Oklahoma State Parks showcase the diverse landscape of the state. Flyfish in a crystal clear river among towering pine trees and mountains, speed over sand dunes on an ATV, or go spelunking in magnificent caves!
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Oklahoma is a pretty small state, so you might think that it all looks about the same. When I first moved here, that’s what I thought, too. We live on the west side of the OKC metro area right about where the Great Plains really start to show off their stuff. You know…flat land, grass, very few trees.
The first time we drove to the east side of the metro, I was shocked! All of a sudden, big trees and rolling hills overtook the view! Come to find out, Oklahoma has a plethora of geological wonders to explore!
You want mountains? We’ve got that. You want deserts? We’ve got that, too. You want prairies? We’ve certainly got that. Just about the only thing we don’t have is an ocean. But, we do have our very own saltwater lake!
There are 38 Oklahoma State Parks in all! In this post, I’m highlighting a few that showcase the diverse topography of the state.
Make sure you download the new Oklahoma State Parks app!
There are some pretty well-known spots in Oklahoma that people may expect to be state parks, but they’re not. For example:
- Wichita Wildlife Refuge-Not a state park
- Turner Falls-Not a state park
- Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park-Used to be a state park, but not anymore
- Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (former home of the infamous Joe Exotic)-DEFINITELY NOT a state park! 🙂
My Oklahoma bucket list does include an RV and visiting all 38 state parks so I can give you an in-depth look at each one, but that’s still in the planning stages. In the meantime, maybe I can talk the hubby into renting an RV for a few Oklahoma adventures!
So, let’s get to it! Here are some Oklahoma State Parks that show off our state’s natural beauty:
Alabaster Caverns State Park
Alabaster Caverns State Park is one of the world’s largest natural gypsum caves, and it’s the only one in the United States that is open to the public as a show cave. If you are content to experience the caverns and its thriving bat population on two feet, a guided group tour will be the way to go. You can even choose a nighttime Kaleidoscope Cave Tour for a special opportunity to view the cave with black lights!
If you want to get a little more up close and personal with Alabaster Caverns, you might want to try a little wild caving (spelunking). Just make sure you have the right gear (and a permit) for this adventure, because you will be crawling around in tight spaces, and you’re sure to be covered in Oklahoma red dirt when you come out of the cave!
Ever wondered what it would be like to spend a night in a cave? Here’s your chance! This is definitely not a glamping experience, though. Check out the Oklahoma State Parks app to make sure you bring the proper gear to keep your group safe.
Although the caverns are the main attraction at this park, there are a few activities back up on the surface as well. Hiking trails, picnic areas, RV and tent sites, and a gift shop round out this unique experience.
Just a note to check on before you go: From what I’ve read online, it seems that there was a cave-in near the entrance of the caverns back in 2018 and, as of this writing (July 2020), part of the cave is still closed. Might want to call ahead just to make sure you know what to expect before you get there.
Beavers Bend State Park
Beavers Bend State Park is one of the most popular vacation spots in Oklahoma! Broken Bow Lake and Mountain Fork River in the Ouachita Mountains provide an endless playground for outdoor enthusiasts in the southeastern region of the state.
Water lovers can enjoy boating, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boating, river floating, fly fishing, and even scuba diving. Back on land, adventure-seekers can go hiking, horseback riding, and ziplining. Those looking for a more laid-back experience might want to try out a round of golf or simply take in the beauty and peacefulness of the majestic natural setting.
Lodging options at Beavers Bend State Park range from primitive campsites to the luxurious Lakeview Lodge. You can pitch a tent, pull in the RV, cuddle up in a cabin, float in a houseboat, or live it up in the lodge.
Miles and miles of outdoor exploration opportunities bring visitors back to Beavers Bend State Park year after year. Because there is such a variety of activities and lodging options, guests can have a different experience each time they visit!
Read about our visit to Beavers Bend State Park!
Great Salt Plains State Park
Remember that saltwater lake I mentioned earlier? You can find it in the Great Salt Plains State Park. This whole area serves as proof that the ocean once covered Oklahoma! It left behind the Great Salt Plains Lake, which is about half as salty as the ocean, and the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, where you can dig for selenite crystal.
The Great Salt Plains State Park is so unique that it is the only place in the world where you can find selenite crystal in an hour-glass shape!
Although the crystal digging area seems to be the biggest attraction for Great Salt Plains State Park, there are plenty of other things to do, too! You can fish, swim, or kayak on the lake, bring your bike or your horse to enjoy one of the trails, or spend the night in a cabin, your tent, or your RV. Bird watching is also a favorite pastime.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind day trip from OKC, Great Salt Plains State Park is the perfect choice for family fun!
Little Sahara State Park
So, wait…there’s a desert in the middle of the Great Plains of Oklahoma? Yep, there sure is! Pretty cool, huh?!
Little Sahara State Park offers 1600 acres of sand dunes to explore! You can bring your own dune buggy/ATV or rent one from a local vendor to play on the 25-75 feet high sand dunes. Make sure your equipment meets the safety requirements, though, or you’ll have to sit on the sidelines!
If you want to spend the night at Little Sahara State Park, you’ll need an RV or a tent. It’s not far from Waynoka, so you can get food and supplies to keep all the people and the toys fueled up for fun on the sand dunes!
Natural Falls State Park
Natural Falls State Park has a bit of a famous history! You might recognize it from the movie Where the Red Fern Grows. Its 77-foot waterfall in the Ozark highlands of northeastern Oklahoma can be viewed from above or below, but that’s just the start of a magical stay at Natural Falls State Park!
Spend your day exploring the dense forest where you’ll find fairy tale bridges stretching over serene streams, mysterious staircases waiting to share their secrets with curious climbers, and loyal benches always ready to share a moment of relaxation in the pristine setting of Natural Falls State Park.
Wind down the day with a game of disc golf, horseshoes, or fishing before you retire in your very own climate-controlled yurt! RV and tent sites are also available.
Robber’s Cave State Park
You’ll definitely want to stay a few days at Robber’s Cave State Park…there is just so much to do! The cave that once served as a hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr is the main attraction, but the hilly woodlands and cliff formations of the San Bois Mountains provide a playground for adventure-seekers and laid back nature lovers alike.
Exploring the cave is, of course, a must for everyone! For those who like a challenge, repelling down a cliff, navigating the rocky terrain of the forest, or ATV riding might be your activities of choice. A more low-key day might include horseback riding, miniature golf, paddle boating, swimming, or fishing.
There are plenty of lodging options at Robber’s Cave State Park! Cabins, RV and tent sites, yurts, a lodge, and a lake hut allow visitors to choose the setting in which they are most comfortable. Two group camps provide space for 250-274 people each and are the perfect way for your large group to connect with nature and each other!
Lake Tenkiller State Park
Heaven in the hills…that’s the nickname given to Tenkiller State Park with its 130 miles of shoreline surrounding the 13,000 surface acres of Lake Tenkiller. This place is a scuba diver’s dream spot! The clear water allows scuba divers to explore the remains of homesteads that pre-date the lake, a sunken airplane fuselage, a school bus, a helicopter, and two boats.
There are plenty of activities on the surface of the water, as well, including boating, water skiing, tubing, swimming, and fishing. Just make sure you’re in the properly designated area for each activity. Or, take to the land for hiking, picnicking, or visiting the Driftwood Nature Center.
There is no shortage of lodging options for your stay at Tenkiller State Park, either. RV and tent sites, one- to three-bedroom cabins, and motel-style cottages are all great choices! Keep your boat at the marina and enjoy a meal on the floating Clearwater Cafe.
While this list only highlights a few of the 38 Oklahoma State Parks, I hope it gives you a good idea of the geological diversity found across our beautiful state!
Don’t forget to check the TravelOK website or the Oklahoma State Parks app to make reservations and stay up to date on current hours, guidelines, etc. A new Parking Pass program went into effect on June 15, 2020, so be sure you know about that before you go!