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Spotlight: Fort Larned National Historic Site: Guarding the Santa Fe Trail

Spotlight: Fort Larned National Historic Site: Guarding the Santa Fe Trail

Fort Larned Living history volunteers and staff lower the garrison flag at the end of the day in what the Army called the Retreat Ceremony. (NPS)

"You think that you are doing a great deal for us by giving these presents to us, but we prefer to live as formerly." - Buffalo Chief of the Cheyenne to the Indian Peace Commission, 1867.

What You’ll Find

One of the best preserved forts from the American Indian Wars era. Fort Larned National Historic Site preserves one of the U.S. Army’s remote frontier outposts along the Santa Fe Trail. The officers and men stationed here from 1859 to 1878 guarded mail wagons and travelers along the trail as American westward movement stirred conflict with Southern Plains Indians. Watch the video Fort Larned: Wind, the Santa Fe Trail & Life on the Plains, then read on to plan your visit!

Getting There

Fort Larned is located in western Kansas on Kansas Hwy 156, six miles west of the town of Larned. Visit the park website for driving directions.

Stay Here

The town of Larned offers several places to stay and eat along with city parks, a golf course, pool and a splash pad for you to enjoy. Visit the park’s nearby attractions page for information about what to do and where to stay in Larned, or depending on which direction you travel, you can also find chain hotels and restaurants in Great Bend (23 miles to the east), Hays (55 miles to the northwest), or Dodge City (55 miles to the southwest). Visit Travel Kansas for more ideas.

Make Sure You

Watch the park's 10-minute orientation video at the visitor center, and then enjoy a self-guided walk through the fully-furnished historic buildings at Fort Larned. You may also join a guided tour to get a sense life for the soldiers, civilians and families who were stationed on this remote frontier outpost in late 1800s.

Experience the park’s living history demonstrations or join one of the special events held at the fort on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and on Independence Day (July 4). On these special observation days, park rangers, volunteers and staff dress in period clothing transforming Fort Larned to the days of the active military fort.

Try This

Take a drive on the nearby Kansas Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway and include a stop at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, 40 miles east of the fort. The refuge’s Auto Tour Route and connecting Wildlife Drive provide opportunities for fishing or to view wildlife and birds. Whooping Cranes are in residence during spring and fall migrations.

Don’t Forget

Fort Larned sits along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail which spans five states. Visit the park’s preserved Santa Fe Trail ruts, 5 miles southwest of the visitor center, where you can also see a prairie dog town. A map and directions are available at the visitor center.

To learn more about the history of the trail, visit the Santa Fe Trail Center four miles east of the fort, or read about the trail routes (with directions to more trail ruts) around Fort Larned on the Santa Fe Trail Association “Wet/Dry Routes” page.

Get Started

Visit the park website to plan your trip to America’s best preserved American Indian War-era fort, and remember, all activities at Fort Larned are free.

And kids—don’t forget to ask the rangers about our junior ranger program and collectible Civil War to Civil Rights trading cards.

Did You Know

Many famous people have visited Fort Larned or the area around it over the years, starting with a Spanish expedition in 1641 led by Vasquez de Coronado. Other famous visitors include Buffalo Bill Cody, who visited as an army scout and guide, George A. Custer, Winfield Scott Hancock, and the Indian Chiefs Black Kettle and Roman Nose who played roles in Hancock’s War. Fort Larned was also one of the first western frontier forts that garrisoned Buffalo Soldiers after the Civil War. More recently, Milburn Stone, who played “Doc” on the television series Gunsmoke, was born about ¼ mile from the fort and grew up playing among its buildings.