Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains.

7 Coolest Towns In Oklahoma For A Summer Vacation In 2024

Oklahoma shines in summer. This south-central state has ten distinct ecoregions that attract vacationers. Hikers hike the High Plains, climbers climb the Ouachita Mountains, boaters boat the Cypress Swamps, and motocrossers cross the Crosstimbers. Yet, when it comes time to hang up their cleats, crampons, oars, or goggles, several small communities bring those adventurers together under the common serenity of summertime Oklahoma. Learn more about the best bases for a more-than-OK summer vacation in 2024.

Boise City

Boise City, Oklahoma
Boise City, Oklahoma. Image credit: K. Latham via

Traveling to the end of the Oklahoma Panhandle, AKA No Man's Land, may not seem like a fun summer vacation - unless your target is Black Mesa. Standing 4,973 feet above sea level, Black Mesa will get you higher than you have ever been in Oklahoma since it is the highest point in the state. Yes, it is higher than all of OK's mountain ranges. Unlike the mountains, however, Black Mesa's rise is gradual, so reaching its Oklahoma peak (it is taller in New Mexico and Colorado) is relatively easy.

Off the flat-topped summit, vacationers can picnic, camp, fish, and stargaze at Black Mesa State Park and then retreat to Boise City, the biggest base for a Black Mesa adventure, which means it has over 1,000 residents, a museum, and a couple of decent restaurants. Tour the Cimarron Heritage Center & Museum before chowing at Farmhouse Cafe or Guera's Tacos.

Medicine Park

Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains.
Medicine Park in the Wichita Mountains.

If you are looking for a truly prominent peak to test your summer stamina, visit the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, which contains rugged Mount Pinchot. Unfortunately, this 2,476-foot mountain (variable measurement) is protected from the public. Fortunately, its 12-foot shorter neighbor, Mount Scott, is open to everyone from motorists to bikers to hikers to rock climbers. After Scott rocks your socks, treat yourself to Medicine Park, a scenic 400-ish-person town at the foot of the preserve.

Among its nourishing attractions are Mrs. Chadwick's Bakery, Joe Mountain Breakfast Bar, The Old Plantation Restaurant, Discovery Outpost, Medicine Park Aquarium & Natural Sciences Center, and even a granite-based swimming hole called Bath Lake.


Grand Lake at sunset.
Grand Lake at sunset.

Dwarfing Bath Lake is the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, a 46,500-acre aquatic oasis straddling Grove in the Ozark foothills. In addition to swimming, fishing, boating, tubing, parasailing, and wakeboarding, the lake hosts a summer kickoff spectacular called Toes in the Grand. This year, it is set to run from June 7 to 9 and feature everything from boat races to a huge car, truck, and motorcycle show. For a quieter Grove getaway, check out Har-Ber Village Museum, a lakeside complex of nearly 100 exhibits representing pioneer life, or Lendonwood Gardens, an eight-acre preserve of over 1,000 kinds of plants. Get your grub at Matt's Place, Raggedy's Cafe, or La Casita De Martin.


Chickasaw Visitor Center with Artesian Hotel in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
Chickasaw Visitor Center with Artesian Hotel in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Editorial credit: EWY Media /

Another OK mountain range, the Arbuckles, peaks at about 1,400 feet and can be seen from Sulphur, a 5,000ish-person gateway to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Preserving nearly 10,000 acres of the Arbuckle foothills, the area is filled with lush forests, pristine prairies, spring-fed creeks, ravishing waterfalls, diverse wildlife, and the legendary Lake of the Arbuckles. As such, it attracts hikers, campers, hunters, swimmers, boaters, and fishers.

Sadly, a tornado struck the region on April 27, 2024, and caused significant damage. Although the Chickasaw Cultural Center and Chickasaw Visitor Center seem to be standing, another iconic Sulphur structure, the Artesian Hotel, lost windows and electricity, while the Chickasaw's campgrounds closed for safety reasons. Hopefully, those picturesque places will reopen to accommodate summer tourists.


Cherokee Heritage Center at Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Cherokee Heritage Center at Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Like Grove, Tahlequah clings to the edge of the Ozarks and adjoins beautiful hills, streams, lakes, and rock formations. Such sights appear in full, summer-enhanced glory in the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve, a 17,000-acre wonderland called the Ozarks' largest privately protected conservation area. Beyond stunning scenery, it preserves the first elk herd to live in the region in over 150 years. After tramping around the outskirts, summer tourists can tumble into Tahlequah for cultural and architectural sightseeing.

As the headquarters of Northeastern State University and the Cherokee Nation, this 16,000ish-person community contains an eminent and eminently tourable campus plus Indigenous icons like the Cherokee National History Museum, Cherokee National Prison Museum, and Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum. The last of those is the oldest surviving government building in Oklahoma. Fill the gaps in your tours with food from Emery’s Grill, White Wolf Steakhouse, and Kroner & Baer Brewpub.

Pauls Valley

Garvin County Courthouse in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma
Garvin County Courthouse in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. Editorial credit: Roberto Galan /

A quirkier choice for an Oklahoma vacation, Pauls Valley is home to the Okie Noodling Tournament, which runs the third weekend of June and is dubbed the world’s largest noodling contest. For those unaware, "noodling," in this context, is hooking a catfish with your arm instead of an actual hook. If you would rather not spend your vacation fisting fish, you can visit another offbeat attraction, The Toy & Action Figure Museum, or do a different kind of noodling at Primavera Italian Restaurant.

Moreover, since Pauls Valley sits just northwest of Sulphur, you can escape to Arbuckle-mounted preserves like the aforementioned Chickasaw National Recreation Area and Turner Falls Park, whose namesake feature is 77 feet tall.

Broken Bow

Beavers Bend State Park marina in Broken Bow, Oklahoma.
Beavers Bend State Park marina in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Editorial credit: RaksyBH /

Joining the Wichitas, Ozarks, and Arbuckles as OK's major mountain ranges, the Ouachitas are the tallest of the bunch and can be explored via Broken Bow. This tiny community straddles a subrange called the Kiamichi Mountains, whose foothills are full of scenic wonders like Broken Bow Lake, a 22-mile-long reservoir calibrated for boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing; Beavers Bend State Park, a 3,482-acre natural playground offering myriad outdoor activities; and Cedar Creek Golf Course, which spans some 6,600 yards of lakeside greenery and is set within Beavers Bend State Park.

Also in the area is the even tinier community of Hochatown, whose amazing attractions include the MAZE of Hochatown and the Hochatown Rescue Center and Petting Zoo. Vacationers can relax in Broken Bow proper with a donut at Doughnut Theory or a drink at Rogue Local.

Oklahoma's diverse terrain attracts a variety of vacationers during summer. They might come for grand sites like Black Mesa, the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, but they stay for the small but vibrant communities that provide access to said attractions and relaxation after seeing said attractions. Boise City, Medicine Park, Grove, Sulphur, Tahlequah, Pauls Valley, and Broken Bow can be fantastic bases for an Oklahoma summer vacation in 2024.

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