National Parks in Oklahoma: 6 Outstanding Attractions

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national parks in oklahoma
By: sepavone/Depositphotos

Oklahoma is described as’ where wind sway about the grasses, freshwater springs, waving wheat smelling sweet under blue skies.

It is packed with natural wonders, scenic beauty, national recreational areas, and national parks. So, It’s a place to explore life, nature, and historic sites.

Oklahoma probably doesn’t surface in your mind when you plan to take your children to national parks; however, after reading this article, you might want to change your perspective.

So let’s tour through the six famous national parks in Oklahoma.

6 Major National Parks in Oklahoma 

1. Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Address: 901 W 1st St, Sulphur, OK

It is the oldest national park area in Oklahoma. Here’s a little history concerning the national park –

Initially named the Sulfur Springs Reservation and later changed to Platt National Park, the park was set up in 1902 by signing an agreement between the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the federal government.

The Chickasaw nation decided to sell the land to the government to secure the unique freshwater and mineral springs and the Travertine and rock creeks.

After 1940 the park went through a period of the wartime economy and a minor expansion. Later on, a nature center was added. Finally, in the 1970s, the Arbuckle Recreation Center was merged, giving rise to Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

1.1. Oklahoma Oasis

The oasis is a beauty worth beholding. Water bodies like springs, streams and lakes meander about the region in its shimmering blue glory.

1.2. Lake of the Arbuckles

It is a famous fishing destination for catfish, perch, bass, and crappie. Other popular outdoor activities include camping, picnic, boating, fishing docks, and boat ramps.

Arbuckle dam was established in 1966 to create the lake, which lies at the junction of the Buckhorn, Guy Sandy, and Rock Creeks. A long shoreline extends 36 miles with protective coves. The water is clean and clear, and trolling is very popular.

1.3. Travertine Nature Center

The nature center serves as the foremost visitor center of the park and bestrides Travertine Creek near the northeast boundary of the park. 

The Rockwork Park was constructed in 1969, retaining its original design, modeled after the architectural lines patterned by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, forming the ultimate addition to Platt national park.

The nature center offers umpteen exhibits, live reptiles, amphibians, fish, and an interactive learning environment for visitors of all ages.

Exhibits at the Travertine Nature Center highlight the forest/prairie ecosystem south of Oklahoma City, the important water resources of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, geology and hydrology, and the diversity of wildlife and plants found within the park.

Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

1.4. Hiking & Walking Trail

Chickasaw national recreation area is an Ecotone, where two ecosystems superimpose – the eastern deciduous forest and the mixed-grass prairies. 

This lovely combination is the main attraction for pro-environmentalists, birdwatchers, and hikers.

Water has always been why people are so close to this place. Many of the park’s trails in the Platt National Park Historic District traverse the jungle, crisscrossing the banks of streams, passing cascading waterfalls, and cascading down near fresh water or mineral springs.

Lakeside trails offer a panoramic view of Lake of the Arbuckles, with the Multi-Use Trail crossing high plateaus.

Undoubtedly, the Chickasaw national recreation area provides us with interactive learning opportunities, insightful exhibitions, Ranger-led guided tours, hiking trails, and informational sightseeing of flora and fauna found within the park.

2. Oklahoma City National Memorial

Address: 620 N Harvey Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73102

The memorial is symbolic and reminiscent of the violence unleashed in 1995 ( the Oklahoma City bombing). 

It was built to pay tribute to the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all those affected by and who lost their lives to the destructive bombing on April 19, 1995. 

The Oklahoma City national memorial was sanctioned by president Bill Clinton on October 9, 1997, and is administered by the Oklahoma city national memorial foundation and national park service staff to help send the message of “look to the future, Learn from the Past” to its visitors. 

The Oklahoma City national memorial is located in the Downtown area, where the Alfred P. Murrah federal building was previously located, which was destroyed during the same bombing.

2.1. Oklahoma City national memorial Features

The Outdoor symbolic memorial consists of the following segments stretching across 3.3 acres –

The Gates of Time

Outside each gate is inscribed the following message- 

We come here to remember Those who were killed, those who survived, and those who changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity. 

national parks in oklahoma
By: sepavone/Depositphotos

2.2. Reflecting pool

Although the lake is flowing, visitors can see their mirror image in the water. Visitors who visit their reflections are said to be watching “someone who has changed forever by what happened here.”

2.3. Field of Empty Chairs

One hundred sixty-eight chairs handcrafted from glass, bronze, and stone stand here in remembrance of those who lost their lives with a name inscribed on the base of each chair.

2.4. Survivors’ Wall

The remaining section of the Murrah federal building is collectively called the Survivors’ Wall in the north and east walls. These walls are etched with the names of 600 survivors of the blast.

2.5. Survivor Tree

An American elm on the north side of the memorial museum was primarily damaged by the bomb but still stands. Hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are planted yearly, and the growing saplings are distributed each year on the anniversary of the bombing.

2.6. The Memorial Fence

10-meter (3.0 m) connecting fence was installed in the area now known as the Reflecting Pool and the Seat Seat to protect the area from damage and visitors from damage.

2.7. Rescuers Orchard

Grove of Oklahoma redbuds (Oklahoma regional tree), Amur Maple, Chinese Pistache, and Bosque Elm trees are planted in the grass near the Survival Tree. The trees represent the rescuers who helped the survivors’ Journal record building.

Additionally, visitors flock to see the memorial museum, which is an enlightening experience.

Self-guided tours are readily available, narrating the stories of those killed and those who survived. Thirty-five engaging exhibits kept silently speaking of their tales, waiting to be heard.

3. Santa Fe National Historic Trail

The great prairie highway! Another among the national historical sites of Oklahoma City.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail is a central transit route between North America that connects Missouri and New Mexico and includes picturesque hiking trails.

Santa Fe Usa
Source: Shutterstock

Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was a major trade route linking Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1846, the Mexican-American War broke out, and the Army of the West followed the Santa Fe Trail to invade New Mexico.

When the Guadalupe Treaty ended the ongoing war in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a major national road connecting the United States with southwest territories.

The route was also used for stagecoach lines, hundreds of gold seekers heading to the goldfields of California and Colorado, travelers, fur trappers, and migrants. In 1880 the railway reached Santa Fe, and the trail dwindled into history.

The National Park Service manages the Santa Fe National Historic Trail with other government, regional, and local agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners.

The Santa Fe Trail Association, a partner of the National Park Service, is a national organization dedicated to maintaining resources and promoting public awareness and awareness of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

3.1. The Historic Trail

The Santa Fe trail stretches between Western Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trail is exclusively lined with numerous museums, historic sites, landmarks, and trail segments.

Tourists use two major routes:

  1. Mountain route
  2. Cimarron route

Mountain route- is quite taxing since it required an arduous trip to be accomplished passing over Raton pass.

The Cimarron route was shorter and faster but required awareness of the whereabouts of the water source and other supplies. Because the water availability on this route is scarce, you’re less likely to find any water source to replenish the supply.

3.2. Things to do:

  • View landmarks along the Santa Fe Trail
  • View Santa Fe trail Ruts
  • Hike on the Santa Fe Trail
  • Visit historic sites on the trail
  • Visit fort smith national historic

Check out museums and visitor centers along the historic trail.

3.3. Highlights:

Visitors highly recommend the following 5 sites.

  • Rabbit ears mountain – a crucial landmark for travelers on the Cimarron route
  • Santa Clara Cemetery – presently the wagon mound national historic landmark, used to serve as a landmark for wagon trains & traders traversing the Santa trail.
  • Starvation Peak – a butte that lies at over 7,000 feet situated between the town of Pecos and Las Vegas
  • Raton Pass – cuts through the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains, providing wagon access to the western territory.
  • Santa Fe Spring – a vital water source for travelers heading west.

4. Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail encompasses eight states of the U.S. and commemorates the survival of the Cherokees, who were forcibly expelled from their land.

In 1838, the United States government deported more than 16,000 Cherokee Indians from Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia and sent them to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

The suffering of the Cherokee had been devastating. Hundreds of Cherokee died on their way to the West, and thousands more passed away due to the migration.

This tragic chapter in American and Cherokee history is known as the Trail of Tears (Backstory to Trail of Tears National Historic Trail) and accumulated in the enactment of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which sanctioned the relocation of all American Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to lands in the West.

 (Most of the major tribes – Choctaws, Muscogee Creeks, Seminoles, and Chickasaws – agreed to be rehabilitated)

It was not merely tears that were shed during those times. Still, it was a revelation of extreme injustice unleashed on the indigenous, insensitivity of the political regime, & uprooting of life and livelihood of the primitive to pursue selfish interests.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail covers a whopping distance of 5,043 miles across nine states to lead you on a journey of discovery and understanding. 

The trail passes through Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Due to the length of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, people travel the whole distance or cover a few of its sites. You can follow the trail on foot, by vehicle, over water, by bicycle, or by horse. 

You’ll witness sacred sites which speak of the misery and agony of the Cherokees who crossed the ‘trail where they cried.

Innumerable activities and programs are offered at the sites and along the trail of tears. For instance, you can visit the River Raisin National battlefield national historic site, where you would encounter the resting place of the fallen soldiers and warriors. 

It’s a window to the past which wants you to comprehend it in its totality. Public parks, city lands, and counties all line up the trail.

Remember to visit the Cherokee heritage center, situated on 44 heavily wooded acres in the foothills of Oklahoma of the Ozark mountains. The center honors the rich and varied Cherokee traditions and culture and displays a fascinating exhibit.

5. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

The Washita Battlefield National Historic Site stands to secure the Cheyenne village of the Peace Chief Black Kettle, who was attacked by 7th U.S. cavalry forces.

Attacked by 7th U.S. Cavalry Soldiers led by Lt. Col. George A. Custer just before early morning on November 27, 1868, the then-controversial strike was addressed by many soldiers and civilians as a remarkable victory aimed at reducing the Native American raids on the border accommodation.

Washita is still controversial because many Cheyenne and whites call Custer’s attack a slaughter. Black Kettle is still revered as an outstanding leader who never ceased fighting for peace, even at the expense of his life.

5.1. Things to Do:

‘Watch Destiny at Dawn‘ This 27-minute park film focuses on the engagement and the events that gave birth to such circumstances. A movie is an insightful way to start your visit.

After watching the film, they walk around the Visitor’s center museum. And delve into the unfortunate happenings of that cold winter day of November 1868.

Look out the window at the magnificent Washita River valley and browse the books in our Western National Parks Association bookstore.

Learn the importance of the Bison to Cheyenne. Find out what items Cavalry’s 7th soldiers would take to the field.

The dust and fire trail

Walking here, you learn about the lifestyle and survival of the prairies. Visitors get to observe various flora and fauna and a working windmill.

6. Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge

*Deep fork is technically not a national park in Oklahoma; it is managed by U.S. Fish & Wildlife*

Established in 1993 to protect & preserve the briskly dwindling low-lying hardwood forests of eastern Oklahoma, Deep fork national wildlife refuge, spread over 10,000 acres, is crucial for the wildfowl that migrate along the central flyway in spring and fall.

 It is located in eastern Oklahoma, near the city of Okmulgee. The refugee is a small ribbon of swamps, oxbow lakes, wetlands, and the meandering Deep Fork River. 

More than 80 percent of the refuge faces floods each year, thus providing waterfowl with a favorable habitat and a plethora of other animals, including white-tailed deer, eagles, and bald eagles. 

Two hundred fifty-four species of birds and 51 species of mammals were recorded in the shelter. Four species of particularly endangered wildlife are endemic here (river otter, Bell’s vireo, alligator snapping turtle, and northern red snake). 

Beavers are so numerous that they can be considered insects, such as feral hogs. Most of the vegetation in this refuge is in the forests of oak, pecan, elm, hickory, ash, sugarberry, walnut, river birch, and willow

The area has been cleared for a long time, and most forests are still relatively new, although only a small proportion of mature forests are found.

Birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, and people who enjoy watching wildlife, this place is custom-made to serve your interests. Do make it a point to visit here once.

Except for the gorgeous collection of Oklahoma national parks, Oklahoma houses many state parks, which are no less than absolutely unique and breathtaking; we surely recommend you plan a visit here on weekends or holidays.

Some of the most preferred state parks by tourists are mentioned below:

6.1 Roman Nose State Park

Roman Nose State Park is located in Blaine County, 11 miles north of Watonga, Oklahoma. Roman Nose State Park is one of Oklahoma’s seven state parks.

Living in a small canyon, recreational activities in the state park include a golf course, swimming pools, hiking trails, two lakes (Lake Watonga and Lake Boecher), trout fishing for the season, boating, canoeing, cycling, stables, and hayrides.

The Whitetail Deer is a common sight in the park. The park is also home to more than 85 species, including wild turkeys, cardinals, robins, mourning pigeons, green grosbeaks, and herons.

Pro tip: Make sure to visit official national park service website to learn more about national recreation areas and popular national historic sites before you visit.

6.2 Natural Falls State Park

Located northeast of Oklahoma in the majestic Ozark Highlands, the Natural Falls State holds a refreshing 77 feet (23 m) waterfall that creates a subtle, calm atmosphere beneath a jagged valley.

Sightseeing the falls is very much sought-after, along with picnic spots available around the region. The waterfall helps sustain a calm, moist environment conducive to the growth of many plant species in the valley.

Since the conservation of plant life is a priority for park management, swimming has been prohibited in the water reservoir for a long time.

6.3 Beavers Bend State Park

Beavers Bend State Park offers countless individual and group recreational activities. Eagle watches are available from November to February. Trout fishing, aviation clinics, guided horseback riding, and hayrides throughout the park are some activities offered by Beavers Bend.

So, there you go, the perfect spots for a perfect holiday trip. Visit all 6 Oklahoma national parks if you are a nature and wildlife lover.


Suggested Reads:

All About the Amazing Cherokee Rock Village 2022



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