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    South Central,

    Oklahoma

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    South Central Oklahoma is an amorphous region in the state of Oklahoma, perhaps encompassing 10 counties. It is centered on the Arbuckle Mountains, an ancient, eroded range traversing some 70 miles (110 km) across the region, and surrounded by rivers and lakes, notably Lake Texoma, Lake Murray and Lake of the Arbuckles. For tourism purposes, the Oklahoma Department of Tourism has more narrowly defined South Central Oklahoma, which they refer to as Chickasaw Country, as being a seven-county region including Pontotoc, Johnston, Marshall, Garvin, Murray, Carter, and Love counties. A ten-county definition might also include Coal, Atoka, and Bryan counties, although the Department of Tourism includes those in Choctaw Country. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma covers the eastern third of the region. Its headquarters is in Durant, and its capitol building, now a museum, is in Tuskahoma. The Chickasaw Nation lies within the region, with the tribal capitol building located at Tishomingo and its headquarters in Ada. The Chickasaw Nation, which runs "Chickasawcountry.com"., promotes the idea of Chickasaw Country as the 13 south-central Oklahoma counties that comprise the Chickasaw Nation, being the Tourism Department’s seven counties plus Coal, Bryan, Jefferson, Stephens, Grady, and McClain counties.The region, also known by its former Oklahoma Department of Tourism designation, Arbuckle Country or Lake and Trail Country, has three distinct centers of commerce and culture, Ardmore, Ada and Durant, though it retains a largely rural nature, and is populated with many small towns and ranches. It also contains a large portion of the Cross Timbers region, transitioning from a heavily wooded area (with native oaks, elms and other eastern varieties) to a rolling savanna in the west, occasionally broken by cedar and mesquite trees. In addition to abundant water resources latent in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, the region has some of the highest oil and gas production in the state, with Carter County seated as the largest producer in the state.
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    The short daylight hours and cold temperature invite us to stay indoors but venturing out to a National Park in the midst of winter has its own benefits—less people. The swarming crowds of summer are gone, offering a chance to see these splendid parks at your leisure and appreciate the landscape, often blanketed in snow. There are plenty of winter activities inviting you to enjoy the snow, such as hiking, tubing, sledding or cross-country skiing. Visiting in winter requires being extra prepared with proper hiking shoes and adequate clothing for freezing or below zero temperatures so make sure to pack your gloves, scarves, ear muffs and rain gear. Big Bend National, Texas Big Bend National Park, located in the western region of Texas and bordering Mexico, encompasses part of the Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande. The park was created in 1944 and there are fossils dating over 130 million years ago that highlight the expansive geological diversity. The Chiso Mountains are a special part of this park because the entire mountain range—spanning 40 square miles—is within the confines of the park and formed from volcanic activity in the Eocene epoch. Snow isn’t common in the winter and day time temperatures are often in the 70’s, making it great weather for hiking. Though be prepared for near or below zero weather as the cold sets in as soon as the sun goes down. Hop in the car and enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that leads to Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500-foot vertical chasm made of limestone and is along the border between Mexico and Texas. Stop frequently on this 30 mile road, where there are plenty of overlooks and monuments or turn off and hike on one of the many well-marked trails. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Bryce Canyon is magical in winter with layers of snow set against the red rock hoodoos and spires. Located in south central Utah and established as a park in 1923, ponderosa pines and fir-spruce forests thrive along with plenty of wildlife in this amphitheater shape of plateaus and meadows. The park has 56 square miles to explore. Some roads, including Fairyland Road and Paria View Road are left unplowed where you can traverse the expansive snow with snowshoes or cross-country skis. Sections of the Rim Trail are open as well where you can enjoy the vistas of the Main Amphitheater and the Bristlecone Loop Trail. You can also opt for sledding above the rim, one of the few areas where this is possible. If you want a break from the snow, hop in your warm car and stop along at some of the main vista points to take in the views. Bryce Canyon in winter. Credit: Mike Nielsen, Flickr creative commons Glacier National Park, Montana Glacier National Park, created in 1910, has over a million acres with an ecosystem that has been protected and mostly undisturbed. Snow blankets the mountain peaks and glaciers and the coniferous forest of larch, firs and spruce trees serve as a backdrop for Lake McDonald. Mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, beavers, nine species of bats, as well as Grizzly Bears are just some of the 71 different types of mammals that live in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the highlights—spanning 50 miles with challenging, hairpin curves. This is the only road that crosses the park and passes through the Continental Divide, though during the snow filled months only certain parts of the road are accessible. Upper Lake McDonald is a popular snow area where you can ski up to McDonald Falls or Sacred Dancing Cascade. Visit Marias Pass, known by the locals as the “summit,” where skiing and snow activities are often ideal. There are plenty of routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoe fans who want to experience the solitude in this vast oasis. Olympic National Park, Washington Covering almost a million acres and spanning from sandy beaches to mountain peaks to lush fir and cedar tree rainforests, the geography of this park is unique. Created in 1938, it is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as an International Biosphere Reserve. In the colder months, Olympic National Park is beautifully draped in snow with a myriad of activities to partake in. Hurricane Ridge is a haven for snow lovers, offering downhill skiing and snowboarding and an area for tubing and sledding or just playing in the snow. There are several trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who prefer to head into the backcountry or connect with nature as they traverse the white powdery snow. There are frequent storms on the Pacific coast in winter so being attentive to weather conditions is fundamental. Between bouts of harsh weather, low tide is an optimal moment to take a stroll along the sandy beach. Visit the Hoh rainforest in the north of the park where you can surround yourself among a variety of trees, including Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Douglas Fir or go towards the southwestern area of the park and hike in the Quinault rainforest with a distinct geography of alpine meadows, lakes and peaks carved by ice. Because of the geography of this park, the weather can change at a moment’s notice so keep this in mind when planning your trip and once you arrive with your day to day plans. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park. Credit: Steve FUNG, Flickr creative commons Yosemite National Park, California Waterfalls, meadows and the granite wall of half dome makes Yosemite famous. The park was first protected in 1864 and became part of the National park service in 1890. The beauty of visiting in the colder months is experiencing this 1,200 square mile park when crowds have dissipated, offering plenty of solitude.Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible year-round by car but many roads close due to the snowy terrain, making traversing by foot one of the best ways to enjoy the park. Many trails are open with various options from easy and low-key hikes to more challenging ones where you can navigate through coniferous forests filled with ponderosa and sugar pine, incense cedar, white and Douglas fir trees or stare up at Giant Sequoias. Yosemite in Winter. Credit: Yūgen, Flickr Creative Commons Temperatures can be mild during the day, although freezing temperatures and snow are common. If you time your visit when there is snowfall, typically between December- March, winter wonderland options abound from sledding, tubing, snowshoeing or snowboarding and skiing down the oldest slope in California on Badger Pass. Curious about snowshoeing? Take a ranger-led snowshoe walk where you’ll be in a good company while you learn about the sights, although be prepared for sore muscles afterwards because it’s more challenging than it appears. Disclaimer: Make sure to check the park website to ensure the activities and areas of the park you wish to visit are open and accessible. Some roads and park areas have been closed due to Covid and/or to inclement weather. Please also respect measures to prevent the spread of Covid, including passing through towns en route to your destination.

    Inspiration

    Locals Know Best: Tennessee's Small Towns

    America is summed up by many things: Baseball, mom and apple pie; stars and stripes; rock and roll; and, of course, the countless brands of food and drink that started ages ago and are familiar now as they were then. (Think: Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, and so on.) Not least among them is Jack Daniel’s, the now iconic Tennessee whiskey that was founded in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in the south-central part of the state, in 1875. The distillery and the live old-timey, down-to-earth vibe of Lynchburg have made the town a celebrated tourist attraction, but if you’re among the 275,000 or so people who head there annually, it’s worth tacking on an extra day or two to explore the surrounding area. We caught up with Jeff Arnett, master distiller at Jack Daniel’s, who tipped us off on what to see, eat and do in the area's various small towns, each its own unique portrait of America.      TULLAHOMA IS FOR FOODIES Thirteen miles northeast of Lynchburg, Tullahoma sits adjacent to Arnold Air Force Base, home to the world’s largest wind tunnel where most US military aircrafts are tested. But the area’s military history is even more intriguing, as it was the site of Camp Forest, where German and Italian POWs were taken during World War II; General Patton trained troops on the grounds between here and Lynchburg. Against that historic backdrop today is a rejuvenated downtown, home to restaurants, like One 22 West, which is located in a former department store. It’s been serving locally minded classic American fare since 1997. The lively bar puts a premium on local beer and spirits, so you better believe that means plenty of Jack Daniel’s to go around. Another spot Jeff recommends for good eats is Emil's Bistro, a longstanding cottage-style restaurant with a long oak bar for classy yet casual meals. It's right next door to the Grand Lux, a homey inn in a refurbished old house, which comes highly recommended by Arnett if you're looking to spend the night in the area.   And if you’re a nature lover, then stay you should. Tullahoma’s Rutledge Falls, a tucked-away 40-foot waterfall is a destination for hikes, nature walks and swimming. Short Springs, a mere three miles northeast from Tullahoma, is a 420-acre landscape where the vibrant wildflower blossoms are said to be the best in the state. Its biodiversity is mind-boggling (think: springs, waterfalls, forest, ravines.) There are the natural wonders that are easy to find, like Machine Falls, which has a 60-foot cascade, as well as the hidden gems that Jeff is partial to, like various pop-up springs. But perhaps the town is most widely known by aviation enthusiasts who make pilgrimages here to see the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, which boasts an unparalleled collection of vintage aircrafts and aviation curios. Jeff notes that once a year, people who own staggerwings, those quaint, if rickety-looking planes that ruled the skies in the 1930s, fly to Tullahoma from all over the U.S. for a competition, of sorts. "It’s truly amazing how many people get into it," he says.  SHELBYVILLE IS FOR EQUESTRIANS  Louisville has the Derby, Boston has its marathon, and Park City has the Sundance Film Festival, but Shelbyville, about 70 miles south of Nashville and 16 miles north of Lynchburg, becomes a destination every August for a very particular kind of equestrian showcase. Once known as the Pencil City for its role in pencil manufacturing, today it’s the Walking Horse Capital of the World and hosts the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration each August. The event is an opportunity to witness horses move like they’re up on their back legs, shunning the laws of nature and physics. As they kick and flail their front legs, the rider manages to look like he’s hardly moving. “It’s like they’re on a magic carpet,” Jeff explains. “The horse puts on quite a show.”   FAYETTEVILLE IS FOR TIME TRAVELERS Fifteen miles west of Shelbyville is Fayettville, the county seat of Lincoln county, which means it boasts a beautiful old courthouse square, complete with official Main Street District designation and an historic theater. Going into the Lincoln Theater “is like going back in time,” Jeff says, even though they play the latest film releases. Much of the décor, like the lush velvet curtains, are kept in good repair. While you’re in a vintage frame of mind, you can swing by one of the several antique stores in the area or at the Antique Mall that's located on the Square. The sprawling emporium, located in an historic building, features furniture, art, jewelry, home goods, It’s not all time capsules, though. The old town jail has been transformed into a homey restaurant called Cahoots, which dishes out familiar pub grub. There’s also Honey’s, a country diner-style joint, complete with a counter overlooking the stoves, that Jeff is partial to. He advises—rather, insists—on ordering the slaw burger, which involves a mustard- and vinegar-heavy slaw. “Everyone always argues that they make the best barbecue. In Tennessee, it’s mostly pulled pork and it’s known to have vinegar-based sauces. This burger concoction morphed from the slaw that people were putting on pulled pork,” he explains. “So catch a movie, shop for antiques, and grab a burger and I’d say you made a good day of Fayetteville.”  WINCHESTER HAS OLD-WORLD CHARM Winchester, which 20 miles southeast of Lynchburg, is also a county seat, so, like Fayetteville, it boasts a lovely court square. Businesses around the square have a distinctly old-world charm, The Oldham Theatre, which first opened in 1950, plays new releases in a vintage setting; John T’s BBQ is a barbecue restaurant retrofitted into an old furniture store with brick walls and wood panel walls. The eatery’s own furniture, like tables with receipts from the old shop displayed under glass, pays homage to that past. But at its core, Winchester is a quaint lakeside town with lots of enticements for outdoorsy types. (Trout fishing, anyone?) Arnett has a lake house here, so he’s well acquainted to its many virtues, the crystal-clear water of the rocky-bottom Tims Ford Lake not least among them. Part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, it’s a 20 to 25-mile ride from one end to the other and its many channels lend themselves to lots of exploration in any number of kinda of boats. (Rent one at one of the three marinas.) The town claims one of the more unusually situated restaurants in the region: To reach Bluegrill Grill requires walking across the single gangway that connects it to land. Makes sense, then, that many approach by boat. Its hours are seasonal. Back on land you find a state park with 20 modern cabins and Bear Trace, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

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    DESTINATION IN Oklahoma

    Northeast

    Oklahoma City ( (listen)), officially the City of Oklahoma City, and often shortened to OKC, is the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The county seat of Oklahoma County, it ranks 22nd among United States cities in population, and is the 11th largest city in the Southern United States. The population grew following the 2010 census and reached 681,054 in the 2020 census. The Oklahoma City metropolitan area had a population of 1,396,445, and the Oklahoma City–Shawnee Combined Statistical Area had a population of 1,469,124, making it Oklahoma's largest municipality and metropolitan area by population. Oklahoma City's city limits extend somewhat into Canadian, Cleveland, and Pottawatomie counties, though much of those areas outside the core Oklahoma County area are suburban tracts or protected rural zones (watershed). The city is the eighth-largest in the United States by area including consolidated city-counties; it is the second-largest, after Houston, not including consolidated cities. The city is also the second largest by area among state capital cities in the United States, after Juneau, Alaska. Oklahoma City has one of the world's largest livestock markets. Oil, natural gas, petroleum products and related industries are its economy's largest sector. The city is in the middle of an active oil field and oil derricks dot the capitol grounds. The federal government employs a large number of workers at Tinker Air Force Base and the United States Department of Transportation's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (which house offices of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department's Enterprise Service Center, respectively). Oklahoma City is on the I-35 Corridor, one of the primary travel corridors south into neighboring Texas and Mexico and north towards Wichita and Kansas City. Located in the state's Frontier Country region, the city's northeast section lies in an ecological region known as the Cross Timbers. The city was founded during the Land Run of 1889 and grew to a population of over 10,000 within hours of its founding. It was the scene of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in which 168 people died, the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history until the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. Since weather records have been kept, Oklahoma City has been struck by 13 violent tornadoes, 11 of which were rated F4 or EF4 on the Fujita and Enhanced Fujita scales, and two F5 or EF5.