Gas station snacks, sunglasses and carefully devised playlists – reminders that the best road trips are a delicate balance of planning and spontaneity. This spring, you don’t have to travel far to get a change in scenery and break out of the humdrum of a daily routine. 

From its state parks to its peculiar tourist attractions, Oklahoma is full of hidden treasures and unexpected destinations that can cure even the most severe cases of wanderlust. Here are a few spots to serve as inspiration for your next outing.

State Parks and Preserves

Fresh air works wonders for those needing a hard reset. Oklahoma is home to over 30 state parks and preserves, offering plenty of wide-open spaces and wilderness to explore. 

Located northeast of Lawton, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge spans 60,000 acres of diverse terrains, giving visitors the opportunity to appreciate Oklahoma’s indigenous wildlife – including bison, prairie dogs and longhorn cattle. Travelers can spend all day traversing the refuge’s hiking trails, fishing spots, camping grounds and even Mt. Scott, a summit that reaches 2,464 feet above sea level and offers stellar views.

If you’re looking for a drastic change from the state’s wooded landscapes, check out the Little Sahara State Park in Waynoka. Known for its 1,600 acres of sand dunes, the park looks like a scene from Indiana Jones. The desert’s unique topography is the result of the Cimarron River that once flowed through the area, leaving behind terrace deposits that eventually formed dunes. Thrill-seekers can get their kicks by renting (or bringing) ATVs to race atop the park’s sandy peaks. 

Also visit: Robbers Cave State Park, Wilburton; Roman Nose State Park, Watonga; Quartz Mountain State Park, Lone Wolf; and Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska. 

Historic Landmarks 

Want to learn something new? With an array of historical sites, Oklahoma has plenty of fodder to enrich understanding of the state’s culture and history.

Travel back in time at the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, Oklahoma’s only prehistoric American Indian archeological site open to the public. Situated a stone’s throw from Spiro, the site was a trading hub for prehistoric Mississippian cultures. Visitors can follow walking trails to see the twelve mounds where artifacts were uncovered, and tour interpretive exhibits to learn about some of Oklahoma’s earliest known history. 

Stroll the brick sidewalks while admiring architecture from bygone eras in the Guthrie Historic District, the largest contiguous district on the National Registry of Historic Places. Originally the state capital, the city of Guthrie was a hotspot of activity during the Land Run of 1889. Visitors can enjoy a mecca of antique shops, museums and local eateries within a walking distance from one another.  

Also visit: Sequoyah’s Cabin, Sallisaw; Fort Washita, Durant; Honey Springs Battlefield, Checotah. 

Art and Museums

If you’re in need of a dose of inspiration, Oklahoma’s museums and galleries are full of exhibits.

After years of development, the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City opened its doors in September 2021. The state-of-the-art museum educates visitors about the 39 distinct Native American tribes in Oklahoma through art exhibits and educational programming. Visitors can spend the day exploring the 175,000-square-foot facility and grab a bite to eat at Thirty Nine Restaurant, which serves Indigenous-inspired cuisine.

Nestled in the heart of midtown Tulsa, Philbrook was the home of oil tycoon Waite Phillips in the 1920s. Philips and his family lived in the Italianate mansion, known as Villa Philbrook, for 11 years before donating the property to serve as an arts center. In addition to its three levels of Native American, European and American art collections, the museum features 25 acres of lush garden grounds, where visitors can discover sculptures, a cabin and friendly garden cats.

Also visit: OKCMOA, OKC; Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, Shawnee; Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Tulsa.

Tourist Attractions

Many of Oklahoma’s cities have invested in bolstering their tourism over the last two decades, bringing about many attractions for both travelers and locals. 

Beloved Food Network star Ree Drummond selected her hometown, Pawhuska, as the destination for the Pioneer Woman Mercantile. Since its grand opening in 2016, the spot has been bustling with shoppers looking to taste mouthwatering dishes and snag home goods designed with Drummond’s whimsical flair. In February, the mercantile reopened after undergoing renovations to its retail area and bakery. Visitors can even reserve tickets to tour the Lodge at the Drummond Ranch, where the television personality films her show. 

After two years and $11 million in renovations, the Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City reopened its Crystal Bridge Conservatory in November 2022. The newly updated space includes a reflecting pool, terraces, cascading waterfalls and a diversified plant collection that immerses visitors in a tropical oasis. 

Also visit: Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve, Bartlesville; Woody Guthrie Center, Tulsa; National Weather Center, Norman. 

The Mother Road

There isn’t a more iconic road in American culture than Route 66 – known as America’s Mother Road. As one of the country’s first highway systems, Route 66 stretches over 2,000 miles, beginning in Chicago and ending at the Santa Monica pier in California. More than 400 miles stretch through Oklahoma, which are renowned as some of the most drivable and scenic portions of the route. 

Travelers can learn more about Route 66 history by stopping at one of its many dedicated museums in Elk City, Clinton and Chandler. 

Also visit: The Blue Whale, Catoosa; Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park, Chelsea; the Pops 66 Soda Ranch, Arcadia. 

With so many destinations and landmarks, there’s plenty to do in Oklahoma this spring, even for lifelong residents. No matter what the destination may be, every memorable road trip is defined by the surprises along the way.   Faith Harl

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