The state of Oklahoma, located in the south-central United States, is a place that is near and dear to me. With family sprinkled throughout the state, I spent many a summer during my childhood road-tripping south from Wisconsin to visit relatives. So, when an opportunity to visit Chickasaw Country opened, we couldn’t say no.
Before we knew it, we were planning a road trip to explore the best that south-central Oklahoma has to offer. Let me just say this, it didn’t disappoint, and I continue to be inspired by the hidden gems that can be found in Oklahoma.
This article is a full overview of our 5-day road trip to the area, including some of the best outdoor spaces, food, and museums to be found.
The Best of Chickasaw Country Oklahoma
Table of Contents
Where is Chickasaw Country Oklahoma?
Chickasaw Country is made up of the entire region of south-central Oklahoma. It is also known as the Chickasaw Nation.
The north borders Oklahoma City and the Seminole Nation, the west meets South Western Oklahoma state, the east the Choctaw Nation, and the south is the border with Texas.
The main city and town areas of the region include Sulphur, Davis, Ardmore, Duncan, Chickasha, Thackerville, Pauls Valley, and Tishomingo.
How to Get to Chickasaw Country
If you wish to fly, you have two options for accessing south-central Oklahoma. These options are Oklahoma City and Dallas, two airports that have several options for airlines. No matter which one you fly into, you’ll need to rent a car to explore Chickasaw Country.
Depending on where you plan to base yourself, you can expect a 3-hour drive from Dallas/Fort Worth or 1.5-hour drive from Oklahoma City to Sulphur, Oklahoma.
Alternatively, if you are driving from out of state or want to incorporate this part of Oklahoma in a larger road trip in the USA, I-35 runs right through the center of this region.
Where to Stay & Base Yourself
Our base for this trip was The Artesian Hotel, Casino & Spa, a stunning hotel that offers a take on luxury combined tastefully with vintage grandeur. The hotel is in downtown Sulphur, Oklahoma opposite the main entrance to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It offers 81 rooms, on-site dining, a casino, shopping, and a full spa.
We found this hotel to be very comfortable. We loved its central location to the best sites and especially that you could quickly access the main downtown on foot from the entrance. The rooms were stylish, very large, and comfortable. The hotel is sectioned off from the casino, so it’s very quiet, which we loved.
Best Things to Do in Chickasaw Country Oklahoma
1. Start at the Chickasaw Visitor Center (Sulphur)
If you like information, as we do, you’ll want to make this your first stop when visiting Chickasaw Country. The center provides valuable information about the area, local attractions, and regional attractions, and provides the full story of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
You can pick up pamphlets, maps, and chat with the staff about any questions you might have. You can also shop at the gift store during your visit.
2. Stroll Historical Downtown Sulphur
Sulphur, Oklahoma shares its story with many cool places throughout the USA. It was once a place known only to the First American people, who believed the natural springs in the area possessed natural healing powers. They bestowed upon it the name ‘The Land of Rippling Water’.
As settlers made their way west and began arriving in Oklahoma, they heard rumors of these natural springs and began to arrive rapidly, which resulted in the establishment of the town. Today around 5,000 people call Sulphur home, with thousands more passing through to enjoy the beauty and natural wonders that can still be found here.
The downtown was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Be sure to spend some time walking the historic downtown, stopping in the many shops that line the main street. You’ll even find The Rusty Nail Winery along the way, and we highly recommend you stop in for a wine tasting!
3. Chickasaw Cultural Center (Sulphur)
The Chickasaw Cultural Center is one of the largest and most extensive tribal cultural centers in the United States. It’s also the most beautiful we have ever visited.
To visit South Central Oklahoma and not take the time to learn the Chickasaw history would be a shame. Be sure to plan sufficient time to visit. This is a place that will easily consume 2+ hours of your time! The entire center is informative and interactive.
It features a replica traditional village at the heart of the property that is surrounded by a theatre, where you can both witness and participate in a traditional Stomp Dance demonstration, view traditional clothing, collections, exhibits, a genealogy research center, and a gift shop.
The entire story of the Chickasaw People is chronicled in an absolutely beautiful museum that shares their story from the beginning in the Lower Mississippi Valley, their migration to Oklahoma, to their perseverance in carving out a new home in the Indian Territories of Oklahoma.
4. Chickasaw National Recreation Area – Drive, Hike, Swim & Chase Waterfalls (Sulphur)
The Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA) is one of only three Oklahoma parks that are part of the National Park Service system. This alone warrants a visit, because let’s be honest, anything associated with the NPS is usually very worth visiting!
The park was first established in 1902 when the Chickasaw Nation ceded 640 acres of land to the United States government to protect the natural mineral and freshwater springs. In 1906, additional land was added to establish Platt National Park.
It remained a national park until 1976 when the decision was made to combine it with the Arbuckle Recreation Area and establish the Chickasaw National Recreation Area we know today.
Truth be told, the park is an absolute oasis with miles of established trails, waterfalls, scenic driving routes, and overlooks to explore. I think we literally visited the CNRA every single day during our visit.
We just couldn’t get enough. Some of the highlights included Little Niagra, Bison Overlook Trail, Bromide Hill, and stopping at all of the springs and waterfalls.
5. Catch a Sunset at Bromide Hill (Sulphur)
Bromide Hill is one of the tallest points in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, offering an amazing bird’s eye view over both the park and the town of Sulphur. More importantly, it is a spectacular spot to catch a sunset!
You can visit the peak in one of two ways; Either by taking on a moderate 2.4 mile out and back hike from the base or by driving to the top where you’ll find a parking lot and take only a short walk to the overlook area. Either way, you won’t regret timing your visit for sunset.
6. Visit Downtown Davis
Davis, Oklahoma resides in the heart of the Arbuckle Mountains and offers a wide variety of attractions and natural wonders in its purview. That said, you should give the downtown a bit of your time, rather than just driving through.
You’ll find a classic old-fashioned American Main Street with boutique shops, antiques, and museums. Don’t miss the large murals near the Davis Visitor Center or the Arbuckle Historical Society Museum before you head out of town. You can also pay a visit to the Chickasaw Nation Welcome Center.
7. Indulge at Bedré Fine Chocolate (Davis)
If you have a sweet tooth like me, especially for chocolate, then you’ll want to include a visit to the Bedré Fine Chocolate during your visit. It’s quite literally some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted!
Bedré Fine Chocolate was founded in the 1980s but was purchased in 2000 by the Chickasaw Nation, which continues to produce next-level flavors paired with ultra-fine chocolate. You’ll find this sweet treat everywhere you go in Chickasaw Country, and you absolutely must try it.
8. Turner Falls Park (Davis)
The 1,500-acre Turner Falls Park is home to the largest waterfall in Oklahoma! Owned by the city of Davis, the park has been compared to the Grand Canyon and the Black Hills.
The 77-foot-high waterfall resides smack dab in the Arbuckle Mountains surrounded by natural caves, hiking trails, creeks, and a massive stone castle.
Yea, that’s not a typo either. The Collings Castle was built in the 1930s during the Great Depression in the style of a European castle. Today it lies in ruins, but hiking through the property easily reveals the story of a massive building.
The park is an epic place to spend a day, as you can hike many trails, take scenic drives, explore the castle, and swim at the base of the massive falls. It’s also fun to go downriver from the waterfall and play in the rock pools.
9. Lake Murray State Park (Ardmore)
Spanning 12,500 acres, Lake Murray State Park is both Oklahoma’s first and largest state park. At the center of this outdoor oasis is the stunning, bright blue Lake Murray. It seriously looks like a lake you’d find in Banff National Park, Canada!
The park is the hallmark of outdoor recreation with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks, docks, fishing platforms, and watersports. It also features many campground options including RV parks with hookups to rustic and everything in between. There are even floating cabins you can rent, which is very unique, in addition to the main lodge at the park entrance.
Make sure you purchase your parking pass online here, $10 per vehicle before you visit. This pass will be issued to your license plate, and you don’t need to display anything. The park staff scan license plates to verify.
10. Climb Tucker Tower (Ardmore)
Our favorite place in Lake Murray State Park was the Tucker Tower. It has an interesting history as it was built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. It is set in the most picturesque spot of the lake, resting on top of a hill, that offers insane views of the lake from the top of it.
Inside, the tower acts as a museum, providing some information on the construction of the tower and significant facts about the area before it became a park. It’s a 65-foot climb on a spiral staircase to the top.
At the base of the tower is the very well-done Lake Murray Nature Center, where you can learn about the flora, fauna, and history of the formation of the lake. It’s well worth a walk-through, plus it has nice bathrooms and air conditioning.
11. Get in the Water with Lake Murray Water Sports (Ardmore)
Also located at Lake Murray State Park is Lake Murray Water Sports. This locally owned business is your go-to spot for all things sports on the 78 square miles of Lake Murray. They offer both motorized and non-motorized ways to enjoy the lake. On land, you can also enjoy mini golf.
Non-motorized options include kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, canoes, paddle boats, sailboats, and a waterslide with a trampoline. Motorized options include fishing boats, wave runners, island cruises, and the Big Kahuna, a custom-modified pontoon with a waterslide.
If you just want to get out on the water but don’t want to worry about a rental, they also offer both daytime and sunset lake cruises. These cruises will show you the best parts of the lake along with a narration of the lake’s 70 years of history.
12. Chisholm Trail Heritage Center (Duncan)
Heading to the west, you’ll reach the intriguing town of Duncan, a town that is home to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center.
This museum retraces the history of the famous Chisholm Trail, a route that was used by cattle ranchers to move feral long-horn steers from the open lands of south Texas to Abilene, Kansas to be sold and shipped east.
Named after the trader, Jesse Chisholm, the Chisholm Trail would be used to drive millions of cattle through Oklahoma from 1867 to 1877. The museum charts this period, giving you a thorough look at the trail, the people of the trail, and everything in between.
In addition to being a museum about all things Chisholm Trail, the center is home to one of the best Western and First American art galleries in the state.
13. Marlow Outlaw Centennial Monument (Marlow)
Staying on the theme of the Chisholm Trail, we headed west to the town of Marlow and the home to the famed Marlow Brother Outlaws. It was in this town where a band of brothers made a name for themselves stealing cattle along the trail.
Between heists, they would hideout in a cave to avoid being found or having their families implicated. They were eventually caught, and their tale takes many twists and turns before eventually ending in their capture and deaths.
Along the way, they became heroes and today they are memorialized in Redbud Park at the center of town. You can also visit the actual hideout cave, which was rediscovered in the 2000s and now has a museum constructed over the top of it.
14. Explore Tishomingo, the Chickasaw Capital
Tishomingo is the historic capital of the Chickasaw Nation and a stop worth making on a road trip through south-central Oklahoma. It is the town where the original Chickasaw leaders established the capital, adopted a constitution, and organized executive, legislative and judicial departments of government for the tribal members and nation.
It is here that you’ll find the Chickasaw National Capitol and Chickasaw Council House Museum, both significant museums to learn more about the Chickasaw people. The latter also houses one of the largest collections of Chickasaw artifacts, art, and archives.
Additionally, Tishomingo is the home to Blake Shelton, a famous country music singer. He owns a ranch on the outskirts of the city but has also opened a restaurant and bar called Ole Red in the downtown district.
15. Visit the WinStar World Casino and Resort
Holding the title of the largest casino in the World, the WinStar World Casino and Resort is a must-visit on any trip to Chickasaw Country. Boasting 400,000 square feet of casino floor, you could spend hours here playing the machines and people-watching.
Of course, gambling isn’t required and you can also find fine-dining options, shopping, and a full entertainment schedule to enjoy during your visit. You can view the entertainment schedule and book rooms at the resort here.
16. More Things Worth Checking Out in South Central Oklahoma
Places to Eat in Chickasaw Country
There’s no shortage of great food and drink to indulge in during your visit, and of course, it’s all served with a side of Southern hospitality. This is by no means a complete list, but instead an overview of the places we enjoyed during our visit.
- Smokin Joe’s Rib Ranch – 3165 Jollyville Road, Davis, a true southern BBQ experience
- The Rusty Nail Winery – 218 West Muskogee Ave, Sulphur, their wine tasting room is fantastic!
- Aaimpa’ Café – located inside the Chickasaw Cultural Center, be sure to order the Indian Taco.
- The Springs at the Artesian – located inside The Artesian Hotel on the ground level.
- Bedre Café – located outside The Artesian Hotel, the coffee here is delicious.
- The Lookout Kitchen – 3323 Lodge Road, Ardmore, inside Lake Murray State Park
- Cotton Blossom Winery – 109 N 2nd Street, Marlow, they offer a tasting too.
- Giuseppe’s – 203 West Main Street, Marlow
- Wishbone Scratch Kitchen – 1800 Country Club Road, Duncan
- Sonic Drive-In – hear me out, order a Route 44 Limeade, and you can thank me later.
This article was made possible in partnership with Chickasaw Country Oklahoma. However, all opinions, stories, advice, and insane love for Oklahoma is 100% ours, as always.
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