Military towns seem to have a certain feel. One that tells you you’re in an Army town, or a Navy or Air Force community. Subtle signs or just a feeling. But Leavenworth doesn’t give off that vibe. It could be Anytown USA — a college community or just your typical Midwestern small city.
Leavenworth, Kansas, is home to amazing history, great food, and unique shopping. All that shines over a weekend visit. From staying in a hotel in a former school to riding a carousel from the early 1900s, Leavenworth is a great city to explore.
1. C.W. Parker Carousel Museum
Riding an old-fashioned carousel is a highlight of visiting the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum. Built in the early 1900s by Parker’s company, the carousel is a favorite of kids of all ages. The museum is home to three carousels, from the 1850s, 1913, and 1950. Your museum ticket takes you through the history of one of the most flamboyant showmen in carnival history. Located in the factory that produced hundreds of carousels featured in theme parks and traveling carnivals, the museum traces Parker’s life and career, as well as showcasing the unique horses he created. The museum also features an exhibit of carnival life, including the characters and curiosities that attract carnival-goers. Parker carousels, one of the most popular in the United States, were produced in Leavenworth until 1950 when Parker’s son sold the company.
Pro Tip: People of all ages are encouraged to ride the 1913 carousel. It offers a step ladder for anyone who may need help getting on a horse (trust me, you may want it). There are also benches if you choose otherwise.
2. Buffalo Soldier Monument
The Buffalo Soldiers — a name given to them by Native Americans — were a regiment of African Americans created following the Civil War. The soldiers fought tribes during the U.S.–Indian Wars, fought forest fires, and served as park rangers during their tenure. The 9th and 10th Regiments also saw action in the Philippines during the 1898 Spanish-American War.
The Buffalo Soldier Monument at Fort Leavenworth honors the men who served in the units. Eventually absorbed into the “regular” Army during World War II, all-Black units were disbanded in 1948, when President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order integrating the American military.
The monument at Merritt Lake anchors the Circle of Firsts, recognizing key African American military achievements, including a bust recognizing Roscoe Robinson, named as the Army’s first four-star general, and 1st Sgt. Walter Morris becoming the first African American paratrooper.
The Walkway of Units recognizes all Black organizations serving in the Army. One monument honors the only all-women African American postal unit deployed overseas during World War II.
Pro Tip: You’ll need to have valid identification and vehicle registration information to gain access to the post. You’ll need to stop at the visitors center when arriving at Fort Leavenworth.
3. Frontier Army Museum
From the Lewis and Clark expedition that spent time in Leavenworth to recent conflicts, the Frontier Army Museum traces the history of the military in this town. As a military post museum, exhibits include tools used during missions, as well as support outlets. Visitors can also learn about the importance of Army engineers during America’s westward expansion and the growth of the transcontinental railroad.
The museum has an impressive exhibit showcasing the Army during America’s military conflicts, from dragoons to horse-drawn cannons and ambulances to bi-planes used during World War I.
Pro Tip: Located on Fort Leavenworth, combine your museum visit with a tour of the Buffalo Soldier Monument.
4. Richard Allen Cultural Center And Museum
Learn about Leavenworth’s role with the Underground Railroad at the Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum. The museum is located across the street from the Bethel AME Church, which helped freedom seekers making their way north.
The museum features artifacts from the Bethel AME church site used in the Underground Railroad. The museum also offers guided tours of Leavenworth’s Underground Railroad sites.
The Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum also includes bronze busts of Buffalo Soldiers, including the only known female member. Cathay Williams remains the only confirmed female Buffalo Soldier and is recognized at the museum.
5. Carroll Mansion
From a four-room cabin to a 20-room house, Carroll Mansion offers a look at Victorian-era Leavenworth. With exhibits, furniture, and home decor, the mansion showcases the wealth and class status of the city’s elite during the era.
An anchor of the city’s mansion tour, Carroll Mansion also serves as a photography lab for the historical society.
6. Public Art
From the area’s history to pop culture, Leavenworth has been decorated with a variety of art murals and sculptures. The Art Walk on Shawnee Street includes 11 murals and sculptures. From historical murals, such as the Welcome to Leavenworth mural and Buffalo Bill Cody, to pop culture, including Spock from Star Trek and a sunflower, the art offers a unique look at Leavenworth. Sculptures include Abraham Lincoln, who visited the city before becoming president, and the Statue of Liberty.
Other murals in the city include Lovenworth, near the Missouri River, encouraging people to support one another. The Island Spice Jamaican Restaurant features a Rastafarian lion.
7. Leavenworth Landing Park
Located along the Missouri River, Leavenworth Landing Park celebrates the city’s rail and surface transportation history. While it’s only a quarter-mile long, the park is packed with views, attractions, and history. With a large circular map on the ground, visitors get an interesting view of key Kansas locations and history, including the Oregon Trail. A fun sculpture is a locomotive that looks like a puzzle coming out of a grassy mound. With plenty of trees lining the shoreline, Leavenworth Landing Park is an excellent location for eagle watching. The park is a trailhead for Three-Mile Creek Trail, a one-mile paved route that connects the park with downtown.
8. Angel Falls Trail
A 10-minute drive from Leavenworth, Angel Falls Tail in Lansing offers a nice nature getaway. With an easy, paved trail running about three-quarters of a mile, enjoy a walk with plenty of tree cover and the feel of being away from the city.
Angel Falls is a small, attractive waterfall that adds to the nature hike. View it from the bridge crossing the creek or follow the dirt trail that takes you next to the waterfall. The view from the shoreline is amazing and safe.
Pro Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes. The dirt path is uneven, so it could pose a challenge for some people.
Where To Shop
With a picturesque downtown featuring buildings dating back to the 1800s, Leavenworth offers a mix of history with shopping. A must-visit is the Leavenworth Antique Mall, with more than 100 vendors selling vintage and classic items on three floors, over 50,000 square feet. From housewares and clothes to collectibles, the Leavenworth Antique Mall is a walk through history.
Recognized as one of the top boutique shops in Kansas, Candle Queen Candles Gift Boutique is more than a candle store, with a variety of sage, diffusers, clothes, coffee mugs, and tapestries. Of course, with candles being in the store’s name, there’s plenty to choose from, including seasonal flavors such as pumpkin pecan and apple cider. Candleholders and warmers come in a variety of sizes and shapes, including an owl and Santa Claus.
Where To Eat
With its military influence, it’s easy to find international dining options. From German to Korean, restaurants represent the globe with their menus.
Baan Thai Restaurant
As fans of Asian food, we chose to dine at Baan Thai Restaurant. With an authentic Thai menu, diners can sample a meal they may find in Bangkok or other Thai cities. I lean toward Pad-Thai noodles with vegetables and a protein.
If you prefer American fare, head to The Depot. Located in a former train depot, the restaurant embraces that history with its decor. The menu features unique dishes, such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and crusty Brussels sprouts. While the entree was delicious, I could have eaten a plate full of the Brussels sprouts. I love how restaurants have embraced a healthy, yet unpopular vegetable and turned it into a popular, and not always healthy, option.
Where To Stay
While Leavenworth is home to several national hotel franchises, my wife and I prefer looking for local options such as boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs.
During our visit, we combined a national chain with a boutique hotel. Leavenworth Local, a 60-room hotel, is part of the Wyndham Trademark collection but feels like a local inn.
Housed in a former school building, Leavenworth Local celebrates that history with blackboards in rooms and hallways reminiscent of high school. While the hotel doesn’t offer restaurant service, rooms do have kitchen appliances, as well as coffee, fruit, and muffins at the front desk.
Pro Tip: Leavenworth Local doesn’t have elevators, but you can park in the back parking lot and use that entrance, eliminating one flight of stairs at the three-floor hotel. Guests requiring ADA-compliant rooms will find them located on the first floor, along with a safe entrance.
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