Oklahoma is known as the "Sooner State" due to the rush of early settlers who raced across the prairie to claim their homesteads in 1889. While the state has a rich pioneer legacy, there is much more to explore beyond the region's history. As part of the Great Plains, Oklahoma boasts a vibrant landscape, abundant wildlife, and substantial natural resources. Whether you enjoy hiking through pristine forests, fishing for bass on a crystal-clear lake, or driving down the iconic Route 66, Oklahoma has something to offer everyone. The state's many small towns hide some of its best treasures. For travelers willing to slow down, take in the sights, and enjoy the warm Midwest hospitality, these small communities are the perfect places to escape for a weekend getaway.
Medicine Park is a charming resort town near Lawton in the southwestern part of the state, just south of Lake Lawtonka. Its cobblestone buildings and walkways exude an old-fashioned charm that takes visitors back to the town's earliest beginnings. Medicine Park was initially established due to the creation of the nearby nature reserve, designated as a protected habitat in the early 1900s. The Wichita Mountains Nature Reserve is one of the country's oldest protected wildlife areas. Covering over 60,000 acres of grass prairie, granite mountains, and freshwater lakes and streams, the region provides natural habitats for numerous wildlife, including herds of bison, elk, and deer.
Hiking enthusiasts can explore the Bison Trail, a 6-mile trail that winds through diverse terrain, offering excellent bird and wildlife viewing opportunities. Bath Lake is ideal for swimming or just sitting and enjoying the beautiful surroundings during summer. Don't forget to visit the Holy City of the Wichitas, a replica of first-century Jerusalem that hosts the annual Easter Pageant. After a day of exploring, you can enjoy delicious meals at The Old Plantation Restaurant or replenish your energy with Small Mountain Street Tacos for the next day's activities.
This northeastern Oklahoma reservoir community is a water lover's paradise near the Grand Lake of the Cherokees. With over 41,779 acres of open water, the massive lake offers ideal swimming, boating, fishing, and camping adventures, and several trails just waiting to be explored. The fishing is excellent, with anglers flocking onto the water to catch bluegill, crappie, smallmouth bass, and catfish. Countless marinas offer boat rentals should families want to spend a day on the water.
If you prefer to fish from a spot on the bank (over 1,300 miles of shoreline), The Honey Creek Area in the Grand Lake State Park is a tree-lined camping area with access to the water. Monkey Island is nearby, with numerous resorts and vacation rentals, and is a popular destination for golfing, dining, and nightlife. Many visitors stay at the Shangrila Resort with its excellent amenities, or if you need a romantic B&B, try the Funky Monkey Inn. Be sure to wrap your tongue around some slow-smoked Barbeque at the RoadHog Saloon, with ribs that fall off the bone.
If you're a history buff and enjoy wandering through old districts, this small town outside Oklahoma City is a must-see. The downtown district boasts over 2,000 commercial historical buildings, many excellent examples of Victorian architecture. Guthrie was once a rail outpost back in the late 1880s, and with the arrival of settlers during the Land Rush, many of them hurried to claim land around the town. It served as the territorial capital for several years before being overtaken by Oklahoma City, now its capital.
Today, the community takes pride in its pioneer heritage and has several museums, including the Oklahoma Territorial Museum/Carnegie Library and the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum. If, thanks to its beautiful red-brick turn-of-the-century buildings, you plan a weekend getaway, stay at the Pollard B&B or any other lovely local accommodations. For breakfast, head over to Katie's Diner and order the Biscuits and Gravy, or if you prefer burgers or BBQ, check out the Stables Cafe.
Broken Bow is a small town in southeastern Oklahoma, serving as a gateway to Beaver's Bend State Park and Broken Bow Lake. The community sits in the foothills of the Kiamichi Mountains and offers plenty of pine forests, wildlife viewing, and nature trails to explore. Many visitors flock to the region each winter to view bald eagles or to fish for trout in the Mountain Fork River. (Two trophy areas are stocked twice a year with gorgeous trout).
The Beaver's Bend Lodge is a beautiful stay with lake views. Hikers will love the 12-mile David Boren Trail, which comprises several shorter trails, so you can venture into the woods for a serious climb or just take a leisurely stroll. If you prefer to play golf, the Cedar Creek Golf Course is a picturesque 18-hole course with pine-rimmed fairways. Nearby, the Beavers Bend Mining Company will let your kids dig for dinosaur teeth or pan for gemstones, arrowheads, and fossils. After you strike it rich, zipline through the trees at Ragaru Adventures. The Park's serene natural beauty makes it one of the most popular places for visitors, and with the abundance of activities, it is an excellent place to retreat to for a weekend.
Ardmore is a small community in southern Oklahoma, surrounded by five lakes and many unique attractions. The town was initially established as a railroad depot, ferrying supplies and early pioneers west. However, it gained prominence when one of the largest oil deposits in the country was discovered in 1913. Ardmore boasts a beautiful downtown historic district filled with many older buildings.
History enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the Southwest Historical Museum, which has an excellent military wing, or the Eliza Cruce Hall Doll Museum inside the public library. The Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center is an excellent place to learn about the early Native Americans who made the region their home. Families can spend a day on Lake Murray boating, fishing, or climbing to the top of Tucker Tower for a scenic view. There are numerous places to stay, but if you need an excellent place for dinner, try Cafe Alley, a restaurant serving some of the best food in the area for over 30 years.
Waynoka, also known as the "Little City By the Sand," is a popular destination for adventure seekers. The town is home to the Little Sahara State Park, which spans over 1,600 acres of dunes and desert-like terrain. The Park attracts over 100,000 visitors annually, who come to enjoy ATV and off-roading adventures. For only $10 a day, visitors can rent an off-road vehicle or bring their own to ride the dunes. The Park also offers plenty of campsites and cabins for rent and a nice observation area to watch the dune buggies and ATVs in action.
If you're not interested in riding the dunes, you can visit the Waynoka Historical Society, which showcases displays of early rail life. Alabaster Caverns is about 30 minutes away, offering tours of the largest natural gypsum cave in the world open to the public. Additionally, The Northern Chophouse serves up delicious prime rib, and Cafe Bahnhof is an upscale Bavarian restaurant that serves excellent food, although it has limited hours on the weekend.
Boise City is in the panhandle region of Oklahoma, near the borders of Colorado and New Mexico. It is home to the Black Mesa State Park, which offers the country's best nighttime astronomical viewing opportunities. The Mesa is named after the black lava sediment that covers the mountain, and hikers can enjoy a moderately strenuous hike over open terrain by climbing the Black Mesa Trail. It is recommended to wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat as there isn't much shade available.
Autograph Rock is just north of the town and was an essential stop for pioneers of the Santa Fe Trail. The area is a National Park Service site and features many carvings from those early pioneers in the rocks. Don't forget to visit the Cimarron Heritage Center, which has exhibits on dinosaurs, pioneers, and the Dust Bowl. If camping under the stars with a roaring fire isn't your thing, try the Bluebonnet Cafe for dinner or a great breakfast.
Long before it was ever incorporated into a town, the region around Sulphur was known for its healing mineral springs. Many early visitors would arrive, soak in the springs, and smear the sulfur-rich mud on themselves as a way of helping their ills. Today, the small town, just north of Ardmore, serves as the gateway to the Chickasaw National Recreational Area.
The Park has numerous miles of trails to explore, and there are plenty of fishing opportunities at Lake Arbuckle, should you want to drop a line in for a bass or catfish. The Chickasaw Cultural Center offers interactive displays of the Chickasaw Nation and is a must-visit. The Artesian Hotel and Casino is nearby if you want to try playing the slots or blackjack. For dinner, many travelers recommend the Fat Bully's as the place for the best burger and brew.
Claremore, Oklahoma, has the dual distinction of being right on Route 66 and home to Oklahoma's native son, Will Rogers. Visitors traveling America's iconic highway will want to tour the Will Rogers Memorial Museum and the JM Davis Arms and Historical Museum. Claremore Lake is nearby and features over 12 miles of wilderness hiking and biking trails.
This area is famous for visitors year-round, with plenty of good fishing and boating opportunities. Two golf courses at Lake Claremore offer significant risks and rewards for those wanting to work on their handicap. Before you cruise down the highway, have dinner at Main Street Tavern.
Jenks is the perfect place if you enjoy antiquing as a weekend adventure. This small town is in northeast Oklahoma and is a suburb of Tulsa. It is also one of the fastest-growing communities in the state. Jenks is known as "the antique capital of Oklahoma" and has nearly a dozen shops in the historic downtown district alone. If you're a picker, check out the River City Trading Post or American Heritage Antiques to find the perfect trinket, knickknack, or old furniture. Families should visit the Oklahoma Aquarium, which has a wide variety of sea life and interactive displays.
Additionally, Jenks has some great restaurants to choose from if you decide to eat out. The Waterfront Grill is one of the best, with its excellent seafood and steaks. If you need a romantic bed and breakfast, seek out the Victorian Lady, where you will feel like you've stepped back in time from the moment you enter the front door.
Oklahoma's small towns offer a diverse range of activities for weekend adventurers. Whether you enjoy spending time on a lake, hiking along rugged wilderness trails, or exploring antique stores to find that perfect item, you'll find plenty of things to keep yourself occupied. Following in the footsteps of those early families who rushed across the prairie, Oklahomans today have a deep respect for the legacy of their ancestors and a strong commitment to preserving the natural beauty of their state. As you explore the richness of these small communities, it becomes clear why the residents take pride in calling the Sooner State their home.