Oklahoma is the American heartland typified. The flatlands and arid plains portrayed in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath are well known, but the Sooner State has long since left the dust bowl era behind. Today’s Oklahoma has lush subtropical forests, mountain ranges, and major riverways to its credit. Perhaps most importantly, the state’s small towns are another prized feature, bastions of vintage American life that are becoming hard to find in places like urban centers and along the coasts. Trust us; these small Oklahoma towns are not to be missed.
This charming town in Comanche County is known as America’s cobblestone community. Quaint streets of red and gray brick wind through town the same way Medicine Park’s history is interwoven with Oklahoma’s. Medicine Park was the state’s first resort town and attracted everyone from celebrities to gangsters. Stroll through the trails nearby or swim at Bath Lake. Climb through Wichita Mountains or explore Cobblestone Row, a cute street in town with brightly colored cabins. Be sure to rent a bike and explore the surrounding area, and try the food in town as well. The catfish, especially, is great.
The town of Perry is a result of the historic Oklahoma land run of 1893. At noon, an official fired a pistol and 100,000 participants raced to stake their claim over the 6,000,000 acres of former Cherokee grazing land. By nightfall, the town of Perry was founded. The town’s history is palpable today. From the great antiquing district to the museums in town, Perry keeps its history alive. It is a great place to learn about Native American history as well. Nature lovers will want to visit Perry Lake, a famed camping spot. Go boating, fishing, and swimming on the serene surface of this popular body of water.
With over 35,000 residents, the town of Bartlesville is large enough to have a good blend of popular amenities without losing its small-town feel. The architecture in town is great. Modern high-rises combine with a historic downtown resulting in a town that appears forward-looking without having lost its heritage. The Frank Phillips Home is a historic homestead worth visiting, as is a skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Families with children will want to spend a few hours at the local amusement park during summer, while the many museums in town are open all year.
The town of Tishomingo is extremely laid-back, and that is how the locals like it. If sitting on a wraparound porch with a glass of sun tea was a place, that would be Tishomingo. Brick bridges extend over wooded streams nearby, and the Blue River is a popular fishing spot that nonanglers will still want to see. The town is home to a restaurant by country music superstar Blake Shelton, and there is plenty else in town for foodies. Tishomingo also has somewhat of a quirky streak as well. Stores like Junk Stars, a local junk star, offer a refreshing alternative to the usual shopping fare and are worth peeking inside.
This adorable Oklahoma town along Route 66 is definitely worth stopping over at. The rich history of Oklahoma’s past, mixed with the enthusiasm for its future, is perfectly encapsulated by Claremore. The Will Rogers Memorial Museum pays tribute to two of Oklahoma’s most beloved sons and should definitely not be missed. Visit the raceway nearby for some good-ol’ fashioned horse racing. Of course, a visit to Claremore would not be complete without a day at the beautiful Claremore Lake.
During the warmer months, the town of Broken Bow is hard to beat. This nature lover’s paradise is home to only about 5,000 people and the best lake in the state. Uncrowded and charming, Broken Bow is also home to the Mountain Fork River and many trails for hiking. The Ouachita Mountains are enchanting, and there are cabin rentals available as well. Broken Bow Lake is excellent for boat tours, fishing, and swimming. There are also guided horseback trail rides through the surroundings. Visit local vineyards or even go ziplining. There is plenty to do in Broken Bow.
Small is beautiful, as they say, and Alva is certainly beautiful. This northwest Oklahoma town is a true gem and there is plenty to feast your eyes on. Start in the lovely town square and work your way through the many murals in town depicting life in the heartland. The town golf course has manicured fairways and is an excellent way to spend an afternoon. Alva’s Graceful Arts Center has local artwork on display, and the local spa is a perfect place to get pampered. Animal lovers will want to see The Menagerie and its collections of donkeys, llamas, and a mini zebu.
The town of Poteau is home to both the world’s largest hill and a healthy amount of small-town Oklahoma charm. Cavanal Hill stands at 1,999 feet and is only one foot shy of the cutoff for mountains. Take a relaxing drive up to the top for a spectacular view of the Sooner State during the day and the cosmos at night. There are two parks in town where visitors can do everything from swim, play soccer and tennis, or skateboard. The frontier spirit is alive and well here. Lake Wister State Park is nearby, and after a trip to the lake, stop at Poteau’s drive-in theater or roller skating rink.
Travelers with green thumbs are going to want to visit Grove: The town’s name literally means a small group of trees. It should come as no surprise that the town is home to the beautiful Lendonwood Gardens, with its eight unique sections featuring exquisitely curated harborage for your viewing pleasure. Grove sits on the shores of Grand Lake of the Cherokees, Oklahoma’s second biggest. Visit any of the five state parks nearby or tour the six-acre Har-Ber Village Museum for an enjoyable, educational excursion.
Visitors to Davis will likely not be leaving without a visit to Turner Falls Park. The park is gorgeous and features Turner Falls, the 77-foot waterfall which disgorges into a picturesque swimming hole below. Hike the Arbuckle Mountains and the pastoral hills nearby, where fields of goldenrod stretch towards the horizon. Hillsides fold and crest out in breadths the eyes fail to grasp, and with a majesty, words fail to capture. In autumn, the falls are especially a sight to behold due to the trees which ring the small pool below. For a less strenuous adventure, try horseback riding and embrace the cowpoke spirit of small-town Oklahoma.
The town of Sulphur is the gateway to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, an Oklahoma Oasis in the foothills of the Arbuckle Mountains. There are nearly 10,000 acres to explore, and nearly a quarter of Chickasaw is water. Visit the Lake of the Arbuckles for premier fishing on the placid lake’s surface. The Artesian is a charming hotel at the heart of Sulphur’s quaint downtown area. Play the slots or hunker down at the blackjack table at the casino, or stop by The Rustic Nail Winery. This rustic Oklahoma town has an amazing old-world feel which needs to be experienced firsthand.
One of Oklahoma’s newest towns, Carlton Landing is also one of the best. The town was built on the verdant hills which overlook Lake Eufaula and its 600 miles of shoreline. It is not surprising that Carlton Landing has a distinct seaside vibe. Fish for Kentucky bass and stripers or simply head out onto the lake for some peace and quiet. Watch the sunset in this storybook town or swing by the local farmer’s market.
There is plenty to do in this heartland state. Oklahoma’s rich history is visible nearly everywhere you look and nowhere more so than in the small towns where the frontier remains etched into every signpost and switchback. Go horseback riding through the mountainside like the cowboys of old or hike the tallest hill in the world. Swim beneath a waterfall and walk the streets of charming towns to find the beating heart of America alive and well.