Looking for a close-by site this summer for a family trip? There’s something interesting right down the road and Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department officials have some recommendations for you.
Hardy Watkins, executive director of the state agency, said: “It’s not really one attraction that drives tourism, but it’s collaboration between all of them and the ability to build a day trip into a longer stay.”
Watkins also noted the state’s zoos, aquarium, Indian cultural events such as the Red Earth Festival and the state park system as popular summer destinations.
Here are the top 10 most popular summer attractions in Oklahoma in no particular order, as reported by the tourism department:
* Route 66
— The longest and most driver-friendly part of what once was one of the most popular highways in America (if not No. 1) cuts through Oklahoma.
Along the route now labeled State Highway 66, you will find the World’s Largest Totem Pole and the Statue of Liberty directing you to the “Little Tin Barn” a lawn ornament shop and flea market.
There also are several museums that capture this route’s iconic history. There is the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, The National Transportation and Route 66 Museum in Elk City and the Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler.
If you get thirsty along the drive, you can always look for the 66-foot high sculpture of a soda bottle and straw near Arcadia. Pops is a diner that features more than 500 varieties of soft drinks.
* Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
— The museum and memorial were designed and dedicated to educate visitors and remember those killed during the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
The Memorial Museum allows visitors to take a self-guided tour by chapters that guide the story of April 19, 1995, and the aftermath of the event that resulted in 168 deaths.
There also is a children’s area and classroom, special exhibit gallery and memorial center for education and outreach.
* Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
— The refuge originally was designed to protect endangered wildlife, which included buffalo, elk, wild turkey, prairie dogs and longhorn cattle.
The mixed grass prairie that grows on the refuge thrives because of the rocks beneath it. The land could not be plowed and today is home to more than 50 species of mammals, 240 bird species, 64 reptile and amphibian species, 36 fish species and 806 species of plants.
— Oklahoma is home to 38 federally recognized tribes and has the third largest Indian population of any state. A majority of these tribes have ventured into tribal gaming that creates revenue for their communities and the state.
Since Oklahoma signed its first tribal gaming compact five years ago, money from 30 of Oklahoma’s gaming tribes have raised nearly twice the amount expected.
Casinos are becoming a destination in their own right and bring in a variety of performers while offering world class lodging. The Choctaw Nation Casino in Durant, has been compared to the finest in Las Vegas and the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville is the fifth largest in the world in terms of machines.