Written by: Bill Huston, special guest writer
Nestled in the heartland of America is a place "where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, and the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet" - Oklahoma! Wasted as a flyover state, this grand land offers RVers historic highways to beautiful byways.
Oklahoma is a state full of surprises, from the sublime to the quirky. Home of the world's first parking meter and electric guitar. Holder of the world record for largest pecan pie, pecan cookie, pecan brownie, and biggest ice cream and cookie party. Not to mention the setting for Rogers and Hammerstein's musical, and the movie blockbuster "Twister". With a working oil well on the front lawn of the State Capitol Building, you know that Oklahoma is anything but ordinary. It has great places to go RVing, and we've asked an Oklahoma native, Bill Huston, for his five must go destinations.
Oklahoma has a very diverse landscape, from forested mountains to prairies. Several major rivers flow through the state and you can visit the locks that allow ships and barges to come up the Arkansas River to transport grain and other goods by sea. Oklahoma has 200 manmade lakes, more than any other State, with more shoreline than the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts combined. Along the shores of these lakes you will find numerous wooded campgrounds, operated by the state or Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to park your RV and enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, or just sitting under a shade tree observing the beauty of your surroundings. If you are looking for a campground with more amenities, you can find over 200 RV parks and campgrounds across Oklahoma to rest your happy heads.
When to Go
Some people prefer to visit Oklahoma in the Spring - April through June - as the weather in Oklahoma can get fairly cold during the Winter and fairly hot during the Summer. Come springtime, the grass and trees are green and flowers are in bloom. However there is sometimes the threat of tornados (some private campgrounds do offer tornado shelters). Like the weather, occurrence of twisters can be unpredictable. So, if your tolerance for tornado alerts is low, you might prefer to visit in the Fall, mid-September to mid-November.
How to Get There
Oklahoma is bordered by six states: Texas to the south and west, Arkansas and Missouri to the east, Kansas to the north and Colorado and New Mexico at the tip of the northwestern Oklahoma panhandle.
I-40 is the key east-west interstate that cuts through the state, with I-35 providing a major north-south route.
Main airports are Will Rogers World Airport, located near the capital Oklahoma City and Tulsa International Airport servicing the northeast part of the state. Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport provides access to the southwest part of Oklahoma. With RV fly-drive available from the major hubs.
What to See and Do
In addition to many of the usual places to visit, like museums, zoos and botanical gardens, Oklahoma offers several unique places that are especially suited to visit in your RV. Here are five must see destinations for all RVers. So hitch up the trailer, dust off the motorhome, and don't forget to pack your camera in order to take photos to enjoy years later and capture the spirit of Oklahoma that will last a lifetime.
Tour One: Historic Route 66 - Allow a minimum of 2 days
Often called the Mother Road or America's Main Street. Route 66 exemplifies the American spirit, conjuring thoughts of freedom, adventure, opportunity, and the open road. It is the road that many people traveled in their Model A's and T's when they resettled in the west.
You can travel this road through Oklahoma, from the Kansas border, near Quapaw, to the Texas border, near Texola. In some States, much of the original Highway US-66 traffic has been rerouted onto Interstates. But, virtually all of the original highway through Oklahoma remains intact and is still used for local traffic. So, one can travel through many of the small towns and enjoy the local culture and rural atmosphere.
In its heyday the road was lined with motor courts, diners, filling stations and other attractions, with abundant neon signs to attract travelers' attention. Since most of the cross country traffic now follows the Interstates, some of the original attractions along Route 66 no longer exist, however the ones that remain are still worth more than a passing glance.
Near Miami (pronounced my-am-uh, of Native American origin), you can drive a short distance of the road that travelers almost 100 years ago had to contend with. Stop off to see the beautiful Coleman Theatre 103 N. Main St, in Miami which was originally a vaudeville theatre and movie palace. The theatre still offers events from ballet and opera to recitals. The restored "Coleman Theatre Beautiful" is a labor of love of the Friends of Coleman. Barbara Coleman and her team offer tours and group luncheons, with donations contributing to the upkeep of the theatre. Filled with magnificent chandeliers and décor, it is a testimony to old world grandeur and well worth a visit.
In celebration of one of Oklahoma's most famous native, Rogers County Historical Society has an excellent self guided heritage tour of the Claremore area. Visit the Hotel Will Rogers, Will Rogers Memorial, milk cows at Swan's Dairy, take tea at the Belvidere Mansion. For a more quirky stop which characterizes the frontier spirit of Route 66, visit the Totem Pole Park, where the world's largest totem pole stands. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and houses Ed Galloway's 90 foot totem pole and other artifacts. Located four miles east of Foyil on Highway 28A.
For more kitsch, stop off at the Blue Whale 2705 N Hwy 66, Catoosa. Built by Hugh Davis as an anniversary gift to his wife, Zelda. Take in landmarks, from the Round Barn in Arcadia located in the heart of Arcadia, on Route 66 and POPS, a big convenience store and restaurant that features a 66-foot-tall pop bottle festooned with multicolored LED lighting in the front. Inside, it sells more than 500 types of soda pop from its coolers. For diehard fans, take a couple of hours to stop off at the Route 66 Museums near Clinton or Elk City for a trip down memory lane.
The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, 2229 Gary Blvd, Clinton has eight exhibit galleries, which tell the story of Route 66 by decade--each gallery also has the option to play the music of that particular decade. The tour begins with an Introduction gallery and ending with our "Drive-In Theater" which shows a 20-minute excerpt of "Route 66: An American Odyssey" narrated by the première Route 66 historian, Michael Wallis. Exterior exhibits include a 1950s Valentine Diner exhibit along with picnic benches and early 1920s equipment used to build Route 66.
The National Route 66 Museum, 2717 W highway 66, Elk City is part of the Old Town Museum complex that includes the Pioneer Museum and Beutler Brothers Rodeo Hall, the Farm and Ranch Museum, Livery Stable, Train Depot, Wagon Yard and other areas depicting Old Town Elk City. In this museum the road motif takes visitors to all eight states along the "Mother Road" from Illinois to California. Photographs, vintage autos, and recorded personal accounts vividly re-create the hey-day of this historic route.
Route 66 no longer appears on modern highway maps, so for turn by turn directions we recommend you download Oklahoma's Route 66 which also contains a handy list of attractions along the way.
If you're in a hurry, you can drive the nearly 400 miles of Oklahoma's Route 66 and see the major attractions in two days. However, we recommend allowing three or four days for a more leisurely drive, especially if you want to soak up some of the local culture in the towns along the way.
For culture buffs, you may even want to budget a couple of extra days to visit the many attractions along the way, like museums in Tulsa - Gilcrease Museum, 1400 North Gilcrease Museum Road, Tulsa. Home to the world's most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West. Other Tulsa museums of note include the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, 111 E. First Street, Tulsa. Part museum, performance hall and educational facility, the center recognizes and honors Oklahoma jazz musicians, documenting and preserving their works in jazz, blues and gospel art forms. Enjoy brunch and the gardens at the Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 South Rockford Road, Tulsa. Indulge in another day to stroll around the Bricktown Entertainment District in Oklahoma City, located on the eastern border of downtown and is accessible from I-40, I-35 and I-235. Take a narrated boat ride in Bricktown, and tour the State Capitol Building in Oklahoma City.
For places to stay along the way, explore:
Tour Two: Cherokee Hills Byway - Allow a minimum of 1 day
Situated in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, the Cherokee Hills Byway is a showcase of eastern Oklahoma's tremendous diversity. From lush scenery and breathtaking natural beauty to the rich cultural and historical background of the Cherokee people. On this 85 mile byway from Gore to West Siloam Springs, one can enjoy the scenic views as they drive along the crystal clear waters of the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller and visit Natural Falls, the highest waterfall in Oklahoma.
This byway tour provides a great opportunity to learn about the Cherokee people. Visit several of the attractions in the Tahlequah area like the Cherokee Heritage Center at 21192 S. Keeler Drive, Park Hill, with the Trail of Tears Exhibit, the Diligwa Ancient Village, the Adams Corner Rural Village, and the George Murrell historic antebellum mansion in Park Hill. You will learn about the Trail Of Tears for the Cherokee people on their way to Oklahoma, and how they adapted to their new homeland, while still preserving their ancient culture. Visitors will receive a guided tour of the Ancient Cherokee Village, can view the Trail of Tears exhibit, see the remaining columns of the Cherokee Female Seminary which burned in 1887, and enjoy Adams Corner Rural Village. Avid historians can also conduct genealogy research, with access to local records.
The Cherokee Hills Byway can be driven in a day with a couple of attraction stops. For history and culture lovers, you will surely want to allow at least two days, which gives you time to spend almost a full day near Tahlequah learning about the Cherokee people. And in case you need to stay all night nearby, here are the campgrounds within 25 miles of Tahlequah, OK.
Tour Three: Wichita Mountains Byway - Allow a minimum of 1 day
On this 93 mile drive through the 550 million-year-old Wichita Mountains, you will see remnants of ancient cross-timbers and southern mixed grasslands. Enjoy the natural beauty of the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, one of the first areas of the country set aside from development to preserve its natural character and to help protect the bison, elk and longhorn cows from extinction. It is well worth checking the calendar of public interpretive programs for guided walks, tours and even star gazing!
The drive starts near Elk Mountain on the southwest side of the refuge. Travelers are sure to see bison and longhorn cattle grazing almost anywhere along the road. In certain areas look out for elk, deer and wild turkey. Not to be missed is Prairie Dog Town where you can watch prairie dogs display their complex social behavior.
You may want to visit Holy City, the location of the longest running passion play in the nation, and a favorite place for weddings. A drive to the top of Mount Scott is a must if you have a suitable vehicle. The drive up the mountain is not suitable for large RVs, but once you reach the top you will get a spectacular view of the country side for many miles in all directions.
Of course, you wouldn't want to leave the refuge without spending a night or two in Doris Campground. You will enjoy the rugged natural beauty of this campground, yet it is still suitable for almost any size and type of RV. Deer often wander through the campground in the early morning and early evening, and a bison might occasionally wander through. Campers might be able to hand feed the deer some corn as they wander near their campsite. But make sure you stay away from the bison, as they can be dangerous.
When you leave the refuge, you will notice that the byway becomes more prairie like. On the remainder of the drive you can enjoy scenic views of Lake Lawtonka, Stumbling Bear Pass, Slick Hills, Rainy Mountain and Saddle Mountain, enjoying picturesque scenes of the Wichita Mountains Byway.
You can drive the entire byway in one day if you hurry, but why not allow two days for a more leisurely drive and a few more days to enjoy sitting around a campfire and watching the deer wander through Camp Doris. In addition to Camp Doris, explore campgrounds and RV parks near Lawton.
Tour Four: Talimena Scenic Drive - Allow a minimum of 1 day
Be prepared for spectacular views as this 54 mile long forested byway winds through the peaks of the Ouachita Mountains, from Talihina, Oklahoma to Mena, Arkansas. Be sure to bring your binoculars. When you stop at some of the numerous vista turnouts, you will need them to get a better look at the spectacular views of the valleys and farmland below as well as the distant mountains.
You can spend the night at the Campground In The Sky that is near the highest point between the Appalachians and the Rockies. It is on the Arkansas side and officially known as Queen Wilhelmina State Park and is sometimes above low level clouds in the area. From the steps of the Lodge, near the campground, you can see other mountain peaks about 50 miles away.
It's easy to imagine the hardships the early settlers of this area had to endure. At the highest points along the byway one can observe the gnarled trees which have resulted from the harsh winter winds and ice. As it is such a rouged area it was often used before statehood as a hideout by outlaws like the infamous Doolin Gang.
The byway is a favorite drive in the Spring when the wildflowers are in bloom, and in the Fall when the trees turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. You may want to check Talimena Scenic Drive for a more detail description and what to look for at each turnout along the byway. The road is very hilly but suitable for any type of RV. Many tour buses travel this road in mid-October to view the fall foliage. One can travel this byway in one day, but you should plan on two days so you can take a more leisurely tour and spend the night at the Campground In The Sky or one of the other campgrounds and RV parks near Talihina.
Tour Five: Guthrie, OK - Allow a minimum of 1 day
Originally the capital of Oklahoma Territory, and the starting point for the famous land run of 1889. You've heard that Rome wasn't built in a day, but Guthrie in effect was. Before the land run, Guthrie wasn't much more than a whistle stop along the railroad, but within six hours after the beginning of the land run, Guthrie became one of the largest towns west of the Mississippi River.
Immediately after the land run, most of Guthrie's 10,000 residents lived in tents and lean-tos, but this would change over the years. Residents brought in architects and artisans from eastern cities and Europe to design some of the most beautiful buildings in the country. Guthrie became the capital when Oklahoma became a State, but the capital was later moved to Oklahoma City.
Today, Guthrie is nationally significant for its outstanding collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century commercial architecture. And, is now the largest urban district in the National Register Of Historic Places, containing 2,169 buildings, 1400 acres and 400 city blocks. You will want to first tour Guthrie on the trolley, so you can hear about the people who built some of those beautiful old Victorian homes. Then we recommend you drive your own vehicle around to take a closer look and see some places that the trolley missed.
A must see is the Masonic Temple, considered by some to be the most beautiful building in Oklahoma. It reflects the work of many different European artisans, because each room is decorated to represent a different culture. Guided tours of the inside are offered on most days. Don't miss the beautiful old Victorian homes in Guthrie, and soak up the atmosphere and history by taking a walking tour of the area.
You can probably take the trolley ride around Guthrie, and tour the Temple in one day. To enjoy it at a more leisurely pace, plan on spending at least two full days in Guthrie to really soak in the sites. Guthrie may have lost the State Capital to Oklahoma City, but it is now the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Oklahoma. So, you may want to park your RV and spend a night or two in a bed and breakfast and golfers can spend a few days playing golf on a few of Guthrie's six golf courses. If you prefer to stay in your RV or camp, have a look at the campgrounds and RV parks surrounding Guthrie.
These five destinations provide only a small snapshot of the spirited Oklahoma State, with so much more to offer at every junction and turn. So, stop by to take a better look for yourself the next time you're traveling across the country, or even better, make it a destination in itself. You may get a whole new perspective of what you previously envisioned Oklahoma to be.
Our guest contributor, Bill Huston, shares his personal photos of the area with CampingRoadTrip.com members:
Wichita Mountains Byway - see prairie dogs, Holy City, Mt Scott, and Camp DorisGuthrie, Oklahoma - trolley rides, downtown Guthrie, beautiful Victorian homes
Copyright ©2013 Camping Road Trip, LLC
Find campgrounds and RV parks - Smart Search Now.Read campground and RV park reviews to help you find the perfect place to stay.
Since he retired, over 20 years ago, Bill Huston spends as much time as he can traveling around the country in his little motorhome to see the sights and to visit friends and relatives. He moderates several e-mail discussion groups on the Internet about RVing. And, he's quite active in Loners on Wheels, a camping club for single men and women.
Special thanks to all contributors for their input and wonderful photos:
PREVIOUS ROAD TRIPS AND DESTINATIONS ARTICLES
Camping Road Trip along the Pacific Coast Highway Big Sur CoastThe Big Sur Coast on the Pacific Coast Highway is in most people's bucket list of road trip destinations. If offers one of the country's most scenic coastal drives. We have created a four-day itinerary, with the key places to stop and best places to stay.
Camping Road Trip along the Natchez Trace ParkwayThe Natchez Trace Parkway, one of the great American scenic drives follows the Natchez Trace, used by Native Americans for hundreds of years and offers endless panoramic views and historical sites. We have compiled a five-day itinerary of the best things to see and places to stay.
Camping Road Trip through the Kenai PeninsulaLocated south of the city of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula is a land full of striking contrasts. It boasts massive prehistoric glaciers and snow-capped mountains and is home to numerous pristine lakes, rivers, and lush green forests teeming with diverse wildlife, giving outdoor enthusiasts so much to do and see.
Read more from our May Outdoor Living Newsletter.
Going camping or RVing?Take the Camp Finder app to find the best campgrounds and RV Parks.