Its official name is Grand Lake of the Cherokees, but Grand Lake suits it just fine. This is a big body of water — 59,000 surface acres and 1,300 miles of shoreline — meandering through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in northeast Oklahoma. The lake was created in 1940 with the completion of Pensacola Dam (tours offered in the summer) and has become the crown jewel of a chain of lakes referred to as the Green Country region.
Grand Lake is surrounded by state parks that offer lots to do: hiking, fishing, personal watercraft riding, camping and more. But there are also bustling lakeside resorts and quite a handful of communities with activities for those who desire some time off of the water. The area was even rated in the top five with respect to quality of retirement by both Rand McNally and the Wall Street Journal.
What to Do
Avid anglers have known for a long time that Oklahoma fishing is hard to beat. Species found in Grand Lake include channel catfish, crappie and bluegill, and it’s consistently ranked among the best in the U.S. for bass. The Honey Creek area offers a fishing dock, cleaning station and lighted boat ramp, amenities not found in many areas.
If you always wanted to enter a big-money fishing tournament, the Big Bass Bash, held July 17 to 18 this year, could be your chance. It allows amateur fisherman to compete in a large tournament without pressure and prerequisites. The lake literally swarms with anglers hoping to claim the $50,000 grand prize for the biggest catch, but with a total of $100,000 in money awarded in 96 categories, this is an event for the entire family.
Of course, fishing isn’t all you can do on the lake. Whether you desire to speed over the water on skis or watch it shimmer from a parasail, Sail Grand Waterfront has you covered. It rents leisurely pontoons, opulent yachts, or fast and furious Jet Skis. Harbors View Marina, located in the lake’s Duck Creek area, also has rentals available, plus an old-fashioned soda and ice cream bar, so you can load up on sweet treats at the dock
For some shore leave, head to D-Day Adventure Park and try your hand at paintball. Or check out Hogan’s Off Road Park, which is an ideal setting for ATV and ORV adventures with five square miles of trails and rock structure. Monkey Island Trail & Hayrides has guided horseback rides and a petting zoo, and it’s also known for nightlife, with entertainment ranging from a 1950’s-style nightclub to live entertainment year round. Try your luck at the Grand Lakes Casino in Grove, the area’s largest city, also home to many fine restaurants, specialty shops and antique stores.
When to Do It
These upcoming events will give you a feel for the vast amount of family opportunities available in the region. All are located in surrounding towns requiring only a short drive from the lake, yet offer hours of memory-building entertainment:
July 4: Watch brilliant fireworks at the Independence Day Celebration at Wolf Creek. This evening festival of freedom is one of the most anticipated events of the year for those who love watching rockets and sparklers reflected in the clear water.
July 10-11: The inaugural Performance Boat Challenge Shootout is being billed as a complimentary event to the famed Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, as it follows by about a month and is located conveniently for operators to “do a double shot.”
July 31: Head to the Miami area for the Smokin’ on Route 66 BBQ Championship and taste delicious meats from various teams competing in this Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event. Play children’s games, browse vendors, and enjoy the accompanying car and motorcycle show.
August 29: Visit Ketchum and the National Hook N’ Cook-Off to watch fish-cooking teams compete for the titles of best fish, best coleslaw and best hush puppies. Festivities include a live music, arts and crafts, children’s activities and a variety of display booths.
September 11: The celebrated Mahogany & Chrome Antique & Classic Boat Festival showcases wooden and fiberglass dream boats from the 1930s to the 1970s.
September 12: Welcome autumn at the FestiFall in downtown Miami. The event includes a sidewalk sale, 5K run, live entertainment, chili and barbecue cook-off, Indian tacos and much more.
Where to Eat
Chances are you’ll want to eat while you visit Grand Lake, and the area is loaded with opportunities in that regard. While everyone’s tastes vary, a recent survey of some 900 patrons placed Anna’s Bananas Bistro (sandwiches, wraps and entrees) as the favorite local eatery, with the top five rounded out by The Shebang (steaks, seafood and poultry), The Lazy Parrot (steaks and seafood), The Artichoke (steaks, chicken and poultry) and the Roadhouse Bar & Grill (casual American).
Where to Stay
The Grand Lake area is replete with bed and breakfasts, hotels, motels, state park lodge facilities, cabins, campgrounds and RV parks, along with assorted vacation rentals cottages and homes. Too numerous to attempt listing, a complete array can be viewed online using the resources provided at the end of this article.
The same applies for the large number of marinas in the area. Too numerous to list — there are more than 20 — a large array of full service marinas serve the lake, offering everything from boat rentals and transient slips to fuel and launch ramps. The websites listed below provide all the information you need to help you make your selection. So, what are you waiting for?
Author: John Kovach is a contributor to HeartLand Boating
If You Go
Grand Lake OK, www.grandlake.com
Grand Lake Online, www.grandlakeonline.com
Oklahoma Tourism, 800-652-6552, www.travelok.com