Oklahoma's Scenic Byways
Find places to hit the road from Route 66 to the Talimena National Scenic Byway.
|Photo: Lisha Newman|
There are a couple of kinds of car owners in the world. There is the person for whom a car is a necessity, used to get to work and back or to taxi the kids to whatever practice is scheduled for the day. For them, the automobile is little more than a tool, useful like a microwave but nothing to get excited about.
The other kind of car owner is the one for whom driving is a passion. They are the people who can’t wait to turn the key and hit the road, and whose free time is spent looking for reasons to get behind the wheel. They are the ones most likely to mope when gasoline prices go up and the ones most likely to take a road trip anyway.
It is the second kind of car owner who hears the call of Oklahoma’s scenic byways like a whisper in the back of the mind, saying, “Follow me and I will show you wonderful things.”
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. 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 at 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 our state, you will pass through dozens of charming small towns and experience the urban wonders of Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
It isn’t a drive you want to speed through in one day because you would never see the beauty of the Coleman Theatre in Miami, or hear the power and feel the pulse of its Mighty Wurlitzer organ. You wouldn’t see the amazing Totem Pole Park in Foyil or the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore. You wouldn’t see Catoosa’s famous Blue Whale or the historic architecture of downtown Tulsa.
Other towns along the route treasure their own unique attractions: Stroud, Warwick and Arcadia. Plus, Oklahoma City looks oh so pretty.
Stop and visit Route 66 museums in Clinton, Chandler and Elk City. In Erick, visit the Roger Miller Museum.
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 cruise through ruggedly beautiful peaks, and past the legendary haunts of Spanish explorers and outlaws.
A side trip to Medicine Park will take you to a growing artist colony with its own unique characters and charm. 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. You will find many reasons to come back. But continue on for now and soak in the frontier flavor of this storied part of the state.
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. The 38-mile drive begins uneventfully, and then, magically, the prairie gives way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and mesas break the skyline like scenes from old Western movies. It is home to Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s highest point. There are faces in the formations and a sense of being a witness to something millions or even billions of years in the making.
No Man’s Land is much friendlier now than when it was an escape route and a hideout for roving bands of cattle rustlers, bandits and horse thieves. You will find the current residents happy to see you and probably more than a little curious about what brought you here.
Tell them some people just have to drive.
- Oklahoma Fall Foliage
- Oklahoma Road Trip Brochures Kit
- Oklahoma Travel Guide and Map Kit
- Roger Miller Museum
- Route 66 Brochure
- Will Rogers Memorial Museum & Birthplace Ranch
- Monthly TravelOK eNewsletter
- Route 66