Oklahoma may not be a top tourist destination in the USA, but if you know where to look, the Sooner State actually has a ton of attractions that make it a wonderful place worthy of being on every traveler’s bucket list on a US road trip.
Oklahoma is a fantastic place to head to for history and culture. It also boasts many diverse landscapes, modern cities, charming towns, and a myriad of natural parks, making it a great spot to mix a little bit of everything.
Add to that the fact that few places in the United States are as rich in Western and Indian heritage, and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for a fabulous US road trip!
In this post, you’ll find a list of just a few of the best places and things to do in Oklahoma to place on your Sooner State road trip bucket list (beyond just Route 66!).
8 Bucket List-Worthy Stops in Oklahoma
1. Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City is often nicknamed the Big Friendly because of its welcoming residents and Southern hospitality.
Here, you’ll be able to get your fill of museums, art galleries, botanical gardens, and cosmopolitan edge, all without leaving behind its fantastic Western charm!
While there’s a ton to do all over the city, one of the places you can’t miss out on visiting is the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, where you’ll find displays and collections of Western art and artifacts that promote the conservation of American West traditions and culture. For more Western goodness, head to the American Banjo Museum next, whose name is self-explanatory!
Another can’t-miss landmark is the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, where visitors can honor the victims of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. The museum was created on the exact spot where the bombarded building used to stand and details the tragic events that pay tribute to the 168 people who perished on that dreadful day.
For history and architectural buffs, make sure not to miss out on visiting the Oklahoma City State Capitol, where you’ll find lavish Greco-Roman-style architecture complete with marble stairs, hand-painted ceilings, and a grand dome!
Last but not least is the Guthrie Historic District, which is 32 miles away from OKC but totally worth the detour. This National Historic Landmark is home to over 2,000 buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s that are perfectly preserved and restored.
Here, you’ll find charming coffee shops, great restaurants, and lots of locally-owned stores to explore. Don’t be surprised if you feel as though you traveled back in time while strolling Guthrie’s brick sidewalks!
2. Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Made up of two adjoining parks (Platt National Park and Arbuckle Recreation Area), Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a go-to for Oklahoma residents to enjoy nature.
The park homes beautiful lakes, natural freshwater springs, and lots of wildlife and interesting flora. The park’s name actually translates into “The Peaceful Valley of Rippling Waters”, and once you get there, you’ll see exactly why it got that name!
If you want to experience authentic Native American heritage, there’s no better place to head to than Tahlequah. This city is located in the heart of the Cherokee Nation and provides a superb chance for visitors to learn about their culture and honor their painful history.
One of the things you can’t miss out on doing while visiting Tahlequah is checking out the National Cherokee Capitol. This building was constructed in 1867 after the original wooden one was burned in a fire during the Civil War.
Today, the building is still in use and currently homes the Cherokee County courthouse and the Cherokee National History Museum. Here, you’ll find exhibits and artifacts that tell the stories of Cherokee life and culture before colonization.
Moreover, Tahlequah is part of the Trail of Tears, a route the Five Tribes (Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaw, and Seminoles) were pushed to follow when they were forced out of their lands in Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia back in the 1830s. They followed the trail on foot, wagons, and horses, with the journey ending in Indian Territory (what we know as Oklahoma today).
4. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Tucked away in the heart of the Wichita Mountains, this wildlife refuge encircles over 60,000 acres of ancient granite mountains, lakes, and prairies, providing a safe haven for several species of animals that visitors are able to spot frequently.
During your visit, you’ll get to see species like Rocky Mountain Elk, longhorn, and tons of herds of bison, who seem to have made the refuge their favorite hangout spot!
Aside from being a perfect place for wildlife viewing and photography, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is also a great destination for birdwatching, fishing, kayaking, and hiking and makes for one of the most wonderful scenic drives in Oklahoma.
5. Beavers Bend State Park and Nature Center
Beavers Bend State Park is located in southeastern Oklahoma and is a trendy spot for nature lovers who want to spend a day outdoors.
Here, you can choose from various activities, including swimming, boating, water skiing, and canoeing in Mountain Fork River and Broken Bow Lake. Moreover, plenty of hiking trails and horseback rides are available to explore the pine and hardwood forests of the area.
As the second-largest city in Oklahoma, Tulsa is a city that brims with life, vibrant attractions, and exciting art venues and museums.
No matter the type of experience you’re after, you’re bound to find something to please in Tulsa. If you love the outdoors, you can head to the Tulsa River Park systems by the Arkansas River or explore the 300-acre Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area, where you’ll find tons of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails.
Wildlife lovers can also visit the Tulsa Zoo, where African lions, South American jaguars, Malayan Tigers, and many other exotic species can be seen on the Safari Train.
For all things culture, head over to the Gilcrease Museum, where you’ll be able to hear American Indian Legends and learn all about Old West culture. Another must is the Philbrook Museum of Art inside Waite’s Phillip’s old mansion. The Blue Dome Entertainment District is a wonderful choice for chic shopping, dining, and drinks.
As a bonus, Tulsa has a ton of Route 66 heritage. A few attractions worthy of seeing in order to experience a part of this iconic drive include the Route 66 Rising Sculpture, the Golden Driller statue, the Mother Road Market, the East Gateway Arch, and the Buck Atoms space cowboy statue.
7. Turner Falls
Located 80 miles south of OKC in the Arbuckle Mountains, Turner Falls Park is home to the largest waterfall in Oklahoma, Turner Falls. At 77ft tall, this spectacularly beautiful park has a swimming area, sandy beaches, natural caves, and plenty of hiking opportunities to stretch those legs.
Turner Falls Park can make the perfect overnight stopping point, too, with RV and tent campground areas as well as privately-owned rental cabins in the park. It’s the perfect slice of nature to add to your Oklahoma road trip.
8. Beaver Dunes Park
If you want to explore the Oklahoma desert in Oklahoma’s panhandle and have lots of fun while doing so, Beaver Dunes Park is an absolute must on your itinerary.
This park houses over 300 acres of pristine sand hills, all of which provide the perfect chance to go buggy riding – an experience guaranteed to deliver tons of fun for kids and adults alike. As a fun fact, the park is often referred to as “Oklahoma’s Bermuda Triangle” because there have been unexplained disappearances here since the Spanish colonization.
After getting your fit of sand dune fun, Beaver Dunes Park is also a fantastic place for hiking on the sand, fishing, and camping. Stargazing here is an absolute treat, so we highly recommend spending the night if time allows!
Have you ever done any of these bucket list-worthy experiences in Oklahoma? What was your favorite experience?
Before You Go – More Oklahoma Road Trip Tips
- Check road conditions before driving, especially in the winter months with ODOT – the Okalamho Department of Transport.
- Never forget an important road trip item again! Download our family road trip essentials guide with a printable family road trip checklist to help you prepare.
© Family Road Trip