A version of this story appeared in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Hit the highway: 10 Oklahoma road trips for fall break
It’s fall, y’all, and after the 2020 we’ve experienced so far, we could all use a break.
If the coronavirus pandemic has you desperate to get out of the house but reluctant to travel by air or sea, don’t fret, fellow Okies. Mile for mile, Oklahoma offers the nation’s most diverse terrain, plus a plethora of museums, eateries and attractions. Some remained closed due to COVID-19, but there’s still plenty to see and do around the Sooner State outside of the obvious allures in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
So, pack your mask and hand sanitizer, gas up your vehicle and plot a course on TravelOK.com for one of these 10 Oklahoma fall break road trips.
1. Get your kicks. Oklahoma is home to the country’s longest drivable stretch of Route 66: More than 400 miles of America’s most iconic highway cuts through the Sooner State, with 60-plus attractions lining the Mother Road, from familiar favorites like the Catoosa Blue Whale and the Arcadia Round Barn to oddities like the Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park in Chelsea and the One Room Jail in Texola.
Corral your caffeine curbside at Manvel Avenue Coffee Co. in Chandler, wrangle a cold drink at Pops in Arcadia and lasso a buffalo burger at the famed Rock Cafe in Stroud.
Route 66 will mark its 100th anniversary in 2021, and you can prep with a visit to one of several museums and historic sites along the way.
2. Hit the high point. The only town in Oklahoma on Mountain Time, the Panhandle hamlet of Kenton is tucked among mesas formed by ancient lava flows. The most famous of these is Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s highest point at 4,973 feet above sea level.
While in the Black Mesa Nature Preserve, visitors can hike to the top of the towering plateau, bird watch for golden eagles, scaled quail and pinyon jays and keep an eye out for other wildlife like black bears, bighorn sheep and antelope. On the east of end of Black Mesa, check out preserved dinosaur tracks by Carrizo Creek.
The nearby Black Mesa State Park is the place to be for stargazing, with some of the darkest nighttime skies on publicly accessible land in the entire USA.
3. Fall is for foliage. Nothing says autumn like leaves changing colors. Although the peak time for fall foliage in Oklahoma is later in October and early November, the 54-mile Talimena National Scenic Byway offers stunning views pretty much any time of year. The drive from Talihina to Mena, Arkansas, meanders along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest, offering numerous stupendous vistas and turnoffs.
If you want to add some exercise to your leisurely drive, hiking and backpacking trails throughout the Ouachita National Forest start in Talimena State Park.
4. Due east. A quick jaunt east on I-40 just outside Oklahoma City, the Shawnee area offers plenty of intriguing attractions, even with the Pottawatomie County Museum and Seminole’s Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum temporarily closed. For weekend family fun, ready for foam warfare at the Nerfed Indoor Battle Arena.
Oklahoma’s oldest art museum, the 101-year-old Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art is a veritable treasure trove that includes shrunken heads, a full suit of armor and the state’s only mummies. The traveling exhibit “Salvador Dali’s Stairway to Heaven,” featuring works by the iconic artist, is on view there through Nov. 1.
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center and Seminole Nation Museum in nearby Wewoka offer insights into Native cultures. History buffs also can check out Oklahoma Veterans Memorial and the grave of Brewster Higley VI, who wrote the poem that became “Home on the Range.” Then, get your smoke on at Van’s Pig Stand, grab a burger at Hamburger King or opt for a cocktail and charcuterie board at Theopolis Social Club.
5. Capital trip. Another short trip from the OKC metro, Guthrie offers plenty of vintage charm as the state’s original capital, including the Oklahoma Territorial Museum, Territorial Capital Sports Museum, Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum and many antique shops. Meet musical living legend Byron Berline at his Double Stop Fiddle Shop & Music Hall, and get into the spooky spirit of the season with the Guthrie Ghost Walks and Guthrie Haunts.
For family fun, check out the all-ages Level Up Arcade, the First Capital Games collectible shop and the Avid Extreme Paintball Field and Sports Park.
If you need sustenance, find gourmet treats at Rick’s Fine Chocolates & Coffees or a full meal at Gages Steakouse in the Old Santa Fe Train Depot. You might even spot some movie types around town as the biopic “Reagan” is currently filming in the historic hamlet.