Kansas water habitat.
The aquarium is home to 50 to 100 native fishes, including channel catfish, bluegill, crappie, wipers (white bass and striped bass hybrids), largemouth and white bass, and walleye. Given the aquarium is in a mall, you can kill two birds with one stone and get a good meal, too.
6. “Atomic Annie”
If the history of war holds a deep attraction for you, “Atomic Annie” the Atomic Cannon is a great place to stop on yourKansas City to Denver drive. Developed in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the Cold War, the M65 Atomic Cannon was capable of firing a nuclear device.
Be prepared for a hike as the cannon is perched on a hill overlooking the Marshall Airfield to the North. As you can imagine, the view from the hill is breathtaking –perfect for a family shot!
Note that the Atomic Cannon has been temporarily closed to the public, I’ll be sure to update when it re-opens.
7. Kansas Museum of History
Located in Topeka, the Kansas Museum of History invites visitors to explore Kansas history from prehistoric to modern eras. Through exciting exhibits, visitors can learn amazing stories from Oregon and Santa Fe trails to the tragic history of Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.
This award-winning museum is also a cool option if you’re traveling with kids. They have plenty of kid-friendly exhibits, with a hands-on learning area where they can even dress up as famous historical figures.
8. Dorothy’s House Replica
In your drive through Kansas, make sure you stop by Dorothy Gale’s humble, white-shingled house. For younger folx reading this, Dorothy was the main protagonist of American author L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – and the movie of the same name.
Located in Wamego, there’s a home built in 1907 that has been preserved and restored to bring to life the story of the Kansas farm girl. If you have time, you can take the interactive tour through the house (which is packed with movie memorabilia) run by the very “Dorothy.” There is also a gift shop where you can get some Wicked Witch stuff!
Right down the way are the OZ museum and the OZ winery if you want to visit a couple more venues in this city.
9. Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site
Along the drive between Denver and Kansas City, there’s a site that commemorates a pivotal point of American history: the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site. Established in 1992 by the United States Congress, this site commemorates the landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Brown v. Board of Education that ended legal racial segregation in public schools.
The site is housed in the Monroe Elementary School, one of the segregated schools involved in the 1954 Supreme Court decision. Inside, visitors can view videos, hands-on displays, traditional storyboards, and even watch the summaries of the five court cases which made up the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case.
This is one of 10 National Park Sites in Kansas; be sure to check out the whole list for others.
If you’re into quirky art, Truckhenge is the place for you. Located about 11 miles off of the interstate, Truckhenge is an eclectic combination of farm, salvage, and recycled art, and nature sanctuary. But don’t expect it to be a fancy museum. The place is located at Ron Lessman’s farm, who’s also the artist behind Truckhenge, a complex of 6 antique trucks shooting out of the ground. Scattered around the trucks are a variety of native plants from Kansas with other recycled object art.
While Ron Lessman is enthusiastic and delights in showing visitors around his property, make sure you call ahead before just turning up (it’s still his home after all).
11. Giant Concrete Teepee
The Giant Concrete Teepee standing along the south side of US-40 in Lawrence, Kansas is the perfect place to stop and grab a quick photo while stretching your legs for the final stretch of driving.
Established in 1930, this 50-feet tall teepee used to be the centerpiece of a US 40 roadside complex “Indian Village” that included a gas station, restaurant, and motor court of smaller teepee cabins. There used to be another 14 teepee cabins. Today, however, only remains a one-floor building with a teepee on either end and the main teepee.
If you wonder why there’s a giant teepee along the road, it’s because during the 30s many businesses worked hard at attracting passing motorists, creating a unique image that included fanciful names, signage, and graphics that spoke to a theme, and specific architectural details.
Other Tips for Your Drive Between Kansas City & Denver
Now that you know the basics of the drive and are inspired to make a few stops, here are some final tips to help you finish planning your road trip:
- The route between Denver & Kansas City takes you through two states: Colorado and Kansas.
- There aren’t many cities or big towns along the drive; two of note are Salinas and Topeka, Kansas.
- The best halfway point for a stop between Denver and Kansas City is Hays, Kansas.
- Hays is also the best place for an overnight stop; there are several hotels and motels in town.
- There are several rest stops between Denver & Kansas City; I counted 14 in total on Google Maps.
- There are plenty of gas stations and truck stops along I-70 if you need fuel, toilets, snacks, or other services.
Should You Fly between Denver & Kansas City Instead?
There’s never a right answer when it comes to flying or driving between two places; which option you chose comes down to the time and cost equation.
As mentioned before, it takes 8.5 minutes to make the drive between Denver and Kansas City and covers about 600 miles. When flying, the distance from Denver to Kansas City is around 556 miles, and it takes 75 minutes to cover that distance. Considering you’ll have to get to the airport and then arrive at your destination in Kansas, you can expect a total travel time of 5 hours by plane. That’s a definite perk of flying.
Time-wise, flying is faster. However, driving is cheaper, costing around $78 one-way and roughly $155 for a round trip, whereas the cheapest airfare costs $209, round trip.
In the end, it’s all about your needs and priorities when choosing your mode of transport.
No matter which direction you’re going and how you get there, don’t miss out on exploring other parts of the Great Plains too:
…to Santa Fe, NM
…to Casper, WY
…to Billings, MT
From Kansas City:
…to Omaha, NE
Have other questions about drive between Kansas City and Denver? Let me know in the comments!
I’m about to make the drive from Denver to KCMO to visit family. I figured it’s about 2hrs more to drive than the total time to fly and arrive at my destination. Even allowing for car rental and gas expense , I’ll probably save $100-$200 vs. plane ticket plus car rental plus gas. Now that I’m retired, there’s no restraints on my time.
While it’s been about 6 years since I last made the trip, there was a stretch of road going east from Denver that had no gas stations for maybe about 50 or more miles. I’ll have to look it up, but unless something has changed, people need to be advised of this and plan ahead to avoid running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
Great tips, Trish. Thanks for sharing your insights!