Situated in Eastern Oklahoma at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Tahlequah, Oklahoma is a prime place to visit during the fall. Leafers will enjoy driving the numerous scenic roads and byways, hiking through colorful wooded areas, and taking a stroll through the historic downtown while the leaves change. Read more for some of our favorite locations to view fall color in and around Tahlequah.
J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve
A few miles east of Tahlequah is 17,000 acres of protected wilderness area managed by The Nature Conservancy. The Nickel Preserve is the largest privately protected wilderness area in the Ozarks and is home to hiking trails, beautiful backroads, and sweeping views. Keep your eyes open and your voices down as you have a great chance to spot deer, black bear, small mammals and even elk.
Take a Hike on the Savanna, Pine Ridge, and Wetlands Trails
There are three self-guided nature trails at the preserve and each is less than two miles long. The Savanna Trail begins at the headquarters and is 1.5 miles in length. The trail is easy-moderate and explores varying layers of pine forest, grasslands, and lowland forest. The Pine Ridge Trail also begins at the headquarters and is 1.5 miles in length. The trail leads you over, you guessed it, a ridge of pine trees. The views and scenery and excellent and the path is well-maintained. Midway along the county road that bisects the nature preserve is the trailhead to the Wetlands Trail. The Wetlands Trail is 1/2-mile in distance and circles a pond and wetland area.
As the Nature Preserve is located in Oklahoma, ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers are a real concern during the summer months-wear tall socks and bring plenty of bug spray. Temperatures in the summer can reach 100°F or higher with extreme humidity, so pack plenty of water and sunscreen if you plan to visit during the summer.
Drive a Loop Around the Preserve
The drive around and through the Nickel Preserve is the ultimate off-highway driving route in Northeastern Oklahoma. A short drive from the center of Tahlequah, the Nature Preserve is surrounded by gravel county roads that ebb and flow through beautiful pine forests, wild grasslands, and oak shrubs.
Expect to spend 2-3 hours driving around and through the nature preserve. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy some peace and quiet at the Headquarters or at one of the trailheads. Leaving Tahlequah to the East on Highway 62, turn North on North Oakdale Road, turn right onto Pumpkin Holler Rd. and the Nickel Preserve Headquarters will be on your left.
Headquarters GPS Coordinates: 36.034162, -94.808303
Google Maps Link
JT Nickel Preserve Website
The city of Tahlequah has been around since before the American Civil War and the history of the town is evident in the shops, restaurants and historic sites located in town.
Take a Stroll on the Tahlequah History Trail
The Tahlequah History Trail has been around since the early 1990's but has recently received a facelift. The trail is over two miles long beginning at the Community Garden on Smith Street, west of Northeastern State University. The trail meanders past the university, through the heart of downtown and along Town Branch Creek to its terminus at the 4th Street bridge.
The original trail has many maps and historic markers along the original two mile track that ends at Keetoowah Street. Beyond that point is a fresh trail with LED lighting, dog waste bag stations, trash cans, and pedestrian road crossings.
A variety of different trees are scattered along the trail and the scenic Town Branch Creek creates a great scene for photographs or a picnic lunch.
Visit one of the Oldest College Campuses West of the Mississippi River
Northeastern State University, previously the Cherokee Female Seminary, is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning West of the Mississippi and the oldest in the state of Oklahoma. With a student population of around 7,500 students, the NSU campus is a fantastic for students looking for a small-town college experience with highly regarded programs in fields such as Optometry, Education, and Criminal Justice.
Take a stroll through the labyrinth of winding sidewalks in and out of historic building such as the Optometry Building, Wilson Hall, Haskell Hall, and the crowning jewel of campus, Seminary Hall. The campus is inundated with massive old-growth trees of many different varieties creating dramatic scenes as leaves begin to fall.
Visit Shops and Restaurants along Muskogee Avenue
In the heart of Downtown Tahlequah runs Muskogee Avenue, a street with as many beautiful trees as it has delicious eateries and adorable shops and boutiques. With sidewalks and pedestrians crossings at nearly every intersection, visitors can walk the entire downtown without the need to find a different place to park. Do you anticipate getting a little winded during your walk? Take a break at one of the many downtown benches to soak in the sites and sounds of main-street.
Looking for a quick cup of coffee or a delicious waffle breakfast?
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Scenic Illinois River
One of the most popular summer destinations in Northeast Oklahoma is the Illinois River, but most visitors don't know that the best time to beat the crowds on the Illinois River is the Fall. As leaves begin to change and temperatures drop, crowds of commercial floaters disappear and solitude is found around nearly every bend, around each camp fire, and along the less traveled roads along the river.
Paddle or Float the Illinois River in the Fall
After Labor Day, most float operations slow down their commercial float operations to a "weekend only" status until around the end of October. This drastic reduction in traffic on the river means that most stretches are clear of people, resulting in quiet and tranquil floats and paddles.
Visit our Paddling Page for information about public access locations and contact information for float operations that will shuttle boats in the offseason.
Drive Scenic Highway 10
Meandering along the shores of the Illinois River is one of the most beautiful roads in all of the Ozarks, State Highway 10. Recently listed by TravelOK as one the Best Bets for Fall Foliage, Highway 10 offers beautiful views of the Illinois River and the bluffs that surround the river valley as well as opportunities to pull over and enjoy a picnic at one of the many Illinois River Public Access points.
It is approximately 30 miles from Tahlequah to Kansas, OK via Scenic Highway 10 and the highway continues along the shores of Eucha Lake and Grand Lake North of State Highway 412.
With over 130-miles of shoreline nestled in the Cookson Hills of Northeast Oklahoma, Tenkiller Ferry Lake or simply "Lake Tenkiller" is a beautiful lake known for it's glassy water and jagged bluffs.
Take a Hike on the Lake Tenkiller Overlook Trail
On the south side of Lake Tenkiller is a 2.2 mile out and back hike that has plenty of tree cover to make hiking during the fall season sheer bliss. With a very mellow elevation profile, this trail is easy to hike and should only take a couple of hours to hike out and back.
For details on this hike and many other hikes in the Tahlequah check out our Hiking page!
Boat to the Bluffs near Burnt Cabin Marina
Around the bend from Burnt Cabin Marina is a set of red-rock bluffs that make the perfect backdrop for a weekend cruise on the lake. Tenkiller is known for the beautiful forests that span along the rolling Cookson Hills.
Grab lunch at Burnt Cabin or pack a lunch to be enjoyed under the towering bluffs along the water of Lake Tenkiller.