The small town of Yale, Oklahoma sits between Stillwater and Tulsa on Highway 51. While you might not have heard of Yale, there’s quite a bit of history tucked away here. These are the best things to do in Yale, Ok for a great day trip.
Of course, there’s enough here to fill a weekend! If you can think of anything I left off, drop it in the comments and I will add it!
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Where to Stay Near Yale, OK
While most people will come out and visit as a day trip from Oklahoma City, Tulsa, or another Oklahoma town, you can choose to stay in the area for a few days and see more of what Payne County has to offer.
There are no hotels in Yale itself, so most people will stay in Stillwater and drive about twenty minutes to get here. Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Stillwater by budget.
Best Stillwater Budget Option (Under $75 a Night)
If you’re looking for something that’s comfortable and convenient, check into the Holiday Inn Stillwater. Located three miles from the OSU campus, you save a bit of money by being further from campus, but you’ll still be within a few minutes’ drive from most of Stillwater’s best sites.
Check reviews and availability here.
Best Stillwater Midrange Option ($75-125 a Night)
If you want a few more amenities like a pool, check out the Home2 Suites by Hilton. Less than a mile from the football stadium, this is a great place to stay if you’re planning on doing campus activities or sporting events during your trip.
Check reviews and availability here.
Best Stillwater Luxury Option (Under $100 a Night)
If you want to stay somewhere truly lovely, make reservations at the Atherton Hotel at OSU. With Instagrammable gardens and a restaurant on site, this is as close to true luxury as you’ll find in Stillwater.
Check reviews and availability here.
How to Get to Yale, Oklahoma
It’s easy to get to Yale…if you have your own car. There’s no good public transportation out to this part of rural Oklahoma. If you are in Stillwater or Tulsa and want to take an Uber or Taxi round trip, I bet you would be able to do so.
Just work out with the driver that it’s a trip out and back plus wait time. I have no idea what this would cost, but it’s your only option if you don’t have a car.
If you do want to drive but don’t have your own car, check the section below for renting one.
If you do have your own wheels, getting here is a piece of cake. The drive from Stillwater is just twenty-four minutes on Highway 51 headed East, while you’ll leave on the same highway, but westbound, leaving from Tulsa and arrive in about forty-five minutes.
Do You Need a Car for Your Trip?
It’s awfully hard to get around Oklahoma without a car. If you need to rent one, I use Discover Cars. You’ll be able to pick up a car at the airport or in your hometown.
5 Reasons to Visit Yale, Oklahoma
- The town of Yale’s motto is “Home of Jim Thorpe.”
- The annual Red Bud Balloon Festival and Oklahoma Taco Fiesta take place here annually in the spring. Check this year’s dates.
- The town was an oil boomtown from 1913 to 1921.
- Site of the Civil War skirmish the Battle of Round Mountain in 1961.
- Birthplace of jazz legend Chet Baker.
The Best Things to Do in Yale, Oklahoma
In no particular order…
Visit the Jim Thorpe Home
If you love American history, Indigenous history, Olympic sports history, Oklahoma history, or really any kind of history, the Jim Thorpe Home is the place for you!
This lovely stop in Yale is run by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It’s free to visit, though it has specific hours. Here’s my guide to what to know to plan a visit to the Jim Thorpe Home.
Besides touring the house where Jim Thorpe lived, there’s also a log cabin here that’s from the oldest known homestead in Payne County. I suggest dedicating an hour to touring the house and seeing the little cabin.
Walk Main Street
If you’re visiting small-town Oklahoma, you’re looking for small-town charm, which means you need to spend some time walking up and down Main Street.
You’ll find little shops like the Red Dirt Trading post, plus you’ll see buildings that date back to the earliest founding of Yale.
Get Some Grub
The town’s website boasts that they “currently host six churches, four restaurants, one grocery store, two gas stations, a tag agency, an apparel outfitter, and one weekly newspaper.” So while there are a few beloved local restaurants to choose from, you can try them all if you spend two days here.
The most famous spot is Mugsy’s Grubhouse, which was named a top small-town restaurant in Oklahoma and serves barbecue and other home-style treats. Check out their menu here.
Another popular spot is Chavas Mexican Restaurant, which you will not miss if you drive by it. Great for a taco Tuesday (or any day).
FYI that not every restaurant in Yale is open every day, so you should check their websites or drive by before you get to a full-hangry point.
Check out the Armory
It’s no secret that the Great Depression hit Oklahoma especially hard. When combined with the Dust Bowl, the state was decimated. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) came in and did many building projects to help get the local economy going again.
The Yale Armory is one of these important WPS projects. Built in 1936, it remains vacant today. You can still see an inscription on the building that reads:
State Armory Built by Works Progress Administration 1936 W.S. Key State Administrator
You can read more about the Armory here.
See the Monument for the Battle of Round Mountain
When you think of Oklahoma, you don’t typically think of Civil War Battlefields, but there were some skirmishes and battles that took place in the territory.
You can find the monument by following the historical markers from the highway, though you might be surprised that just behind it is a cow pen:
These cows must not get too many visitors, as they ran away when we stopped to see the monument.
You can read the full history of the battle on the website for the Oklahoma Historical Society, but here’s an excerpt:
Following the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and the Confederate States of America in 1861, the inhabitants of Indian Territory had to decide which side they would support.
Although the majority allied themselves with the Confederacy, many professed allegiance to the Union. One such group was a band of Upper Creek Indians led by Opothleyahola, who organized his followers for an exodus to Kansas. In addition to Creek supporters, Opothleyahola gathered Unionists from among the Comanches, Delawares, Kickapoos, Seminoles, Wichitas, and Shawnees.
African American slaves and freedmen also joined in hope of relocating to the north. The column of nearly seventeen hundred men, women, and children traveled in wagons, on horseback, and by foot carrying as many of their possessions as possible.
Opposing Opothleyahola’s forces was Col. Douglas H. Cooper, whose Confederate command of approximately thirteen hundred troops consisted of Texas cavalry, Choctaw and Chickasaw mounted riflemen, a Creek regiment, and Seminole warriors.
Initial contact occurred on November 19, 1861, when Confederate outriders were surprised by Opothleyahola’s scouts north of the Red Fork (Cimarron) River. Unable to stand their ground, the Confederates executed a fighting retreat while awaiting reinforcements. The two sides battled before darkness, and the danger of a prairie fire concluded the engagement.
Having slowed the Confederate advance, Opothleyahola’s force pushed further north during the night. Declaring the battle a victory, the Confederates did not pursue but instead withdrew to regroup and resupply. Exact casualty numbers are unknown, but Cooper claimed to have taken more than one hundred Unionists while losing a handful of men.
The inscription on the monument is hard to read now, so I recommend checking out the Oklahoma Historical Society’s overview in full.
Grab and Instagram Pic at The Town Clock
Located in from of the Supreme Machine Works, this two-sided, free-standing clock is one of my favorite Instagrammable places in Yale!
There’s just something so lovely about a clock, especially when contrasted with the industrial buildings around it. I almost never miss a chance to snap a pic at these tucked-away photo spots.
You can read a little more about the clock here.
Visit the Ghost Town of Ingalls
Located less than fifteen minutes to the west, the Ghost Town of Ingalls, Oklahoma is the site of one of the most notorious episodes in Oklahoma History. You can read all about the town’s history and plan your trip from my guide to what to do in Ingalls.
In town, there are buildings representing the ones that were involved in the shoot-out, a monument to the lost US Marshals, and a few other important spots. If you have an hour, I highly recommend adding Ingalls to your stop in Yale!
What to Pack for a Trip in Oklahoma
Oklahoma Travel Resources
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Stephanie Craig is a born-and-bred Oklahoma mom and travel expert who has been to over fifty countries. After traveling all over the world, Stephanie moved back to Oklahoma to explore more of her own backyard. Her favorite things to do in Oklahoma include visiting the Blue Whale of Catoosa, the Arcadia Round Barn, and the Talimena Scenic Byway.