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7 AMAZING Oklahoma National Parks (Helpful Tips + Photos)

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Oklahoma is an amazing place to visit | Oklahoma National Parks
Oklahoma is an amazing place to visit with some incredible national parks destinations!

Oklahoma National Parks

Oklahoma National Parks! They’re worth singing about. Remember the lyrics to that wonderful old musical by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein?

They go like this: “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain. And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet. When the wind comes right behind the rain. Oklahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.”

From a state rich in history to a state blessed with natural wonders, Oklahoma is a place to sing about. It’s also a place to explore. I am excited to share some of the best places to visit in the state of Oklahoma. Here’s our list of 7+ Oklahoma national parks.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!

1. Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area Oklahoma
Chickasaw National Recreation Area Oklahoma

Activities: boating, skiing, sailing, fishing, swimming, hiking, camping. 

Chickasaw National Recreation Area is Oklahoma’s oldest national park area. Here’s a little history. In 1902, the U.S. Government purchased 640 acres from the Chickasaw Nation to protect the mineral and freshwater springs.

In 1906, it was renamed Platt National Park at which time additional acreage was added. In 1976, Platt National Park and Arbuckle Recreation Area joined to form the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Recreational Opportunities

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Today this beautiful national park is a lovely oasis of water, foliage and wildlife. It all comes together to create the perfect outdoor experience. The park is located in south-central Oklahoma.

If you enjoy a good hike there are more than 30 miles of trails for both novice and experienced hikers to enjoy. Newcomers to the park should begin their experience at the Travertine Nature Center. It’s the park’s main educational center.

It provides interactive learning opportunities, informational exhibits and other Ranger-led programs including guided hikes and educational tours on the flora and fauna found within the park.

2. Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge

Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge Oklahoma
Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge | Oklahoma National Parks

*Deep Fork is technically not a national park site – managed by US Fish & Wildlife.

Established in 1993 to protect the rapidly disappearing bottomland hardwood forests of eastern Oklahoma, Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge is a truly breathtaking wilderness area.

It’s a 10,000 acre refuge, which offers a crucial resource for waterfowl migrating along the Central Flyway in the spring and fall. This beautiful bottomland hardwood forest features trees which include the black walnut, bur oak, cottonwood, hackberry, pecan, pin oak and river birch.


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If you enjoy watching wildlife, four of the state’s species dwell here: alligator snapping turtle, Bell’s vireo, the northern scarlet snake and the river otter.

There are 254 bird species to be found on the refuge for at least part of the year. There are also 51 confirmed mammal species in the Deep Fork River basin.  Okmulgee County is a great place to see wildlife as it is home to over 50 species of reptiles and 22 species of amphibians.

3. Oklahoma City National Memorial | Oklahoma National Parks

oklahoma city national memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial | Oklahoma National Parks

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, detonated a bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

This horrific bombing happened at 9:02 a.m. It killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others. The bomb destroyed more than one-third of the building, which then had to be demolished.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is a memorial honoring the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by this tragic event. It was authorized on October 9, 1997, by President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Act.

The Memorial is located on NW 5th Street between N. Robinson Avenue and N. Harvey Avenue.

The Museum

Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Visitors are encouraged to check out the Memorial Museum. It’s an interactive learning experience. It takes visitors on self-guided tours through the story of those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever.

The Museum includes 35 interactive exhibits as well as hundreds of hours of video and artifacts to show visitors each personal detail. Admission fees help to maintain the Memorial.

4. Santa Fe National Historic Trail | Oklahoma National Parks

The Old Santa Fe Historic Trail by Frederick Remington | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Westward Ho! Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was a highway connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The route was originally pioneered by Missouri trader William Becknell.

Once Bucknell showed how it was done, others decided to follow. By 1825, goods from Missouri were being traded in Santa Fe, as well as other points farther south.

The Routes

Santa Fe Trail Sculpture | Courtesy of the National Park Service

There were two major routes. Some used the Mountain Route, which offered more dependable water, but required an arduous trip over Raton Pass.

Others took the Cimarron Route. It was shorter and faster, but required knowledge of where the route’s scarce water supplies were located. It you ran out of water then you weren’t likely to survive the journey.

Now here’s an interesting fact. During the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Army actually followed the Santa Fe Trail westward to successfully invade Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended this war in 1848.

Afterward, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the more settled parts of the United States to the new southwest territories.

The Santa Fe Trail Today

The Santa Fe Trail logo | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Today the Santa Fe National Historic Trail extends between western Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, there are museums, historic sites, landmarks, and original trail segments located all along the length of this historic trail.

There’s a wonderful book filled with amazing stories about life on the legendary Santa Fe Trail. Written by David Dary, it’s titled The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore.

RELATED: 30+ Best National Parks Books (Great Gifts For Park Lovers) 2021


If you’re planning a trip then I would recommend that you definitely see the following five sights:

Rabbit Ears Mountain served as a vital landmark for Santa Fe Trail travelers on the Cimarron Route.

Santa Clara Cemetery was a landmark for covered wagon trains and traders going up and down the Santa Fe Trail. It’s now the Wagon Mound National Historic Landmark.

Starvation Peak is a butte that sits at over 7,000 feet, located along Interstate 25 between the town of Pecos and Las Vegas.

Raton Pass which was one of the segments of the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It cut through the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains, allowing wagons access to the vast western territory.

Santa Fe Spring which was an important water source for Santa Fe Trail travelers heading West.

You may want to do some research before you go, however, as there are other amazing historical and natural sites that you may find to be of particular interest to you.

5. Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail

The Trail of Tears map shows one of the most shameful episodes of American history, today preserved as the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | Courtesy of the National Park Service

As a former history teacher, I believe no study of American history is complete without an understanding of the Trail of Tears. This history lesson begins in 1830. It was in that year that Congress passed the Indian Removal Act.

This infamous piece of legislation forced various Native American tribes to relinquish their lands in exchange for federal territory.

Most of the major tribes – the Choctaws, Muscogee Creeks, Seminoles, and Chickasaws – agreed to be relocated to Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma). 

The Trail Of Tears

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In 1838, the Cherokee people were forcibly taken from their homes,  incarcerated in stockades, forced to walk more than a thousand miles, and removed to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. More than 4,000 died and many are buried in unmarked graves along “The Trail Where They Cried.” (Source: Museum of the Cherokee Indian)

As the National Park Service reports, “U.S. Army troops, along with various state militia, moved into the tribe’s homelands and forcibly evicted more than 16,000 Cherokee Indian people from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia.”

“The impact of the resulting Cherokee “Trail of Tears” was devastating. More than a thousand Cherokee – particularly the old, the young, and the infirm – died during their trip west, hundreds more deserted from the detachments, and an unknown number – perhaps several thousand – perished from the consequences of the forced migration.

The tragic relocation was completed by the end of March 1839, and resettlement of tribal members in Oklahoma began soon afterward.” (Source: National Park Service)

“I could not but think that some fearful retribution would come upon us. The scene seemed to me like a distempered dream, or something worthy of the dark ages rather than a present reality.”

-Lieutenant John W. Phelps, who assisted with the removal

The Trail Of Tears Today

Hikers retrace the Trail of Tears | Courtesy of the National Park Service

This incredible trail stretches 5,043 miles across nine states. You can follow the trail on foot, by vehicle, over water, by bicycle or by horse. Along the way, you will see sacred sites which tell the story of death and suffering as well as survival.

While in Oklahoma, check out the Cherokee Heritage Center. It’s on 44 heavily wooded acres in the Oklahoma foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The Center honors the rich Cherokee history and culture. It includes a fascinating exhibit on the Trail of Tears among other informative displays.

6. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site | National Parks In Oklahoma

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On November 27, 1868, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer led his famed 7th US Cavalry on a surprise dawn attack on a Cheyenne village. In his military dispatches, Custer referred to it as the Battle of Washita.

The strike was hailed by the military as a significant victory aimed at reducing Indian raids on frontier settlements as it forced the Cheyenne back to the reservation set aside for them.

Custer’s glorious victory at Washita was subsequently determined to have been a massacre | Courtesy of Wikimedia

For a long time it was seen as a glorious victory for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer against Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyenne Nation. Instead of winning against Cheyenne soldiers, however, Custer and his troops reportedly massacred more than a hundred people, including Chief Black Kettle and his wife.

From the numbers of women and children who were senselessly slaughtered at the site, it has since been determined to have been not a battle, but a massacre.

The Dust & Fire Trail

Children participating in a scavenger hunt on the Dust & Fire Trail | Courtesy of the National Park Service

Visitors can learn about this time in history at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in Roger Mills County. There is a one and a half mile trail which is self guided with many brochure stops along the way.

There’s also a shorter Dust & Fire Trail. While walking it, you can learn about life on the prairie. Visitors can also explore flora, fauna, a dugout house, and a working windmill.

If you’ve never been there before then I would highly recommend starting your visit at the visitor center. It provides interactive and educational experiences including a 27-minute park film called Destiny at Dawn.

The film describes the engagement which happened on the site and the events leading up to it. There’s also a museum providing views of the Washita River Valley, which includes the Western National Parks Association Bookstore.

Little Big Man

Custer, who led a massacre at the Washita River, was subsequently massacred along with much of his 7th Calvary at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a film buff, there’s a 1970 western movie titled, “Little Big Man.” It’s based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger of the same name. It’s the story of a white man who was raised by members of the Cheyenne nation during the 19th century. 

The film is sympathetic in its treatment of Native Americans. The main character of this story incredibly survived both the Washita Massacre and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Of course, remember that it’s fiction.

The film depicts the surprise attack made by Custer’s 7th Calvary on the Native American village at Washita.

Filming locations for Little Big Man included: Virginia City, Billings, Alberta and Calgary Canada, on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, the Montana, Crow Agency, Montana, Nevada City, Montana, the Crow Indian Reservation in Hardin, Little Big Horn River, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Los Angeles, California and Thousand Oaks, California.

National Parks In The Movies

Be sure to check out National Parks in the Movies and learn about 25 other films which had some amazing cameo appearances from our nation’s parks and forests. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

To learn about so many other films which were made in our national parks, check out this article where you can learn about twenty-five other movies featuring some amazing national parks and forests.

List of Oklahoma National Park Sites

  1. Chickasaw National Recreation Area
  2. Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge
  3. Oklahoma City National Memorial
  4. Santa Fe National Historic Trail
  5. Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail
  6. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Map of Oklahoma National Parks

What About National Parks In Television Shows?

I’m so glad you asked. Check out our National Parks In Television Shows and learn about the parks where some of our best loved television shows were filmed.

Check Out Our Comprehensive Guide

pattiz brothers black elk peak black hills south dakota
The Pattiz Brothers are traveling the length and breadth of America to share its natural wonders with you

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some amazing places to visit in Oklahoma. If you’re interested in learning more about our national parks please check out our comprehensive guide to all 63 of them.

Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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