Break up a trip across Kansas at Monument Rocks!

The Keyhole, Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas

Looking through The Keyhole at Monument Rocks

Although it’s small, I’ve never seen anyplace quite like Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark.  Also known as the “Chalk Pyramids” Monument Rocks features a group of spires that seem to stick straight up out of the ground.  These spires range from thin columns to fat buttes to fins with arches that you can see through to the other side.  I can’t really describe them, but I’ll try to tell you about them, and to show you what they look like in pictures.   The uniqueness of the rocks makes this landmark worth a stop if you’re driving on I-70 across Kansas.  And, you can say that you’ve been to one of the 8 wonders of Kansas!

To get to the rocks, from I-70 if you’re coming from the west, take Exit 70 and turn right onto US-83.  Travel this for almost 5 miles, and then turn left onto US-40/US-83 for 1 mile.  Then turn right onto US-83.  If you’re on I-70 coming from the east, take Exit 76 and turn left on US-40.  Drive for 2.2 miles and then turn left onto US-83.  Whether you’re coming from the east or west, drive 14 miles down US-83 to a small road on your left called Plains Road.  Drive on this for a total of 3 miles, to where the road T’s into Gove 12 Road (at 2 miles, Plains Road will change names to Gove P Road)  Turn right on Gove 12 Road and drive 3 miles.  Then turn left onto Gove M Road.  Take the first right, 1 mile later, onto Gove 14 Road.  Drive 5.9 miles, and then make a right onto Gove 16 Road.  Monument Rocks will be about half a mile from this intersection.  You won’t be able to miss it; there are several places you could park, so choose one.  We parked in an open area between several sets of formations.  The parking areas are chalky, like the rocks, but should be accessible by a low-clearance vehicle.  If in doubt, park on the edge of the road.

Formations at Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas

Looking west

If you’re coming from the south, from Scott City take US-83 north toward Oakley for 18.7 miles.  Then turn right onto Dakota Road for 1.6 miles.  At this point the road will make a sharp left turn; you are now on County Road 450.  Only a mile later, the road takes another sharp turn, this time to the right, and becomes Elk Road.  One mile later the road becomes Gove E Road; continue another 3 miles.  Turn left when this road T’s into Gove 16 Road.  The rocks will be almost 2.5 miles later.

<<Important Note>> The roads to Monument Rocks are impassible when wet.  If a storm is brewing, it would be best to leave the area before the rain begins.

A lone spire at Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas

A lone spire

There are several stands of rocks around the Monument Rocks area—all have paths to them.  Some of the paths look like ATV trails, while others are just tracks across the prairie.  The best of the formations can be found on the west side of the road.  This is where the famous “Keyhole Arch” can be found, along with a wide variety of other formations.  The arch was formed, so people say, when someone was using the rocks for target practice.  One of the bullets went right through, and locals have watched the hole growing larger each year.  Someday it may get so big it collapses.  But for now, it’s a favorite with photographers, as well as those who enjoy walking right through one of the Monument Rocks.  Wander around this area for a while; there are so many awesome spires, formations, and buttes to look at and enjoy.  It’s really a photographer’s paradise—it’s no wonder that of the seven years the National Park Service has run the National Natural Landmarks Photo Contest, Monument Rocks has been selected as a winner twice.  I think it has to do with the fact that you can get some pretty interesting lighting at different times of day—especially sunrise and sunset, or when a storm is coming up.  In the middle of the day, though, the very hot, intense sun can wash out most of the beauty in photographing the Monument Rocks.

The Keyhole, Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas

Another view of The Keyhole

Just because the most famous formations are on the west side of the road, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out the formations on the east side.  There are some really cool ones here, as well.  Again, wander in and out and around the rocks—they’re really nice.  As you wander, it’s not hard to see why these were used by pioneers and the Butterfield Overland Dispatch to as guides through the area.  Some soar as high as 70 feet into the air, while others are much shorter.  The history of the formations goes back further, however: watch for the fossilized remains of seashells, both in the formations and lying on the ground.  According to some, after a heavy rain, the area still smells like the ocean.  You can also watch for live wildlife in the area.  In 2004, mud swallows decided to build nests on the side of one of the spires; you can also see eagles, falcons, wild deer, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbits, coyotes, and even rattle snakes.  We didn’t see much in the line of wildlife, except for one very big, ugly, harry spider, but this was likely due to the fact that we weren’t exactly quiet!

Arch at Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas

A little arch

There were two great things that I noticed about Monument Rocks when I visited early one Sunday morning while traveling down I-70 on my way to Utah.  First, we were the only people there most of the time we were visiting.  So, it’s very peaceful.  All you can hear are the sound of the wind in the grass or whistling around the formations, unless you’re making noise.  Because it’s so peaceful, it’s a great place to experience the prairie like it was a hundred years ago (as long as you don’t mind some fences around!).  Second, it was a great place to let the children in our group run after a couple of days in the car.  You’re not supposed to climb on the formations, but there’s plenty of open space between the spires for them to run and hide and then jump out and play peek-a-boo.  It’s really fun to watch them come through the Keyhole Arch, which is enough to dwarf an adult, let alone a child!

Flower at Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas

A little prairie flower

Although the area has been set aside by the federal government, and is considered a National Natural Landmark, it is still privately owned.  Therefore, there are no facilities (as well as no entrance fee) at the sight.  That’s ok with me: it keeps the area more rustic, and therefore prettier to visit!

For more photos and information, click here.

Round Trip Trail Length: As long or short as you want to make it; likely no more than a mile

Facilities: None

Fees: None

Trail ★★☆☆☆

Road ★★★★☆

Signs ★★★☆☆

Scenery ★★★★☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

This Week’s Featured Product!

From plains to hills, this guide takes you on trails across Kansas. Some of them can be biked or ridden, as well.

11 thoughts on “Break up a trip across Kansas at Monument Rocks!

  1. Anne


    Thanks for the directions! It’s incredible when you look at the area now to know that the Butterfield Overland Dispatch was one of the most dangerous in the region.

    Nice pictures on the website, by the way.


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