Make Family Memories Exploring Oklahoma’s Back Roads

The holidays are upon us. Cool breezes welcome family gatherings, house decorating, and baking sweet treats. Unfortunately, it also brings on financial stress, heavy traffic, and shopping for things that will soon be forgotten. Instead of a mountain of presents under the tree, pack up the family and create lasting memories by heading to the real mountains of southeast Oklahoma.

Fall Foliage Drive

About 2 ½ hours south of Tulsa is Oklahoma’s most renowned scenic drive. The Talimena National Scenic Byway invites foliage fans on a 54-mile pathway through the Ouachita National Forest right across the tops of ancient mountains in southeastern Oklahoma. The road twists and turns over the gently rolling Ouachita Mountains with a span of vistas more breathtaking than the last. Frequent scenic turnouts offer travelers the best views over the magnificent blend of autumn hues on the richly forested hills that seem to stretch forever.

The Byway is in full color the first couple weeks of November but it isn’t the only time to visit. The Talimena National Scenic Byway is open all year long except when snow and ice make the drive too dangerous to travel. In the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, you can see many different birds and animals. And there is nothing more beautiful than the sparkling winter’s frost in the morning. To plan your trip, go to TalimenaScenicDrive.com for information including maps and area events.

Beavers Bend State Park

Keep heading south and you will wind up at the state’s most popular state park destination, Beavers Bend State Park. Within the boundaries of this enchanting park, visitors will find towering trees ablaze with vibrant yellows and deep reds dispersed throughout pine forests in a nature lover’s paradise.

A favorite with hikers, backpackers, and fishermen, this area offers tranquil seclusion. Reserve a rustic cabin at Beavers Bend State Park or pitch a tent for autumn camping at its finest. Or, book a room at the park’s Lakeview Lodge and enjoy spectacular views of Broken Bow Lake below. Visitors will marvel at the sight of fall foliage reflecting off the crystal-clear waters of the lake, making Beavers Bend a king among fall foliage hot spots. Visit TravelOK.com for a travel guide with sample travel itineraries, trip-planning tips, and directories of attractions and lodging.

Mountain Fork River

Continue your drive on Highway 259 south past Broken Bow to the Upper and Lower Mountain Fork River for year-round trout fishing in the river’s rushing waters. Mark your calendar for the annual Beavers Bend Folk Festival & Craft Show November 9, 10th, and 11th and spend a crisp fall afternoon enjoying folk music, vintage crafts, hayrides and a wide variety of tasty treats.

The Mountain Fork River area is abundant with camp grounds and lodging options. But make note that although Oklahoma State Parks are open year-round, certain campgrounds are temporarily closed for the winter season, so it’s a good idea to make a call before heading out for a holiday camping trip.

Lights on the Island

Lights on the Island is an annual drive-through light display held from November 16th though December 25th. The popular light display in Lake Wister State Park began over ten years ago with just a few donated lights. After years of dedication to the displays, the spectacular light show has grown with radiant color each and every year. Many volunteers brave the cold each winter to greet car loads of visitors and hand out candy canes. Over 300 light displays cover the entire island with several animated displays such as tumbling bears, dinosaurs, and a 32-foot-tall Lady Liberty.

Disconnect and Reconnect

Not trying to be a Grinch, but do you remember the gifts you received last year? Better yet, do you remember your last vacation? Most people, especially children, can recall all the things they did on their vacation but rarely remember the gifts they received during Christmas or Hanukkah.

Instead of the hustle and bustle the holidays create, imagine waking up in a cabin with high bluffs, rocky shoals, and clear water for breathtaking views on a beautiful river. It’s chilly but still warm enough to hop in a canoe and enjoy a day of easy paddling. Later, take the kids on a hike through the woods and have a picnic along the secluded riverside in the warm winter sun. Go horseback riding or bird watching in the woods; you might spot a Pileated or a Downy Woodpecker, a Kingfisher, a Blue Heron, or even a Bald Eagle.

Then end the day playing cards or putting together a puzzle. Delve deep into conversation and pop some popcorn or make s’mores over the fire. Then go to bed early and wake up for another day of family fun.

Trade in the TV, cell phones, and tablets for a chance to connect with your family. Your holiday outdoor adventure awaits! For more information about day trips, activities, and lodging in southeast Oklahoma, check out VisitMccurtainCounty.com or TravelOK.com.