Getaways on a Budget
Plan a cost-effective family trip
Sequoyah State Park | Photo by Lori Duckworth/ Oklahoma Department of Tourism
Everybody needs to get away occasionally. For singles, couples, friends or family, Oklahoma offers a number of choices. On a budget—that’s not always so easy. Hotels have gotten more expensive but choosing a spot with lots of free or inexpensive attractions saves pennies. Places have personalities; see if one of these suggestions pleases yours.
Big City Adventure: Tulsa
Nothing helps the bottom line like free. One of Oklahoma’s most honored attractions, the Gathering Place, is just that. This wonderful 66-acre park for all ages was a gift of the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
If your getaway includes kids, this park is a must. Kids can climb and explore amazing constructions from castles to giant birds. Sand and water play areas are huge and feature a wide variety of experiences. There are slides and swings—even swings for grown-ups, and lots of paths to explore through a variety of habitats. Food—from fast to fancy—is available here. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboats are free, first-come, first-served. Bring a picnic (no glass containers, no alcoholic beverages, please) and you can have a great time without spending a dime.
Guthrie Green offers open space and activities in the heart of the Arts District. This area is home to a number of interesting restaurants and the Woody Guthrie Center (admission charge here).
Gilcrease Museum is known for its collections of art, culture and history of North America. Philbrook Museum of Art, its heart an Italian-style mansion, features art from many times and places. Take time to explore the impressive gardens. (Admission at both—but worth it.)
Drive around Tulsa to see one of the largest collections of Art Deco buildings in the country. To see and hear the story of one of the city’s premier Art Deco structures, attend the 11:00 a.m. service at Boston Avenue Methodist Church and take a guided tour afterward.
For outdoor activities, walk or bike the Riverside Trail. Wander through Woodward Park—a wonderland of azaleas in the spring. Don’t miss the Linnaeus Teaching Garden in the park.
Tulsa offers a plethora of places to stay, but here’s one that gets overlooked. Post Oak Lodge, once a corporate retreat, hosts small groups and conferences. But it also offers accommodations and hot breakfasts for tourists. The 1000-acre property features a number of hiking trails, an outdoor pool and hot tubs, lawn games, catch-and-release fishing (equipment available) and zip-lining (fee).
If you enjoy gaming, the Osage Casino Hotel on the northwest side of Tulsa encompasses hotel rooms, casino, restaurants and a giant swimming pool. Weekend prices—when there are no concerts or special events—make this spot a possibility. And you’ll see some outstanding Osage artwork.
Small Town Treasure: Tishomingo
Tishomingo, off-the-beaten-path and off the radar for a lot of Oklahoma travelers, is an up-and-coming little community offering some real treats for travelers. Take the advice of Jordyn Frazier, executive director of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce, “Your first stop should be the Chickasaw Nation Information Center on Main Street. They have all the information you need.”
Main Street is a nice place to stroll with several boutiques, an excellent day spa, a cute pocket park, and the Chickasaw Bank Museum. The first floor is restored to its 1901 appearance and houses historical memorabilia and artifacts.
A couple of blocks off Main Street are the Chickasaw National Capitol and Council House Museum. The Chickasaw Nation, besides preserving the past, is a major benefactor to the town.
Another benefactor is favorite son, Blake Shelton. He’s brought his Nashville restaurant, Ole Red, to Tish and added a larger music venue, The Doghouse. Come eat and hear up-and-coming and established musicians—and maybe even Blake! You won’t go hungry in Tishomingo. Local favorite restaurants include Ole Red and Gonzales Mexican Restaurant.
The area around Tish is an ideal spot for nature lovers. The Blue River is one of Oklahoma’s prettiest rivers; you need a hunting or fishing license or day pass to visit. (Check at the Information Center). The Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge is great for short walks and birdwatching. Anglers go for bass, crappie and catfish in Cumberland Pool and the Washita River.
Call ahead to tour the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery—the only national hatchery in the state.
“Our mission is the conservation of imperiled and protected species. We’re your tax dollars at work so there’s no charge,” says Ralph Simmons, assistant project leader and Peoples Electric Cooperative member.
You’ll see alligator snapping turtles, paddlefish and alligator gar among other species. There’s also a short hiking trail and the area’s only public access to Pennington Creek for fishing. Tours are only on weekdays but the grounds are open on the weekend.
“Make sure people know that the fishing is only in the creek—not hatchery ponds,” Simmons added.
While there are a few accommodations in town, VRBO or Airbnb are probably your best bets. Another option is the short drive from Madill or Durant where there are more choices. Tishomingo is worth the drive and everything except food and concerts is free. You can spend more on accommodations and still not break your budget.
Nature Fun: Sequoyah State Park
Kick back and relax at Sequoyah Lodge on the shores of Fort Gibson Lake. In warm weather, the spacious pool area is perfect. To get closer to nature, check out the Nature Center or stroll one of several trails. Or just sit and watch the water.
The restaurant in the lodge serves good food at reasonable prices. Lodge rooms are beautifully furnished—the whole place got a makeover several years ago. You might prefer a cabin; several have mini-fridges and microwaves and are a little less expensive than lodge rooms.
If you’re looking for more activity, there’s a golf course and riding stables. But just breathing the fresh air and enjoying the scenery is worth the price of admission.
Wherever you choose, ask about special promotions and discounts. And remember, resting and reflecting is good for your health—an inexpensive prescription.