Let's face it: Oklahoma is not a tourist Mecca. It has no 14,000-foot mountain peaks, no oceanfront beaches, and no giant world-renowned cities. It never has and never will. The only time a great rush of outsiders were excited about coming to the state was when they were giving away the land for free.
That does not mean that Oklahoma is not a great place to visit. It might not have any giant attractions, but it does have many small wonders. It may not have the Rocky Mountains, but it does have several scenic mountain ranges. It may not have the ocean, but its lakes give it more miles of shoreline than the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts combined. It may not have the Smithsonian, but it does have great museums and art collections. The land itself is the most diverse in the U.S., ranging from swamps to sand-dune deserts, from mountains to the Great Plains, and from tallgrass prairies to forests. If you are in the area, or live nearby and are looking for a day trip or weekend vacation, there are plenty of things to see and do.
In a series of articles, I will some of my favorite attractions in each part of the state, starting with southeastern Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is at the intersection of the Midwest, South, and Southwest regions of the United States, and does not clearly fit into any one region. The southeastern part of the state is nicknamed Little Dixie, though, since it is clearly part of the South.
It is a rural area, so many of the things to do revolve around the outdoors.
Talimena Scenic Drive
If you are just looking for a Sunday drive or to check out the scenery, you can hit the road on the Talimena Scenic Drive. Also known as Highway 1, Talimena is a road to nowhere that was built specifically to be a scenic highway. It twists and turns along the top of the Winding Stair Mountains, in the Ouachita National Forest. If you like driving twisted mountain roads, Talimena is your best bet in Oklahoma. The road stretches from Talihena, OK to Mena, AR (hence the name). The only other access point to the road is at US 259, which runs North and South just west of the Arkansas state line.
If you are a fan of watersports, fishing, or camping, southeast Oklahoma has what you are looking for. A large number of lakes and rivers fill the landscape.
In the southeast corner of the state, Broken Bow Lake and the Beavers Bend Resort Park provide a place to get away from it all. Broken Bow is a beautiful, relatively quiet lake, far from any population centers that would provide large numbers of visitors. The water is clear, and a number of small islands and hidden coves provide places to explore by boat. The lake is popular for fishing; much of the forest was not cleared away when the lake was built, leaving many submerged trees as fish habitats. And if you really, really want to get away from it all, Holly Creek Cove is a free primitive campground on the northern part of the lake that is far from most boat traffic and 10 miles from the nearest paved road. It is not the easiest place to find, so you will probably have to stop and ask for directions.
For lakes that are a bit easier to get to, Lake Texoma on the Oklahoma/Texas border is the largest lake in the state and the second most visited lake in the U.S. It is also one of the best places to catch striped bass. Nearby Lake Murray is much smaller, but is a beautiful mountain lake. It is host to Tucker Tower, an odd building on the shore of the lake that houses a nature museum.
Other popular lakes in southeast Oklahoma include Eufaula Lake (the second largest lake in the state) and Robert S. Kerr Lake, both near Interstate 40.
The Great Indoors
Of the area's museums, the most interesting is probably the recently-constructed Toy and Action Figure Museum in Paul's Valley. Here you'll find the Hulk, G.I. Joe, Spider-Man and all their friends. It also includes an action figure hall of fame, and an exhibit on famous Oklahoma cartoonists.
With Oklahoma's large number of Native American tribes, it is home to a growing number of casinos. Two of the largest are in southeast Oklahoma along the Texas border: Winstar along I-35, and Choctaw Casino in Durant. They are each home to regular concerts, along with the slots and cards.
Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton includes fishing, canoeing, and horseback riding besides the namesake cave. Legend says that the cave was used as a hideout by outlaws such as the Dalton gang.
The Spiro Mounds (near the town of Spiro) are remnants of an ancient Native American civilization. The mounds were burial sites, and may have also served as a calendar a la Stonehenge. The mounds may not look like much, but many well-preserved artifacts have been excavated there.
Another site of ancient interest is the Heavener Runestone State Park. The runes on the huge stone are of interest because they appear to be the writings of ancient Vikings-in Oklahoma, no less.
And though not really an attraction, if you happen to be driving down US 177 near Stratford, keep an eye out for the giant hand.
Tyler on October 08, 2012:
I'm from Southeastern OK and it definitely is just like the South part of the USA. I sure miss that place. I'm ready to move back! It's beautiful!
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on August 12, 2012:
Lovely article showcasing some of Oklahoma's most intriguing attractions. Love the photo of Talimena. Used to live down there and it makes me home-sick!
Dragon_Rose22 on June 29, 2011:
I live in Sulphur, OK but I travel all over and I think it is so funny that this article mentions the hand on hwy 177, I pass it all the time. It is a neat to see but unfortunately its rusting pretty badly now. I do agree there is a lot of stuff to do in Oklahoma if you just know where to look.
swosugrad09 from Oklahoma on June 25, 2010:
I love Oklahoma, great place to live! Very nice hub!
sbeakr on July 17, 2009:
My grandparents had a cattle ranch near Sallisaw. Can't say that was as scenic as all this, but I have fond, fond memories of Oklahoma. Terrific ode, thank you.
Angela Harris from Around the USA on July 21, 2007:
I've driven Highway 1. It's beautiful.