The panhandle of Oklahoma covers a large area and contains many diverse landscapes. Taking your kids on a panhandle road trip means exposing them to red rock cliffs, beautiful prairies, lush forests and rocky mesas. Along the way, find family fun at an impressive children's museum and expansive city park unlike any other. There's a lot to explore, so load up the car and get ready for some guaranteed fun and a few unexpected adventures.
1. Oklahoma's Highest Point
Make your first stop Black Mesa State Park in Kenton, home to the highest point in Oklahoma. There are two separate areas to this park: Black Mesa State Park and Black Mesa Nature Preserve. Black Mesa State Park is home to Lake Carl Etling, a picnic area, tent and RV campsites, group camping and hiking trails. The highest point in Oklahoma is located in the Black Mesa Nature Preserve. Both are managed by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
The tri-state border is located at this park, allowing visitors to stand in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado all at the same time. Another highlight includes dinosaur tracks discovered in the 1980s and believed to be created by a theropod. Only about a third of the tracks remains due to erosion but kids love seeing these impressive pieces of history.
There is an abundance of wildlife in this rural part of the state. Golden eagles, antelope, horny toad lizards and big horn sheep are just a few of the animals you could see on your journey. If you enjoy fishing, take a break at Lake Carl Etling where the trout are abundant. But along with the beautiful there is also the dangerous. Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.
The highest point in Oklahoma is located at Black Mesa Preserve and it is a whopping 4973 feet. The hike to the highest point is 4.2 miles one-way. The hike is not especially strenuous, except for the assent to the top of the mesa, but it is long. If you’re not up for that long of a hike, more trails are available at Black Mesa State Park that are shorter but still offer beautiful views.
Black Mesa State Park offers tent and RV campsites. Restrooms, showers and dump stations are available. If you’re not camping, day admission is free and the park is open from dawn to dusk. Call 580-426-2405 for more information.
This part of the panhandle is remote and cell service can be spotty. Please plan food and gas accordingly. There are no hotels in the area but there are a number of bed and breakfasts and guest houses for visitors who want to stay the night.
2. Woodward Main Street Shopping
Pushing on to Woodward, you’ll venture away from the desolate, wild surroundings and into more modern family fun. Woodward boasts a unique Main Street shopping strip that offers about a mile of shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to get started exploring this charming town.
3. Crystal Beach Park
Another top stop in Woodward includes Crystal Beach Park, a newly renovated complex featuring four separate playgrounds each with unique equipment. The facility also includes a ball park, outdoor arena, lake, walking trails, horseshoe pitching area, mini golf course and paddleboats. Most of the attractions cost less than $5. Call 580-256-9990 before visiting for information on pricing and hours of operation.
4. Boiling Springs State Park
While in Woodward, be sure to stop at Boiling Springs State Park. This state park gets its name from the springs that look like they are “boiling.” These springs create a green oasis in the middle of an otherwise dry climate. In addition to the clear, clean streams, rolling hills and lush forest make this an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
The Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) constructed many of the Park’s structures in the 1930s so visitors get to step back in time at this quaint park. Hiking, swimming, fishing, camping, picnicking and biking are just a few of the activities offered at this park. It’s open with no daily admission from dawn to dusk. Call 580-256-7664 for more information.
5. Leonardo's Children's Museum
A panhandle road trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Enid. This small town boasts one of the state’s largest destinations for kid-friendly fun: Leonardo’s Children’s Museum.
Leonardo’s is a newly-remodeled museum focused on introducing kids to the arts and sciences with an Oklahoma twist. The permanent exhibits focus on local industry and Oklahoma’s place in world energy production. All of the exhibits are hands-on in some form.
The tinkering exhibit allows kids to build almost anything they can imagine, including using hammer, nails and saws. Train tables, Critter Clubhouse and medical clinic give kids plenty to explore.
One new feature of the museum is the toddler area with its own restroom and nursing station. Renovations will be continuing this fall and should be complete next spring.
Leonardo’s founders are Owen and Helen Garriott. Owen Garriott was one of NASA’s original six astronauts. Both he and his wife were born and raised in Enid and wanted to give back to the community. Helen was an art teacher and chose the name Leonardo after Leonardo Da Vinci.
A can’t-miss attraction at the museum is Adventure Quest. This three-story wooden castle playground is a wonderland. Not only are there bridges, swings and slides, there is also a dinosaur dig and water table (turned on only on odd days due to water rationing). This is where science meets outdoor play.
Leonardo’s is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 per person. Visit www.leonardos.org for more information.
6. Cherokee Strip Heritage Center
You can’t leave Enid without a tour of the Cherokee Strip Heritage Center. This museum explores the settlement history of northwest Oklahoma through five interactive exhibits and the Humphrey Heritage Village, a living history village containing original buildings dating back to the land run in 1893. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Learn more at www.csrhc.org.
7. Gloss Mountains State Park
As you continue your panhandle trek, a stop at Gloss Mountains State Park is sure to impress. Just north of Fairview off Highway 412, this park boasts breathtaking views of unique granite cliffs. A short but strenuous hiking trail is available for visitors who want the best view of the red rock set against the short grass prairie and expansive sky. Admission is free and the park is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Call 580-227-2513 for more information.
Mae is a local mom of two and blogger at Outdoors Mom. Read all her tips for outdoor exploration on her blog.
[Tip from the writer: My family and I hiked the entire 8.4 miles to Oklahoma's highest point in Kenton and it took more than six hours. We are experienced hikers but it still pushed us to our limits. If you want to take the hike with young children, train first and prepare appropriately.]