Essential Oklahoma RV Travel:
Sliding Into the Wide-Open Arms
of the Sooner State
by Suzanne Wright
Oklahoma has quite a reputation—with storm chasers. Those anvil-shaped clouds. The slate-darkened skies. The rumble of thunder. The crack of lightning. The luminosity after the tempest. It’s all catnip to photographers seeking dramatic images. (If you want to get in on the action safely, check out these tour operators). But Oklahoma intrigues with more than just intense weather and outstanding plains scenery. Indigenous heroes, infamous outlaws, and celebrated sons and daughters—Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre, Blake Shelton, Sam Walton, and Carrie Underwood among them—all have Okie roots. Learning their stories is the very definition of meaningful travel.
Native American Oklahoma
Tahlequah, in eastern Oklahoma, is the capital of the Cherokee Nation. It was founded in 1839 by survivors of the Trail of Tears when the U.S. government forcibly relocated 60,000 indigenous people from their homes. This sad chapter is only one facet of Cherokee life addressed at more than a half dozen museums that unveil the history, heritage, and culture that endures among contemporary tribal members. On State Highway 10, just minutes from Tahlequa, Sparrow Hawk Camp, offers RV sites right on the Illinois River, with hookups, and both short and long float options. With 13,000 acres of water and 130 miles of shoreline, Tenkiller Ferry Lake is the jumping off point for aquatic adventure, including boating, fishing, and scuba diving. The Chickasaw Nation’s historic capital is Tishomingo, where you can visit the Council House Museum and the Capitol Building. The beautiful Blue River is a trout fishing paradise and home to the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge. Catch live entertainment—if not the charismatic country superstar himself—at Blake Shelton's Ole Red Tishomingo. There are a variety of options for RV camping in Tishomingo.
In Davis, Turner Falls Park has one of Oklahoma’s tallest waterfalls that empties into a natural pool below, perfect for splashing in sticky summer weather. There aof 32 RV pads with electric hookups; they are first come, first served. The 40,000-acre Tallgrass Prairie Reserve in Pawhuska once spanned 14 states. In the late afternoon, when the grasses are shot with gold, it’s spine-tingling to watch bison roam this near-vanished ecosystem. There are two compelling reasons to plan your visit in May: wildflowers are in bloom and newborn bison calves frolic in the grass. You might also spot coyotes, deer, hawks, and if you’re lucky, bobcats and eagles. In the western part of Oklahoma, Fairview’s Gloss Mountain State Park, is named for the high selenite content that flashes as sunlight hits mountains. The park is unattended, so you’re on your own as you explore. Climb the staircase to the top of Cathedral Mountain, the largest mesa in the park, for spectacular views of the red-dirt terrain. In the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma, picturesque Medicine Park is the state’s original cobblestone community. In the 1920s and 1930s, celebrities and outlaws hung out here. Beavers Bend State Resort Park in Broken Bow is a favorite of RVers traveling through southeastern Oklahoma. There are 111 sites with water and electric hookups. Your family can hike, horseback ride, or zipline—possibly to soar with eagles. The 54-mile Talimena National Scenic Byway runs between Talihina, Oklahoma, and Mena, in western Arkansas. Turnoffs provide spectacular vistas, especially in fall when the foliage erupts in brilliant crimson and gold. If free-roaming wildlife and serenity are what you seek, head for Lawton, in Southwest Oklahoma. The resplendent Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge spans over 9,000 acres, populated with buffalo, deer, elk, prairie dogs, and Texas longhorns. The Doris Campground has 23 sites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings, plus a restroom and shower complex. Leashed pets are welcome. The Cedar Lake Recreation Area sits along the shoreline of an 86-acre lake constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's. Part of the Ouachita National Forest, the campsite offers electric and water connections, and is surrounded by pine and oak-covered hills. Pursuits include canoeing, fishing, hiking, picnicking, and swimming. Some campsites have electric, water and sewer connections.
Oklahoma City and Central Oklahoma
The arts, fueled by oil revenues, flourish in OKC, the capital city. There’s the thought-provoking Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, built as a tribute to those killed during the 1995 bombing. The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, located on the campus of the University of Oklahoma is a blast for both kids and adults. The striking Myriad Botanical Gardens is the state’s foremost horticultural showcase, with beautiful flora on display throughout the year. Lasso a good time at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, which has a thoughtfully curated gift shop and onsite grill. Kid-friendly destinations include the Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden, Science Museum Oklahoma, Frontier City Theme Park, and White Water Bay. The revitalized Bricktown District, Oklahoma City’s original warehouse and distribution center, dates back to 1889. It’s the city’s energetic entertainment hub, with dancing, dining, and drinking. Visitors can hop aboard a water taxi for a 40-minute canal tour.
Where to Stay:
OKC’s Twin Fountains RV Park has 152 spacious campsites with full hookups, including cable and Wifi. There’s also a swimming pool, kiddie splash pad, and a hot tub. They run a free shuttle service to nearby attractions. Lake Thunderbird State Park is an urban oasis nestled in the quiet Norman countryside, 30 minutes south of OKC. The park offers 30 full hookup sites, 10 of which are ADA compliant, as well as 207 RV campsites with water and electric hookups. The 18.5-mile trail system is a mountain biking mecca. SooneRVillage, also in Norman, is tailgating paradise for OU fans. The gameday shuttle will ferry you from the park to the stadium.
Tulsa and South Central Oklahoma
Not many folks know that Tulsa, Oklahoma's second-largest city and self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Small Town,” has a deep well (yup, that’s a drilling pun) of magnificent art deco architecture. There’s also a long list of cultural to-do’s including the top-rated Tulsa Zoo, antique shopping in the Cherry Street District, Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Opera, Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, and Tulsa Performing Arts Center. The network of excellent urban river parks offers outdoor recreation. Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa and ScotFest are each held in the fall.
Less than an hour north, Bartlesville, is one of the most picturesque small towns in the state. Founded on “black gold” (that’s oil, y’all), it’s the home of Philips Petroleum Company and the fascinating Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve. Inside, there’s an impressive collection of Native American and western art; outside, bison and Japanese Sika deer roam 3,600 acres. A National Historic Landmark, Price Tower Arts Center is the only fully-realized skyscraper of starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you want to forgo camping, check into the hotel which affords guests jaw-dropping views.
Where to Stay:
In Tulsa, serene Canyon Creek RV Park offers tree-lined, 30/50 amp sites with laundry facilities and Wifi. It’s near Skiatook Lake and the Osage Casino. In Bartlesville, the new family and pet-friendly Bell RV Village off Highway 75 has numerous amenities, including full hookups, Wifi, cable, a playground, an onsite bark park, and on-call RV service technicians.
There are more than 400 miles of Route 66 in Oklahoma, the largest drivable stretch in the U.S. Relive the heyday of neon signs, drive-in movie theaters, motor lodges, roadside attractions, and small towns along the “Mother Road.” In Clinton, the cheery Oklahoma Route 66 Museum contains a collection of vehicles and memorabilia. There are some kitschy photo opps, including Totem Pole Park in Chelsea, the Blue Whale in Catoosa, the Golden Driller in Tulsa, and the Round Barn in Arcadia. Pick up a pair of beaded moccasins at Indian Trading Post & Art Gallery. There are a number of RV camping options along Route 66.
Betcha Didn’t Know
The name Oklahoma comes from two Choctaw words, “okla,” meaning people, and “humma,” meaning red. So ”red people.” The highest point in Oklahoma is Black Mesa, in the Panhandle, at nearly 5,000 feet. The lowest point, in southeast Oklahoma near Idabel, is 324 feet above sea level. Oklahoma has four mountain ranges: Ouachita, Arbuckle, Wichita, and Kiamichi, all in the southern half of the state. Forests cover about 24 percent of the state. Oklahoma has produced more astronauts than any other state. The highest wind speed (318 mph) ever recorded on earth was in Moore, on May 3, 1999, during the OKC F-5 tornado. The OKC capital is the only one in the nation with working oil wells on its grounds.