Family Travel in Oklahoma
These quick trips will make an impact.
You may not have a spring break plan yet and wonder what to do with the kids for a solid week. I asked Barbara McCrary, Eisenhower International School librarian and seasoned family traveler, for some advice about day trips or overnighters that are easy on the pocketbook and don’t require too much advance planning.
McCrary orchestrated Oklahoma “sweet spot“ trips (not normally on most radar screens), taking her children to all corners of the state (and beyond—-but we’ll save those ideas for later). Not only does she have some out-of-the-ordinary suggestions for places to go, she offered up some insights regarding the hows and whys of travel along with her last-minute suggestions.
TK: Tell me a little bit about your background? Have you always had the travel bug?
McCrary: My father was a history professor in Stillwater so we traveled three weeks every summer. My parents broke the U.S. into sections and we’d hit a different one each summer. When I graduated high school, I had already visited 48 states, then going to Europe as a “capstone” event. We weren’t wealthy, but travel was a priority. I passed that passion along to my children.
TK: How old were your kids when you introduced them to travel?
McCrary: I have two sons and one daughter. From the time they were in preschool, we looked for places to take the children. After seeing a lot of Oklahoma, we followed my parents’ pattern and took the kids to different U.S. regions and, finally, to Europe.
TK: Do you have a favorite place to visit in Oklahoma and why?
McCrary: I have so many favorite spots, it is difficult to pick just one. Like my children, there are things I love about each! A future goal is to drive the entire length of Route 66 across Oklahoma with guidebook in hand, stopping in small towns and eating in interesting restaurants all along the way.
TK: From your experience with your own children, what are some of your favorite places within driving distance from Tulsa?
McCrary: Our favorite trip was to western Oklahoma. We visited the Sod House Museum near Aline (this will make kids appreciate Oklahoma pioneers), stayed in the Heritage Manor Bed and Breakfast nearby (a fascinating place), visited Little Sahara State Park (dune buggies), dug for crystals at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge and finally cooled off in the Alabaster Caverns. This is a must-do trip with school-age children.
Route 66 is special to Oklahoma heritage and there are lots of interesting things for families along its path. Some kid-friendly spots include Catoosa’s Blue Whale, a 90-foot tall folk-art totem made of concrete located near Foyle (4 miles east of Route 66), the Round Barn (in Arcadia) and Pops. The Rock Café in Stroud makes a nice stop. (Watch Disney’s Cars before you go!)
The Oklahoma Historical Society site provides wonderful educational opportunities.
Get a family membership because it affords free admission to lots of museums and provides a newsletter that lists special events often of interest to families.
Woolaroc Museum is a favorite spot as well. The shrunken heads are a part of my childhood memories and are now a part of my children’s. We looked for special child-friendly weekends with live enactors to add to the joys of seeing the animals and the museum. Pair Woolaroc with the Price Tower in Bartlesville (not for the toddler set) and the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve and you’ll have a memorable weekend.
And, remember that Tulsa itself offers a variety of fun (and free) mini-trips! We loved getting up close with the Golden Driller’s giant boots, visiting downtown’s underground tunnels, listening for echoes at the Center of the Universe, and admiring the Council Oak Tree.
TK: Do you have any pre-travel suggestions for families?
McCrary: One thing I think is vital to traveling with children is to prepare them. Locate information in guidebooks or online about what a specific destination has to offer. Visit a variety of places—natural sites, historical locations and man-made curiosities or icons. For school age children, read a fiction or nonfiction book about an event or location before you visit. For instance, read Where the Red Fern Grows (be prepared to cry!) before visiting a statue to that book in Tahlequah or Rifles for Watie before visiting some of the Civil War sites in that area.
TK: As an educator, what about travel do you think is most valuable to children?
McCrary: Travel with children broadens their world in so many ways. History comes alive when a child visits Fort Gibson or other historical sites. Vocabulary increases and an appreciation for nature grows as children travel. Most importantly, I think that travel makes children think about a bigger world. As they meet new people, eat new food and see new places, they gain an appreciation not only for the familiar, but also for the unfamiliar.