From the tops of the Ouachita Mountains to the wide-open expanses of tallgrass prairies, the diversity you can see on the best scenic drives in Oklahoma may come as a surprise! A lot of travelers pass through Oklahoma, but not everyone realizes how much there is to see and explore in the state.
If you’re looking for awesome drives to include on an Oklahoma road trip, then this guide is for you. We go over what to expect on the top scenic byways as well as helpful tips about places to stop or the best time of year to travel.
Bringing together the rugged feel of the Wild West with serene forests and peaceful rivers, these Oklahoma scenic drives are waiting for you!
1. Oklahoma Scenic Drives: Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway
- Distance: 38 miles
- Time Needed: At least 1 hour
This scenic loop takes travelers through the heart of the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. The drive begins and ends near the town of Medicine Park, which is a charming place to stop for lunch in the cobblestoned downtown area.
Although it’s called the Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway, this relatively short drive doesn’t just have mountains but boasts an incredible variation in landscape, making it one of the most diverse scenic drives in Oklahoma. You’ll get to see mixed-grass prairie, mountain vistas, and picturesque lakes in under 40 miles of road.
The Wichita Mountains are known for their wildlife viewing opportunities, and it’s very likely you’ll be able to spot some of the common animals like bison, prairie dogs, and elk. You might even get lucky and see a coyote!
There are lots of great hiking opportunities in the Wichita Mountains, with everything from short strolls to routes meant for climbing experts. Near the byway, some fun, easy trails are perfect for families who want to get out of the car and explore, including Elk Mountain Trail and some of the trails around Treasure Lake.
When to go: Any time of year is good, but spring and fall tend to be best. Temperatures are more moderate, and in spring, you’ll see the wildflowers; in fall, the mountains are full of autumn foliage.
2. Oklahoma Scenic Drives: Route 66
- Distance: 375 miles
- Time Needed: 6 hours or more, depending on stops
Often referred to as the “Mother Road” of the United States, Route 66 is one of the most famous drives in America and one of the best routes for road trips in Oklahoma. Crossing the state east to west, Oklahoma actually has the longest stretch of Route 66 out of any state!
Some parts of Route 66 in Oklahoma are now larger highways, but other portions take you through lesser-traveled areas and small towns with vintage diners and other historic attractions. Route 66 is full of quirky and unique places, and it’s worth planning on stopping to get photos or check out some of the sites.
The town of Arcadia is home to the famous “Round Barn” which has become an iconic attraction of the drive. Today, this historic building has a museum and a gift shop where you can pick up a Route 66 souvenir.
If you want to learn more about the history of Route 66 and its importance in westward expansion in the United States, stop by the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City. The museum has some fun interactive exhibits to entertain young kids.
When to go: Any time of year is good.
3. Oklahoma Scenic Drives: Osage Nation Heritage Trail Byway
- Distance: 65 miles
- Time Needed: 1.5 hours or more
One of the newer scenic byways in Oklahoma, the Osage Nation Heritage Trail Byway, was officially recognized in 2019. It crosses through the Osage Nation’s land, with stops along the way marking important landmarks or points of cultural interest for the nation.
For animal-enthusiastic kids, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is a must-visit site on the drive. This enormous preserve is the largest tallgrass prairie not only in America but in the entire world and is the home of huge herds of bison. There’s a separate 15-mile scenic loop through the prairie to see the bison up close, as well as hiking trails and a visitor center.
The town of Pawhuska is close to the preserve and is the capital of the Osage Nation. It’s a fun place to stop to check out local stores selling handmade artwork and learn about the nation’s heritage. The Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska has interesting exhibitions detailing the nation’s history and displays of important cultural artifacts.
This route is located in northern Oklahoma and is an excellent option for people looking for the best drives in Oklahoma, a bit off the beaten tourist path.
When to go: Any time of year is good, but spring through fall is when you can catch seasonal festivals or events in Pawhuska.
4. Oklahoma Scenic Drives: Cherokee Hills Scenic Byway
- Distance: 84 miles
- Time Needed: 2 hours or more
Located in the northeastern part of the state in the foothills of the Ozarks, the Cherokee Hills are considered one of the most scenic places in Oklahoma, thanks to the diversity of mountain passes, waterfalls, and rivers.
This is also one of the less-driven scenic drives in Oklahoma and is a perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy nature.
Running beside the Illinois River, the drive takes you through important regions of the Cherokee Nation and passes by numerous historic landmarks, especially in Tahlequah, which is the capital of the Nation. A visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center is a great stop to learn about the Nation’s history and the Trail of Tears before you head out of the city and into the wilderness areas of this Oklahoma scenic byway.
The Cherokee Hills drive passes right by Lake Tenkiller, considered one of the gems of Oklahoma and a great spot for water activities of all kinds, including boating, fishing, swimming, and even scuba diving! There are also cabins and campsites around the lake if you want to spend more time enjoying the pristine blue waters and hiking trails up to the high rocky bluffs.
Natural Falls State Park is another awesome place to visit on road trips in Oklahoma, passing through the eastern part of the state. As you might be able to guess from the name, this state park has some of Oklahoma’s most famous waterfalls, the tallest of which is 77 feet! The park has great hiking trails and well-maintained campsites with facilities like showers and playgrounds, making it a great family-friendly place to spend a few nights in nature.
When to go: Summer is best for water activities, but any time of year is beautiful to take this drive.
5. Oklahoma Scenic Drives: Talimena National Scenic Byway
- Distance: 55 miles
- Time Needed: 2 hours or more
One of the most popular routes for road trips in Oklahoma, the Talimena National Scenic Byway actually crosses back and forth along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. Cruising along the ridges of the Ouachita Mountains, this spectacular drive has jaw-dropping vistas practically around every curve!
There are no less than 22 overlooks will pull-off points and three state parks along the drive, giving you plenty of opportunities to get out, take photographs, or go hiking. Even though the drive can be done in as little as 1.5 hours if you don’t stop, many travelers will take two or even three days to camp, hike, and explore.
Talimena State Park is the primary attraction of the drive, with opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, camping, and horseback riding. The park has tenting campgrounds, an RV site, and picnic areas with running water, grills, fire rings, and a playground.
When to go: Fall is considered the best time of year to drive the Talimena National Scenic Byway since the mountains are lit up in bright autumn colors. Spring is when the flowers are in bloom, and summer is good for outdoor activities like hiking and biking. Winter is possible, but driving can sometimes become dangerous because of snow accumulation.
6. Oklahoma Scenic Drives: Route 8 Parks
- Distance: 35 miles
- Time Needed: 1 hour or more
The entire length of Route 8 crosses Oklahoma from north to south and is about 180 miles long, but the most scenic portion of the drive is between Watonga and Hinton. This is one of the best scenic drives near Oklahoma City and makes an excellent day trip if you’re already in the city.
Red Rock Canyon is an excellent, family-friendly park with great hiking trails like the Rough Horsetail Nature Trail or the California Road Nature Trail, which both have interpretive signs. There’s also a seasonal outdoor pool, a picnic shelter, a fishing pond, and activities like rock climbing.
Roman Nose State Park is located near Watonga and is known for its gypsum rock canyons and natural springs. In addition to the trails and wilderness areas, the park has a lodge, an onsite pool, and a golf course.
Several cabins are also available for rent, as well as a campground and RV sites. Spots at Roman Nose tend to fill up quickly in the summer, so if you’re hoping to stay at this state park, it’s best to make a reservation in advance.
When to go: Spring through fall are the best seasons for this drive.
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