Some might say East Oklahoma is where the West begins. Bordered by Arkansas to the east, it is here that wooded hills turn to rolling prairies, where the birthplace of Will Rogers enshrined a cowboy culture and what was originally called Indian Territory before statehood gave way to oil barons. The National Historic Trail of Tears can be witnessed in Tahlequah at the Cherokee Heritage Center and the oil boom that followed has its heart in Bartlesville, which is home to the region’s first oil well as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper. From archeological sites to prairie preserves and bison, the area east of Tulsa and Oklahoma City hints of the West to come. Even the iconic Route 66 passes through both Claremore and Chandler, the latter of which hosts an interpretive center dedicated to the historic highway.
Before the prairie begins, however, East Oklahoma shows its Southern roots. Muskogee’s festivals, Checotah’s Civil War battle site, stately homes and the Ozark Mountains remind visitors that the South is close by. The whole region is also known for its fair share of lakes, rivers and state parks. In fact, over a million acres of wilderness mean it is a favorite destination for weekend getaways, fishing, hiking and hunting. Eufaula Lake and Broken Bow Lake both feature hundreds of miles of shoreline, canoe rentals and sandy beaches, and the Talimena Scenic Drive is a National Scenic Byway that is particularly popular during the fall foliage season.