Hiking and Biking Code of Conduct
Hiking and Biking Code of Conduct

Hiking and Biking Code of Conduct

Hiking and biking is a favorite activity for many, and in Choctaw Country there are waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and stunning views. We’ve put together five simple Do’s and Don’t’s to help make your experience in Choctaw Country one to remember.

DO

  • Wear Waterproof/Breathable Materials: Meaning, materials that will block rain and wind, but will also let you sweat. Nylon or polyester are two materials used mainly for lightweight and ultra-light rain clothing. Suitable for intensive outdoor activities such as hiking and biking.

DON’T

  • Disturb the Natural Surroundings: As the saying goes, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footsteps.” Taking home mementos can destroy the natural habitat for the animals and plants in Choctaw Country and ruin the enjoyment for generations to come. Instead, bring a camera and share your memories and photos with us using hashtag #ChoctawCountry to be featured on our social pages.

trail biking

DO

  • Bring Essentials: Whether you’re hiking or biking you need to feel secure when on rough ground. Your shoes should fit snug, but not tight and offer room to wiggle your toes. In addition, bring along these basic essentials: compass, insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses and a small first aid kit.

DON’T

  • Hog the Trail: Most trails are multi-use. Alert other riders and hikers as you approach, especially if you’re approaching from behind. If you need to pass, slow down, ring a bell or verbally announce yourself. Use extra caution when around horses and be aware when riding/hiking trails have poor sight lines and blind corners.

hiking

DO

  • Pick a Suitable Trail: Choctaw Country offers a vast variety of trails that range from easy to strenuous. Most of our trails are very scenic with streams, waterfalls and wildlife around every corner, so you won’t miss a thing regardless of the trail. Click here for some of the best trails to step back into nature and recharge your mind, soul and spirit.

Whether you prefer a short walk or a multi-mile-long rugged hike or bike, the trails of Choctaw Country offer breathtaking views for everyone. Hurry up and slow down, and enjoy one of several Choctaw Country trails where you can get “lost” in the best way.

Explore the Great Outdoors

Explore the Great Outdoors

By Christian Toews
From the May 2021 Biskinik

The weather is warming up, spring is in the air and there is no better time to enjoy the roads and trails around Choctaw Country.

The popularity of outdoor recreation has increased dramatically over the last year. COVID-19 had many adverse effects on our culture, but one of the positives is that many people have begun to take their health more seriously. Many people have picked up outdoor exercise such as cycling and hiking, with gyms closing or limiting access.

According to a New York Times article, the rise in bicycle sales, along with the pandemic, has led to a global shortage of bikes. Many customers are still waiting on bikes they ordered last year.

Thankfully, hiking shoes are plentiful, and bikes have recently become easier to find. While not everything will return to normal, hopefully, many of our good habits will remain.

Cycling or hiking in Choctaw Country is an excellent option for outdoor activities that are fun for the whole family.

Hiking can be a great way to get or stay in shape.

One of the best spots for hiking in southeast Oklahoma is the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. Located along Oklahoma Hwy. 1 or the Talimena Scenic Drive, this recreation area offers camping, cabins, fishing, horse riding, hunting, picnicking, and hiking.

The Oklahoma portion of the Ouachita trail begins here, and many distance options are available from Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. The Ouachita Trail is a 226.3-mile trail that extends from Talihina, Oklahoma, to near Little Rock, Arkansas.

The trail has smaller sections for people who don’t want to hike the entire route. A few loops connect to adjacent fire roads and trails that will lead you back to the trailhead at Winding Stair. A good resource for locating and looking at these trails is www.alltrails.com.

Dusty Hill, a trail runner and hiker from Texas, says his favorite part of the Ouachita trail is the views along the way.

Hill said he would recommend the trail to any level of hiker.

“It’s not terribly difficult, though there are some long climbs and some technical areas as far as running the trail. Just bring plenty of water or a way to purify water,” said Hill.

A good pair of trainers will work for this hike, but many people prefer hiking boots. Be sure to bring tick repellent and dress for the conditions if you plan to hike in this area.

The Talihina area also has some of the area’s best roads for cycling. Cyclists come from all over the country to ride near Talihina because of the challenging elevation and incredible views.

Benjamin Benson, a Choctaw tribal member and cyclist, says he would recommend the area to any cyclist who wants a challenge.

“There are not too many big climbs around Oklahoma, so it’s a good place to visit. Plus, the roads through there (the Talimena Drive) are quite smooth,” said Benson.

He said that he loves the challenge and the scenery of riding in the Talihina area.

“When you climb to the top of one of the climbs and just stop and look. Kind of makes all the suffering worth it,” he said.

Many cyclists choose to ride part of the Talimena scenic drive for the views, but there are also excellent paved and gravel roads around the area to enjoy.

A great resource for discovering routes around this area is the “heatmap” from Strava.com. This tool allows you to see where people ride and helps you plan a cycling route of your own. You can find this tool at www.strava.com/heatmap.

Beavers Bend State Park and the adjacent Hochatown State Park are also popular cycling and hiking locations in Choctaw Country.

This area has a lot to offer. You can hike trails, ride mountain bikes, enjoy road cycling and even ride gravel roads on your gravel bike. Whatever type of cycling or hiking you’re into, this area has you covered.

Don’t have a bike? Not a problem when you visit Hochatown. Sabra Blankenship is the owner of Flawless Wellness Spa, which offers mountain bike rentals.

According to Blankenship, her 16-year-old son, Kylen Myers, used his savings to purchase 16 mountain bikes and launched a mountain bike rental business last year. Kylen takes care of all the maintenance on the bikes himself.

“We started this business because we want people to be able to take care of themselves and stay active. We strive to help people reach the goal of wellness,” she said.

They now have adult and children’s bikes available for rent.

Blankenship said that business has steadily increased, and they hope to purchase more bikes soon to serve even more customers.

You can find more information about the spa and mountain bike rentals at flawlesswellnessspa.com.

The hiking in Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding areas will not disappoint.

There are multiple trail options for every level of hiker. One of the most popular hikes is called the “Skyline Trail” that begins inside Beavers Bend State Park. Nearly eight miles long, this trail has challenging terrain and incredible views. You can find all of the trails in this area at www.alltrails.com.

If you want to get out and do some new roads or trails on a bike, or if you’re going to take a family hike, Choctaw Country has an option for you.

Beaver's Bend Brewery

Pints and Plates

Is there anything better than achieving that perfect balance of your favorite beverage with a great snack or meal? Our palates can identify five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory.

Here in Choctaw Country, you can dabble in all the tastes and be able to make great choices no matter what’s on your plate or in your glass!

Vojai’s Winery – Broken Bow, OK
Get uncorked at Vojai’s Winery and enjoy the fruity flavors of their signature Rainmaker wine. We all know wine and cheese pairings are ageless companions. But remember, the wine should always be sweeter than the food. A few great choices to go with xx wine is pepper jack, Brie and Muenster. Add some smoked prosciutto, nuts, crackers or sliced bread and you’ve got yourself the ultimate charcuterie board!

Beaver’s Bend Brewery – Broken Bow, OK
There’s nothing better than a cold beer and hot dog. The Blond Beaver Ale is a light blonde ale with a touch of hops that separate it from traditional American lagers and ales. The sweet maltiness and low caramel notes work well with the fatty richness of a hot dog.

Be sure to check out Beaver’s Bend Brewery’s other delicious brews at several area restaurants throughout McCurtain County. Plus, taproom guests can purchase refillable growlers and bottles to share with friends and family!

Hochatown Distilling Company

Hochatown Distilling Co. – Hochatown, OK
As summer approaches, bourbon and barbecue can be an essential part to any backyard summer experience. Hochatown Distilling Company Single Barrel Straight Bourbon contains the familiar blend of caramel, vanilla, oak and roasted almond notes layered on sweet aromatics with a nice rye spice finish for a one-of-a kind flavor. This makes it the perfect pairing partner for smoky and fatty meats. As for barbecue, you can pretty much smoke or grill favorites ranging from brisket, ribs or pulled pork.

Whether you’re into breweries, wineries or distilleries, tap into all the flavors Choctaw Country has to offer! Hurry up and slow down, it’s always 5’o clock somewhere.

Hochatown Distilling Company

Craft Beverages

By Christian Toews
From the April 2021 Biskinik

Spring is a great time to enjoy some of Oklahoma’s craft beer, wineries or distilleries. This industry has been steadily growing across Oklahoma, and Choctaw Country is no exception. In 2018 Oklahoma modernized its alcohol laws allowing craft beer to become more of a staple. These changes also lifted some restrictions on wineries and distilleries.

Let’s begin by looking at craft beer. If you are near Durant, Oklahoma, you are in luck. There is a brewery just a few minutes north that is hopping. Pun intended.

Drew Harbin is the Harbinger Beer Company owner. He and his wife Kayla had the dream of opening a brewery for years, he said. They finally made that dream a reality when they purchased a building in downtown Caddo in 2017. They completely renovated the space, adding an 1800 square feet brewery and taproom, according to Harbin.

He said that he wants the brewery to help revive the downtown area.

“It’s been really cool to see downtown Caddo come alive again. I’m really glad we can be a part of the revitalization,” Harbin said.

According to Harbin, another goal is to tie in some of the area’s history to the brewery. He said that they named several of their beers after features and the history of the local area.

Harbinger Beer Company
Photo by Christian Toews
Drew Harbin enjoys one of his craft beers inside Harbinger Beer Company. Drew founded the brewery with his wife Kayla in 2017.

Drew said that when you come to the brewery, you get a very personal experience.

Drew and Kayla run the brewery themselves. This allows you to hear about the process of creating specific beers and learn what goes into brewing great beer.

You can find the hours, upcoming events, and more on their website at harbingerbeer.com or their Facebook page.

Drew said he recently began a podcast called “Behind the Brewhouse” if you want to get to know more about Drew.

Harbin says, between bringing food trucks to the brewery and live music, there is always something going on at Harbinger Beer Company.

If you travel to the Southeastern side of the Choctaw Nation, you will find tall pine trees, mountains and rivers. Nestled in this beautiful scenery is Hochatown, Oklahoma.

This town sits at the entrance to one of Oklahoma’s most beautiful attractions, Beavers Bend State Park. Hochatown is home to Hochatown Distilling Company, currently the only distillery in the Choctaw Nation, according to Hichell McDaniel.

McDaniel is one of Hochatown Distilling Company’s four owners, and says the distillery opened six years ago.

McDaniel says that because bourbon can take years to age, many new distilleries will purchase bourbon from another distillery and put their label on it. This allows the distillery to begin making a profit right away. However, Hochatown Distilling Company chose to not release any product until they felt like their bourbon was ready.

McDaniel said they were fortunate enough to have other businesses to help offset the cost while they perfected their bourbon. He noted that all of the bourbons they release now are about three and a half years old.

McDaniel noted the difference between a large distillery and a small distillery, saying that you can enjoy a more personal experience at a small distillery.

“We spend quite a bit of time with folks. We show them all the equipment and talk about the process. We give them an understanding of what’s happening and then do a sampling toward the end. People seem to enjoy that very much. That more personalized touch just makes for a better experience,” he explained.

McDaniel said that it could be challenging to get bourbon distributed in Oklahoma, but they feel that they are now getting recognized for their hard work.

“Six years in and we feel pretty good about where we are,” McDaniel said. “It took us a while to while for us to get distributors to pay attention to us because we didn’t have a route to sell our product.”

Their bourbon is now sold in many places across Oklahoma. Including the 1832 Steakhouse located inside the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma. Hochatown Distilling Company also collaborated with Mounting Fork Brewing in Hochatown to create a barrel-aged beer, according to McDaniel.

If you would like to learn more about Hochatown Distilling Company or find tour information, visit hochatowndistilling.com.

Blue River Valley Winery
Photo by Christian Toews
Blue River Valley Winery is a small boutique winery located near Durant, Oklahoma, on the beautiful Blue River. This Choctaw tribal member-owned business has been serving up a wide variety of wines since 2015.

Heading back over to the southwestern side of the Choctaw Nation, located on a beautiful property not far from highway 75 north of Durant sits Blue River Valley Winery. As you can tell from the name, the winery’s front porch looks out over Oklahoma’s Blue River valley.

Established in 2015, Blue River Valley Winery is a small establishment with a wide variety of wines. No matter what your preference, you will surely find a bottle that you love.

Hillary and Diane Dean are the winery owners and said that the winery location is exceptional.

“We have donkeys that everybody really loves and geese that are friendly. It’s a very rural setting out here with a beautiful view of the Blue River. People from the Dallas area come out here and say, “This is so beautiful,” said Diane.

Hillary went on to say that they pour a lot of love into the winery.

“Diane and I both had careers that we retired from before we opened the winery. The winery is not a job. It’s a passion. It’s something we both really enjoy doing and people pick up on that when they come to visit,” he said.

The Deans said that customers come from all over the country and even worldwide, which makes the business fun and exciting.

“You just never know who is going to walk through the door. You meet so many new people,” said Diane.

Hillary said that he started home brewing beer 26 years ago and that lead him to handcrafted wine.

“We were visiting Diane’s relatives in Georgia, and I had the opportunity to try some handcrafted peach wine, and that was amazing. I came back and started making wine and didn’t look back,” he said.

Once he began making wine, it stayed a hobby until November of 2015, when they opened the winery, Hillary explained.

Now in their sixth year of business, they have 22 varieties of wine and the reviews on their Facebook page indicating they are well-loved by everyone who visits the winery.

If you would like more information about Blue River Valley Winery, you can visit bluerivervalleywinery.com.

Whether you are a craft beer drinker, a bourbon connoisseur, or love a glass of local wine, The Choctaw Nation has something to offer you. It’s warming up outside, and now is the perfect time to spend an evening at one of Oklahoma’s finest wineries, breweries, or distilleries, right here in Choctaw Country.

Grab a cup of coffee

Grab a Cup of Coffee

By Christian Toews
From the March 2021 Biskinik

Nothing says good morning like a cup of coffee. Everyone has a favorite way to enjoy this delicious beverage. A hot cup before work or a warm latte on a snowy day, there is no doubt that Americans love coffee – or at least its caffeine. With the popularity of gourmet coffee, we have come a long way from the cans of Folgers in our grandparent’s cabinets. We now have coffee shops that provide espresso and specialty brews. Some of the country’s best coffee shops are right here in Choctaw Country.

Coffee is popular among Americans. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), Americans are drinking more coffee than ever. The NCA website states that seven in ten Americans drink coffee every week, and 62% of Americans drink coffee every day. That means that if you are reading this right now, the odds are that you have had a cup of coffee today.

According to the NCA website, the majority of the coffee sold in America are premium beans and espresso-based beverages rather than traditional coffee. Nearly 60% of coffee served in the United States is gourmet (brewed from premium beans). It’s clear that we love specialty coffee.

Good coffee starts with good coffee beans, according to Tammie Johnson, who owns The Coffee Cup in Poteau, Oklahoma. “We source our beans from great local roasters. My main source that I’ve been using for years is Onyx out of northwest Arkansas. They are one of the top coffee roasters in the United States, but they are also known all over the world,” she said.

She said that the difference between using premium coffee beans and a typical cup of coffee is noticeable. “I would compare to a garden-fresh tomato vs. a store-bought tomato,” she said.

Opera House Coffee
Ana Rivera serves a muffin at Opera House Coffee in Durant, Oklahoma.

Shaun and Ami Rawlings, who own Opera House Coffee in Durant, Oklahoma, said that many variables create a good coffee cup. “It’s the details that make it,” said Ami.

“Coffee is mostly water, so you have to have great water. You can make bad coffee with good water, but you’ll never make good coffee with bad water,” Shaun added. “All of our water is ran through a carbon filter, then water softener, and then we have a reverse osmosis system. There should be nothing in the water. The water should just be a blank slate and then let the coffee do its work,” he continued.

If you love coffee, there is good news for you. A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that among older adults, those who drank coffee (caffeinated or decaf) had a lower risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and other medical complications than non-coffee drinkers. In the study, scientists concluded that two or more cups of coffee per day equated to a 10% reduction in overall death for men and a 15% reduction in overall death for women when compared with non-coffee drinkers. Researchers say there is a strong association between drinking coffee and living longer.

While the intricacies of making coffee and the health benefits are interesting, most of us love sitting in a coffee shop and enjoying our coffee because of the environment. Tammie Johnson said that her favorite aspect of owning a coffee shop is the atmosphere and the platform for bringing people together. “Having people connect, using this place for work, reading or studying, or just meeting up with people. That’s the best part,” she said.

Shaun and Ami said one of the benefits of going to a locally owned coffee shop is the community and relationships you build. “Here (at Opera House Coffee) being a small town and a big space, you’re building a relationship with the people your meeting, the employees, and you’re always seeing friends that come by,” said Shaun. “I think it’s kind of a neutral zone too. Here people feel comfortable to have meetings and just feel at ease,” said Ami.

One customer at Opera house said that he uses this space to be creative. Jimmy Tran is a freelance videographer and goes to Opera House Coffee to work. “It’s like a little escape for me, creatively. I feel like, especially in mainstream media, coffee shops have become synonymous with creativity. Whether that’s real or not, there’s something about writing, editing, hanging out at a coffee shop that feels vintage yet new, and it just gets the creative flow going,” said Tran.

It doesn’t matter if you are a lifelong native to the area or just passing through. If you are looking for a good cup of coffee and a warm, friendly environment, look no further than right here in Oklahoma. The ten and a half counties of the Choctaw Nation has some great coffee stops featuring specialty coffee. No matter what part of Choctaw Country you are in, coffee is never far away.

Latte Lingo

Latte Lingo

Do you speak coffee? If not, you’re in luck, because we do! Right here in Southeastern Oklahoma, are 10 of the best coffee hot spots to enjoy, and we’re here to help you decipher just what to order. Below is our glossary of common coffee terms and the places to get them!

  1. Red Eye at Sacred Grounds in Antlers, OK
    Red eye coffee is a regular cup of drip coffee with an added shot of espresso in it. Some coffee enthusiasts refer to it as the best of both worlds: coffee and espresso!
  2. Americano at Adam and Eve Coffee in Broken Bow, OK
    Add hot water to your espresso and you have an Americano. Need a drink to wake you up in the morning or an afternoon pick me up? For a special treat, order an Americano with three pumps vanilla and your favorite milk of choice.
  3. Dirty Chai at Okie Girls Coffee & Ice Cream in Broken Bow, OK
    A chai latte is black tea infused with cinnamon, clove and other warming spices. Combine this with steamed milk and top with foam and you’ve got the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. What makes this drink dirty? Adding a shot of espresso.
  4. Nitro Coffee at Blakes Coffee Shop in Durant, OK
    When nitrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, is added to coffee, you get nitro coffee. Like a typical cold brew, nitrogen infused coffee is very smooth and low in acidity. For a nutty taste, try a pump of toffee nut syrup!
  5. Iced Breve at Hot Shots in Durant, OK
    Breve is an espresso-based drink made with steamed half-and-half instead of milk. This produces a very creamy foam. Amplify your order by getting a white chocolate mocha breve or a caramel macchiato breve!
  6. Cortado at Opera House in Durant, OK
    A cortado is an espresso with an equal amount of steamed milk. The steamed milk is just enough to mellow out bitterness of the espresso. Think of it as an espresso ice cream without all the sugar.
  7. Affogato at Hochatown Coffee Central in Hochatown, OK
    An affogato is your perfect go-to summer drink. A scoop of ice-cream with a single or double shot of espresso. Nothing says sweet like a creamy vanilla taste to a bold and dark flavored drink.
  8. London Fog at Punkins Coffee in Idabel, OK
    A London fog is a grey tea latte infused with hints of sweetness and steamed milk. Add some vanilla extract and elevate the drink one step further.
  9. Frappe at Harbor Mountain Coffee House in McAlester, OK
    A frappe is an iced beverage that has been blended and makes a tasty, foamy and refreshing drink. Often served with whipped cream and toppings. Sweeten up your frappe by adding Oreos, caramel, mocha and more!
  10. Hand Pour at The Coffee Cup in Poteau, OK
    A hand pour or hand-drip coffee is a technique that uses a standard coffee drip where water is “poured over” ground coffee. The advantage to hand pour coffee is that the water slowly passes through the grounds, extracting a more rich flavor.

Here in Choctaw County, we’ll keep you caffeinated whether you’re a cold-brew connoisseur or latte lover. Hurry up and slow down, because we have the brew for you!

Carlton Landing

Carlton Landing

By Christian Toews
From the Feb. 2021 Biskinik

Imagine a beautiful park right outside your front door. You are watching a breathtaking sunset over the lake from your porch, cozied up with loved ones in a luxury lakeside villa. Great food and activities are all within walking distance. That may sound like a destination in Italy or France, but you can actually enjoy all of that right here in Oklahoma.

While taking a vacation to Europe might be out of the question right now, you do not need to leave the country, or the state for that matter, to enjoy an idyllic getaway. Located on Lake Eufaula in Pittsburg County is the resort town of Carlton Landing. The Choctaw Nation’s northern territory holds many unique places, and Lake Eufaula is no exception.

Lake Eufaula holds the title of Oklahoma’s largest lake. According to the official Oklahoma Travel and Tourism website, TravelOK.com, the lake covers 105,500 surface acres with 800 miles of shoreline.

According to the website, Carlton Landing was developed by Grant and Jen Humphreys.

For more than 15 years, Grant and Jen Humphreys had vacationed in and around Seaside, Florida. Seaside’s charm, convenience and sense of community were unlike anything they had found in Oklahoma. Still, an extended stay was needed to justify the 16-hour drive or airline tickets necessary to get there.

One day, as Grant was driving through land he had recently purchased on Lake Eufaula, he thought aloud, “What if we created a Seaside-like community right here on the lake and close to home?”

With that thought, the vision for Carlton Landing was born.

This beautifully developed shorefront community has been established for almost a decade now. While most homes in Carlton Landing are residents who want lakefront property or a vacation home on the lake, there are also many rental properties available for vacationers from around the country.

Carlton Landing
According to Sarah Tunnell, because the homes and rental properties in Carlton Landing are built with their driveways in the back of the house, your front door opens onto a green space. This makes it very safe for children.

Sarah Tunnell is the Director of Marketing for Carlton Landing and the Director of the Carlton Landing Foundation. She says they currently have around 300 homes in Carlton Landing, with 60 vacation rental properties.

There are many ways to enjoy your time at Carlton Landing. With parks, nature trails, pools, hot tubs, kayak rentals and more, there is never a lack of things to do.

If getting cozy inside is more of your style, various luxury properties are available to rent for the weekend or longer.

According to Tunnell, one of the main things people love about the community is the development’s thoughtfulness.

“Carlton Landing is designed for people rather than cars. Everything is designed for walkability. Kids can run out the front door straight onto a green space,” she said.

This convenience and abundance of open areas make it ideal for everyone to enjoy.

There are two main restaurants within the town. One is a top-notch pizza parlor with outdoor seating. The other restaurant is called The Meeting House and serves food and drinks for all age groups. These are both great places to relax and unwind after enjoying the lake, trails, parks and pools.

Carlton Landing

Once a month during the winter and every Saturday during the warmer months, Carlton Landing invites local vendors to set up pop-up shops. These include food vendors, boutiques, fresh veggies, other locally grown product and more.

If that isn’t enough to entice you to stop by sometime, Carlton Landing also hosts many community events throughout the year, such as movie nights out in a park, floral workshops and even concerts. All these events are open to residents, guests and the public.

You might be thinking about getting away for a weekend or looking for the perfect spot to build that summer house. Either way, Carlton Landing is an excellent choice. Without traveling far, you can experience the luxuries of lakefront property in a picturesque setting.

When asked what she would tell someone who was considering renting there, Tunnell said, “I’d say give it a try. There are so many people who have found it to be their happy place.”

If you would like more information about Carlton Landing, you can visit carltonlanding.com. To find out more about Lake Eufaula and the surrounding area, you can visit www.travelok.com.

Turn today's catch into a flavorful meal

Get Hooked on Trout

The Mountain Fork River located near Broken Bow, Okla., is prime territory for trout fishing as it’s swimming with trout year-round. The river’s constant flow and cool waters are an ideal place to catch brown and rainbow trout.

One of the exciting aspects of catching and eating trout is the variety of flavors available, as trout taste different depending on its environment. So, let’s take the plunge and get to cooking!

Smoked

First step in smoking fish is brining! This recipe calls for three simple ingredients: water, brown sugar and kosher salt. This simple brine gives the fish a rich, sweet element by enhancing the flavor of the trout without being too overpowering.

Start by adding 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (coarse grain) and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. You can also add in aromatics or flavor in the form of fresh herbs or fresh garlic and onions. Place the trout in the brine and set it in the refrigerator and brine for about 15 – 20 minutes. If you’ve got a thicker filet of steelhead trout, brine for 30-40 minutes.

Once your trout has finished brining, it’s ready to smoke. Preheat your smoker to 180 degrees F. Smoke the trout fillets for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F.

At this point, your trout should be cooked throughout and should flake easily. It can be plated and eaten with veggies, rice or even placed onto of a cracker or crusty bread with cream cheese.

Grilled

A simple garlic and herb infused marinate combined with wine vinegar acts as both a basting liquid and a sauce for the fish. The trout skin protects the flesh and turns an appealing golden-brown during grilling.

In a small saucepan, combine oil, garlic, sage and rosemary. Cook over moderately low heat until the garlic just starts to brown. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper.

Put the trout fillets in a medium glass dish or pan. Sprinkle the fish with the remaining. Add half of the oil-and-vinegar mixture and turn to coat.

Grill the fish skin-side down for 2 minutes. Turn and cook another 2 minutes. To serve, whisk the remaining oil-and-vinegar mixture and pour it over the hot fish.

Whether you prefer to wade out into the river with a fly rod, or fry it up in the kitchen, the fish around southeastern Oklahoma never disappoints. Hurry up and slow down and discover what’s biting around McCurtain County.

Trout Fishing

Trout Fishing

By Christian Toews
From the Jan. 2021 Biskinik

If you ask any fisherman, the sport holds more than catching fish. There is something peaceful and refreshing about the entire process. The company or the solitude. Time spent in nature’s glory. The excitement of catching a new personal record fish. Although fishing can seem simple, there are many reasons people get hooked on the sport.

People have enjoyed fishing for centuries. Although there are many ways to catch fish, one of the most challenging and rewarding ways is fly-fishing. This method involves a specific type of lure called a fly. The fly is attached to a very long line and rod. The goal is to impersonate a small insect and trick the fish into biting the fly. The fisherman (also known as an angler) will cast his line over his head in a beautiful rhythmic motion that will imitate an insect flying and landing on the water. Even if you don’t fish, watching someone fly fish is a mesmerizing experience.

Watching the fly go back and forth over the angler’s head and then finally rest on the water and flow downstream. The angler decides what fly to use and how to make his gear mimic an insect. Most anglers will agree, catching a fish is simply a bonus to being on the water and practicing your skills.

While you can fly fish on lakes and ponds, most fly-fishing is done in streams and rivers. If you are familiar with fly fishing, your initial thoughts might go toward Montana, Idaho or Alaska. But as many people are discovering, world-class fly fishing is right here in Oklahoma. In the far southeastern corner of the state, just a 30 minute drive from the Arkansas border, sits one of Oklahoma’s hidden fly-fishing gems.

Beavers Bend State Park holds twelve miles of excellent fishing. The Lower Mountain Fork River offers year-round trout fishing in a beautiful location. The river runs through the Ouachita Mountains, and even driving through Beavers Bend State Park to get to the river is gorgeous.

Trout Fishing at Lower Mountain Fork River
Jeff Preddy fly fishes in the fog of a cold morning in Beavers Bend State Park. Anglers are traveling to Southeastern Oklahoma to discover the world-class fly fishing that the lakes and rivers of the area have to offer.

Jeff Preddy is a fly fishing guide on the Lower Mountain Fork River. Fishing is in his blood. Jeff’s father is an outfitter and a guide, and he grew up fishing and hunting. Preddy has guided fishing trips across the country and said the Lower Mountain Fork River is one of his favorite spots to fish because it’s a challenging river.

“I have fished all over the united states, several big saltwater fisheries, and The Lower Mountain Fork is the toughest river I have ever fished. It tests you as an angler,” said Preddy.

Although he has fished with all kinds of equipment, Preddy said that fly fishing is unique and challenging as a sport.

“I feel that it (fly-fishing) really is an art. You have an abnormally long fishing rod; you have a different line setup than any other type of line there is, you have a reel that’s not like any type of convention reel. To learn the cast, it takes an extreme amount of patients. To learn the timing takes an extreme amount of patients. I have been fly-fishing for ten years, and I am still learning how to improve my cast,” He said.

Many people love fly-fishing, not only for the challenge but also for spending time on the river and enjoying nature. Preddy said that this is one of his favorite fishing aspects, and he finds the river to be relaxing.

“You’re standing in the river. Listening to the sounds of the river, you’re watching nature at its finest,” explained Preddy. “You’ll see deer cross; beavers swim through, ducks, you have a ton of outdoor activity surrounding you. There is nothing more therapeutic to me than standing in a river and listening to nature.”

Maybe you want to fish for trout for the first time, or perhaps you’re a long-time fly-fisherman who wants to try the Lower Mountain Fork. Either way, hiring a guide is a practical way to get familiar with the area and learn a thing or two. Preddy said that hiring a guide is a great idea no matter where you choose to go fish.

“It helps in several ways. A guide already has the proper gear; they are paying attention to the weather, paying attention to the river; they are going to know what flies are in season. A guide is already going to have all that stuff figured out. If you don’t come in with a guide and without doing your homework, you’re guessing. We take the guesswork out of your day,” stated Preddy. “I have been fishing my whole life; if I’m going somewhere I’m not familiar with, I will hire a guide,” he continued.

Fishing might seem like a summer sport, but winter is one of the best times to fish for trout. Preddy explained that during the warmer months, the trout would find the cooler water deeper in the river, but you have a better chance of catching large fish during the winter months.

“You get into your larger fish during the winter months because they will get up in ankle-deep water and hangout and sunbathe,” said Preddy.

Whether you are a beginner, experienced angler, or anything in between, Beavers Bend State Park in Southeastern Oklahoma has something to offer you. If you are looking for beautiful scenery and big trout, now is a great time to visit and try your luck on the water.

If you would like more information about the Lower Mountain Fork River, from water level to regulations, visit wildlifedepartment.com/fishing/wheretofish/southeast/lower-mountain-fork. If you would like to learn more about Beavers Bend Fly Fishing Guide Service, You can visit their website at beaversbendflyfishingguideservice.com.

Small Business Holiday Gift Guide

Small Business Holiday Gift Guide

With the pandemic’s effect still taking its toll on small businesses this holiday season, we’d like to reinforce the importance of shopping small. In our search for surprisingly cool gifts to feature, we discovered that some of the best gifts can come in small(business) packages.

Featured are five cutest small shops in Southeast Oklahoma where we’ve got you covered from jams, wreaths, metal décor and more. Let us guide you through the very best holiday gifts that Choctaw Country has to offer!

Kayterra Farms, LLC Durant, OK
The best part about Christmas is eating yourself into a food coma. So why not do it in a healthy manner? Kayterra Farms is committed to creating and producing foods that you can feel good about feeding you family. They have wonderful jams and delicious seasonal butters that are hand crafted in their kitchen. They’ve recently even expanded into a new line, pickled products!

When you buy from Kayterra Farms, you are purchasing a quality product with less sugar, more fruit and an all-natural product from pure cane sugar. With flavors from blackberry, warm pecan pie, sassy strawberry jalapeño and more there’s something for everyone!

Jams are a perfect holiday gifts for your foodie friends and family. They are the perfect for spicing up a cheeseboard or a loaf of bread.

TuffRoots LLC Idabel, OK
‘Tis the season to share the long-lasting authenticity of a TuffRoots handmade leather product. From wallets to shaving bags, you simply can’t go wrong with a classic leather gift.

What makes TuffRoots leather so unique is their high-quality products coupled with affordable prices. Using full grain leather, the strongest and most durable leather available, to create stunning products that only get better with age.

ArclightCNC Red Oak, OK
ArclightCNC produces unique and personalized custom coat of arms, family crests, trophies, home decor, and custom parts with their CNC plasma machine at affordable prices.

ArclightCNC custom designed art pieces are perfect to hang on the walls of nurseys, living rooms, patios, RVs and more!

Products are always cut from quality steel and powder coating services to prevent oxidation so your personalized artwork will last more than a lifetime!

Little Country Flowers and Gifts Wilburton, OK
Transform your front door for the season with a handmade wreath. Little Country Flowers and Gifts offers a variety of wreaths on grapevine, deco mesh and burlap that easily brightens up your home.

A variety of beautiful, custom wreaths for all seasons, Little Country Flowers and Gifts wreaths can be customized for you with your favorite colors, monogram, ribbons, team, theme and more!

Besides your front door, hang it above the fireplace or on a living room wall to spice up any room.

Paint and Chardonnay

Paint and Chardonnay Broken Bow, OK
Gift an experience this holiday season! Everyone can embrace their inner artist at Paint and Chardonnay as they offer fun, unique ways to spend time with friends and family and feel inspired.

Paint and Chardonnay offers paint and sip events with the options to paint on a variety of surfaces including canvas, glass, wood pallets, wood trays and more! Whether you’re a beginner or expert painter, Paint and Chardonnay has a variety of paintings to paint. From animals, scenic views, florals and the option to submit requests to paint.

For the month of December, Paint and Chardonnay is offering 10% off any painting. Be sure to mention #ChoctawCountry and book your reservation today!

Let’s support our local small businesses this holiday season by purchasing beautiful gifts from independent businesses based in Choctaw Country. Hurry up and slow down, the holidays are fast approaching!

Holiday Lights and Sights

Holiday Lights and Sights

By Christian Toews
From the Dec. 2020 Biskinik

The holiday season is in full swing, and now is the perfect time to explore some of the most beautiful places and activities in Oklahoma. Spending time with family and friends is what the holidays are all about. While this year might be a little different because of COVID 19, don’t let a virus stop you from safely enjoying the holiday sights that southeastern Oklahoma has to offer.

When was the last time you made some hot chocolate, grabbed a thermos, and went somewhere spectacular to drink it? Maybe you and that special someone want to spend some quality time. Perhaps you and your spouse need to go on a date night. Or maybe you want to pack up the whole family and enjoy an evening out of the house. Southeastern Oklahoma is the perfect place to enjoy the holidays.

Let’s begin in the beautiful city of Poteau, Oklahoma. Nestled in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, Poteau is a unique destination. One of the most popular attractions in the area is Cavanal Hill. Here, you can catch a great view of the Ouachita Mountains and the Poteau Valley from the top. Dubbed “the world’s highest hill,” Cavanal Hill sits at just one foot shy of being designated as a mountain. While it may technically be a hill, the view is well worth the climb or drive. Once you reach the top, you can see for miles on a clear day. This fantastic view attracts visitors from all over the country.

Talimena Scenic Drive
Photo by Christian Toews
The striking beauty of the Talimena Scenic drive can be seen year-round, but the fall is a favorite.

Because you can drive or hike to the top, Cavanal Hill is the perfect place to spend some quality time with your loved ones, hot cocoa in hand, enjoying the scenery. No matter what time of year you visit, this view is sure to stun, but the holiday season offers some exceptional views as the leaves change.

Just a few short miles from Poteau, you will find Lake Wister State Park. Lake Wister is known for its beautiful scenery and unique island. This island allows you to experience the beauty of the area surrounded by water on three sides. Every year, the Poteau Chamber of Commerce and volunteers host a Christmas light display called Lights on the Island.

This impressive light display features over 300 displays in the ¾-mile drive. The displays are surrounded by Lake Wister’s water on three sides, providing a darker area for displays.

“One of our most popular displays is the three giant dinosaurs towering over 15ft high setting on the water’s edge of the lower Northside. The display takes visitors through a huge lighted tunnel, a candle lite forest with many animated displays throughout. One of the most unique displays is the 30ft Statue of Liberty with the American Flag setting just below the hill,” said Karen Wages, CEO of the Poteau Chamber of Commerce.

Lights on the Island

Lights on the Island

Lights on the Island
Submitted Photos
Some of the light displays that can be seen at the Lights on the Island show. The show has over 300 displays.

Christmas light displays are fun for the whole family and a great way to enjoy the holiday season. Lights on the Island will be open Nov. 17 through Dec. 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., according to the Poteau Chamber of Commerce. You can find more information about Lights on the Island at poteauchamber.com/lightdisplay. So, put on that Christmas playlist and treat your loved ones to a dazzling display on the lake. Oklahoma has so many amazing views to offer. Let’s head over to Talihina. If you have never visited this quaint town, you’re missing out on some of Oklahoma’s most spectacular landscapes. The city of Talihina sits in the Kiamichi Valley between the Kiamichi and Winding Stair Mountains. Surrounded by mountains, historic Talihina is a unique contrast from other parts of Oklahoma.

One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Talimena National Scenic Byway. This 54-mile highway winds through the Ouachita National Forest from Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas. The highway is popular with motorists, bikers, and even cyclists. The drive offers spectacular views and incredible vistas to sit and take in the majestic Oklahoma scenery. The holiday season is a great time to enjoy these views with your loved ones. If you can get out before the trees lose their leaves, you will see a fantastic display of colors from the Ouachita National Forest.

Our last stop on our list is Tvshka Homma, Oklahoma. Located only 20 miles southwest of Talihina, Tvshka Homma offers a great way to enjoy the holiday season. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma provides a Christmas light display that everyone can enjoy. This year’s Christmas in the Park will feature Christmas displays ranging from Native American to traditional. Hot chocolate and Christmas ornaments will be given on Fridays and Saturdays when you visit the display to top it all off. Find out more information about the Choctaw Nation’s Christmas in the Park.

While southeastern Oklahoma has countless amazing views and things to do during the holidays, this list will get you started on some great ideas for spending quality time with your family during this season. Whether you enjoy a spectacular view or an impressive light display, the holiday season is a magical time in southeastern Oklahoma.

Glamping

Glamping

For many, the desire to spend free time in the great outdoors is an adventure. When you have some time to plan a vacation the details of how you may choose to do it however can range far and wide. Which raises the question, are you a camper or glamper?

Camping is considered stripping life down to the bare essentials. Many would say it’s a backpack, tent, some simple rations and a sleeping bag.

Glamping, short for glamorous camping, has become a very popular outdoor recreation recently. If your essentials list contains things like, a real mattress, running water and a toilet these “luxuries” bridge the gap for you from traditional camping to the comforts of home in the great outdoors.

Choctaw Country has a collection of cottages, cabins, lodges and treehouses that will encourage you to travel, no matter what your outdoor preference. Below are some examples of such opportunities:

Cottages

Created for sweethearts and families, River’s Edge Cottages in Watson, Okla. have easy access to the Mountain Fork River, many of them perched right above it, with breathtaking views of the clear blue-green water.

The gorgeous secluded setting offers plenty of indoor luxury and outdoor fun for families and couples who need an escape from the distractions of the daily grind.

Cabins

The perfect weekend getaway for a Beavers Bend or Broken Bow cabin rental is waiting for you in Broken Bow, OK.

Walk through Bear Mountain Lodging’s cabins and discover different spectacular views of majestic mountains, beautiful bluffs and a rippling river.

Bear Mountain Lodging has it all! From the winding road up the mountain to the stunning views of beautiful Broken Bow Lake. Sitting on a three-acre plot on the mountaintop these cabins allow you to experience both the breathtaking view as well as the gentle sounds of the Mountain Fork River flowing below.

Lodges

The Choctaw Hunting Lodge in Blanco, Okla. is situated on 44,000 privately-owned acres and has a 7-bedroom lodge making it the ultimate outdoor experience on Native American soil for trophy whitetail hunts. Guests have access to amenities such as, outdoor fire pits, horseshoe pits and a volleyball court.

Treehouses

Calico Heights located in Stigler, Okla., nestles along the shores of Lake Eufaula, convenient to fishing, kayaking, or canoeing. Enjoy a view of the lake from one of seven tree house bungalows.

Designed for year-round rental, these treehouse cabins are fully furnished and offer popular amenities. Amongst the trees on a 12-acre ridge, multiple floors plans are available with distinct interior designs that create an adorable uniqueness to every unit. Located just minutes from town, yet secluded and private on a fated property.

No matter what the season or what type of camping you prefer, Choctaw Country is a place to hurry up and slow down.

Camping and Backpacking

Camping and Backpacking

By Christian Toews
From the Nov. 2020 Biskinik

The cold air of the morning, the smell of smoke lingers, the sound of the zipper as you emerge from your sleeping bag. Maybe this brings back some of your best camping memories, or perhaps you have never experienced a morning like this. Waking up after sleeping in the great outdoors can be a refreshing experience.

Camping is a popular activity in southeastern Oklahoma. Some families go camping to reconnect and revitalize their relationships away from all the distractions at home. Some people go camping to escape their busy every-day life. Others want to get close to the ways our ancestors lived. No matter your reason for going, camping is a truly unique way to break away from routine and experience the great outdoors.

It turns out that setting up a tent and sleeping under the stars has many benefits too. One of these benefits is improved sleep cycles. In a study by Kenneth Wright at the University of Colorado Boulder, Wright set out to see how participants’ circadian rhythms were affected when they were exposed to only natural light. He sent them on a week-long camping trip and measured levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for telling our bodies when it’s time for bed and helps set a person’s internal clock. Wright found that people’s internal clocks were off by two hours in our modern environment with abundant electronics and artificial light. This isn’t a good thing because a lack of sleep has been associated with many health problems. Wright was able to show that the participant’s melatonin levels, and their internal clock, were able to recalibrate after only a week of camping in nature.

Weekend backpacking
Many people use short escapes into the wilderness as a way to reconnect, away from the distractions of home.

Another benefit of camping is reduced stress. That is something we all want. Our lives have become so busy that we forget to slow down and enjoy the world around us.

In a study published earlier this year, an interdisciplinary team from Cornell University was able to show that as little as 10 minutes in nature can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress. Imagine what a weekend in the great outdoors can do for you.

The night sky has become lost to most people who live in a city. Light pollution has choked out the stars in much of the country. You may see a few stars at night in your neighborhood, but a single streetlight can make it difficult to see the night sky in all of its glory. Oklahoma’s southeastern region still retains some of the darkest skies in the country. This is just another reason to get outside at night and look up at the unpolluted skies. On a clear night, you might even catch a glimpse of the milky way.

With beautiful scenery, diverse wildlife and plenty of terrain options to choose from, southeastern Oklahoma has some of the midwest’s best camping spots. Whether you enjoy camping near a lake, a river or near mountains, this region has it all.

Setting up tent
Adrianna Mandt setting up her tent.

Talimena State Park is the entrance to the Talimena National Scenic Byway. This winding paved road through the Winding Stair Mountains is known for dazzling spring and fall displays of foliage. Visitors from all over the country come to experience this scenic drive. Talimena State Park offers camping spots, hiking trails throughout the Ouachita National Forest, Dirt Bike and ATV trails and more. With its breathtaking mountaintop views and steep hikes, you might not feel like you’re in Oklahoma.

South of Talihina, another great camping spot, attracts campers year-round. Beaver’s Bend State Park near Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has spectacular lakeside camping spots and more wooded camping areas if that’s what you prefer. Beavers Bend is unique and offers hiking and mountain biking trails, world-class fly fishing on the Mountain Fork River, excellent angling in Broken Bow Lake, and many great restaurants and activities just minutes from the State Park. This area has become a vacation destination for many people who want to escape the big city’s hustle and bustle while still offering many restaurants and activities to enjoy. Beaver’s Bend, and the surrounding area, provide secluded and peaceful areas only minutes from great food, drinks and nightlife. It is truly one of Oklahoma’s hidden gems.

Campfire
Adrianna Mandt and Stephen Graham enjoy a weekend backpacking and camping.

There are other unique places to camp in this region near Durant, Atoka, McAlester, Poteau and Hugo, to name a few. Oklahoma is a diverse and exciting landscape that everyone should explore.

With the many benefits camping has to offer, the beautiful locations, and outdoor activities, there are many great reasons to plan your next trip to southeastern Oklahoma. Fall temperatures are here, and the holiday season is quickly approaching. Now is a great time to spend some time outdoors with your family and friends. Who knows, you might improve your health while you’re at it.

Backpacking in Choctaw Country

Explore Oklahoma History

Explore Oklahoma History

By Christian Toews
From the Oct. 2020 Biskinik

Museums give us a valuable glimpse into the past. They ensure the understanding and appreciation of various groups and cultures. With the invention of online catalogs and photo galleries, museums might seem like an outdated institution. But museums offer something that you cannot get from reading about or looking at an ancient artifact. Seeing something in person is quite different from seeing it on the pages of a book or a computer screen.

Museums across Southeastern Oklahoma offer a wide variety of displays that everyone will enjoy. One of these museums is the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, Oklahoma. This 58,000 square-feet museum showcases southeastern Oklahoma’s rich and diverse history. Their artifacts show us that this land has been home to many different and interesting people for generations.

The Museum of the Red River has acquired a wide variety of materials and artifacts. According to the museum’s director, Henry Moy, the museum initially focused on preserving material culture from local native American groups. However, that focus quickly grew beyond southeast Oklahoma. While they still focus heavily on the area and indigenous groups, the museum’s collection has grown to include art from around the world.

Moy said that the museum was founded in 1974 by the Herron family. When the development of the area began to escalate, many archeological projects uncovered ancient objects. These artifacts were being sent to larger cities because there was no place for them to be stored and viewed in southeastern Oklahoma. That is when the Herron family, along with a very large advisory committee, stepped in to preserve the history and culture that was being discovered, Moy said.

Quintus Herron, who founded the museum was a Choctaw Tribal member. His son Donald Herron now operates the Herron foundation that supports the museum. Donald said the museum’s mission is to provide a place where native artifacts can be taken care of and viewed.

Museum of the Red River
Jeremy Gauna inspects one of the many unique artifacts at the Museum of the Red River.

One of the museum’s most popular attractions is the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, said Moy. According to the museum’s website, this was one of North America’s largest predators and looked very similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex.

What makes this exhibit so unique is that the complete skeleton of the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis was unearthed less than twenty miles from the museum by amateur paleontologists Cephis Hall and Sid Love in 1983. The nearly 40 feet long cast of the original bones is a must-see.

Other exhibits in the museum include a large collection of Native American baskets, hundreds of stone tools and points, and pottery from the earliest people in the area.

According to Donald Herron, the museum also offers workshops on traditional basket making and other programs to inspire a love of art and natural science. More on these programs and exhibits can be found online at museumoftheredriver.org.

Admission to the museum remains completely free. Donald Herron said that they are able to keep admission free due to the Herron Foundation and private donors. The museum also offers memberships and other support opportunities. You can find out more about how to contribute to the museum on their website.

The Museum of the Red River is located a short drive from Beavers Bend State Park. Inside the park is a museum called The Forest Heritage Center. This is another place to learn more about the history of southeastern Oklahoma.

If you want to experience even more southeastern Oklahoma history, there are several museums in the surrounding area. The Fort Towson Historical Museum is filled with local and historical memorabilia donated by residents of the area. In Durant, Oklahoma, you will find the Three Valley Museum. It houses a collection of artifacts regarding the history of Bryan County.

Museums offer us the unique experience of stepping back in time to preserved history. Sure, you can read about the history of the area, but there is nothing quite like seeing and learning from actual pieces of history. The next time you are planning a visit to southeast Oklahoma, don’t forget to make a stop at one of these museums and learn what shaped this part of Oklahoma.

Get hooked on fishing

Get Hooked on Fishing

By Christian Toews
From the Sept. 2020 Biskinik

The lake gently lapping against the shore in the morning. The plop of a lure hitting a calm pond. The sound of a reel whirling out when you set a hook. Fishing is relaxing and exciting at the same time. No matter what type of fishing you enjoy, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has something to offer. From fly fishing in Broken Bow to bass fishing on a scenic lake, this area will surprise you with its options.

The sport of fishing is very popular, according to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. In the U.S., 50 million people ages 6 and up went fishing in 2019. That means 17% of the U.S. population cast a lure at least once. While some of this was saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing was the majority of fishing across the U.S. at 81%.

Fishing is no longer the boys’ club it was once thought to be. Over one-third of participants in 2019 were women, according to Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. This gap between men and women participating in the sport continues to shrink every year.

Even colleges are recognizing the popularity of fishing. Many schools are now offering scholarships for bass fishing. While bass fishing is not currently recognized as an NCAA sport, colleges across the country have teams and compete in multiple tournaments each year.

You would be hard-pressed to find a place that has deeper fishing roots than southeastern Oklahoma. While some might think of Oklahoma as a dusty and dry state, the dust bowl days are a thing of the past. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma has nearly 1.2 million acres of impounded water. The state has twenty-three thousand miles of rivers and streams and seventy-three reservoirs larger than five hundred acres, containing a combined total of 660,000 acres. Many of these rivers and lakes are connected to the Ouachita and Ozark mountain ranges of southeastern Oklahoma. These two ranges provide watershed and beauty to the area. You can discover more details about great fishing locations withing the Choctaw Nation by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation‘s website.

McGee Creek Reservoir
Jon James uses his bass boat to fish the best locations on McGee Creek Reservoir in McGee Creek State Park. The Reservoir, located near Atoka, Oklahoma, has 64 miles of shoreline where fishermen will find an abundance of large and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, perch, crappie and sunfish.

Jon James is an angler who grew up in Oklahoma and lives near Atoka, Oklahoma. He was involved in the professional fishing industry for 10 years and has fished most of the top fishing spots across the united states. He says there is something special about fishing in southeastern Oklahoma. “I’ve fished all over the country, and there is a reason I came back to this area. A lot of it has to do with the lakes here,” he said. James said he primarily fishes for bass. He said that you can fish for a large variety of fish in the lakes in the Choctaw Nation and surrounding area. The diversity in fishing options in southeastern Oklahoma is one of the reasons he enjoys fishing there.

“I love the diversity we have here. You have so many lakes, and they all have something unique to offer,” said James.

Oklahoma has more to offer than fishing lakes and ponds. Broken Bow, Oklahoma, offers world-class fly fishing. Chris Schatte is a guide with Beavers Bend Fly Fishing. He has been fly fishing since he was very young.

“My grandfather bought me a bamboo fly rod for a Christmas when I was eight, and I used it for years and years,” stated Schatte.

When asked about how fly fishing in Broken Bow compares to other locations across the country, Schatte noted, “The thing about fly fishing here is the river fishes year-round. Our river is very diverse in the way it flows. It is a fast Colorado style river in parts to a wide Virginia style river in others. Ankle deep water to deep pools.”

According to Schatte, fly fishing is a unique style of fishing because the angler is actively involved in the process. He says that people new to fly fishing should expect to have a lot of fun while learning and improving in the sport.

In case you need more reasons to go fishing, there are several health benefits to the sport. Fishing can keep you physically fit. While fishing itself isn’t necessarily going to burn many calories, often, the best fishing spots take a bit of hiking or paddling to get to. Fishing has also been associated with lowering stress. Most anglers agree that fishing is very relaxing and a good way to spend time with friends and family. A 2009 Harvard Medical School study conducted by a team of researchers drawn from the University of Southern Maine, the University of Utah and the VA in Salt Lake City, found that military veterans had significant reductions in stress and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improvements in sleep quality after participating in a fly-fishing retreat.

Eating fish has many health benefits. According to The Mayo Clinic, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may decrease blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure. Enjoying some grilled trout after a long day on the river is an excellent way to end the day.

Whether you want to fish for striper in Lake Texoma near Durant, bass in McGee Creek Lake, trout in Broken Bow, or maybe you want to try your luck at all of it. Southeastern Oklahoma is truly a fishing destination.

The next time you are planning a family trip or a weekend getaway with your friends, consider fishing in one of the many rivers, streams, lakes or ponds found with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the surrounding area.

Trails for Running and Hiking

Trails for Running and Hiking

By Christian Toews
From the Aug. 2020 Biskinik

Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding area is known for many outdoor activities. Whether it’s fly fishing one the Mountain Fork River, taking a boat out on Broken Bow Lake, or driving to one of many scenic lookouts, this area of Oklahoma has something for everyone. Hochatown, Oklahoma borders the state park and attracts visitors from all over the country with its luxury cabins and restaurants.

One of the lesser known features of this area is the extensive trail system. There are over 22 miles of trail between two main locations. Both of these locations have trail options for experienced or occasional hikers. Whether you want to go out on a one-mile hike, or spend all day on the trails, both the Hochatown and Beavers Bend portions of Beavers Bend State Park have options for you.

Hiking these trails, you will see amazing scenery and stunning wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see white tailed deer grazing or a bald eagle flying overhead. This is truly some of the most beautiful country in America.

This trail system is broken into two main areas. The first is within the Beavers Bend portion of the state park. This area has approximately 12 miles of trail. The second area is located near the Lakeview Lodge in the Hochatown portion of the state park and has another 10 miles of trail available for use.

There are a few different trailheads for the Beavers Bend trails. A comprehensive map can be found at the Forest Heritage Center and Museum located in the park. You can also find a trail map online at www.forestry.ok.gov/hiking-trails-in-beavers-bend-state-park.

Lakeview Lodge trail
Sara Adams runs along the Lakeview Lodge trail in the Hochatown section of Beavers Bend State Park.

There is a single trailhead for the Hochatown portion of the trails that makes it easy to access. The trailhead is located just outside of the Lakeview Lodge and features a map of the available trails. While both of these locations are great for hiking, the Hochatown trails also allow biking. More detailed descriptions and maps of both of these trails can be found on alltrails.com. Simply search for Beavers Bend State Park when you visit the site.

Kendall Carter is an Ada, Oklahoma resident who has hiked the Skyline trail in Beavers Bend State Park. “These trails feel like you’ve left Oklahoma without having to drive five plus hours. It’s the best part of Oklahoma in my opinion and I will definitely go back,” he said.

Another activity that has gained popularity in recent years is trail running. Many runners who typically run on the road, find trail running to be a new challenge. “I love the feeling of running on trails. You have to pay attention to where your foot is landing; it makes the time fly by. I also like the challenge of running up steep climbs and feeling like I got a really good workout in,” said Sara Adams, a runner who has spent time on these trails. With multiple loops and distances, the trails in Beavers Bend State Park offer variety and are great for trail running.

Whether you’re hiking with family, or looking for a challenging trail run, this Oklahoma state park has a trail for you. The next time you need to get away to a breathtaking location, look no further than the southeastern part of Oklahoma. If you would like more information about the different amenities within Beavers Bend State Park, visit www.travelok.com.

Rocks Worth the Climb

Rocks Worth the Climb

By Christian Toews
From the July 2020 Biskinik

The sport of rock climbing has gained in popularity in recent years. With indoor climbing gyms opening across the nation, more people are being exposed to the sport.

According to the Climbing Business Journal, the commercial climbing industry grew at a rate of 6.9% in 2016, 10% in 2017, and 11.8% in 2018. Rock climbing’s recent surge in popularity is reflected in the decision to add the sport to the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

Sarah Toews climbing at Robbers Cave State Park
Sarah Toews makes a complicated move while bouldering in Robbers Cave State Park.

Indoor climbing gyms have become popular in part because they offer the experience of climbing without dealing with the elements of the outdoors, but most climbers will agree, there is nothing like climbing on real rocks outside.

If you don’t live in Oklahoma or haven’t explored some of the state, you might be surprised that people are climbing here. While the majority of the state is made up of prairies and plains, Oklahoma has some areas that are great for climbing, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma holds two of the best places to climb within the state.

Ryan Jumper at Robbers Cave State Park
Ryan Jumper looks at his landing spot as Sarah Toews makes sure he doesn’t fall after landing.

Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma is known for being an excellent place to explore the outdoors, take in amazing views, and it’s also a destination for rock climbers. With its huge sandstone rock faces, many climbers love to “top rope” in this area. Top roping offers the rock-climbing experience with all the rewards but minimal risks.

Top roping, simply put, is climbing a rock face with the climbing rope always anchored above you. Much like an indoor gym, you have someone who belays the climber. The belayer takes the slack out of the rope above the climber and then lowers the climber to the ground when they have completed the route. If you fall, you only fall a short distance, minimizing the risk of injury. Top roping is good for beginners but requires a lot of gear. You need harnesses, ropes, helmets, and other gear, depending on the rocks.

Ryan Jumper climbs at Robbers Cave State Park
Ryan Jumper climbs a low overhang in Robbers Cave State Park.

Another popular style of climbing is “Bouldering.” Bouldering is rock climbing stripped down to its raw essentials. Leaving behind ropes and harnesses, bouldering only requires climbing shoes and a bag of chalk over safety mats or “crash pads” as climbers call them. The challenge is to climb short but tricky bouldering “problems” (a route or sequence of moves) using balance, technique, strength and brain power.

Bouldering is a very popular option in climbing because of its simplicity, safety, and the ability to hang out with other climbers while challenging yourself. “I love bouldering because it’s challenging but relatively simple. You just need a crash pad, your shoes, and a few friends. My favorite part of bouldering is the problem-solving aspect. The route is short, but a simple change in your foot position can either make or break your success,” Said Rachel Toews. Toews is a Durant, Oklahoma resident and avid climber.

McGee Creek State Park
Sarah Toews tops out after completing a route in McGee Creek State Park.

A second bouldering location within the Choctaw Nation is Mcgee Creek State Park near Atoka, Oklahoma. This state park is located on the southwest edge of the Ouachita Mountain Range. Dallas, Texas locals first started developing here in the early 2000s, and many of the classic climbing routes have long been established. Much of this information hasn’t been published or made public but a guidebook is currently in development and in its final stages that will include McGee Creek bouldering, according to mountainproject.com. McGee Creek State Park offers many outdoor recreation opportunities including water activities, camping, hiking and fishing in addition to rock climbing.

Rachel Toews climbs at Robbers Cave State Park
Rachel Toews climbs above her crash pad in Robbers Cave State Park.

Both of these rock-climbing locations are listed on mountainproject.com. This website (and mobile app) is the definitive guide to rock climbing routes and locations. With over 220,000 routes listed, you can find climbing locations across the United States and around the world. If you would like more information on climbing at Mcgee Creek or Robbers Cave state parks, you can visit this website to find precise information on climbing routes, difficulty level, and location of each route. If you do make it out to one of these locations, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment when climbing and follow all safety practices within the State park.

Maybe you are an experienced climber who would like to try some new routes, or you have always wanted to get into the sport; either way, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has something for you to discover and enjoy.

Starlight, star bright

Starlight, Star Bright

By Christian Toews
From the June 2020 Biskinik

When was the last time you looked up at the stars? Not just a glance up to remember they exist, but when you paused and had a long, contemplative look at the stars? For most people it has probably been a while. With the speed of our lives these days, we barely have time to pause and eat, much less be introspective. For our ancestors, stargazing was a regular occurrence. Early texts from around the world reveal that people spent a lot of time searching the stars for meaning, inspiration, comfort and beauty. The Bible even tells the story of shepherds following a star to the location where they found Jesus.

Our modern relationship with the night sky is a bit less dramatic. Many of us have seen the stars, but perhaps not to the extent our forefathers saw them. With the invention of the lightbulb, our relationship with the night sky became, well, dim. Sure, we are more productive because we have been able to work later into the night. We’ve had more fun because we no longer have to rely on daylight to play sports and games. But has all of this convenience come at a cost to our relationship with nature?

Oklahoma might be the last place on your mind when you think of stargazing. In Texas they sing, “The stars at night are big and bright,” and in Oklahoma we sing, “Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” But there is much more to Oklahoma than plains and wind.

Within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma lie some of the best dark skies in the eastern half of the United States. Between Nashoba and Smithville there is a stretch of Oklahoma that is almost untouched by light pollution.

Sunrise meets the night sky just outside of Nashoba, Okla
The first colors of sunrise on the horizon meet the night sky just outside of Nashoba, Okla. Dark skies provide unique opportunity in Southeastern Okla.

John Bortle worked to develop a way to map and classify how well the sky can be seen on a clear moonless night. The Bortle scale ranges from 1 (pristine, dark skies with less than 1% of the brightness of the sky coming from the ground) to 9 (more than 2700% of the sky’s total brightness coming from the ground). According to skyandtelescope.com, where the Bortle scale was first published, the most heavily light-polluted areas like New York, Rome, Paris and Chicago might reduce what you can see to only the brightest 10-or-20 stars, even on a pristine, clear night. The area in Oklahoma including Nashoba and Smithville is classified as level 2 skies on the Bortle scale. That means, on a clear and moonless night, the summer Milky Way is highly structured to the unaided eye.

Light pollution doesn’t only make stargazing difficult. It also has an impact on the ecosystems around us. According to the International Dark Sky Association, a natural night sky signals when to eat, sleep, hunt, migrate and even when to reproduce for many animals. It is estimated that half of all life on earth start their “daily” activities at sundown.

Humans are also affected by light pollution. In a recent Harvard study, it was noted that even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. “A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect,” noted Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher.

According to the International Dark Sky Association, exposure to blue light at night is particularly harmful, and more lights are trending toward blue. Most LEDs used for outdoor lighting, as well as computer screens, TVs and other electronic displays create abundant blue light.

As the natural day and night rhythm continues to be interrupted by artificial light, one of the most unfortunate effects of this interruption is that there are so many people who have never seen certain stars, constellations or even the Milky Way, our own galaxy.

A New York Times article described a 1994 earthquake that shook the Los Angeles area around 4:30 in the morning. The quake was very strong and knocked out the power to the area. Naturally, people gathered outside their homes during the quake and residents reportedly called various emergency centers to report a mysterious cloud overhead. The cloud was the Milky Way galaxy which had been obscured from view by the artificial lights.

While we cannot shut off the city lights across the country, we can escape to areas with less light pollution to show ourselves and our children the beauty above us.

Babak Tafreshi is an astrophotographer and science journalist whose work has been featured in National Geographic as well as many other publications. When talking about light pollution, he offered some hope, saying, “Truly dark skies are possible to experience thanks to a growing number of preserved dark sky places and a rising branch of ecotourism called astrotourism, which is emerging in areas with existing ecotourism infrastructure, with natural dark skies, that are far from cities and major light pollution sources.”

As Tafreshi mentioned, ecotourism is a big factor in preserving untouched landscapes around the world, as well as right here in Oklahoma. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.”

Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum & Cultural Center
The Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum & Cultural Center with a stary sky located in Tuskahoma, Okla.

Tourism is a huge industry, and many places in Oklahoma see visitors from around the world. Ecotourism advocates for conscious, sustainable travel to these areas. In other words, to leave them in a similar state to what our ancestors saw. Astrotourism asks us as a society to be conscious of our impact on the night sky. We can preserve areas of the country where people can escape the city lights and see the natural night sky in all its glory. “A truly dark night sky can change someone’s life forever,” said Tafreshi.

The area between Nashoba and Smithville is one of the best places to view the Milky Way, but it’s not the only place to see great views of the night sky within the Choctaw Nation. McGee Creek State Park and the area surrounding it just outside of Atoka have fantastic night sky viewing. While this area is a level 3 on the Bortle scale, it is shielded from surrounding city light by the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. This makes the stargazing wonderful.

If you travel around 90 miles northeast of McGee Creek, you’ll find Robbers Cave State Park. This park is famous for the cave that was used as a hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr. A level 3 on the Bortle scale, the park is also a great place to see the night sky.

Both McGee Creek State Park and Robbers Cave State Park offer camping and recreational activities. They are great locations to camp, stargaze and connect with our natural world.

Let’s face it – our lives are busy and bright. They are full of screen time at work and at home. It has become easier to be in the same room with someone and not be present. To be in the same city, state, country, world and galaxy and take it all for granted. We are surrounded by a never-ending universe, and we can still catch a glimpse of infinity by looking up at night. So, plan a trip. Whether that trip is to your backyard, down the street, Robbers Cave or across the country. Don’t miss the opportunity to sit on your tailgate, a blanket, or a grassy field and look up at the stars.

If you are interested in seeing where the darkest skies are located in Oklahoma, visit lightpollutionmap.info. This allows you to search near your location to see where the best stargazing areas are for you.

Did You See That

Did You See That?

By Christian Toews
From the May 2020 Biskinik

Bigfoot. Some say this creature is only a figment of our imagination, a legend created by misidentifying an animal or naming a shadow. Other people wholeheartedly believe in the existence of an unidentified species living throughout North America and possibly in other locations around the world.

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), sightings of Bigfoot in North America go back as far as 400 years. While the sightings happen in different locations and have slightly different descriptions, many of them claim the same basic features. Bigfoot is almost always described as a very tall, hairy, creature resembling a primate walking on two feet. Another distinct feature are his big feet which leave footprints often discovered in remote areas.

The eastern part of Oklahoma is a hotbed for Bigfoot activity, especially in and around the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark National Forest. While the majority of sightings in North America happen in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, according to BFRO, Oklahoma has had over 100 reported sightings. The Ouachita and Ozarks cross the Oklahoma border into Arkansas and there have been over 100 sightings in the Natural State as well.

The Mid-American Bigfoot Research Center (MABRC) is an organization with the goal of proving Bigfoot’s existence and to educate the public on Bigfoot, according to D.W. Lee, Executive Director and founder of the organization. The MABRC has turned into a global organization with members all over North America and even as far as Australia and New Zealand, Lee said.

Lee is an army veteran and Cherokee tribal member who lives near Stilwell, Oklahoma. He says the majority of Bigfoot activity in Oklahoma takes place within the Choctaw and Cherokee Nations. He attributes this to the dense forests, rivers, and large, undeveloped parts of these areas.

Every year in Stilwell, Oklahoma, the MABRC hosts the Bigfoot Symposium. This is a gathering of Bigfoot experts and enthusiasts alike. The event is an opportunity for people who might be interested in Bigfoot to learn more. It also provides an opportunity for researchers to share evidence and collaborate on investigation, said Lee.

The difficulty in researching a creature whose existence has yet to be proven is sifting through all of the hoaxes, Lee explained. He said the MABRC is focused on the science of Bigfoot and doesn’t really focus on the sensational side of Bigfoot. “We like to try to educate the public about the true information that’s out there. You have so many TV shows that are putting garbage out there and nobody knows for sure what is real and what’s not real,” he said.

One thing is for sure, if you visit anywhere in the southeastern region of Oklahoma, you will see Bigfoot. At least on a sign or a souvenir t-shirt.

Bigfoot has become part of the culture in places like Broken Bow, Hochatown, and Honobia. Honobia’s relationship with Bigfoot runs so deep that they hold one of the largest Bigfoot festivals in this part of the country. Every fall, people from all over the world gather to attend the Honobia Bigfoot Festival.

Bigfoot Map

Jolly Winsor is the president of the Honobia Bigfoot Organization, the group responsible for organizing the annual Bigfoot festival. “There have been stories about the Bigfoot in this area for many years with numerous sightings and encounters,” said Winsor.

“This area has had several researchers that have come to look and observe the Bigfoot. We have had TV programs come and do shows here. We also have a group that conducts Bigfoot expeditions throughout the year here,” Winsor said in an interview with the Ada News.

While some gather to share Bigfoot stories and research they have conducted, many people attend the festival for the novelty. With food, music and vendors, there is something for everyone. The festival now attracts around 5,000 people every year, according to Winsor.

While you are not guaranteed to actually see Bigfoot in the wild at the festival, you are sure to have a good time.

If you travel southeast from Honobia, you’ll find the towns of Broken Bow and Hochatown. These towns are located near Beavers Bend State Park. This area is another part of Oklahoma that has multiple sightings of Bigfoot according to BFRO.

Dian Jordan is a local cabin owner. She also holds a PhD in sociology and is an online professor of sociology at the University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa, TX.

Jordan said that her family has been in the area for generations and she remembers hearing stories about Bigfoot as long as she can remember. She bought her first cabin in Hochatown in 1999. She said many people who have stayed in her properties report strange things around the area. “We’ve had campers in the cabins all the time that talked about hearing noises and seeing strange things in the woods,” she said.

Jordan said she has never seen Bigfoot, but she believes he could be out there. “Bigfoot is bigger, stronger and more forest wise than we are. The Choctaw Nation is full of difficult terrain. Bigfoot loves this area,” she said.

Janet Cress is the owner of a store in Hochatown called Janet’s Treasure Chest. You can find an entire section of her store dedicated to Bigfoot. “We have bigfoot shirts, stickers, pens, just about anything you can think of,” she said.

Cress said she grew up in Hochatown and stories of Bigfoot have always been around. “As long as I can remember, there has always been the story about Bigfoot. It’s something that has always been here,” she said.

She went on to say that people come in her store all the time and share stories about seeing Bigfoot. There was a sighting on Broken Bow Lake that was talked about all around the area in 2019, she said.

The Choctaw Nation area in Southeastern Oklahoma has grown more popular in recent years. People are traveling from surrounding cities and states to visit the pristine country it has to offer. From trout fishing on the rivers to hiking in the mountains, Oklahoma has some truly unique gems to uncover. So, the next time you are in this area, keep an eye out, you never know what you will find.

Get Taken Back by Our Museums

Get Taken Back by Our Museums

One of the most overlooked treasures within tourism tends to be the rich history and inspiration available at the local museums. In fact, Choctaw Country is loaded with many historical destinations and sites which not only give visitors a greater appreciation for the legends and myths within, but make southeastern Oklahoma one of the most unique areas in the U.S. Discover all of the museums in areas you plan to visit, and map-out your next journey.

Museum of the Red River / Idabel

How much admission would you pay to see a life-sized, 40-foot-long skeletal representation of Acrocanthosaurus atokensis — one of the fiercest meat-eating dinosaurs ever to walk the earth? Couple that with an archaeological Study Area which showcases numerous authentic Caddo ceramics ranging as far back as the Mississippian phase (A.D. 700 – 1500) all the way up to modern day examples of native artwork – how much would you pay to see all that? Put away your wallets, as admission to the Museum of the Red River is always free.

Hugo Frisco Depot Museum / Hugo

An actual railroad depot built in 1914 which serviced the area for fifty years, The Hugo Frisco Depot is now an entertaining and impressive railroad museum. Here, you can enjoy a miniature circus, study the intricacies of their model railroad, explore a Southwestern Bell switching center, and lots more. Dine in the depot’s converted baggage rooms in the renovated Harvey House Restaurant. It’s a fun, interesting, and unique experience that will leave lasting memories.

Wildlife Heritage Center / Antlers

For those with a passion for wildlife, the 3,100 square foot Wildlife Heritage Center Museum is the place for you. Located between two existing Whitetail and Fallow deer exhibits just across from “Little Peoples Park,” you’ll find a multitude of exhibits and artifacts on display with friendly, helpful, and highly educated volunteers eager to answer all of your questions. Pet and feed the local whitetail deer, and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy for yourself while the kids take advantage of the great playgrounds.

Fort Towson Historic Site and Museum / Fort Towson

Established in 1824 to guard the southern boundary of the United States, Fort Towson also served as an access point for Texas-bound travelers including Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and Stephen F. Austin. The fort served as a dispersal point for Choctaw and Chickasaw natives who survived the dreaded “Trail of Tears.” Here, visitors can see what remains of the historic buildings and experience the state-of-the-art exhibits which take adults and kids alike through the site’s incredible history.

Berry Picking

Berry Picking

Remember when you were a kid and found a wild berry bush? You’d pick as many as you could and carry them home in hopes Mom might make a fresh cobbler or pie. The berries were so much fresher and tastier than the stuff from the store. Now you can relive that memory in Choctaw Country by visiting one of our many berry-picking farms, and even bring your own kids to make memories for themselves. And if you never got to pick your own berries as a kid, well – here’s your big chance!

Barrow Berries / Checotah

A gorgeous blackberry and blueberry farm with several varieties of thornless berries. Pick your own berries right off the bushes or purchase pre-picked fresh, or bring a cooler and take them home frozen. Ripening season, picking times and updates available on Facebook. Open Memorial Day weekend through August, depending on weather.

Bridal Path Farms at Lukfata Creek / Broken Bow

Offering a variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as honey, farm fresh eggs and seasonal cut flowers. Take a walk on the Jelly- making Trails to find plums, apples, pears, figs, muscadine grapes, raspberries, blackberries and even jalapeños. Pick your own or pick up a basket or bouquet of pre-picked fruit. Fun day camps and workshops available, along with homemade soaps, quilts and other hand-crafted treasures.

Creekside Berry Farm / Red Oak

A family-owned and operated business, Creekside offers several varieties of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and vegetables whenever they’re in-season. Located 15 miles from the west end of the Talimena Drive, and one mile west of LeFlore.

Grandpa’s Berry Patch / Wilburton

Roll up your sleeves and get to picking with Grandpa. Pick all the blackberries and blueberries you want. Rather not pick them yourself? Grandpa sells pre-picked berries for you to take home. While there, make sure you visit the Grandpa’s Berry Patch Volunteer Fire Department’s 1949 Seagrave fire truck!

Maple Creek Berry Farm / Poteau

If you’re looking to spend the day selecting the juiciest, plumpest blueberries in a breathtaking hillside setting, head straight for Maple Creek Berry Farm. Buckets and take-home containers are provided for the berries you picked. Think of it as berry-picking therapy for the soul…and the stomach!

Wild Things Farm / Pocola

Want something more to do than just pick berries? You’re looking for Wild Things Farm! It’s 90 acres of fun with two ponds and a large pavilion for group activities. Come out and pick your own strawberries, blueberries and fresh veggies, then take a fun stroll through the seasonal corn maze. Afterward, visit with the farm animals and check out the games, hayrides, fishing, and our new train! Group tours, family reunions and meeting facilities are all available upon request.

Top Six Places to Fish

Top Six Places to Fish

Ever heard one of those “fish story” tales – how your friend once caught a monster the size of Titanic out of a lake the size of a puddle? Well, truth be told – you really don’t need a lot of water to catch a huge fish. As such, we’ve created a handy-dandy list for you of all the small-yet-fantastic fishing holes in Choctaw Country. Don’t forget to start spreading the tales once you land your first whopper!

Six of the smallest lakes with the biggest fish in southern Oklahoma:

McGee Creek
Bass, Crappie, Catfish
Shoreline: 80.3 mi
Area: 3,709 ac
Sardis Lake
Bass, Catfish, Crappie, Walleye
Surface area: 14,360 ac
Shore length: 117 mi
Lake McAlester
Bass, Catfish, Crappie
Shoreline: 21.2 mi
Area: 1,521 ac
Hugo Lake
Crappie, Bass
Shoreline: 98.6 mi
Area: 11,592 ac
Pine Creek
Crappie, Bass
Shoreline: 103.7 mi
Area: 3,750 ac
Robert S. Kerr (Kerr Lake)
Sauger, Walleye, Bass, Catfish
Shoreline: 278 mi
Area: 43,800 ac
*According to State record holders, Kerr Lake is home to the state record for both Sauger (5.31lbs) and Walleye (12.81lbs.)

Oklahoma Fishing Trail
Designed to highlight the best of Oklahoma fishing. It’s organized into six loops, one for each region of the state. Within each loop is an all-around lake and several locations selected for one or two standout species.

  View

McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area

Outdoors Around Antlers/Atoka/McGee Creek State Park

Tired of living like a city slicker? Not to worry – your bond with Mother Nature is right down the road.

Book the perfect spot at McGee Creek State Park that fits your personal connection with nature. And make sure you make some s’mores the first night!

Cabbage Rock

Then, slide over to Atoka to grab some delicious food at El Adobe Mexican Restaurant before heading over to the Atoka Museum, Civil War Cemetery & Visitor Center. There, you’ll learn about all the amazing historical people from around the area. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during a race, make sure to swing by Atoka Motorsport Park to watch the dirt fly.

Once you’ve done Atoka, head toward Antlers. Upon arriving, stop into High Street Pizza – a small pizza spot that will satisfy your taste buds, your stomach and your wallet! Then, mosey over to the Wildlife Heritage Center, where you can reconnect with local wildlife and pick up a list of trails in Oklahoma. Check out their hunting exhibit and, if you’re extra quiet – just maybe – you’ll catch a glimpse of the deer in Deer Park.

Antlers Deer Park

Ready to get out and hike some trails? There are plenty to choose from near McGee Creek State Park. Make sure to bring a fishing pole along, as you’ve got a great chance to catch one of the biggest fish you’ve ever told a story about!

Hiking Trails

Hiking Trails

Let’s face it: while treadmills are convenient, nothing really beats a long, beautiful walk through the glory of nature. When you’re ready for the hike of a lifetime, Choctaw Country is where you want to be. Get your cardio in amongst trails of every kind, for every kind of person – whether you like to run, bike, or simply walk a trail where you can get “lost” in a wonderful way.

Hiking

If you’re looking to get the full experience when hiking, staying at your favorite trails’ park is a must. Each of our state parks have miles upon miles of trails to travel. Heavener Runestone Park is a great spot to not only travel, but also to get a good view of history. Then, if that doesn’t satisfy your hiking needs, you can always wander to over Broken Bow – where you’ll find trails that turn into even more trails!

Hiking

Don’t forget about McGee Creek, with some trails that go for miles at a time, challenging even the most experienced hiker. But don’t let that intimidate you – remember, there are trails to match every level! Even if you take the easiest route and hike the small trails, the beauty of the parks is unrivaled by any other area around.

Fly Fishing in Broken Bow

Adventure/Thrill-Seeking Around Broken Bow

Broken Bow is famous for miles around for its incredible cabins and all the beautiful scenery in this wonderful town. Stay in any style of cabin – with all the amenities you prefer, or just rent a simple cabin to fall asleep amidst the peaceful sounds of nature. Start the next day off with a hearty breakfast at any one of Broken Bow’s many eating establishments to get you through the incredible adventures you’ll have that day!

Now that you’re here, unleash your inner-adrenaline junkie and head straight for Rugaru Adventures! And once you’ve conquered land – venture into another world below the water’s surface by scuba diving in Broken Bow Lake. When you’re ready to wind-down a bit, stop by the Hochatown Petting Zoo for some hands-on up-close-and-personal time with some amazing animals. And we hope you brought your fishing pole from Atoka! Broken Bow sports some of the best fishing spots for miles around.

Finally – it’s time to eat! Lucky for you, the Broken Bow area offers plenty of amazing restaurants, like Grateful Head Pizza, Abendigo’s Grill & Patio, and Rock Bottom Boyz BBQ. But don’t limit yourself to these places – feel free to get out there and discover an incredible restaurant on your own!

Travelling with some who don’t have as big a “wild side” as you? We’ve got ’em covered. Remind them of all the breweries in the surrounding areas they can visit. Sometimes, just kicking back and relaxing with something cold, foamy and delicious while the others get their “rush” is a very good thing.

McAlester-area

McAlester-area

Make sure you rise early and fill your belly – it’s going to be a busy day! Start off by getting the energy you’ll need by getting breakfast at Heavenly Delights Bakery. There, you can fill-up on biscuits, croissants, or maybe something a little sweeter … we won’t tell!

Next, let’s head out to the city with not one, but TWO downtowns for some morning shopping! Make sure you check out McAlester’s Choctaw Avenue for the newest trendy fashions, then venture over to Old Town for antiquing, browsing historical sites, and more!

Pete's Place

Getting hungry again? We’ve got you covered. Let’s head over for lunch in your own private dining room at Pete’s Place, in Krebs. Pete’s and several more Italian favorites are why Krebs is referred to as “Oklahoma’s Little Italy.” Once you’re full again, make sure to pick up some fantastic Italian merchandise at Lovera’s Market.

To finish up the day – decide whether you’d like to check out one of McAlester’s Museums, like the Masonic Temple or the Tannehill Museum – or if a gorgeous hike is more your cup of tea, head to Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton.

Robbers Cave

The Spa at Choctaw Casino and Resort

Girl’s Day in Durant

Hey guys, there’s LOTS of stuff for you to do in Durant! And while you’re busy doing that, here’s what the ladies will be up to:

First, get your strength up for a fun day with a hearty breakfast at Butterfields Buffet or the Grand Café, located in the Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant! There are so many options, you may spend more time deciding than eating!

Once you’re full and ready, head out for some incredible shopping in Downtown Durant. When you bring this stuff home, everyone will want to know where you got it – but it’s your little secret!

Let’s face it – shopping is a lot of work! So make sure to refuel your stomach by having an amazing lunch at one of the Local bites, like Main Street BBQ, Roadhouse, or Roma’s.

Full of energy again? Good! ‘Cause it’s time for more shopping at The Shops at Choctaw Casino and Resort! Find clothing, shoes, accessories, gifts – pretty much whatever you’re looking for!

Tired yet? Then head over to The Spa at Choctaw Casino and Resort for a relaxing massage, makeover, and Mani/Pedi!

Concert at The Grand Theater

Now that you look incredible, it’s time for a night nut with the girls! Head to dinner at 1832 Steakhouse for some of the best food in the area, followed by a great concert at The Grand Theater!

And then, of course – there’s always the casino! Hit, stay, play all day!

LeFlore County

LeFlore County

We recommend starting your adventure at Spiro Mounds, where our friend, Dennis the Archaeologist, will breathe life into the mysterious people of Spiro Mounds. It’s wise to plan a couple of hours to take-in all the indoor exhibits, see all the amazing sites, and walk the interpretive trails along the mounds.

Spiro Mounds

Next, make the short drive to Southern Belle, in Heavener. It’s a lunch you’ll never forget. You’ll enjoy some mouth-watering food and soak-in the fantastic view, all from the comfort of Southern Belle’s retired, refurbished train car. The amount of sheer joy the car now brings to diners handily explains why Southern Belle was lovingly dubbed, “America’s Sweetheart.”

Southern Belle

Then, venture out to Heavener Runestone State Park. (What better way to burn-off some of that delicious lunch you just ate?!) Enjoy the incredible views the nature trails have to offer on your way to the Heavener Runestone — said to have been carved by ancient Vikings. Hear the history, see the artifacts, and enjoy your visit!

Heavener Runestone

Finally, head over to Poteau and start your drive up Cavanal Hill. Measuring 1,999 feet – a mere foot shy of being a “mountain” – Cavanal has earned the title of the “World’s Highest Hill.” The view from the top is always breathtaking, but fall colors and sunsets are the icing on the cake.