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Things to do in Tahlequah

Posted by Jonathan Milnus on


Situated in the “Lakes Country” of Northeastern Oklahoma in Cherokee County, the City of Tahlequah happens to be Oklahoma’s oldest municipality. It holds the distinction of being the capital of both The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and The Cherokee Nation. Singular in its location, the city is nestled right in the center of the Illinois River Valley.

The city also has Lake Fort Gibson and Lake Tenkiller nearby to provide breathtaking scenery and unique recreation options both for locals and tourists.

The upper 70 miles of the Illinois River is nurtured for its scenic value. It runs through the heart of the breathtaking Oklahoma Ozark Hills noted for their always changing oak-hickory forest for beautiful scenery the entire year. An easy-flowing river, the Upper Illinois River offers spectacular scenery along with several stretches of mild rapids.

Providing an excellent fishing stream, the Upper Illinois River is a source of largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, flathead and channel catfish, as well as a range of other species. Aside from angling, canoeing is also a popular activity on the Upper Illinois River. You can make the most of 70 miles of sometimes challenging but always interesting water. Boats, tubes, and canoes are available for rent at different segments along the river course.

The Lower Illinois River runs below Lake Tenkiller Dam with its clear, cold water. It is a lovely flowing splendid river that has had fishermen coming since 1965 when it was established as the first year-round trout stream in Oklahoma. More and more anglers have found the hard-fighting trout a great fishing prize. Stocking takes place along the 7.7-mile river stretch at four locations.

The most scenic recreational lake in Oklahoma is Tenkiller Ferry Lake, which was created with the building of the Tenkiller Ferry Dam by the US Corp of Engineers. The river derives its name from the local Native American family that operated a ferry service for the Illinois River. The dam was once the country’s tallest at 197 feet high.

Occupying 1,190 acres adjacent to the reservoir, Tenkiller State Park is the first of two state parks situated on the lake. Sitting atop wooded bluffs that overlook the lake, the park offers some amenities for camping, with a swimming pool, rustic cabanas and cabins, hiking trails, a nature center, boat ramps, a floating restaurant and full-service marina as well as a scuba diving park.

Just north of the Highway 82 bridge is Cherokee Landing State Park, which provides a huge campground at the water’s edge, as well as swimming beaches, a handicapped-friendly fishing dock, and boat ramps. A 2600-acre public hunting area is on the west side of the lake.

The best in a four state area, scuba diving at Tenkiller Lake is offered by varied terrain and clear water that entice thousands of divers every year. There are interesting caves and sheer cliff drop-offs interspersed with gradual slopes to create 20 feet of diving excitement for the scuba diver. Choose from fishing, boating, scuba diving and skiing on the beautiful blue waters of Tenkiller Lake.


Offering the best birdwatching in Oklahoma, the lake area allows the birder to observe over 250 species of birds year round. During the winter, the Bald Eagle makes its home in various areas including Carlisle Grove as well as the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge close by. Each fall, as many as 85,000 Snow Geese can be observed as they make their way to their winter home at the refuge.

If you are up for a bit of history, why not go on a trip along the Tahlequah History Trail? The stops include Rosamund House, Franklin Castle, Seminary Hall, Norris Park, Bailey Falls, and some others that will open your eyes to the plight of the Indians.