A home-cooked meal, the county fair and a place to cool off in the hot summer months is what you’ll find in the cities of Blackwell, Newkirk and Tonkawa in Kay County.
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The small communities of Newkirk, Blackwell and Tonkawa in north-central Oklahoma offer a laid-back charm where you can slow down and enjoy the simpler things in life. Plan your trip to Kay County with this list of the best restaurants, festivals and attractions.
Tied together by their collective founding during the Land Run of 1893, also known as the Cherokee Strip Land Run, the cities of Blackwell, Newkirk and Tonkawa have seen many changes throughout the years. Just a handful of years after the settlement in Kay County (at the time noted as “K” County), nearly the entire downtown area in Newkirk burned and was rebuilt with limestone from a nearby quarry. At the same time over in Tonkawa, the University Preparatory School, now known as Northern Oklahoma College, was being established. Over the next century, these small cities made a name for themselves as a charming and comfortable destination along I-35 near the Oklahoma-Kansas border.
Long known as one of Oklahoma’s prime farm-to-table dining destinations, TS Fork in Tonkawa offers a one-of-a-kind prix-fixe menu highlighting local ingredients. TS Fork offers its five-course dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, so make your reservations early to ensure a spot. Although the meals change frequently based on what is in season, each item is prepared from scratch using original recipes. Past meals have included deviled eggs, minestrone soup, steak au poivre with scalloped potatoes and Italian cream cake. As an added bonus, each meal gets a special introduction by the chef.
For a quick and delicious lunch or dinner option, head to Capone’s Hoagies. Located in historic downtown Newkirk, you can order sandwiches, wraps and salads with mob-themed names like “The Godfather” and “The Scarface.” After your meal, be sure to snap a picture with the life-sized cut-out of Al Capone, then take a walk around the downtown area, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring the largest collection of limestone buildings in Oklahoma.
Over in downtown Blackwell, hungry diners come from near and far to feast on time-proven family recipes served at the locally-owned Prairie Smoke BBQ. The expansive menu is sure to have something for every carnivore, from melt-in-your-mouth tender brisket and pork belly tacos to prime St Louis-style pork ribs served with homemade barbecue sauce. Slate your hunger with an order of The Big Joe, a mega-sized sandwich piled with 1/4 lb brisket, pulled pork, turkey, sausage and white American cheese. This outstanding sandwich lives up to its name as “sampler on a bun” and is even topped with a rib.
Looking for a comfy place to stay? The 7 Clans First Council Casino in Newkirk is a clear choice. Not only can guests select from two on-site hotels, but each guest room also comes with plush bedding and cable HDTV. For those looking to do a little gaming, a stay at the 86-room Beachfront Hotel will provide you easy access to the casino. Double queen and single king rooms are available, as well as king suites. If you’re traveling with children - or if you just want to cool off in the hot summer months - a stay at the Oceanfront Hotel is just what you need. This 60-room hotel is directly adjacent to the indoor waterpark, and a variety of room types are available. Check out Bunk Suite Oceanview where you can relax on a queen-sized bed while the kids pile into two bunkbeds in a separate room.
See the full list of Kay County lodging here.
The 7 Clans First Council Casino Waterpark is exclusive to hotel guests, so it never gets too crowded. Plus, it’s completely free. This indoor waterpark, which is open year-round each weekend, offers a 329-ft Lazy River that winds through the entire waterpark, as well as four waterslides and more than 127,000 gallons of water. Try out the obstacle course or see how high you can climb on the rock-climbing wall before getting drenched by the giant “Bucket of Ruckus.” When hunger strikes, the on-site Hooty Hoo Snack Shack, Buffy’s Cafe and Icy Bites are both delicious and convenient.
The Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum in Blackwell showcases artifiacts dating back to the 1893 Cherokee Strip Land Run in the unique 1912 Electric Park Pavilion. Visitors will find a selection of farm tools, saddles, furniture and more, including an early day well cover that’s now a gazebo. A beautiful water fountain marks the entrance to this ever-changing museum. If you’re looking to explore the surrounding countryside a bit more, be sure to pick up a map of the Top of Oklahoma Barn Quilt Trail. Embark on an adventure to spot 60 uniquely designed barn quilts that represent all 50 states.
Walk along the only heart-shaped labyrinth in the world at Heart in the Park Labyrinth in Tonkawa. This unique five-foot diameter path winds along in seven circuits leading to the center of the heart. Along the walk, you’ll spot tidbits of Tonkawa history along the pavers bordering the labyrinth. Over at the nearby McCarter Museum, there are artifacts of Native American history, Three Sands Oil Fields and a WWII Prisoner of War Camp.
Browse gorgeous beaded items like jewelry and moccasins with a visit to the Tonkawa Tribal Museum. Located within the tribe's headquarters at the Henry L Allen Community Center, this free museum welcomes visitors to view artifacts and photographic histories of the Tonkawa tribe. As you explore, you'll learn interesting tidbits about the Tonkawa tribe, like how they had their own distinct language, were nomadic and were skilled horsemen in the 1800s.
If your travels to Kay County happen to be in mid-September, you’re in luck. Both of the area’s top festivals — Charlie Adams Day and the Kay County Free Fair — just so happen to be held within a few days of each other. Celebrate Newkirk’s heritage at Charlie Adams Day, which brings out numerous barbecue teams, Dutch oven demonstrations, a poker run, car show, games, vendors and live music.
Although Newkirk is the seat of Kay County, the annual free fair is held in Blackwell. One of the largest county fairs in Oklahoma, the Kay County Free Fair fills seven buildings at the Blackwell Fairgrounds with exhibits and features over 100 vendors. Tasty fair food, exhibiting carnival rides, livestock displays and live entertainment round out this fun event.
Located along I-35 at Exit 222, the Blackwell Tourism Information Center is a terrific resource on not only area points of interest, but also statewide attractions, events, lodging and more. Pick up a variety of travel guides and brochures, then check out the gift shop for Made in Oklahoma gear. As an added bonus, the center also offers a dog park where your furry friends can let loose after a ride in the car.