By Lori Duckworth
Published July 01, 2017
Covering four mountain ranges, the southeastern region of Choctaw Country lends itself to some of the most stunning panoramas in the state, as well as a host of outdoor activities in 12 state parks. The area’s heavily wooded hills are famous for their vivid display of colors in fall.
Nature themes extend to the cities of Durant and Idabel, which are known, respectively, as the Magnolia and Dogwood Capitals of the World. In springtime, groups can take floral tours to admire the trees in full bloom.
Approximately two hours south of Tulsa, Krebs is often called Oklahoma’s Little Italy for its thriving Italian-food scene, and the nearby town of McAlester features unusual attractions like the McAlester Scottish Rite Temple and the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Museum.
Due to its long history with circuses, Hugo has become home to North America’s second-largest Asian elephant herd, which resides at the Endangered Ark Foundation’s elephant sanctuary.
Surrounded by the Kiamichi and Wichita Mountains, Beavers Bend State Park is one of the state’s most frequented parks. Visitors can spend the night at the scenic Lakeview Lodge, take out a boat on Broken Bow Lake, fish in the Lower Mountain Fork River or hike along the 26-mile David Boren trail.
The city of Poteau is known for its annual hot-air-balloon festival. From town, groups can hike to the top of Cavanal Hill. Nearby, the Talimena National Scenic Byway spans a 50-mile drive where travelers can witness the region’s legendary fall foliage. Colors typically peak from late October to November.
Krebs began as a small coal-mining camp during the 1800s, drawing many Italian immigrants, who eventually developed the town into their own Little Italy. Today, visitors can get a taste of that Italian heritage at restaurants like Pete’s Place or the grocery and meat market Italian Foods of Lovera’s, which features authentic homemade cheeses and salamis.
Every year in May, the nearby town of McAlester hosts an annual Italian festival, now in its 46th year.
The Choctaw Nation Headquarters holds a Heritage Day celebration the first Monday of every month, where visitors can learn about the tribe’s language and culture. Traditional pottery classes are sometimes available upon request.
Founded by D.R. and Ilsa Miller, the Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo serves as a retirement ranch for circus elephants and houses the second-largest Asian elephant herd in North America. Groups can tour the facility and admire the majestic animals up close on weekends, though visits must be scheduled in advance.
For more information go to www.choctawnation.com.