By Riley Kennedy, US Army Captain
Nestled in Kansas’ Flint Hills region, just east of center, Fort Riley is home to the 1st Infantry Division. Also known as the “Fighting First” and more notably the “Big Red One,” this well-known and prestigious unit has seen the earliest stages of battle in almost every major conflict since WWI. Naturally, being selected as first in the fight doesn’t come without hard work. When you’re stationed at Fort Riley, you can expect a lot of training, but you can also expect to enjoy the perks of the area. Though many think that Fort Riley is in the middle of nowhere, there’s actually tons to do, great places to eat, and the Mid-West lifestyle will quickly grow on you.
So, with that being said, here are a few things you should know about the post and the surrounding area:
Where to Live near Fort Riley
There are three cities right outside of Fort Riley that most people live in; Junction City, Ogden, and Manhattan. JC and Ogden are located immediately outside the gates. The commute is typically less than 5 minutes to get to the gate. And no, despite the rumors, these are not dangerous cities. Every city has its bad parts, but there’s plenty of great communities in both JC and Ogden. Manhattan, though a little further out, is home to Kansas State University and includes many of the activities and restaurants in the area. The commute from Manhattan typically takes about 10-15 minutes from doorstep to gate, with an additional 10-15 minutes of driving once on post to get to work. It might seem like a long commute, and you will most likely be unable to go home after PT or for lunch, but it makes for a great escape from military life.
Due to the higher restrictions and fees for pets, many people are unable to find houses for rent off post and choose to buy a home instead. Apartment living is also common, but be advised that the closer you get to Manhattan’s center, the more outdated the apartments become. Though this is not the case for all apartment complexes, it is important to keep in mind that the demographics of Manhattan include a large population of college students who cannot afford higher-end apartments and landlords, therefore, don’t feel the need to renovate.
There are, of course, the same awesome perks to living on post at Fort Riley as with every duty station. Fort Riley has five housing communities that are managed by Corvias Military Living. Housing perks vary from community to community, so be aware that some may not have the amenities you were expecting (i.e. garage or basement).
The other great thing about on-post housing at Fort Riley is that your yard work is free! Basic yard maintenance and snow shoveling are included. Lastly, on-post housing is significantly more pet-friendly than what you’ll find off post. Though there are some breed restrictions for dogs, you pay a much lower pet deposit, and you can also rent a fence from Corvias that will be set up in your backyard. Additional housing information can be found here.
Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room: TORNADOES! Yes, Kansas is tornado country. Weather will go from beautifully sunny one minute to darkness and ominous silence the next minute. It’s eerie but beautiful to witness. Do your research ahead of time to figure out where the nearest tornado shelters are near your home.
Winters can be pretty miserable due to the wind chill, and they typically alternate from year to year with heavy to light snowfall. Summers can be hot and humid, but to be honest, if you’re from or have ever been stationed in the South, the humidity won’t seem like much.
Events & Activities
You simply cannot be stationed at Fort Riley without knowing about Aggieville. You’ll hear this term a lot, as it refers to the six square blocks of college bars and restaurants outside of KSU in Manhattan. Whether it’s The Nothing Festival (a festival for no gosh-darn reason), or Fake Patty’s Day (St. Patrick’s Day on a day that ain’t St. Patrick’s Day), there’s always something going on in Aggieville. By far the most exciting events are the football games! Don’t leave Fort Riley without attending at least one KSU game!
Other notable events include Kickin’ Country Stampede, a major country music festival held annually at Tuttle Creek that draws big names and big crowds, and the Independence Day celebration in Wamego; arguably the best fireworks show in Kansas.
Do you like potatoes? Well, if you’re in Kansas, you can find some form of potato on just about every dish. It’s like the pimento cheese of the Mid-West. Aside from this regional favorite, there are actually tons of great dining options near Fort Riley. Take a trip to Aggieville or downtown Manhattan. You’ll find yourself dizzy with options, and that’s not even taking chain restaurants into consideration.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the hunting/fishing/trapping scene is just about as good as it can get. Even though there aren’t as many exotic creatures like you may find in Alaska, the great thing about Fort Riley is the plethora of animals right in your backyard.
Notable Day Trips & Weekend Getaways
Consider taking a trip to one of the following locations if you’re feeling the need to skip town for a little bit: Konza Prairie (20 minutes). This gorgeous nature preserve may only be a few minutes away, but its beauty and serenity make you feel far from civilization. With several different trails, you can spend an hour or two enjoying a nice hike and potentially spot some bison along the trail.
Lawrence, KS (1 hour, 15 minutes)
Truly a hidden gem in Kansas, this small town is home to KSU’s rival; the University of Kansas. There’s lots of great antiquing and window shopping, and don’t forget to bring your pup! Lawrence is incredibly pet-friendly. Grab lunch at Ramen Bowls for your umami fixing!
Abilene, KS (30 minutes)
There’s so much to do in this wonderful, historic town! Home to President Eisenhower, you can take a tour of his childhood home while visiting the famous Eisenhower Museum and Presidential Library. Of course, a visit to Abilene would be incomplete without testing out the fried chicken at the Brookeville Hotel!
Kansas City, MO (2 hours)
You can’t be stationed at Fort Riley without at least one visit to KC! Though you can enjoy a day or even an afternoon here, I’d highly recommend making a whole weekend of it. Visit the National WWI Museum, catch a Kansas City Royals game, go shopping and try some of the region’s best BBQ! Psst…my favorite is Joe’s. Their original location is at a gas station, but trust me, the long line is totally worth it.
Topeka (1 hour)
Spend the day walking around the state’s capital! Art and history buffs will love Topeka as there are several museums. The State Capitol building is gorgeous and is well worth a quick tour. If nothing else, at least visit Row House for a fancy and luxurious dinner; perfect for an anniversary or special occasion.
Wamego (45 minutes)
As mentioned previously, Wamego has an awesome Independence Day celebration! I was able to see the fireworks from a hilltop near my house in Manhattan. I can’t imagine how incredible the experience would be up close. Additionally, this town is home to the Wizard of Oz Museum and Oz Winery. When in Kansas, right?
Author: Riley Kennedy is an active duty US Army Captain and the Founder of Right and Up, a website dedicated to discovering the best of each military town. She’s currently stationed at Fort Benning, with previous assignments at Fort Huachuca, Fort Bliss, and Fort Riley. You can typically find her eating embarrassingly large amounts of food in local restaurants, or exploring her military town with her dog, Gus, and husband, Sean. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!