Kansas : Safety by City
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Whether you want to wear cowboy boots or Lederhosen, Hays, Kansas, is a cultural mix of history and heritage.
I’m not sure which selling point is more important to you, so I’ll offer both – this is the German Capital of Kansas and a frontier town that helped define just how “wild” the Wild West was really going to be.
Hays is home to 21,000 people and is the cultural, shopping, and community hub of northwestern Kansas.
There is a lot to see and do, including some Ice Age artifacts preserved for your viewing.
It will take a few days to get through all the incredible eras Hays holds.
Travelers, don’t get Hays confused with Haysville.
The two are three hours apart.
Haysville is just south of Wichita.
Hays is its own city and metro area.
This is also a college town, on top of all the other types of town you could label it.
Fort Hays State University is located right by the old Fort Hays from the railroad days.
Hays offers more than 15 hotels, rental homes, and campsites.
There are cabins for rent as well as an RV park at Creek Side Resort.
Warnings & Dangers in Hays
OVERALL RISK: LOW
Even though "Wild Bill" Hickock isn't the sheriff here anymore and shootouts are a thing of the past, there's still a little bit of modern-day crime. There's a low risk for a tourist, with most crime rates at or below average.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
There isn't a local public transportation system. A car is strongly recommended, but you'll be able to find taxis and rideshares in the city. There's low risk with any option. You just don't have a lot of options.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here, which actually surprised me. From 2017 through 2020, there was just one pickpocket reported. In a tourist town, I think there would be more of a risk here. Shoplifting is one of the higher theft crimes.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Hays is definitely the Wild West of weather and has a medium risk. There are tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, wind storms, hail storms, snow/ice storms, flooding, and wildfire risks. This is a place where you definitely need to keep an eye on the weather.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here, with three robberies reported in 2020, all of which were in homes. Since 2010, there haven't been more than seven robberies in a year.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here. Even though this is the biggest city in the region, it's still a small town. Places like Wichita or Kansas City would be bigger potential targets.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk of a tourist being scammed here, with most reported scams targeted at residents. In what might be one of the oddest scams I've ever heard of, there was a scammer posing as a police officer calling people and saying they needed to send nude photos to prove they didn't have drugs on them. While it should go without saying - you never need to send nude photos for any legitimate reason.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk for women visiting here, and they will be quite pleased with the variety of things to do. Since this is a transient town (nearly 30,000 people visit every month), you should use smart safety steps here, like avoiding walking alone at night and never going to a private place with someone you just met.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows all standards were met or exceeded, and no violations occurred. Feel free to use the water here for drinking and bathing with low risk.
Safest Places to Visit in Hays
I’ve gone back and forth on so many safe places to visit here, it’s impossible for me to list them all.
You can review information at VisitHays.com, but when you get to town, stop by the visitor’s center on Main Street.
Pick up maps and brochures for your top picks.
Downtown Hays has been voted one of the best Main Streets in Kansas.
You can learn about all the historical cultures and people who first walked this street.
Channel your inner Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane while viewing the unique shops and restaurants in the downtown area.
Look for the murals painted on brick walls.
There are 27 bronze plaques along the walk to tell the story of Hays.
There’s a self-guided historical church walking tour throughout Ellis County with buildings dating back to German settlers bringing their religious beliefs to a new land after being betrayed in Russia.
The Ellis County Historical Museum also has a Volga German Haus available for tours showing what life was like for a German pioneer in the 1800s.
Fort Hays State University is home to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.
It makes me laugh because, on my dual monitor display, there is a GIANT Sahara Sea Monster staring into my soul as I write this.
That’s just one of the exhibits on display here, and the museum website says there are three million specimens showcasing life in this region dating back to the Ice Age.
There are sections for zoology, paleontology, botany, and geology.
There is still part of the original Fort Hays open for visitors near the university.
Walk through Frontier Park, where soldiers once walked, keeping guard of the fort and the railroad travelers.
Christmas at Fort Hays comes to life with an old-fashioned Christmas celebration.
A half-hour west of Hays, you can visit Cedar Bluff state park for boating, fishing, and hiking with stunning scenic views of the Kansas countryside.
There are plenty of campsites here and several cabins to rent.
It might sound morbid to suggest visiting a cemetery – but this isn’t JUST a cemetery.
Boot Hill Cemetery is the first of many boot hill cemeteries throughout the Wild West.
The name comes from the rowdy gunfights and violence that left a man “dead in his boots,” and they were buried in this land.
Places to Avoid in Hays
Crime distribution maps show the far southwest side of the city has the most crime.
That’s also where the university and many attractions are located, so it’s not an unsafe part of the city.
Most of the hotels in Hays are located along I-70 at the intersection with Highway 183.
This is one of the safer parts of the city, according to crime maps.
In that area, near the hotels, there are a lot of restaurants and big box stores.
To get a true Hays experience, don’t get your meals in that part of the city.
It is less than minutes to the downtown area, where you can find locally owned restaurants, diners, and cafes, all bringing a unique experience.
Avoid looking for the Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner Show.
That attraction is actually in South Dakota, on one of the sets used for the movie Dances with Wolves, made to look like Fort Hays in Kansas.
This attraction comes up a lot when you search for information on Fort Hays, and I thought it was worth a heads-up.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Hays
- The main line to the Hays Police Department is (785) 625-1030, and the non-emergency line for reporting issues is (785) 625-1011. It’s good to store those numbers in your phone if you need them later.
- It can be easy to feel safe in a small town and forget basic safety steps, like locking your car door. I’m watching a video as I write this of two people rummaging through a car they found unlocked. Always lock your car when you park, with no exceptions, and never leave personal items inside.
- When visiting rural Kansas, purchasing a weather radio should be on the “must buy” list. The battery-powered radios are critical to getting weather information before, during, and after storms. You can even stop by the Ellis County Emergency Management Office to have it programmed for free. The number there is (785)625-1061.
- Hays has tornado sirens, and they will sound when there is a tornado warning. The sirens are only meant to be heard by people outside. You will most likely not hear it inside a busy restaurant. You should get a mobile weather app of your choice and enable notifications.
- Throughout Ellis County, there are unpaved roads that can become dangerous to travel on after heavy rain. Stay on paved roads as much as possible and never drive on a flooded road, even if it just appears to be a few inches.
- When there’s a winter storm watch or storm warning in this area, I would strongly suggest reconsidering your travels. I-70 can be shut down when storms are approaching, and it could make you stuck at whatever location you are at when the interstate is closed.
- Conserve as much water as you can in Hays. Ellis County doesn’t have a direct aquifer like some other western Kansas counties and needs consumers to use as little water as is necessary to keep water flowing for everyone. Limit the length of your showers and turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Those little steps can add up to be very helpful. You can review more ways to save on the “CONSERVATION” section of the city website.
- You need a fishing license to catch fish anywhere in Ellis County and Hays. You can get this through the Kansas Department of Wildlife. You can also get a hunting license there, but there are many more qualifications necessary to get it done. Check out the rules and requirements far ahead of your trip.
- The Bricks in Downtown Hays is the shopping section downtown. If you follow their Facebook, @downtownhays, you can find out about specific local events happening during your visit and meet some locals who can help with safety advice too.
- Vine Street is the main north/south road through Hays. It recently underwent a transformation and has several roundabouts. Some of the roundabouts are designed in the shape of an infinity sign (a sideways 8). There is a whole section on navigating roundabouts on the city website. You MUST yield to roundabout traffic before entering the roundabout. Abiding by that one rule might be the most important.
So... How Safe Is Hays Really?
Hays is a relatively safe city when you look at the crime data, and even after diving deeper into it.
2020 is the latest year we have official crime data from the city’s police department.
There were 69 violent crimes.
25% of those happened against strangers, and 55% of them happened in private homes.
With just three robberies, five sexual assaults, and no homicides, the rest of the violent crimes were aggravated assaults.
If you ever see any trouble brewing – like a fight – just get out of there and report it to the police.
There were 329 thefts in 2020, which is down 45% from 10 years ago overall.
34% of the thefts were shoplifting, and 21% were car break-ins.
Looking at the police department’s Facebook page, car break-ins are still an issue in mid-2022, as several videos showing the burglars were posted for identification.
There’s one in 306 risks of being a violent crime victim, and one in 64 risks of being a theft victim overall.
Keep in mind that all this data is crunched using the number of crimes versus the population and don’t consider the 350,000 people who visit Hays each year.
That means the crime risks are actually much lower in reality than they appear in the crime math.
How Does Hays Compare?
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|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)
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You will need a U.S. Visa to visit Kansas from outside the country. This process can take several months, and you have several steps to complete. It will cost $160 for a travel visa.
You can only use the U.S. Dollar (USD) here, and most places will accept credit cards. However, you should plan to have some cash on you in the case of smaller mom-and-pop places that are cash only. Just be sure you don't carry large amounts of cash with you.
The temperatures throughout the year range from below freezing to near triple digits. You should bring winter gear from November through March, but also bring layers of t-shirts and sweatshirts if there's a mild weather pattern. Spring and fall fluctuate greatly, so those layers will help in those seasons. Summer will be warm and not as humid as eastern Kansas, but you'll still sweat a lot in the heat.
There is an airport in Hays with one airline that can get you to Denver or Chicago. Salina is 90 minutes east and also has a small airport. Wichita is the largest airport city nearby, and that's about three hours away.
Travel insurance is a smart idea here since the weather fluctuates significantly. Plus, with such a small airport, cancellations and delays are more likely.
Hays Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month
Kansas - Safety by City