Best Bets for Oklahoma Fall Foliage
The magical autumn season conjures visions of warm sweaters, crisp air and the vibrant hues of fall foliage. Discover six foliage drives in Oklahoma where you can watch the landscape explode with vivid autumn colors as you venture down winding roads chasing the breathtaking scenery beyond.
|Photo: Carolyn Fletcher|
As the lush, green Oklahoma leaves transform into shades of brilliant gold and striking crimson, visitors to Oklahoma rejoice in the state’s plentiful fall foliage areas and viewing opportunities. Known for its lengthy fall color season, Oklahoma offers prime foliage well into November. As the temperatures turn cool with the upcoming promise of winter, fall is the ideal time to venture out into the great outdoors on an autumn adventure across the Sooner State. Fuel up the car, keep cabin fever at bay and don’t forget to pack your favorite camera. The invitation is here for the taking. Come along on a fall foliage frolic throughout Oklahoma and explore the beauty of the season firsthand.
Talimena National Scenic Byway
Point your compass toward southeast Oklahoma and make your way to the Talimena National Scenic Byway for amazing fall foliage peppered along the state’s most popular scenic drive. This 54-mile route that twists and turns throughout the towering hardwoods and evergreen pines of the Ouachita National Forest is known for its stunning views of the highest mountain range between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Snake your way down weaving roads, keeping an eye out for the area’s rich and abundant wildlife while enjoying the beautiful shades of fall on endless ridges of oaks and maples.
Begin your adventure with a picnic at Talimena State Park in Talihina, which serves as the Oklahoma gateway to this renowned fall foliage drive. Venture deeper into the scenic terrain of the Ouachitas along Highway 1 heading east and make sure to take advantage of the frequent turnouts available along the route for breathtaking vistas of the forest lands below. Each scenic pullout showcases the best sightseeing opportunities and makes the Talimena National Scenic Byway a vacation destination in and of itself.
The Talimena Drive also offers a wealth of outdoor activities along its meandering route. Stop off in the Ouachita National Forest for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails nestled in some of Oklahoma’s most dramatic and rugged terrain. Find your way to Horse Thief Springs Trail for supreme hiking along historic logging roads, or take a break at the Cedar Lake National Recreation Area for bass and catfish fishing. Whichever activities you choose, the Talimena National Scenic Byway offers unsurpassed serenity amongst forested hills and mountains awash in brilliant oranges and reds.
Beavers Bend & Highway 259
For another prime fall foliage viewing area, look no further than Highway 259, located directly south of the Talimena National Scenic Byway. Begin your drive in the town of Big Cedar in southeast Oklahoma and crisscross your way southward along the lush tops of the Ouachita Mountains. This beautiful fall foliage drive leads directly to one of the state’s most popular state park destinations, Beavers Bend & Hochatown State Park. Within the boundaries of this enchanting park, visitors will find towering trees ablaze with vibrant yellows and deep reds dispersed throughout pine forests in a nature lover’s paradise.
A favorite with hikers, backpackers and fishermen, this area offers tranquil seclusion in the middle of fall’s glory. Reserve a rustic cabin at Beavers Bend State Park or pitch a tent for autumn camping at its finest. Or, book a room at the park’s Lakeview Lodge and enjoy spectacular views of Broken Bow Lake below. Visitors will marvel at the sight of fall foliage reflecting off the crystal clear waters of the lake, making Beavers Bend a king among fall foliage hot spots.
Continue your drive on Highway 259 south past Broken Bow to Idabel, or make your way to the Upper and Lower Mountain Fork River for year-round trout fishing in the river’s rushing waters and float trips amidst remote, natural splendor. Also, mark your calendars for the annual Beavers Bend Folk Festival & Craft Show and spend a crisp fall afternoon enjoying folk music, vintage crafts, hayrides and a wide variety of tasty treats.
Robbers Cave State Park
Located only five miles north of Wilburton on Highway 2, Robbers Cave State Park offers spectacular fall foliage views of the San Bois Mountain Range. Witness the surrounding hill-covered valleys painted with the rich colors of fall while rappelling down cliffs, or enjoy plentiful walking trails through the abundant autumn hues during late October and early November. While there, hike up a well-marked path to Robbers Cave, which served as a former hideout for renowned outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr.
Take an equestrian adventure across the rolling hills and scenic bluffs within the park in order to view the dazzling array of scarlet and copper-colored leaves on horseback. At the end of the day, the park’s Belle Starr View Lodge offers accommodations that include 20 rooms with all the amenities of home. If you prefer to remain in the great outdoors, Robbers Cave State Park also features cabins and plentiful tent sites.
Visit the park in mid-October and join the 65,000 people who show up annually for the Robbers Cave Fall Festival. Feast on roasted sweet corn and caramel apples while perusing booths filled with hand-crafted items such as soap, pottery and jewelry. Stick around for the festival’s Fall Foliage Cruise, featuring over 450 pre-1979 cars.
Tahlequah & Highway 10
Wander into northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country for brilliant fall color sprinkled along the picturesque highways that curl around the high bluffs and dense forests of the area. Begin your northeast Oklahoma fall foliage trek in Miami and head south along Highway 10 for dazzling, serpentine roadways that lead straight into the region’s fall foliage epicenter. Enjoy the scenery around Grand Lake’s 1,300 miles of shoreline or stop for a picnic under canopies of trees at Lake Eucha Park.
Enjoy the early morning chill of fall and continue southward as Highway 10 begins to parallel the gently flowing waters of the Illinois River. As the highway cuts through cliffs and hills, keep an eye out for abundant wildlife including deer, fox and bald eagles, known to inhabit the area. Take a fall float trip along the Illinois and glide down the river in a canoe as autumn winds rustle the surrounding fall leaves.
Enjoy the unique beauty of the season as you head into the historic town of Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation. This charming city, which features street signs written in both English and Cherokee, features plentiful attractions including the acclaimed Cherokee Heritage Center. Nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, this historical center sits on 44 wooded acres and is considered a regional gem. While there, tour Diligwa, a 1710 Cherokee Village for demonstrations on ancient cultural practices and crafts.
Oologah Lake & Highway 88
Venture off the beaten path and find your way to the peaceful waters of Oologah Lake, located north of Claremore. It is here that visitors will find mountain biking trails tucked away amidst the changing colors of fall, as well as exceptional hunting opportunities for quail, deer and waterfowl in the 13,000 acres of controlled land surrounding the lake. Hike trails that wind through oak-hickory forest or lazily drift along the surface of Oologah Lake by boat, admiring the impressive autumn hues scattered along the shoreline.
Before making your way south along Highway 88, tour the birthplace of Will Rogers, the famous Cherokee humorist and film star, at Oologah’s Dog Iron Ranch. Wander the grounds of this 400-acre living history ranch, pet farm animals and view vintage movies starring America’s favorite son. Travel south to Claremore to explore the twelve-gallery Will Rogers Memorial Museum, or visit the impressive JM Davis Arms & Historical Museum for over 50,000 antique firearms on display.
Plan your fall foliage trek along Highway 88 in mid-October and be rewarded with a visit to Claremore’s annual Route 66 Pecan & Fun Fest. Celebrate the leaves changing into deep shades of ruby and gold with a pecan pie-eating contest, car show and pumpkin decorating for the kids. This autumn festival is held on the grounds of the Route 66 Nut House, a charming stop along the historic Mother Road. Homemade apple butter, fiery jalapeno jam and velvety fudge await visitors to this sweet treat haven, so plan to stop on your Oklahoma fall adventure and spend a delightful autumn afternoon along Highway 88 and Route 66.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Savor one of southern Oklahoma’s most stunning fall foliage areas by traveling to Sulphur. Home of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, this fall hot spot features a wealth of excellent nature trails, streams and lakes. Popular with wildlife photographers, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area also plays host to the picturesque Lake of the Arbuckles. Travel along the lake’s 36 miles of shoreline for scenic views and endless photo opportunities, or seek out Veterans Lake, a hidden gem often overlooked by visitors.
While in Sulphur, travel a short distance to the Chickasaw Cultural Center to enjoy rich and diverse exhibits detailing the history and culture of the Chickasaw Nation. Grab a bite to eat at the center’s Aaimpa Café for traditional Chickasaw fare and take a trip through the on-site Spirit Forest, a fully interactive exhibit with native plants, animals and over 170 theatrical lights.
A fall trip through Chickasaw Country would not be complete without a visit to Turner Falls, a breathtaking 77-foot waterfall that cascades into a natural pool below. Revel in the beautiful fall colors surrounding this natural wonder and then drive into downtown Davis for quaint Main Street boutiques and plenty of small town charm. Travel through the surrounding area to witness the magnificent display of fall color that stretches across the slowly undulating peaks of the Arbuckle Mountains and rejoice in nature’s glory on a fall foliage foray in Oklahoma.