Are you looking for a good weekend trip that includes both indoor and outdoor activities? Something to satisfy the history lovers and the nature lovers? It’s time to head east to Sallisaw, where you can explore both the great outdoors and our great state’s history!
Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge
You may be wondering how family-friendly a trip to a wildlife preserve can be, and the answer is that in the case of the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Vian, it can be a wonderful family experience! Before you visit the refuge, make sure to visit their website for detailed information on how to prepare for your visit. They have wildlife-watching tips for you to make the most of your time outdoors as well as printable species lists for birds, fish, mammals and reptiles and amphibians. Once you’re on site, you’ll find plenty of signage, too, to help you identify some of the most abundant plants and animals.
If you have kids who need to burn off some energy after a car ride (about two hours and 20 minutes from Oklahoma City), there are two separate mile-long nature trails you can try. These are paved trails that are stroller and wheelchair accessible, so everyone in the family can take part. The Sandtown Nature Trail offers a view of the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers’ delta and is a popular area to spot bald eagles. My kids and I walked the Horton Slough Trail, which winds through a beautiful forested area where we saw several different types of birds and heard many woodpeckers.
The trail is also adjacent to a wetlands area with several benches along the way to rest and enjoy the scenery. At the midpoint of the trail, you’ll be treated to amazing views of the wildlife on Sally Jones Lake. Visiting the refuge was the highlight of the trip for me. Despite cold weather, I always enjoy watching my kids explore outside and the amount of information the facility provides for what plants and animals to seek out in the area was outstanding.
If you don’t want to get out and walk the nature trails, there are two car tour routes to choose from. The Sandtown Bottoms route is a six mile gravel road that offers the chance to see bald eagles, deer and other animals. The Webbers Bottom route is two miles long and also has fishing access. Depending on weather and road conditions, these routes may be closed, so you should check in at the refuge headquarters if you have any questions.
Though the refuge feels very secluded, you’re only about three miles south of the interstate. Head east on I-40 east, take the Vian exit (#297) and follow the road south to the refuge headquarters. There are plenty of signs along the way to make sure you’re on the right path. The refuge is open for visitors from 5 a.m. to sunset every day, and the headquarters is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The staff can provide maps, handouts and other information to help make your visit more enjoyable. Be sure to check the events calendar on the website for details on specific events, such as the eagle tours going on in February and March.
After your visit to the wildlife refuge, head east a little farther on I-40 and take the Sallisaw exit (#308) for US-59. Sallisaw is approximately two and a half hours east of Oklahoma City on I-40, so it’s a simple day trip. There are no toll roads and plenty of places to exit and re-enter if you’re traveling with small ones who need frequent breaks, so this is a pretty simple drive.
14 Flags Museum
Follow US-59 to Cherokee Street and just after Wheeler Street you’ll come to a unique roadside attraction, the 14 Flags Museum. The museum takes its name from the 14 different flags that have flown over what is now Oklahoma, from the Spanish flag brought by Coronado in 1541 to our present flag, which was adopted in 1925.
There are four different buildings which comprise the museum: a depot which is dedicated to early train travel in the area, a Trail of Tears Interpretive Center and two cabins which document the lives of early settlers in Indian Territory. The Trail of Tears exhibit was my 5-year-old daughter’s favorite part of the trip. She loved listening to the music as she walked through the educational displays.
There is a Union Pacific caboose on site as well. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and is free to visit. This is a self-guided venue but there are brochures available to provide information about the buildings and artifacts.
Your next stop, Sequoyah’s Cabin, is about 15 minutes outside of town. Head north on Wheeler Street to OK-101 and follow it approximately seven miles to the site, which is well-marked and will be on your right.
As you’ve likely heard if you’ve spent much time in Oklahoma, Sequoyah was the creator of the Cherokee syllabary, which allowed the tribal members to communicate through writing for the first time using their own language.
Sequoyah was born in Tennessee and later lived in Arkansas before coming to Indian Territory and building the cabin on-site in 1829. This cabin is the actual cabin he built (and not a reproduction) and is still on the same site. After the Oklahoma Historical Society acquired the cabin in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration built the stone building that currently stands around the cabin.
Inside the cabin, you can see artifacts from Sequoyah’s time, including some items that actually belonged to his family. My 10-year-old son said viewing the artifacts was the highlight of the trip for him and he found the old pieces very interesting. In the building surrounding the cabin are other Cherokee artifacts and information on the syllabary and how its creation compares to the development of other languages.
In addition to the cabin building, you’ll want to make sure you have time to walk the grounds. The 10-acre park surrounding the buildings is some of the most beautiful land in the area and the gently sloping hill and wide open spaces will beckon your kids to expend some energy before getting back in the car for the drive home. There are several picnic tables located near Sequoyah’s spring which give you a great place for your lunch or snack. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the new little (wooden) bear that has taken up residence on the property near the tables, too!
The site is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; there is no admission charge. There is also a gift shop, so bring a little money along for some souvenirs. Happy travels!
107993 S. 4520 Rd.
Vian, OK 74962
400 E. Cherokee
Sallisaw, OK 74955
470288 Highway 101
Sallisaw, OK 74955