8 Wonders of Kansas geography

An 8 Wonder of Kansas Geography

Gyp Hills Scenic Drive & Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway, Barber & Comanche counties

Phone: 620.886.5293; 620.886.9815
Website: www.travelks.com/ksbyways/gypsum-hills/

Gyp Hills Scenic Drive and the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway are one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Geography because... of the stunning rust-red buttes and mesa capped by layers of sparkling white gypsum.

View of the Gypsum Hills. Photo KSF


The Red Hills of south-central Kansas are one of the most surprising landscapes in Kansas. The rocks were deposited during the Permian Period of geologic history, about 250 million years ago. During that time a large, shallow bay covered much of this area. When that bay was cut off from the ocean and the water evaporated, the rocks (called evaporates) left behind included salt and gypsum. Most evaporites are easily dissolved in water, and thus erosion sculpted these hills into the shapes you see today.

Many of the soil and rocks are stained red by iron oxide, thus giving the name Red Hills to the area. Sandstone and shale, in particular, are bright red. Gypsum, a white rock, is found in layers within those red beds. One type of gypsum, selenite, forms large diamond-shaped crystals that are common in the area and litter road cuts and ditches like broken glass.

Many pastures have been taken over by red cedars, the only juniper native to the state.


Much of this 22-mile route is through open range (past Angell place and into the Elsea Ranch as you near U.S. 160 and the Lake City Road) meaning there are often no fences to keep cattle off the road. It's a public road but you'll cross cattle guards and it's the responsibility of the traveler to avoid hitting livestock. Also, travelers should make sure to follow the public road and not meander off onto pasture driveways. At times there are few signs of civilization.  Wildlife, native grasses, wildflowers, birds, and cattle dominate the landscape against the Red Hills. 

It's confusing but the Gyp Hills Scenic Drive and the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway are two different routes.  See below for information about the Byway.

Where to start the Gyp Hill scenic drive: About 4 miles west of Medicine Lodge on U.S. 160, you'll find a sign that says Gyp Hills Scenic Drive. Head south on Gypsum Hill Road, then west. Watch for small green signs, and follow them. Much of the route is unpaved.  At about 22 miles, the route will bring you back up to U.S. 160 at the Lake City Road (going north).

If you'd rather not travel the backroads, choose to see the marvelous Red Hill scenery by driving the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway.

Source:  Kansas Scenic Byway website

The Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway is approximately 42 miles in length and extends from the western city limits of Medicine Lodge to the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 183 at Coldwater. It bisects the beautiful Gypsum Hills.

Travelers have the opportunity to see flat mesas, deep canyons, sharp high hills, red soils and caprock formations.

The Byway provides a unique opportunity to experience the expansive High Plains and Red Hills physiographic regions. Both topography and vegetation change between the two regions. From rolling farm land and midgrass prairie grazing land to the rugged, gypsum-capped flower pot shale mesas and buttes with minimal vegetation, the Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway showcases two of Kansas' physiographic regions -- the Red Hills and the High Plains.

The area is noted for its abundance of wildflowers in spring and summer. Naturally flowing springs, the red soil and green cedar trees provide a rich array of color. Recreational and historic opportunities complement the scenic experiences.

Contact:  Elisa Stone, patrons@peacetreaty.org