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What state is as flat as a pancake?

When it comes to flatness, one U.S. state stands out above the rest: Kansas. Known as the “Sunflower State,” Kansas has the distinction of being the flattest state in the nation. But why is Kansas so flat compared to other states? And just how flat is it really? Let’s explore the geography and history behind Kansas’ incredibly level landscape.

Kansas’ Topography

Kansas sits right in the middle of the Great Plains region of the central United States. The entire state has an average elevation of only 2,000 feet above sea level. Kansas’ highest point is Mount Sunflower, which reaches 4,041 feet. To put that in perspective, Colorado, Kansas’ neighbor to the west, has over 50 peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation. In fact, Kansas’ highest point is lower than the lowest points of 18 other states.

But it’s not just Kansas’ lack of mountains that makes it so flat. The vast majority of the state’s surface sits at less than 1,000 feet above sea level. Miles upon miles of gentle prairie extend across Kansas, with subtle undulations in the terrain. Major rivers like the Republican, Smoky Hill, and Arkansas Rivers have carved out shallow valleys over time. However, these valleys rise no more than a few hundred feet below the surrounding plains. Without dramatic elevation changes, the state maintains a flat profile.

Glaciers Spread Flat Ground

So how did Kansas become so flat in the first place? To find the answer, we need to look back over 100 million years. Sediments eroded from the Rocky Mountains spread east and covered Kansas in layers of silt, sand, and gravel. Subsequent erosion flattened and smoothed the surface. Then, around 2.6 million years ago during the Pleistocene Ice Age, huge glaciers advanced south from Canada and flattened the terrain even further.

The massive sheets of ice, some over a mile thick, bulldozed their way across Kansas multiple times. Like giant sanders, the glaciers planed down any rises or protrusions in the landscape, spreading crushed rock and soil into the low spots. Once the glaciers melted and receded, they left behind the flat, even surface we see today.

Plains Allow Unobstructed Views

Kansas’ lack of any real elevation change means you can see for miles in all directions. In fact, it’s possible to stand in one spot and get an unobstructed view of the horizon over 15 miles away. This is thanks to Earth’s curvature itself. Since the planet is a sphere, the horizon gets farther away the higher your vantage point. At around 5 feet off the ground (the average height of a person), the horizon is about 3 miles away. But because Kansas has no significant hills or slopes to block the view, you can see all the way to the horizon and beyond.

Early settlers moving west remarked at the vast views, some saying they became disoriented from the amount of empty space surrounding them. It’s no coincidence that Kansas later became known for wide open spaces and big sky country. To this day, the plains allow spectacular sunrises and sunsets where you can watch the sun dip to the horizon in all directions.

Comparison to Other States

To demonstrate just how flat Kansas is compared to other states, let’s look at some elevation numbers:

State Highest Point Lowest Point
Kansas 4,041 feet 679 feet
Colorado 14,440 feet 3,317 feet
California 14,505 feet -282 feet
New York 5,344 feet 2 feet

With a variation of only around 3,400 feet between its highest and lowest points, Kansas has one of the smallest elevation ranges of any state. Places like Colorado and California have dramatic high mountains and low valleys in comparison. Even smaller states like New York have more differentiation in their terrain. The tiny ups and downs of Kansas result in a surface as flat as they come.

Notable Flat Spots in Kansas

While all of Kansas fits the flat criteria, some parts stand out for their extreme pancake-like flatness:

  • Northwest Kansas – This region contains the idealized flat prairie many think of, with mile after mile of grassland and wheat fields stretching to the horizon.
  • Ellis County – Steps up a measly 300 feet total from its lowest to highest point across 650,000 acres.
  • Greeley County – Its highest point is only 1,800 feet above sea level, with long straight roads cutting through pasture.
  • Flint Hills – Known for its rolling prairie and lack of trees, offering endless views.

Kansas Embraces the Flatness

Rather than run from their flat geography, Kansans have embraced it. The state has made the most of its pancake-flat terrain:

  • Fertile farming – The even landscape allows huge tracts of land perfect for mechanized farming. Kansas leads the nation in wheat production.
  • Wide open spaces – The scarcity of hills and mountains means abundant open land. Kansas preserves this through over 60 state parks.
  • Adaptability – Flat ground can be engineered and used flexibly for things like roads, airfields, and towns.
  • Wind energy – The uninterrupted wind flows are ideal for wind power. Kansas produces over 30% of its electricity from wind.

So while Kansas may lack altitude and diversity in terrain, residents have made the most of their state’s horizontal gifts.


With its flattest-in-the-nation status verified by numbers, Kansas lives up to its nickname as the Flyover State. Planes passing far above see a relatively featureless beige expanse. But within Kansas, the subtle hills and endless views create a peaceful prairie landscape. All evidence supports the idea that Kansas is indeed as flat as a pancake.