From bugling elk on a wilderness walk to the vibrant colors of a well-tended garden, the outdoors of Oklahoma can’t help but lift the spirits. The Sooner State offers abundant outdoor attractions.
No matter their fitness level, groups can find some sunshine at attractions like the Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City or the Horn Canna Farm in Carnegie. Those looking to explore the wilder side of the state can take a guided hike through the Wichita Mountains or ride a horse at Beavers Bend State Park.
Fresh air and natural beauty abound at these five Oklahoma outdoor attractions that welcome groups.
Myriad Botanical Gardens and Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory
At the Myriad Botanical Gardens and Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, the serene sound of waterfalls can make guests forget for a moment they are in one of the largest cities in the country. The Oklahoma City urban garden offers a landscaped outdoor garden, a children’s garden, a working carousel and the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory.
“Myriad Gardens is focused around the conservatory, which is an area full of tropical plants and orchids,” said Todd Stallbaumer, consumer and trade marketing director for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. “It introduces guests to plants that live in a tropical climate all the way to the desert plants.”
The 224-foot-long living oasis keeps a balmy temperature year-round so guests can wander through a junglelike interior with towering tropical plants and a 35-foot-high waterfall.
Groups exploring the 15-acre park can also book a class in container gardening, herbs or wreath-making.
Not far from Myriad Botanical Gardens lies another urban park that just opened in 2019. Scissortail Park’s 40 acres of natural space will eventually extend from downtown to the shore of the Oklahoma River for an additional 30 acres.
Trails, boat rentals and an outdoor concert venue draw locals and visitors alike to the $132 million park. The Oklahoma streetcar service runs by the park and connects parkgoers to attractions across the city.
When people picture the landscape of Oklahoma, they often imagine flat farm landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see. The dramatic and rocky Wichita Mountains prove this image a major misconception.
The 59,000 protected acres of the Wichita Mountains are accessible to groups through their proximity to Medicine Park. The resort town’s naturally occurring red granite cobblestones form many of the town’s structures.
“Medicine Park is an artist community with places to shop and snack,” said Stallbaumer. “It is a gateway to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which was the first refuge founded by President Theodore Roosevelt.”
Bison, elk, longhorn cattle, bald eagles and prairie dogs are among the hundreds of frequently spotted animal species. Groups can take a driving tour through the refuge to spot many of these animals or book a guided hike with a naturalist for a closer view.
The refuge offers one of the largest environmental education programs in the National Wildlife Refuge System; about 8,000 students participate each year. Hands-on activities and classroom instruction are typically followed by a wilderness adventure.
Groups can choose from 15 miles of designated hiking trails fit for both novice and seasoned hikers. The views change as visitors move through the park from scrub oak forest to rocky mountain terrain and grass prairie.
The Gathering Place
George Kaiser started with a goal of improving Tulsa’s quality of life. He also wanted to improve race relations in the city. The 77-year-old billionaire decided the best way to achieve both goals was to fund a magnificent city park.
Called The Gathering Place, the 66-acre park opened to the public in 2018. The George Kaiser Family Foundation and 80 other private contributors donated more than $465 million to fund the park’s construction, the largest private donation to a public park in United States history.
The investment gained the park many accolades, including Best New Attraction in 2018 by USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards, and inclusion in National Geographic’s list of 12 Mind-Bending Playgrounds Around the World.
The whimsical five-acre playground looks like a dream from a child’s imagination. The playground design mimics fanciful European structures with a three-story wooden castle, a zip line, a pirate ship and climbing mazes made from twisty tree trunks.
Other park features include free boat rentals, trails and a $1.2 million garden.
“The park has a living-room-style lodge where people can come inside, take a break and enjoy a view of the entire garden,” said Stallbaumer. “There is also a full-service restaurant onsite.”
Beavers Bend State Park
Once groups arrive at Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow, they have one big question to answer: What should we do first? The park and adjacent Hochatown State Park offer accommodations and enough activities to fill even the busiest itinerary.
Guests can sit on a private deck overlooking a tranquil lake at Hochatown State Park. The park’s Lakeview Lodge offers a 40-room lakeview retreat with a stone fireplace and free continental breakfast. Groups can also opt for cabin rentals at Beavers Bend State Park in a wide range of sizes and styles throughout the resort area.
“There are lots of deer that are often visible early in the morning and late in the evening at the park,” said Stallbaumer. “You can also see great vistas each sunrise and sunset.”
The Forest Heritage Center introduces guests to the area’s creatures and topography. Other recreation opportunities include hiking, biking, volleyball, tennis, canoeing and guided horseback rides.
Golfers can play on an 18-hole course, and novices can putt at the park’s miniature golf course. Many visitors also enjoy exploring the area by lake on a paddleboat, canoe or river float trip.
The 3,482-acre park also offers scenic drives past winding roads through forests and stunning shoreline.
Horn Canna Farm
In the 1920s, Frances Horn received six canna bulbs from her sister in Arkansas. The family was so shocked by the bold color and plentiful blooms of the canna that they eventually turned the family garden into a family business that has lasted almost a century.
Groups can now tour the resulting Horn Canna Farm in Carnegie. America’s only exclusive canna farm grows more than 30 varieties of canna bulbs on 150 acres.
Canna’s blooming period ranges from July through the first frost of the season; peak season often occurs in September. The farm hosts the annual Canna Festival the last Saturday in September.
Tours demonstrate how easy cannas are to grow and maintain. Every bulb on the farm is hand selected as has been the practice for four generations.
“In the fall they will be planting sunflowers for even more photo opportunities and flower cuttings,” said Stallbaumer. “Their gift shop is a greenhouse where you can purchase plants and other items.”