The charm of rural life is on full display in Pawhuska, just a two-hour drive northeast of Oklahoma City.
Nestled in the heart of Osage County in the northeastern corner of our state, Pawhuska offers a cityscape nearly unchanged from the time of the town’s peak during the early 1900s. The majority of the buildings in the downtown area are authentic to the town’s time as a hub of Oklahoma’s oil and cattle industries and are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Red brick buildings stretch throughout the city center, whisking visitors back to a simpler time and inviting them to slow down and stay awhile.
Despite the town’s rural setting, Pawhuska is easily accessible, making it an ideal destination for a visit. If you are looking for a romantic excursion or a relaxing family road trip, Pawhuska might just fit the bill. Here are four things to consider doing on your Pawhuska adventure.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 precautions, some of the following events and venues may have adjusted their hours or programming. Please check with each venue directly to verify.
The Pioneer Woman Mercantile
The town’s most famous resident, Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman on her Food Network show by the same name, recently opened a mercantile general store in one of the town’s historic buildings. Originally constructed in 1910, the building once housed an old shop called the Osage Mercantile. In keeping with the building’s origins, the Drummonds opened the Merc (www.themercantile.com), as many call it, last year. Sitting at the corner of Main Street and Kihekah Avenue in downtown Pawhuska, The Pioneer Woman Mercantile is a destination deli, general store and bakery. The two-story, 25,000-square-foot Mercantile welcomes thousands of visitors each day. Fans of Ree’s show from near and far are greeted by old-time charm and classic Pioneer Woman style. The store’s shelves are stocked with dishes, books and even toys for shoppers to enjoy.
Since The Pioneer Woman is best known for her cooking, the Merc’s deli is a headlining feature. With lines stretching out the door, thousands of hungry diners feast on hearty portions of steak, fried pork chops and more paired with sides like fancy mac and cheese or whiskey-glazed carrots. Be warned that if you want to dine in, you need to be prepared to wait, especially during lunchtime hours.
“Breakfast and supper tend to be less busy times, but anytime you choose to dine, it’s well worth the wait” shared Kelly Bland, the executive director for Osage County Tourism. During especially busy times, the staff passes out menus and occasionally provides entertainment for those waiting in line. There is also the chance of an encounter with Drummond herself.
“The Pioneer Woman and her husband, The Marlboro Man, often visit with folks dining at The Mercantile,” shared Bland, “You never know when they will do it, but it happens more than just occasionally.”
The bakery, housed on the second level, offers sweet treats like pecan sticky buns, pies and cookies as well as sandwiches and coffees, with much shorter lines. The Merc is open from 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Fans sometimes are treated to lodge tours to see where Ree films her popular Food Network show. Tours are hosted sporadically throughout the year as availability allows and are free to the public. Just pick up a ticket at The Mercantile. Follow The Pioneer Woman on social media for more details about lodge tours.
Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
Pawhuska also is home to the largest protected tallgrass prairie in the world. The beauty of this complex and diverse ecosystem is on full display as the grasslands are teeming with more than 700 plant species and wildlife including birds, white-tailed deer, bobcats, armadillos, beavers, coyotes and more. The highlight of the fauna is the herd of more than 2,000 bison that roam the preserve. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is one of the few remaining places to see bison in their natural environment.
Kids will love seeing the variety of wildlife roaming the grounds. It’s not uncommon to see bison, bobcats, coyotes and deer on the Preserve. Expect your kids to be wowed by the diversity in the landscape, too. Many city-dwelling kids don’t realize the variety of prairie grasses until visiting a place like this.
There are multiple scenic turnouts along the 10-mile loop that runs through the preserve as well as picnic spots, nature trails and a visitors’ center right next to a historic 1920s ranch bunkhouse. The visitors’ center is operated by volunteers and is open seasonally so be sure to check ahead of time to see if it will be open during your visit.
Since the preserve is home to wildlife, safety is a concern for both visitors and the preserve’s inhabitants. Stay in your car or stick to the designated trails. Dogs, hunting, fishing, camping and picking up rocks or artifacts is prohibited. The visitors’ center has a gift shop with a selection of souvenirs available for purchase to commemorate your experience.
The preserve is open year-round from dawn to dusk and there is no charge to enter so visitors can experience the beauty of each and every season on the prairie.
Osage Hills State Park
Osage Hills State Park sits where the rolling prairies meet the rocky Crosstimbers, showcasing the raw beauty of Oklahoma. With more than 1,000 acres to enjoy, visitors will find plenty of ways to unwind. Cozy up by a fire in one the park’s historic cabins or explore a few of the park’s trails to discover the lush forest, rocky bluffs and quiet waters. Drop a line from the shores of Lookout Lake or Sand Creek and simply unplug.
Osage Hills State Park is the first state park to offer canvas-walled tents, giving families the opportunity to camp without the set-up. Each tent is pitched on a wooden platform with military-style cots and a wood stove to keep you warm in cooler temperatures.
Call to reserve tents and cabins in advance. Traditional tent sites are first come, first serve. Canvas tents are $45 per night and a two-night minimum is sometimes required.
Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve
While the museum isn’t in the town of Pawhuska, the short drive over to Bartlesville makes Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve a must-see. Oilman Frank Phillips and his wife Jane built their home away from home in 1925. Phillips sought to connect with nature at the ranch retreat and entertain many influential guests as he worked to close important deals and forge valuable relationships.
Today, the ranch boasts a 3,700-acre wildlife preserve, museum and lodge with a vision to retain the untamed essence of the West. Along the two-mile drive onto the property, be on the lookout for elk, bison, longhorn cattle, deer, ostriches and more that roam freely about the preserve. Once you arrive at the main parking area, visitors can explore a museum filled with Western art and artifacts and the lodge, the Phillips country home.
From fine art to historical displays including one of the most complete collections of Colt firearms, the museum’s collections trace the cultural developments of the New World. Since Frank Phillips was an aviation enthusiast, the Airplane Room is an unexpected highlight of the museum.
The lodge home stands as if frozen in time to share the tales of the parties, business events and wilder happenings, a bold symbol of the oil boom era. Completed in 1927, rustic furnishings and elaborate décor fill the eight bedrooms and large Great Room. Some of the rooms are open for the public to explore.
Hours of operation vary throughout the year and admission is $12 for adults and is free for children 11 and under. To learn even more about Frank Phillips, his mansion home in Bartlesville is open for tours on Wednesday – Saturday.