It is finally summer — and for many, that equates to wanderlust. With air travel prices skyrocketing, many Okies find themselves looking for activities closer to home, and fortunately, Oklahoma has an incredibly diverse offering of getaways and experiences. Here is a list of 11 once-in-a-lifetime Sooner State experiences (some extreme, some serene) to cross off your bucket list.
If dune buggies are your thing, then this is your paradise. Located way up in the panhandle, this 520-acre park offers dune buggy riding on 300 acres of sand hills, plus fishing, hiking trails, a playground and two campgrounds. The campgrounds have RV sites with direct access to the dunes and a comfort station with hot showers. At Big Sandy picnic area. travelers will find a sand volleyball court, basketball goal, horseshoe pits, playground and nature trails. Reserved for the bravest of adventurers, this area is also known as “Oklahoma’s Bermuda Triangle” or “Shaman’s Portal” due to several mysterious disappearances that have happened here dating all the way back to the times of Spanish settlers.
This charming resort-style community is on the shores of Lake Eufaula in eastern Oklahoma — a walkable cluster of homes, small businesses, parks and activities. The architecture is idyllic and you won’t find anything else like it in the state. It was designed by DPZ, the town planning firm that created Seaside and Rosemary Beach. There are community pools, hot tubs and plenty of lakeside activities such as canoeing and paddle boarding. Town eateries and shops surround communal fire pits and make for wonderful family memories. Carlton Landing goes all-out on holidays, and is renowned for its 4th of July and Halloween celebrations.
03 The Skies Over Skiatook
For those who struggle with folding fitted sheets, the idea of folding a parachute — with the caveat that if you get it wrong, you may die —may be a deterrent to checking the “jumped out of a plane” box on your bucket list. Skydive Airtight in Skiatook simplifies the process by offering tandem jumps on your first visit. Sign a waiver, then meet your instructor, who will give instructions, answer questions and go through a safety briefing. That’s it. You’re ready to go, and being strapped to your instructor makes the whole experience worry-free, allowing you to enjoy the view.
The wild history of Robbers Cave dates back to its time as an Osage hunting ground and as the object of French exploration in the 19th century. The area got its name when several famous deserters and outlaws reportedly hid in the cave, including the James, Younger and Dalton gangs, Belle Starr and Ned Christie. The location and local terrain made the cave a near-fortress, with the criminals allegedly able to escape through a secret back exit. Today it is a scenic, and hilly, refuge for nature lovers and wildlife. Several companies and farms provide guided horseback riding through the mountains, with variations appropriate for riders of all ages and skill levels. Located near Wilburton about an hour southeast of Lake Eufaula, it encompasses more than eight thousand acres, three lakes and many tourist amenities including rentable cabins and campgrounds.
People typically go to Red Rock Canyon for one of three reasons: camping, hiking and church camp. The natural rock outcroppings provide for at least one other activity, though: Because of the ease of climbing the cliff walls, rappelling is a popular activity at one of the state’s most beautiful areas. The relatively low canyon heights also make it a perfect starter course for beginners. The drive to Hinton is a quick one-hour shot up Interstate 40. If you go to rappel, check in with the park office and sign a release. There is no equipment rental, so take your own gear. There are also important park rules related to pets, property, behavior, etc., so be familiar with them before heading out.
The Pioneer Woman Mercantile is Ree Drummond’s beloved restaurant, bakery and store opened in 2016 in the heart of Osage County. Fans of the Food Network star flock to the shop and eatery, up to 15,000 a day. The Boarding House is a small hotel down the street from The Merc. Ree and her husband Ladd had a hand in decorating each of the eight rooms, and all are unique.
07 Hot Air Balloon Rides
Flying high above the world is an incredible experience anywhere, but in the great plains you can see practically the entire state. Even those typically afraid of heights have reported finding the experience peaceful and serene, like a dream. There are several ride vendors around the state and two large festivals where they gather and create incredible photo opportunities. The FireLake Fireflight Balloon Festival is held in Shawnee August 12- 13 and the Poteau Balloon Fest is held on October 14-15. Keep in mind that since it is such a windy region, these flights are often weather dependent. We recommend going in the early evening to experience those famous Oklahoma sunsets!
It took no time at all to add Gathering Place to the list of reasons to visit Oklahoma’s second largest city. While it’s best known as a massive playground for kids — and you’ll wish this sort of playground equipment existed when you were a child — the riverside park offers activities for all ages and athletic abilities … including, mercifully, sitting in the shade. Swing Hill offers an unobstructed view of downtown Tulsa from the park’s highest point, where in a stroke of genius, swings were installed. Important note: Swinging is an all-ages activity, and always will be. Williams Lodge is home to the restrooms, amenities, snacks, etc., to make your adventure more civilized. For athletes of all ages, there are sport courts, a skate park and expansive lawns for frisbee and football, or picnicking if that’s more your speed. You can also find running and biking paths, kayaking, paddle boarding and nature encounters.
Located on the eastern edge of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Medicine Park is a hub for outdoor activities all over southwest Oklahoma. Start in the town and check out the beautiful beginners waterfall cluster – beginners as in the waterfalls are barely toddlers compared to places like Niagara or Angel Falls – at Bath Lake. From there you have multiple options: prairie dogs, bison, hiking the Wichita Mountains or boating and fishing Lake Lawtonka.
Since we’re working on a list that at least partially invites confronting fears under the guise of “vacation,” let’s talk about claustrophobia. Forget YouTube videos or The Descent; the opening to Alabaster Caverns is more inviting and much less fear-inducing. The caverns are a rare human-friendly gypsum cave complex with activities for amateurs and “wild cavers.” Spelunking requires a permit from the park office, so no setting off on your own. For the amateurs, guided tours happen every hour on the hour from 9-4 daily, and the views range from stark to breathtakingly beautiful. On a good day, you’ll see at least a portion of the bat population and live out that scene from Batman. Be sure to tie your hair back.
11 Lake Hefner
Ready to learn a fun and relatively safe activity that manages to be exhilarating without risking life or limb? 405Kite offers professional kitesurfing and kiteboarding lessons at Lake Hefner in NW Oklahoma City. The company distinguishes between the relatively sedate kiteboarding, which happens on flat water, and the more airborne kitesurfing on choppy waves. The beauty of both is that no motor is required, and since Lake Hefner seems to be one of the breeziest spots in the state, wind power is available year round. A $150 beginners course covers everything from equipment and safety to basics and terminology. Classes are also available for more advanced surfers.