The discovery of a wide-open weekend on the family calendar can be as magical as unearthing buried treasure. Carving out family time can be a challenge, but there’s no better way to spend it than seeking adventure or respite on a road trip together. Reconnect amidst the wonder of these nearby destinations, packed with family fun throughout the year.
Adventure awaits across state park trio
Take a long weekend to compare and contrast the varied beauty and activities in three northwestern Oklahoma state parks: the Great Salt Plains, Little Sahara
and Alabaster Caverns. Travel 90 minutes northwest to Enid where legs and minds can be stretched at the Leonardo Children’s Museum or Railroad Museum of Oklahoma.
Another hour northwest leads to Great Salt Plains State Park and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, the only place in the world where hour-glass shaped selenite crystals can be discovered. The white-salt covered plains, leftover from a prehistoric ocean, stretch as far as the eye can see. Crystal digging is open to the public from
April to October, and visitors must bring their own supplies, with sunscreen, shovels, buckets and plenty of water topping the priority list. After a dig, take a swim in the saltwater lake, cast a line or watch for more than 300 species of protected birds that call the plains home.
Rent an onsite cabin or campsite and venture an hour west the next morning to Little Sahara State Park. Named for its expanse of sand dunes, Little Sahara is
prime for dune buggy or ATV adventures, which can be brought in or rented in nearby Waynoka through Stewarts ATV & Buggy. Even if you aren’t riding, stop to watch the daredevils from the observation deck or hike through the sand. Visit the weekend after Easter to experience the annual Rattlesnake Hunt, complete with family-friendly entertainment and an awards ceremony honoring the captors of the largest rattlers.
RV and tent sites are available at Little Sahara, or continue northwest 45 minutes to Alabaster Caverns State Park. The largest natural gypsum cave in the world is open year round for hourly tours, where visitors may encounter five species of bats. The especially adventurous can obtain a permit for wild caving, or spelunking, or even cave camping, April through September. Hike the nearby trails, enjoy a picnic lunch or play horseshoes or volleyball to round out a weekend of wonder.
Breathtaking beauty near Broken Bow
Outdoor fun abounds at Beavers Bend State Park, located about four hours from the metro, near Broken Bow in the southeast corner of the state. Experience the crystal clear waters of Broken Bow Lake through swimming or kayaking, or on land hike, bike or wander a nature trail in the park’s rugged terrain. Mountain Fork River has been dubbed one of the best trout fishing locations in the region and is stocked year round. Winter is prime season both for trout migration, with watches held on Saturdays from November through February.
The Beavers Bend Depot and Stables offer two modes of transportation to take in the wildlife and park views. First board the 1863-built 1/3 size replica train, which winds through the park twice an hour, then saddle up for an hour-long trail ride horseback. Thrill-seekers will find zip lining, repelling and scuba diving, and golf enthusiasts can take their pick from putt-putt or an 18-hole
The park’s Lakeview Lodge offers water views from each of its 40 rooms, or cabins, tent and RV sites are available for rent. On the way home, stop by Pete’s Place in Krebs, outside McAlester, for authentic Italian cooking since 1925, then grab handcrafted cheese, sausage, olive oils and antipasti from Lovera’s market to enjoy at home.
Culture and cuisine collide in Pawhuska
Families who love to cook (or eat) together will find culinary and cultural delights in and around Pawhuska. A little over two hours northeast, Pawhuska is the stomping grounds of Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond. The Pioneer Woman Mercantile (the Merc for short) is a restaurant, bakery and store all in one. Charlie’s Sweet Shop, named after Drummond’s beloved basset hound, serves up sundaes and candy while P-Town Pizza across the street specializes in pizza, wings and desserts (there’s a theme here). Test your bravery on the swinging suspension bridge in town, built in 1926.
A visit to the Merc also secures a tour ticket to The Lodge outside of town, where Drummond films her Food Network show. Guests can peek in Drummond’s pantry, pose for photos whipping up
pretend dishes and even pet the family dogs featured in Drummond’s children’s books. Cowboys and cowgirls will want to mosey in to the brand new Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum, dedicated to the world champion team roper and Academy Award-winning actor. The museum honors the cowboy and western heritage of the Osage and features saddles, boots and collections from notable cowboys and cowgirls.
History buffs will appreciate the Osage Nation Museum, the oldest tribally-owned museum in the United States, which also showcases contemporary Osage artists. Soak up the great outdoors anytime of year by driving through the nearby Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the largest protected remnant of tall grass prairie on earth. A driving loop offers expansive views of the preserve’s majestic bison herd. Visiting in May assures gorgeous wildflower vistas and typically the best bison views. Summer months show off the bird population, while fall and winter visitors may catch glimpses of eagles and other wildlife.
Stay in Pawhuska at the Pioneer Woman’s luxury hotel The Boarding House, or rent a cabin or tent site at Osage Hills State Park, just 20 minutes from Pawhuska and hailed for its prime fishing. Just a bit farther east near Bartlesville, Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve encompass a stunning display of Western art and artifacts, tours of oilman Frank Phillips’ rustic ranch home
and a working ranch and preserve complete with bison, elk, longhorn cattle, deer, llamas, donkeys, ostriches and goats. Visit in June to attend Kidsfest, featuring arts and crafts, games, train rides and live music. If traveling with little ones, make a point to visit the animal barn and playground before heading home.