Grand Lake is a meandering collection of rivers and splintering inlets that wind through 1,300 miles of shoreline in northeast Oklahoma. Formally called Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, its serpentine shape and soaring limestone bluffs make for excellent views, fishing and water sports.
Home to the Pensacola Dam – the world’s longest, continuous multiple arch dam – the lake and its tributaries provide hydroelectric power to much of the area. The dam and its spillways, built in 1940, represented the state’s first hydroelectric facility.
The lake and its dam fall under the auspices of the Grand River Dam Authority, a state agency established in 1935 to oversee the “conservation and reclamation district for the waters of the Grand River.” (Fun fact: As Oklahoma’s largest public power utility, it has continued to expand its energy portfolio; in 2017, the GRDA launched its newest power generation facility, inaugurating the most efficient 60-hertz power plant in the world.)
What to do
Fishing is a popular pastime at Grand Lake – it’s known for its large population of paddlefish, which can live as long as 50 years and grow as long as 7 feet, and whose eggs are highly prized for caviar production.
Off the water, trade in those skis for a trusty steed at the Royal Horse Ranch, which offers horse camps, a trail and hayrides on Monkey Island. And you can grab a glass of wine at the end of the day’s ride at the Monkey Island Winery, which is located on the ranch.
At the tip of Monkey Island – which isn’t an island, but a peninsula – the Shangri-La complex includes a 119-room resort hotel, three nine-hole championship golf courses and a marina providing boat and personal watercraft sales and rental, yacht charters and parasailing. Set to open in late spring or early summer, The Anchor activity park adjacent to the hotel will feature 11,000 square feet of virtual-reality golf, shooting simulators, games and an escape room. Its racquet club facility will include outdoor tennis courts, pickleball, sand volleyball and more.
Where to stay
Grand Lake offers a variety of lodging, from RV parks to Airbnbs and other owner-based rental options.
For those looking to be pampered, it’s hard to beat the Shangri-La. The indoor pool and fitness center offers personal trainers, steam room and sauna, while its medical spa provides Botox, IV therapy, acupuncture and massage.
If group lodging is a must-have, Dream Catcher resorts offers two options. Dream Catcher Point features 12 bedrooms, four living areas, three kitchens, a dining room and six waterfront decks. It sleeps 30 guests and offers a three-slip dock and boathouse with enclosed heated fishing well, large swim dock, 20-foot water trampoline and floating mats.
Its sister resort, the Dream Catcher Grand, features nine bedrooms and a kitchen, a large hot tub, three outdoor decks, a fire pit, jet ski slips, two-slip boat dock, water trampoline and water mats.
What to eat
What’s on the menu when you come to Grand Lake? Steaks, pizza, drinks and, yes, fish.
For a night on the town – all in one place – try The Shebang. Located on Monkey Island, the restaurant includes five unique dining rooms and a standing-room-only bar. The menu boasts prime rib, seafood, pasta or pizza. Big Shots Rhythm & Booze dance club is next door to The Shebang, and karaoke is offered outside on the deck.
For those with kiddos, The Parrot Steakhouse & Grill in Grove offers a tropical atmosphere punctuated by Jake, the restaurant’s colorful macaw. The menu is broad enough to suit a variety of palates and won’t break the bank. The restaurant also offers a full bar that continues serving even after the kitchen closes.
Shangri-La has varied dining options, from fine dining to lakeside patio service. And for those planning to visit Grand Lake often, it may be worth looking into membership at one of the lake’s yacht clubs. The Cherokee Yacht Club and Arrowhead Yacht Club offer wine-tasting and special chef’s dinners, as well as bars with live music and events.