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Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees

Oklahoma’s favorite water playground beckons with boating, fishing and fun

Created by waters from the Grand River and the world’s longest multiple arch dam, this mammoth reservoir sprawls across some 46,500 surface acres. Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees is considered one of the prime lakes of the Midwest and the shining star in Northeast Oklahoma’s constellation of lakes.


Grand Lake ’O the Cherokees

An Engineering Wonder

Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees was created in 1940 after the historic Pensacola Dam was completed on the Grand River, which is also known by its Native American name, the Neosho River. The lake is actually a man-made reservoir sitting 742 feet above sea level. Grand Lake is so large that it actually covers four counties of northeast Oklahoma.

The lake’s name is an homage to Oklahoma’s storied history with the Cherokee people, who first came to the region in the 1800s from their homes east of the Mississippi. The route that the Cherokee Nation traveled during this forced relocation was famously named the Trail of Tears.

Good Neighbors

Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees is the anchor for nearly two dozen communities within a short drive of the lake. Located in the Ozark Highlands, the lake is the central point of an ecoregion that is heavily forested with oak, hickory and pine. Its irregular terrain is home to some 300 species of wildlife, including deer and bald eagles.

Grand Lake is consistently ranked among the top fishing locales in the country. Anglers can reel in lots of bass, catfish and crappie, and guides are available to show visitors where the fish are biting. You’ll find lots of unspoiled, wide-open spaces in the region; there are no less than 10 state parks surrounding Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.

For starters, Grand Lake State Park actually consists of several smaller parks located near the Pensacola Dam and around Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. Not surprisingly, there are lots of water activities, including boating, parasailing, swimming, canoeing and water skiing. Couple that with picnic areas, hiking trails and campsites, and guests have a full vacation menu.

Bird-watchers are rewarded with seasonal sightings of American white pelicans, bald eagles, snow geese and mallards—all of which make a stopover at Grand Lake during their annual migrations.

The lake boasts 1,300 miles of shoreline, much of it nudging up against the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Visitors will find several fun communities nearby, along with secluded coves and lakeside resorts to enjoy.


Vacation Hot Spots

The largest city on Grand Lake is the northern resort area of Grove. Grove sits near the southern end of 2,548-long Sailboat Bridge, which spans the north end of the lake and provides uniquely photogenic views of Grand Lake. The bridge also offers both a pedestrian walkway and bike lane. Often referenced as the “Gateway to Grand Lake,” Grove boasts a number of fine restaurants, specialty boutiques and antique stores.

Grove hosts several popular events, including a bevy of music festivals, the Grand Lake Boat and Sport Show, and the Pelican Festival, which celebrates the annual fall migration of American white pelicans to Grove. Take a ride aboard The Cherokee Queen, a paddle-wheel riverboat and take advantage of the area’s full-service marinas and museums.

More than 20 casinos surround the Grand Lake region, along with golf courses and a number of other area attractions. Besides Grove, there is Langley, considered by locals as the south-end gateway to Grand Lake and located on the west side of Pensacola Dam. Visit the communities of Ketchum, Bird Island and Cleora for fantastic small-town food and fun. Try Bernice, one of Grand Lake’s fishing hot spots and the namesake for the Bernice Area at Grand Lake State Park.

Monkey Island, a blissful strip of land in the widest part of Grand Lake, offers the diversity of a rural setting combined with outstanding fishing, nightlife and shopping. Monkey Island also hosts the majority of Grand Lake’s fishing and golf tournaments.

Jay, situated within the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries, is rich in Native American tradition and serves as the center of Native American activities, including the annual Gigging Tournament held in April, celebrating a Cherokee practice of catching fish with a long, pronged spear. The communities of Fairland and Wyandotte each offer their own take on what it means to be near one of the largest water resort areas in the Midwest.

Like some other Grand Lake communities, Miami is linked to the nostalgia of the famous Route 66 and takes its name from one of nine Native American tribes that call it home. Located at the far north end of Grand Lake, it’s where the Dobson Museum houses a collection of Native American artifacts. Another Miami treasure is the historic Coleman Theatre, which first opened in 1929 and hasn’t been dark since. A number of famous performers have graced the theatre’s stage, including Will Rogers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Lakeside Shopping and Dining

All of the lake communities boast great shopping and dining options, so there are few wrong choices. Every cuisine imaginable can be found, and shoppers can enjoy a wide range of options including antiques, art and other special finds. Sports outfitters are all around, too, in the event that you may need a new fishing lure or a piece of forgotten camping gear.

For More Information

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Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department