Summer isn’t over yet, so pack up the car and hit the road with family and friends for a fun trip that’s close to home. Local vacations, a.k.a. staycations, not only eliminate the need for pricey plane tickets and hotel rooms, but also can give Tulsans a new appreciation for this land we call home — while maintaining social distance during the pandemic. This guide will give staycationers an idea of what’s available within about a two-hour drive.
Route 66: A neon tour
The Mother Road stretches from Chicago to the west coast, and luckily it runs right through Tulsa. Neon has historically been part of the iconic highway, which runs down East 11th Street in midtown until reaching Southwest Boulevard near I-244, so take a mini road trip through Tulsa and see if you can find all the neon signs.
No need to leave town to see entertaining roadside attractions like Buck Atom of Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios, 1347 E. 11th St. The gift shop that celebrates Route 66 recently installed a new neon sign, which is part of a larger trend to bring back neon to the Mother Road. The City of Tulsa and the Route 66 Commission have dedicated grants for business owners looking to join the neon party.
Other signs include the iconic Meadow Gold sign near East 11th Street and South Peoria Avenue, originally installed in the 1930s at 11th Street and Lewis Avenue by the former Meadow Gold Dairy location, according to the Tulsa Foundation of Architecture.
These budget-friendly day trips (or camping trips if you want to stay awhile) are ideal vacation spots with fun for the whole family.
Bluestem Falls, Pawhuska • free
This popular area swimming hole is the spillway for Bluestem Lake. Certain points on the tall boulders surrounding the waterfall serve as diving boards for those brave enough to make the plunge. The lake and water spillway offer fishing and hiking, and there are RV and tent campsites near the lake. A bonus to this spot: Nearby downtown Pawhuska is hopping with shops and restaurants, so after a long day of swimming or fishing, you can enjoy great local food.
Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska • free
Spanning 40,000 acres, this location is the largest protected area of tallgrass prairie in the world. It’s the ideal place to learn about Green Country’s wildlife, including more than 2,100 American bison, more than 210 species of birds, wildflowers, and bluestem grass and switchgrass, which reach 6-8 feet tall in September. The complete drive through the preserve is about 50 miles and takes around two hours with stops. Be sure to stay on the road. Bison can be dangerous.
Osage Hills State Park, Pawhuska • $8/car entry fee
This park is a local hiker’s paradise with winding, rocky and wooded trails through the park’s 1,100 acres. Mountain bike trails are available, as well. The vibrant and abundant foliage make Osage Hills State Park a great place to visit any time of year. The park also includes fishing and camping, with cabins available to rent, and tent and RV sites. The park is one of seven constructed in Oklahoma by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Construction began in 1935, and remnants from the Corps’ stay include concrete and rock foundations from their living quarters and an amphitheater carved into rock along the trail.
Great Salt Plains State Park, Jet • $8/car entry fee
Though the drive is a little farther than the others listed, this site is unlike anything else you’ll see in Oklahoma. In prehistoric times, Oklahoma was covered by a salty ocean. Today only the salt remains, creating vast, barren flats that reflect the sun (seriously, wear sunscreen and sunglasses). The selenite crystal dig area allows visitors to dig for the hourglass-shaped selenite crystals — the only place in the world they can be found. Enjoy hiking and equestrian trials, and look for some of the over 300 species of protected birds in the refuge. RV and tent camping is available, and cabins are available to rent.
Hop in the RV
Camping in a tent in the dead of Oklahoma summer isn’t always a relaxing escape into nature, so why not try an RV? Whether renting or buying, an RV is a great way to beat the heat. Stephanie Pierce, co-owner of Dave’s Claremore RV, has helpful tips for folks new to RVing.
What are a few things beginners should know before making an RV purchase?Budget is important to consider in the early stages. Tow capacity of your truck or SUV is also extremely important if you plan to buy a trailer or fifth wheel. This will determine how large or small you can go with your RV purchase. You also want to think about how many people will be traveling with you … it’s important to have enough beds for everyone.
I also recommend really spending some time inside the RV you’re considering to be sure it’s comfortable and has what is most important to you. Don’t make a decision in the first 30 minutes. It’s kind of like buying a house, you have to decide what features/layouts are things you must have, and be sure all your necessities are met. It’s important to pick a dealer partner that includes a full walk-through demonstration in your purchase. This should take about an hour-and-a-half to two hours if it wis done thoroughly.
Do you need a special driver’s license to drive an RV? No special license; no endorsements at all.
Are there any common rookie mistakes? You can never have enough leveling blocks or water hoses. These items will come in handy as you travel to different places. It’s also a great idea to make a list on your first excursion so you remember what you may want to bring next time. I always recommend a short trip, close to home for your first outing. This gives you the opportunity to gain some confidence, as well as see what you may need for a longer vacation.
Where are your favorite places to take an RV in Oklahoma? Little Sahara in Waynoka; Cookson Bend on Tenkiller Lake, Cookson; Robbers Cave in Wilburton; Spencer Creek Campground on Oologah Lake, Oologah.
Resort life in Tulsa
Escape the grind of everyday life with a weekend trip to one of Tulsa’s lively casino hotels. Each casino features live music and other events, games and special amenities detailed below.
Osage Casino and Hotel
951 W. 36th St. N.
Constructed in 2018, this casino and hotel has 141 rooms. Many rooms face the 120,000-gallon pool, which comfortably serves 240 people with a 15-seat chaise lounge tanning ledge where guests can relax in shallow water. A hot tub and fire pit are located near the pool and the poolside bar. The outdoor pool area includes a 6,000-square-foot exterior hardscape space for outdoor entertainment and views of the Osage Hills. Osage Casino and Hotel Tulsa also has a fully operational brewery, featuring locally brewed beer from Nine Band Brewing Co.
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
777 W. Cherokee St., Catoosa
Known for its knockout shows and adults-only pool, Hard Rock is located on the outskirts of town in Catoosa. A stay in one of the 454 rooms and suites includes a free shuttle service to Tulsa’s Gathering Place. Dining options include upscale eateries like McGill’s on 19 and casual options like Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill. A trip to the Spa at Hard Rock is an option for those needing to wind down. Hotel visitors with the Unlimited Golf Package receive unlimited golf tee time with a cart at neighboring Cherokee Hills Golf Club.
River Spirit Casino
8330 Riverside parkway
This riverfront casino hotel boasts beautiful views and memorable shows, and the tropical theme brings home the staycation experience. The entertainment venue Paradise Cove invites popular rock acts, nationally touring comedians and the brawlers of MMA and boxing — and after the show, visitors can stay in the 27-floor all-glass hotel tower. The 483 rooms and suites include access to the resort pool with cabanas and a beach bar. Dining options include Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Margaritaville, and Landshark Pool Bar and Tiki Bar and Dining, where swimmers don’t have to leave the pool area for a cold beverage.