Oklahoma's Scenic Byways
Find places to hit the road from the Talimena National Scenic Byway to Route 66.
|Photo: Lisha Newman|
If your idea of a great road trip is hitting the open freeway to see beautiful foliage, natural wonders and quirky attractions, then Oklahoma’s scenic byways can provide an array of options to satisfy your craving for the open road. Reaching nearly every region of the state, there is beauty lining Oklahoma’s byways ranging from wide open prairies to rolling hills and forests. Fill up your tank, pack the camera and get ready to enjoy some of Oklahoma’s most beautiful sites from the comfort of your car.
There are many wonderful things to be seen on Oklahoma’s best-known scenic highway, the Talimena National Scenic Byway. The 54-mile drive starts at Talihina in southeast Oklahoma and winds through the Ouachita National Forest, along the backbone of the gorgeous Kiamichi Mountains. Forty miles of the drive are in Oklahoma and include 17 scenic turnouts with intriguing names like Castle Rock and Sugarloaf, where the vistas will take your breath away. While many Oklahomans make this trip only in autumn, the beauty here really spans every season.
National Scenic Byways are chosen not only for their beauty, but also for their archeological, cultural, historic and recreational value. Indeed, recreational opportunities are nearly unlimited in the Ouachita National Forest, and the historical and cultural stops are numerous. Along the route you can see the Wheelock Academy near Millerton. Wheelock Academy was established in 1844 as an educational facility for Choctaw girls, and the nearby Wheelock Church dates back to 1846.
Two other scenic drives in the area hold exciting possibilities for motorists. The Mountain Pass Scenic Byway winds for 23 miles on U.S. Highway 259 between Page and Octavia, and Mountain Gateway Scenic Byway spans 22 miles from Heavener to the Arkansas line. Both are two-lane paved roads with plenty of steep hills and curves and you will wind up about 2,600 feet above sea level. Along the way you’ll roll alongside some of Oklahoma’s most beautiful rivers: Mountain Fork, Black Fork and Glover.
Cruise through ruggedly beautiful peaks, and past the legendary haunts of Spanish explorers and outlaws.
For those who prefer cities and towns to backcountry mountains and curves, the Route 66 Byway may be the highway that’s the best. Route 66 covers nearly 400 miles in Oklahoma, and if you drive it from Quapaw, where it enters northeast Oklahoma, to Texola, where it leaves the state, you will pass through dozens of charming small towns and experience the urban wonders of Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Plan to spend a few days covering Oklahoma along Route 66. You’ll want to witness the beauty of the Coleman Theatre in Miami and feel the pulse of its Mighty Wurlitzer organ. With numerous road side attractions including the amazing Totem Pole Park in Foyil and the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, you’ll be pulling over frequently to snap a few shots at iconic stops along the way. A trip along Route 66 isn’t complete without a picnic next to Catoosa’s famous Blue Whale and a tour of downtown Tulsa’s historic architecture.
Other cities along the route treasure their own unique attractions and are full of small town charm. Stop for a meal and stretch your legs at the Rock Café in Stroud where you can munch on an alligator burger and imagine where Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant may have done the same. Warwick is home to the Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum and POPS, while the Round Barn makes Arcadia a Route 66 hot spot. Between all of these towns be sure to soak in miles of scenery and gently sloping hills and curves.
If your road trip thirst is not yet quenched, indulge yourself in a couple of other scenic journeys. In the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma where herds of buffalo and longhorn cattle roam, you can cruise through ruggedly beautiful peaks, and past the legendary haunts of Spanish explorers and outlaws along the Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway. A side trip to Medicine Park will take you to a growing artist colony with its own unique characters and charm where you can soak in a distinctly frontier flavor. This oasis in the dusty mountains is coming back to life after being one of Oklahoma’s top tourist destinations in the early days of the last century.
If the rugged beauty of the western landscape appeals to you, then go northwest and savor the drive up state Highway 325 from Boise City to Kenton at the very tip of the Oklahoma panhandle. During this 38-mile drive, the prairie magically gives way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and mesas break the skyline like scenes from old Western movies. Home to Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s highest point, the area offers a sense of being a witness to something millions of years in the making.