Oklahoma Stories

Day Trip Destinations

By Elaine Warner June 2022

Discover in-state spots perfect for a weekend of family fun

road through Quartz Mountain
Photo by Maylee Alwood

Every corner of our state has something interesting to offer. From woods to explore, lakes to enjoy, adventures for thrill seekers, solitude for reflection, museums to edify and opportunities to join with others in experiencing the state’s many delights, Oklahoma has it all. Here are four sample itineraries that hit some of Oklahoma’s coolest highlights. 

Quartz Mountain 

Tucked in the tailbone of the Wichita Mountains, Quartz Mountain State Park boasts great scenery, beautiful art, hiking, biking, bird watching, fishing, rock climbing, picnicking, ATVing and two sandy-beached swimming areas.

The most striking physical features of the park are the surrounding mountains with their huge red, granite boulders. Seven hiking trails allow guests to experience a variety of terrain. Casual walkers can get steps by strolling the Heart Healthy Trail by the park office, the loop in the Cedar Valley area or taking the paved Twin Peaks Trail. Hardier hikers will enjoy the challenges of the Sunrise Trail, which starts with a steep incline and culminates with great mountain and lake views. The sheer walls of Baldy Point, second only to Yosemite for granite face climbing, attract rock climbers from across the nation.

Fishing is good here for large and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, black and white crappie, walleye, bluegill and green and redear sunfish. Frozen bait is available in the park office but you’ll need to bring your own tackle. There’s a floating fishing dock, but lake level fluctuations sometimes leave it high and dry. Most people bank fish or fish in the river, either using the river access trail from the River Run campground or a spot by the bridge on Highway 44A. 

ATVers enjoy Eagles Roost ATV Area in the northern portion of the park. There is a $10 fee for use of the trails, which explore sandy dunes and the lakeshore.

atv on trail
Photo by Lori Duckworth

For tamer pursuits, the park has a mini-golf course and concession where you may rent paddle boats, canoes and kayaks for use on the river only. A disc golf course should be ready for play soon.

The park’s only pool is reserved for lodge and cabin guests, but a visit to the lodge is worthwhile just to see the art on display. Adorning the lobby are eight paintings by Chickasaw Nation member Mike Larsen, who has served the faculty of the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute (OSAI) held in the park each June. The lodge features other works by well-known artists Fritz Scholder and Allan Houser, who have also been associated with OSAI.

Much of the art has a Native American theme, reminding guests that Quartz Mountain was originally home to Comanche and Kiowa tribes. For an excellent history lesson, visit the Museum of the Western Prairie in Altus, located just 20 miles south of the park.

The park restaurant is currently closed, so plan to pack a picnic. There are plenty of tables in the shade. If you’d like to extend your day trip to stay in the lodge, every room has a microwave and small refrigerator, and the cabins have kitchens. There is a parking fee for day trippers, but it’s waived for those with lodge, cabin or camping reservations.

Alabaster Caverns

alabaster caverns
Photo by Elaine Warner

A trip to Alabaster Caverns is the perfect cool spot on a hot Oklahoma day. The cave’s temperature stays between 55 and 60 degrees even on the hottest days. While the great majority of show caves—caves open to the public—in the United States are limestone caves, Alabaster Caverns is a rare gypsum cave. 

Most of the rock in the cave is alabaster, which is a form of gypsum known for its hardness. When water gets into the structure of alabaster, it devolves into plain, flaky gypsum. Also present in the cave is selenite, a more crystalline form of the mineral. 

The cave is the result of deposits from the ancient Permian sea that once covered the area, so it has none of the stalactites and stalagmites that characterize limestone caves.

Tours of the cave are given on the hour from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. A cautionary sign indicates 330 stair steps in the cavern, which are a bit challenging. The steps are slightly irregular, but there is a sturdy handrail throughout the cave. While the trail through the cave is often bumpy and occasionally wet and slick, the walk is only about three-quarters of a mile.

The most interesting features in the cave are domes, which allow visitors to look up through layers in the ceiling. The cavern is home to a number of bats, which you’ll find hibernating in the many ceiling domes during the winter. While the tiny mammals often stay out of view during the summer, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a bat or two.

 In addition to the tour cave, the park has four caves for wild caving—spelunking. Wild caving must be done with other explor­ers, no solo guests. The activity also requires a permit from the park office, where you can also find rules and regulations. Another cave is reserved for cave camping, which also requires a reservation and several participants.

Ground amenities include four hiking trails, tent and RV camping spots and picnic tables. For an easy activity, take a short walk from the parking lot to overlook Cedar Canyon, which was possibly created by the collapse of another cave. The land is littered with white gypsum rocks sprinkled with selenite crystals that glitter in the sunlight. 

Admission to the park is free, with fees for the cave tour, wild caving permits and camping.

Bartlesville 

Looking to explore Oklahoma’s oil history? You’ll find a rich legacy in Bartlesville, which was once the main headquarters of Phillips Petroleum.

Start with a 10 a.m. tour at the home of Frank Phillips, a barber who became an oil baron as co-founder of Phillips Petroleum. The large Greek Revival mansion features elegant touches like Waterford chandeliers, elaborate plasterwork and a pink marble bathroom with gold fixtures. A small museum in the original garage behind the home provides historical information about the Phillips family and the oil business.

To learn more, visit the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum where you’ll find company history and make connections between high flying planes and hula hoops.

End the day at Woolaroc, Frank Phillips’ country retreat. The property encompasses a wildlife preserve, hiking trails, Phillips’ historic lodge and a world-class museum with Western and Native American exhibits, fine paintings and sculptures and Colt firearms.  

Idabel/Beavers Bend

The Beavers Bend area is an Oklahoma tourism hot spot for outdoor activities, but it’s also home to one of Oklahoma’s great indoor opportunities. The Museum of the Red River in Idabel is one of the state’s finest museums. In a beautiful blend of archaeology and anthropology, the museum’s collections feature cultural artifacts from many areas of the world. Housed in a structure inspired by ancient Mexican pyramids, items range from the oldest man-made exhibit, a 12,000-year-old Clovis point to contemporary works.

On display until June 6 is an exhibition of Inka—more commonly, but less accurately, Inca—pieces including ancient fabrics that date back thousands of years. From June 15 through August 14, the museum will showcase Native Arts of the Southeast United States.

The museum galleries also feature several permanent collections. On display in the Lifeways Gallery are artifacts illustrating ethnological themes, while the Founders Gallery is home to some of the museum’s most popular acquisitions. With 37,000 items to choose from, there’s always something special to see, and the Learning Center provides interactive opportunites.

Like Louisiana, there’s also lagniappe—something extra and unexpected—in this case, a reconstructed Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. This dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous Period was discovered in southeastern Oklahoma.

dinosaur fossil
Photo by Elaine Warner

For lunch, AJ’s Steakhouse in Idabel has an eclectic menu with everything from burgers to steaks, as well as several Asian options. Further north in the Beavers Bend area, you’ll find many restaurants including Grateful Head, a favorite pizza stop. The popular hand-tossed pizza crusts are coated with house-made garlic butter then topped with a variety of meats and veggies, or, if you prefer, pineapple.

Great picnic spots are available in Beavers Bend State Park with a parking fee. Hike, fish or take a mini-train ride or horseback ride. If you’re feeling adventuresome, zipline across a bit of Broken Bow Lake with Ruguru Adventures.

For any day trip, always check websites for up-to-date information on hours and admissions. Last word of advice: explore Oklahoma and have fun!  

Category: Oklahoma Stories
Tag: travel

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