TAHLEQUAH — A brilliant kaleidoscope of autumn colors are set to light up the Cherokee Hills Byway as illuminated by an 88-mile stretch of fall foliage running through Sequoyah, Cherokee, Delaware and Adair counties. The curtain of turning colors for the drive-thru theater officially rose in late September, but the brilliance of autumn is just now beginning to show.
“Autumn is a very special time of year in Cherokee Nation and throughout northeastern Oklahoma when the beauty and color of the season can best be captured in a tour along the Cherokee Hills Byway,” said Molly Jarvis, Vice President of Cultural Tourism at Cherokee Nation Entertainment. “The Cherokee Hills Byway features a wide variety of attractions ranging from recreational and cultural to historical and natural with a whole host of scenic locations along the route. It was quite a challenge to select just five scenic points to enjoy the fall foliage but we feel we have captured the true essence of the season.”
Formally dedicated in April 2009, the Cherokee Hills Byway runs from Vian to West Siloam Springs along Oklahoma Highway 10 north of Interstate 40 to U.S. Highway 412. Travelers on the two-and-a-half hour drive have the option to pull off the highway and participate in a Cherokee Nation cultural tour or simply enjoy the lush beauty of the countryside among several historical, natural and cultural sites. Some of these beautiful sites are the five colorful fall foliage spots including the Illinois River, The Murrell Home, Sequoyah’s National Wildlife Refuge, Cherokee Nation Capitol Square and Sequoyah’s Cabin.
Noted for its scenic splendor, the Illinois River is nestled in the heart of the Oklahoma Ozark Hills, in the middle of Green Country, and offers more than 60 miles of clear water rippling over flint rock and winds by high bluffs, gravel bars and lush forests. Adjoining the Illinois River in eastern Oklahoma is the J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve, which is the largest privately, protected conservation area in the Ozarks. The Preserve recently reintroduced elk to the area and black bear are beginning to return this time of the year. Wildlife is abundant amid the flora and fauna and along the picturesque Illinois River including deer, fox, bobcats and a wide variety of birds.
Set in the tranquil surroundings of Park Hill, the Murrell Home is the only antebellum plantation home left in Oklahoma and one of the few in the area to survive the fires of the Civil War. Beautiful grounds include an original springhouse, an 1896 smokehouse and a log cabin. The adjacent park area offers picnic tables, a nature trail and Park Hill Creek. The Murrell Home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sequoyah’s National Wildlife Refuge
The verdant and vibrant Sequoyah’s National Wildlife Refuge offers six miles of paved road to drive on that winds through wetlands, meadows and along the lakeshore or walk about with hiking trails and observation areas featuring two asphalt nature trails. The wildlife refuge hosts the largest concentration of snow geese in Oklahoma and large numbers of wading and shorebirds are common in the fall. Horton’s Slough Trail, the preeminent nature trail in Sequoyah’s National Wildlife Refuge, is designated a National Recreation Trail.
Cherokee Nation Capitol Square
The scenic beauty of the tree-lined Main Street and quaint shops in Tahlequah set the tone for the capital city of the Cherokee Nation. Tahlequah is a cultural destination amidst a thriving college town with one end of the business district anchored by Northeastern State University and the other end secured by the Cherokee Nation Capitol Square and its historic properties including the Cherokee National Capitol Building, a National Historic Landmark; Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum; and Cherokee National Prison. All three Cherokee Nation Capitol Square properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sequoyah’s Cabin is highlighted by a variety of flourishing foliage all centered in a 10-acre park. Sequoyah, a silversmith and Cherokee scholar, built the original log cabin in 1829. Although Sequoyah did not know how to read or write at the time, he developed a working Syllabary that enabled the entire Cherokee Nation to become literate within a very short period of time. In 1936 Sequoyah’s Cabin was enclosed in a protective native stone covered building that now acts as a museum where Cherokee history and basics of the Syllabary’s use are taught. Sequoyah’s Cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the five fall foliage spots, there’s also a variety of other interesting attractions that can be found along the Cherokee Hills Byway including Dutchman’s Cabins and Snake Creek Wilderness in Cookson; Fort Gibson Historic Site and Interpretative Center and Fort Gibson Military Park in Fort Gibson; Tahlonteeske Cherokee Courthouse Museum and Fin & Feather Resort in Gore; Ross Cemetery and Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill; 14 Flags Museum in Sallisaw; Fairfield Mission and Adair State Park in Stilwell; and Dwight Mission in Vian.
Several other scenic locations can be enjoyed along the way too including Natural Falls State Park in Colcord, Webbers Falls Reservoir in Fort Gibson, Brushy Lake State Park in Sallisaw, Elephant Rock Nature Park in Tahlequah, and Vian State Park in Vian.
“With such an abundance of scenic beauty and outdoor activities available, autumn watchers will find more than just fall foliage to keep them enthralled and engaged during their drive along the Cherokee Hills Byway and throughout Green Country,” added Jarvis.
Cherokee Hills Byway is sponsored by Cherokee Nation Community Tourism and is the eighth byway in the Oklahoma Byways Program. The National Scenic Byways Program designated the Cherokee Hills Byway an America’s Byways in August 2009.
The Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Group offers four all-new historically authentic tours including the Cherokee History Tour, Cherokee Old Settler Tour, Civil War History Tour and Will Rogers History Tour. Each tour is $50 per person, includes lunch and can be booked online at www.CherokeeTourismOK.com.