Like many Oklahoma towns, Ponca City has a quaint, small town feel. Also like many Oklahoma towns, it is a hidden gem offering a delightfully diverse collection of museums, parks, arts and attractions. If you are looking for a fun day trip or planning a summer staycation, Ponca City is the perfect destination, located just 90 minutes from the Oklahoma City metro. Here are 17 reasons to take a quick drive up I-35 to explore this town, rich with the history of oil barons, pioneer life and more.
Be an Oil Baron
Ponca City has a long and rich history in the oil industry. As you drive into town, you are met by the sight of the Conoco plant and adjacent Conoco Museum (501 W. South Ave.). Designed as a tribute to the more than 100 years that the international energy company has enjoyed success, the museum gives a very in-depth history of the company and oil industry. Families can enjoy interactive touch screen exhibits, learn about the process of refining oil, stand in a replica of a research and development laboratory and try out a gravity-fed gas pump. The museum also highlights the early days of oil tycoon E.W. Marland, who went on to become one of Ponca City’s most generous benefactors and Governor of Oklahoma. The museum offers free admission and friendly museum docents are on hand to answer questions.
A Palace on the Prairie
A trip to Ponca City wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Marland Grand Home (100 E. Grand) and the Marland Mansion & Estate (901 Monument Rd.). The Grand Home is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $3 for adults and $1 for students. Here, you can step back in time to see how E.W. and his wife Virginia may have spent their days and learn about the sometimes scandalous history of this prominent family. The Grand Home includes a collection of memorabilia from the 101 Ranch and Wild West Show, an impressive collection of Native American artwork, clothing, tools and instruments and a display by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Not far away is the Marland Mansion and Estate, a 43,561-square-foot mansion gives the visitor a glimpse into the luxurious life of an oil tycoon. Called “The Palace on the Prairie,” the mansion was state of the art in the 1920s, featuring automatic dishwashers and refrigeration and an elaborate master bath. Now a National Historic Landmark, the mansion contains more than 50 rooms, a dozen bathrooms and three kitchens. The estate is open Monday-Saturday from 10:00am-5:00pm and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students and $4 for children.
The Original Pioneer Woman
Before Ree Drummond dubbed herself “The Pioneer Woman” and became an Oklahoma celebrity, there was the original Pioneer Woman in Ponca City. Commissioned by Marland to honor the spirit of the women who played such a significant role in the settling of the plains, this bronze Pioneer Woman Statue stands 17-feet high and depicts a woman of courage, determination and humility gazing towards the horizon.
The statue is located one block from the Marland Mansion in front of the Pioneer Woman Museum (701 Monument Rd.). The 10,000-square-foot museum showcases the history of women in Oklahoma and tells the story of how their bravery and strength helped to develop our state. The museum also pays tribute to women who have made significant contributions to Oklahoma’s history and gives a taste for what daily life was like for historic Oklahoma homesteaders. Families will want to be sure to visit the Children’s Corner, which offers educational activities, to try their hand at spinning, knitting or quilting in the “Heart of the Home” area and to play the “What Is It?” game to see how well they can identify unusual historic items from the past. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday and admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, $1 for children and children under 6 are free.
Ponca City is a perfect destination for a family on a budget, offering many inexpensive and free museums and parks. There are several conveniently-located parks that offer ideal places for a picnic lunch, play areas and paths for kids to explore. L.A. Cann Memorial Garden (14th & Grand Ave.) is just blocks from the downtown area and features several hundred varieties of annuals and perennials and more than 70 different species of trees nestled on 10 acres.
Standing Bear Park (2401 S. 7th St.) is a beautiful spot for enjoying nature and learning about Native American culture. The 63-acre park features winding paths and spots to sit and enjoy the beauty around you. A 22-foot bronze statue of Chief Standing Bear is an impressive feature. The Standing Bear Museum and Education Center offers free admission and features exhibits, artwork and artifacts from six Native American tribes. The museum is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Each year, Standing Bear Park is home to the Annual Standing Bear Pow Pow, held on the first Friday and Saturday of September and the public is invited to join the celebration.
If you’re looking for outdoor recreation, Ponca City has you covered. The Lake Ponca Recreation Area is just a few minutes from downtown and features a swim beach, playground, camping, golfing, hiking, fishing and boating.
Just 10 minutes farther is Kaw Lake, a 38-mile-long lake featuring nearly 170 miles of shoreline,which welcomes water and jet skiing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and swimming on three beaches. Make sure to set aside an entire afternoon for Sun and Fun Waterpark (8900 Lake Rd, www.sunnfunwaterpark.com) which includes four water slides, wave pool, lazy river, bumper boats, go-karts and batting cages. See website for ticket information and special offers. If you are into camping, be sure to visit Sarge Creek and Osage Cove for family-friendly camping sites and playgrounds.
Ponca City packs it in when it comes to family-friendly events, with many fun festivals happening in June. Gardening enthusiasts won’t want to miss the 21st Annual Herb Festival, scheduled every June at LA Cann Gardens, which features hard-to-find herbs and plants, as well as gardening vendors, horticulture seminars, food tastings and free children’s activities.
The 55th Annual 101 Wild West PRCA Rodeo is held nightly for a week every June, with team roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing, bull riding and more. The 101 Wild West Rodeo Parade usually is followed by the 101 Wild West Kid’s Rodeo, held at the Ponca City Library (515 E. Grand). The Kid’s Rodeo includes a stick horse flag race, Rodeo Queen autographs, dunk tank and many other activities sure to delight your little buckaroo.
The city’s Juneteenth Celebration also is held in June at the Attucks Community Center & Park (1001 S. 12th St) and includes a free picnic-style lunch, games and live entertainment. The event, which celebrates the historic emancipation of slaves, also features an evening fish fry and BBQ dinner.
Whether you’re there for just a day or an entire weekend, Ponca City has something for everyone. For more family-friendly festivals and other reasons to take a trip to Ponca City, visit www.poncacitytourism.com.