18 Best Things to Do in Payne County, OK

Lake Carl Blackwell, Payne County, OK
mcpuckette / iStock.com

If you plan a trip to Payne County in central Oklahoma, you’ll spend days touring its natural landscapes, historical landmarks, scenic parks, and amusement attractions.

The county was established in 1890 and named after David Payne, who served as an American soldier and leader of the Oklahoma Boomer Movement.

You can do various recreational activities in Stillwater, the county seat tucked between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and other communities such as Cushing, Yale, and Perkins.

Here are the best things to do in Payne County, Oklahoma:

Take a Tour of Jim Thorpe’s Home

Exterior of Jim Thorpe’s Home
Steven C. Price, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can drop by the former home of 1912 Olympian Jim Thorpe in Yale, Oklahoma.

Learn more about Thorpe, one of the 20th century’s greatest athletes, through the artifacts, trophy display, and his treasured possessions in the two-bedroom house.

He bought this house in 1917 and lived there until 1923.

This is the only home Thorpe ever owned with an adjacent log cabin.

Oklahoma Historical Society later acquired the house, now included in the National Register of Historic Places.

If you plan to spend more time in Yale, you can stay at Jim Thorpe Park, which has RV sites with water and electrical hookups, a picnic area, playgrounds, and more.

The community swimming pool is also within the park.

You can visit Jim Thorpe Home on East Boston Avenue and Jim Thorpe Park along Highway 51.

Get Your Heart Pumping at Oklahoma Skydiving Center

Are you up for an adrenaline-pumping activity?

In Cushing, Oklahoma’s largest skydiving school has provided 14,000 feet of extreme family fun for several decades.

Oklahoma Skydiving Center, based at Cushing Airport, welcomes skydivers of all skill levels and gives them the necessary lessons and best equipment.

All instructors are experienced and certified by the United States Parachute Association (USPA) to guarantee an exhilarating but safe adventure for you.

Exceed your limits and feel the thrill of freefall by trying tandem skydiving, where you will be harnessed to a certified tandem instructor.

There will be a training session so you can learn the basics of skydiving and enjoy freefall from 14,000 feet, followed by a peaceful canopy ride.

The Oklahoma Skydiving Center has a jumping course and rental gear for experienced skydivers.

Splash around at Cushing Aquatic Center

You can visit the seasonal Cushing Aquatic Center off South Little Avenue for aquatic fun.

Take a dip in the swimming pool with several slides to beat the summer heat.

This also makes the Cushing Aquatic Center an ideal place to bring kids who will find different play areas and a frog slide.

Play with Family and Friends at Frontier Bowl

Frontier Bowl is a bowling center in Cushing that is great for creating bonding moments with your family and friends.

The bowling alley has 12 lanes, and there are bumper guards on lanes for kids.

Enjoy special offers at the center, and check out its glow bowl schedule for a different bowling experience.

You can also eat as you play with the cafe on site serving pizza, burgers, and several beverages.

Frontier Bowl is on East Pine Street.

See Shows and Movies at the Dunkin Theatre

Catch a movie or a concert together at the Dunkin Theatre in historic Downtown Cushing.

Established in 1926, the theater has been restored and reopened as a place where you can see old and latest movies or experience a live music scene.

If you get hungry, Godofredo’s Pizzeria & Tap Room is next to the theater, which serves pizzas, pasta, salads, and more.

You will find the Dunkin Theatre and the pizza place on East Broadway Street.

Grab a Bite at the Homestead Family Restaurant

After visiting several Cushing sites, you can satisfy your hunger by dining at Homestead Family Restaurant on East Main Street.

Homestead Family Restaurant has served Southern comfort food since 1953.

You can grab breakfast plates here all day or choose from their menu of country dinners, lunch favorites, and more.

See the Trains at Cimarron Valley Railroad Museum

Rail enthusiasts will blast at Cimarron Valley Railroad Museum for its vast collection of railroad memorabilia and items on display.

Initially located in Cushing, the museum was founded in 1970 and housed in a Santa Fe Depot.

In 2011, the depot and contents were donated to Oklahoma Territorial Plaza, a six-acre park on North Main Street in Perkins, Oklahoma.

Fascinate yourself with the variety of railroad artifacts and rail memorabilia exhibited in the depot, such as station signs, dining car china, models, and more.

You will also find an extensive railroad library and several miscellaneous items of railroad heritage at the Cimarron Valley Railroad Museum.

Learn about Eagles at Grey Snow Eagle House

Schedule a tour with the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Grey Snow Eagle House if you want to learn more about eagles and Native American culture.

The aviary opened in 2006 and served as home to bald and golden eagles that need rehabilitation or long-term care.

Operating with several U.S. Fish and Wildlife permits, the sanctuary has released 36 eagles back into the wild as of 2021.

It also provides a refuge for eagles that can’t be released due to injuries.

Deepen your understanding of wildlife and get involved by visiting the Grey Snow Eagle House on E 0740 Road in Perkins, Oklahoma, preferably during spring-mid and fall-early winter.

Entertain Yourself at Cimarron Casino

Cimarron Casino is one of central Oklahoma’s premier gaming destinations you can find along West Freeman Avenue, Perkins.

The casino opened in 1996 as a bingo hall, owned and operated by the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Find excitement and entertainment in over 600 electronic gaming machines and live-action tables at Cimarron Casino.

Indulge yourself with mouthwatering dishes at Eagles Nest Café, serving breakfast, burgers, steaks, and more.

Otherwise, enjoy your favorite drinks at the 4th Quarter Sports Bar while rooting for your favorite sports team.

Dive Deep into History in the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

Exterior of Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar
Fletcherspears, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the seat of Payne County, Stillwater has numerous places and activities for every traveler.

Start your adventure by hearing stories of the past at Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar, which focuses on the history of Stillwater and Payne County.

The museum opened its doors in 1974 at Sheerar Cultural and Heritage Center on South Duncan Street.

It aims to preserve and showcase the city’s diverse collective history through exhibits on different subjects and themes.

Drop by the Museum Mini Mercantile filled with books, old-fashioned candies,  unusual household items, and more for unique gifts or souvenirs to remember your day at the museum.

Spend the day at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar!

Admire the Works at the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art

Take a few steps from the history museum and visit the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art on South Husband Street, Stillwater.

Marvel at the paintings, photographs, and other artworks inside this museum that fully opened to the public in 2014.

The museum hosts world-class traveling exhibitions that will widen your artistic horizons or make you reflect on different things.

Likewise, the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art offers different tours and virtual classroom visits with tours and art-making tutorials.

Stimulate Your Senses at the Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University

Wander the walking trails and beautiful gardens within the 100-acre Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University.

Established in 1935, the garden is a living, multidisciplinary laboratory and home of the “Oklahoma Gardening” television show.

The Botanic Garden has studio gardens featuring various plants and flowers, which will treat you to colorful sights and beautiful scents for a gratifying experience.

It also hosts events and engaging activities for all ages.

Take a tour of the Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University on West 6th Street.

Take a Closer Look at Insects with Insect Adventure

Insect Adventure is a unique animal attraction on Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus worth checking out, especially with the kids.

You can look closely at insects in this live bug petting zoo, with more than 25 species of arthropods and an entomologist to guide you through your exploration.

The entomology presentations and activities at Insect Adventure will address the questions “bugging” you about these insects.

Located near West Virginia Avenue, some insects include tarantulas, bees, millipedes, and more.

Check Out the Animals at Lost Creek Safari

Lost Creek Safari is Stillwater’s only USDA Certified Animal Park where visitors can look closely at unique animals, located on West 80th Street.

This outdoor attraction is a perfect place to bring kids to introduce them to wildlife and have a wonderful time.

Some animals you will find here include lemurs, camels, kangaroos, ostrich, and more.

You can request tours for a more immersive experience and purchase feed cups for most animals at the Lost Creek Safari.

Learn Wrestling History at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum in Stillwater is a must-visit site for those interested in wrestling.

You will discover interactive exhibits and electronic kiosks in this landmark, touted as America’s shrine to wrestling, located on West Hall of Fame Avenue.

You also have a chance to watch NCAA Championship matches from the 1930s.

Learn about the greatest names in wrestling recognized at John T. Vaughan Hall of Honors.

To view a vast collection of wrestling memorabilia and artifacts, head to the Paul K. Scott Museum of History, where you can also see portraits of every United States wrestling gold medalist.

Drop by William S. Hein Library for its collection of wrestling books, historical documents, and bound copies of Amateur Wrestling News.

Explore the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum!

Treat Yourself at Iron Monk Brewing Company

Since 2015, Iron Monk Brewing Company has become a premier craft brewery tap room on South Husband Street, Stillwater.

It has a wide variety of craft beers for every kind of craft enthusiast, from its chocolatey milk stout with a burst of espresso to its super tasty sour wheat beer.

Enjoy a drink at Iron Monk Brewing Company, where you might find a new favorite.

Aside from beers on tap, you can taste delicious food from local food trucks rotating on-site.

Since it hosts live music and trivia games, there are exciting activities, besides drinking, at Iron Monk.

Create Memories at Lake Carl Blackwell

Lake Carl Blackwell
mcpuckette / iStock.com

Unwind in nature at Lake Carl Blackwell on Highway 51, Stillwater, which encompasses a 3,350-acre lake and an 800-acre recreation area.

Owned and operated by Oklahoma State University, you can do several land- and water-based activities with your family and friends here.

At the lake, you can go fishing, boating, and swimming.

There is an on-site convenience store for your fishing needs, drinks, snacks, and more.

Meanwhile, picnic tables and a sand volleyball court are at Ski Point, where you can spend your leisure time playing and bonding.

Feel free to explore the accessible hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails

If you want to spend the night, you can make reservations for the camping sites with electric and water hookups.

There are cabins, too, that provide sleeping accommodations and majestic views of Lake Carl Blackwell.

Take a Break at Boomer Lake Park

Boomer Lake Park is another popular outdoor destination in Stillwater, where you can take a relaxing break from life’s daily hustle and bustle.

Located on Washington Street and Lakeview Road, the park features a three-mile walking and biking trail you can navigate.

While swimming is prohibited in the lake, you can still do water activities such as fishing, boating, canoeing, and kayaking.

A splash pad is available for seasonal use at the park's northwest corner.

Other amenities at Boomer Lake Park include picnic tables, pavilions, and disc golf.

Final Thoughts

Explore the past and present of Payne County, Oklahoma, by visiting its historic sites and various tourist destinations.

Every traveler can find something to do in this county, from history buffs and enthusiasts to thrill-seeking adventurers.

Lastly, don’t miss the chance to see a part of Oklahoma’s beauty as you wander vibrant gardens, rest in green parks, and enjoy scenic views of natural landscapes.

Try the best things to do in Payne County, Oklahoma!

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