5 stunning locations for Memorial Day | Recreation


From personnel reports

Oklahoma has its share of heavenly places. Here are five of those places – in our opinion, the most beautiful places our state has to offer. It is an excerpt from Tulsa World Magazine’s 14 Most Beautiful Places.

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, you could do worse than take a short drive to see something nice.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest stretch of native tallgrass on earth, covering more than 39,000 acres of Osage County an hour and a half northwest of Tulsa.

The reserve features mostly bumpy, unpaved roads and sparse facilities as the focus remains on conservation rather than tourism. Nonetheless, it draws tens of thousands of visitors each year to enjoy the epic scenery that can stretch for miles across the prairie.

Bison are the most popular attraction, with more than 2,500 animals roaming freely around the reserve. But the prairie is also home to more than 700 species of plants, more than 250 birds and 80 mammals.

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Most visitors stick to a 15-mile road that leads from the main gate to the reservation’s headquarters and gift shop, where a historic 1920 ranch shack offers public restrooms. Along the way, the route passes four scenic overlooks, picnic areas, a self-guided nature walk, and a 2-mile hiking trail.

The ride begins and ends in Pawhuska and takes about two hours at a leisurely pace with time to stop. But Pawhuska itself will also take some time. Although the city has fewer than 4,000 residents, it has developed into a major tourist attraction in its own right.

Talimena National Scenic Byway

The Talimena National Scenic Byway is Oklahoma’s most famous scenic drive. You could even call it heavenly.

It is 54 miles long, including 40 miles in Oklahoma, and has 22 designated lookouts. The minor road extends along Oklahoma 1 and Arkansas 88 from Talihina, Oklahoma to Mena, Arkansas.

Riders meander through the Ouachita National Forest with the Kiamichi Mountains in the background.

The road dips and swirls along the ridgeline 2,000 feet above the valley floors. Hickory, blackjack oak and southern pine make their way along the slopes to the top of the mountains.

While the scenic side road draws a lot of attention in the fall for its showy foliage, Talimena also makes a beautiful drive in the spring. The surrounding forest comes alive with green as winter fades away.

Stop at some of the area’s most popular destinations, including Talimena State Park, Ouachita National Forest, and the Cedar Lake Recreation Area. The route is also rich in history. Notably, Deadman Vista was a place where law enforcement officers hanged horse thieves in the 19th century. Horse Thief Springs, another lookout point, is where outlaws used to water their mounts.

Without stopping, the entire journey takes a total of one hour and 10 minutes. Hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more outdoor activities are available year-round.

Keystone Ancient Forest is owned by the City of Sand Springs and protected by a Conservation Easement held by The Nature Conservancy. It is considered a first-class hiking destination.

And a new purchase this spring redefines the term “hiking”.

Two new Action Trackchairs — think of a power wheelchair with chains like a tank — allow virtually anyone of any ability to trek through the nearly 3,000-acre conservation area west of Sand Springs, which is home to 500-year-old and 300-year-old cedar trees are -old postal oaks.

The forest’s rugged terrain won’t stand up to the trackchairs, which Parks Department Director Jeff Edwards says are “a little different than any other trail system in Oklahoma.”

The Keystone Ancient Forest is part of a vast truss forest stretching from Kansas to Oklahoma to Texas, consisting of a mosaic of rugged oak trees and occasional prairies, forming a point where the hardwood forests of the east merge into the western plains.

Deer, mountain lions, bobcats, eagles, migratory birds and more than 80 species of butterflies are among the forest’s residents.

Recent improvements to the reserve include its new $1 million visitor center, a newly unveiled trail to add to its collection, and two recent additions to its public trail times.

The reserve has five hiking trails of varying length and difficulty totaling more than 12 miles of hiking adventure and offering great views of Keystone Lake.

A short three-hour drive from Tulsa brings you to Beavers Bend State Park near Broken Bow, where the trees are tall and the air is clear.

It’s like going to Colorado, but here in McCurtain County, Oklahoma.

Bring your backpack and hiking shoes and hit the state park’s hiking trails. It really brings you back to nature as you hike the various trails in the park. Riding is also possible.

Don’t forget the lake. Broken Bow Lake was built under the supervision of the Tulsa District of the Corps of Engineers. The lake covers 14,000 acres and has 180 miles of shoreline. Boats and houseboats are available for rent, and you can camp in a cabin, RV or tent. If you get a chance to visit the dam’s spillway while it doesn’t spill, this is a nice place to relax.

There is a popular zip line at Broken Bow Lake. The slots fill up fast so make sure you reserve.

The nearby Hochatown community is full of activities for both children and adults. In this unincorporated town, you can rent a cabin, go hiking, visit a brewery, winery, and even a distillery.

Tucked away in the foothills of the Ozarks, Natural Falls State Park is often considered one of the most scenic spots in Oklahoma.

The park’s namesake is a slender, 77-foot waterfall that cascades down a cliff and empties into a pool below. You can view the falls from above or take a footpath down to the pool and see the falls from below.

Aside from that, this 120-acre park has a 4.5-mile network of trails that meander through this lush, densely forested area. Some of the trails are easy, some are steep.

As you wander the park, you’ll get a healthy dose of thick deciduous trees and tall lodgepole pines.

If you’ve seen the movie “Where the Red Fern Grows,” the park might look familiar: it was filmed here.

The park also has RV campgrounds (some with full hookup) as well as tent sites.

If you’re looking for more unique accommodations, reserve one of the park’s five yurts—air-conditioned and equipped with a microwave, small fridge, and electrical hook-ups. Each yurt can accommodate four to six people.

Looking for more to do? Natural Falls State Park also has an 18-hole disc golf course, basketball and volleyball courts, a playground, and on-site fishing.

The park is about two hours east of Tulsa off US 412.

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