Oklahoma Cattle Hero
National Parks,  Attractions

The 6 National Parks in Oklahoma:
Get to Know Each One

If you’re a national park fan, you might typically overlook Oklahoma. After all – Oklahoma doesn’t have any National Parks, that coveted distinction given to sites of particular natural beauty and in need of protection. But while Oklahoma doesn’t have any National Parks, it does have national park units – other locations protected and preserved by the national park service. In this post, I’ll cover the six national parks in Oklahoma.

The list includes historic sites and trails as well as a memorial and recreation area. Together they show the diversity of natural and historic wonders in Oklahoma – even without any National Parks.

If you’re planning a trip to or through Oklahoma and want to visit one or more of these sites, use this post to learn more about the national parks in Oklahoma and what makes each one unique. You’ll also find a map to help you see where each is located and more easily plan your trip.

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^(Osage), Wichita, Chickasaw (Oklahoma), O-ga-xpa Ma-zhoⁿ (O-ga-xpa), [Gáuigú (Kiowa), Caddo, Washtáge Moⁿzháⁿ (Kaw / Kansa),  Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Arapaho, and Pâri (Pawnee) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

National Parks in Oklahoma List & Map

Before jumping into each national park in Oklahoma in greater detail, it helps to take a high-level look at the map and list of national park units in Oklahoma.

The 6 national parks in Oklahoma are:

  1. Chickasaw National Recreation Area
  2. Fort Smith National Historic Site
  3. Oklahoma City National Memorial
  4. Santa Fe National Historic Trail
  5. Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
  6. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
National Parks in Oklahoma Map
Click to open in a new tab

Above, you’ll see a map I made of the national park units in Oklahoma (including the trails in blue). It’s worth noting that the trails aren’t exactly accurate on the map, since these original trails and the stops and landmarks have been somewhat lost to the sands of time.

Now let’s dive into each of the national parks in Oklahoma so you can decide which one(s) you want to visit!

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

This is a historic recreational gem featuring the Platt National Park and Arbuckle Recreation Area and preserves south-central Oklahoma hills. It is one of the major National Park units in the Great Plains and was named in honor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation, who relocated to this area in the 1830s. 

This beautiful park spans about 9,900 acres and features streams, springs, and lakes, which cover about 2,409 acres. Visitors get to enjoy several outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, camping, picnicking, boating, and fishing. Admission is free.

Details of Chickasaw National Recreation Area:

  • Chickasaw National Recreation Area is open year-round but hours vary by season.
  • Admission to Chickasaw National Recreation Area is free.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Fort Smith National Historic Site, Oklahoma

Another historic site with a military background, this Fort was established in 1817 and featured the commissary building, the gallows, the courthouse, and the jail building. 

The visitor center at this historic site features its role in the western expansion of the U.S., the federal court’s effects on justice in Indian Territory and the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Visitors get to explore the site and experience life on the edge of the frontier.

Details of Fort Smith National Historic Site:

  • Fort Smith National Historic Site is open year-round but hours vary by season.
  • Admission to Fort Smith National Historic Site is $10 per person.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum - Ed Schipul via Flickr
Photo credit: Ed Schipul via Flickr

This memorial was built to honor the victims, rescuers, and survivors of the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Visitors and families of those who lost their lives are able to visit this national memorial site which features a Field of Empty Chairs, Rescuers’ Orchard, and Reflecting Pool. Feel free to embark on a self-guided tour of this national park in the Great Plains.

Details of Oklahoma City National Memorial:

  • Oklahoma City National Memorial is open year-round.
  • Admission to Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum is $15 for adults and $12 for children.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Spanning about 900 miles through five states (Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico), the Santa Fe National Historic Trail has become a popularly walked site. Currently, it is hard to identify its exact routes, so most visitors resort to other means of plying the route. In Oklahoma, the Santa Fe National Historic Trail crosses only a small part of the Panhandle, but there is a roadside picnic area near the trail along U.S. Highway 385.

Details of Santa Fe National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Santa Fe National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

The Trail of Tears commemorates the journey of the 16,000 displaced Cherokees who were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in 1838. While many traveled on foot, as many as 4,000 died on the way and the route they took became known as the Trail of Tears. Feel free to join the yearly remembrance hikes through this trail for remembrance. You can also visit the Cherokee Trail of Tears Commemorative Park in Kentucky to learn more about this historic movement’s history, burial sites, and campsites (though Kentucky is not part of the Great Plains).

Details of Trail of Tears National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

This historic site exists to commemorate the lives lost at the battle between the U.S. Calvary and the Cheyenne village led by Chief Black Kettle. One of the tragic events of the Great Plains Wars, the aftermath of the surprise attack that happened on this historic site has made this site one of remembrance and reflection for those who lost their lives. Visitors are allowed to walk the site and explore the visitors center to learn more about this battle’s history and the people involved.

Details of Washita Battlefield National Historic Site:

While Oklahoma might not have any national parks, it is still packed with historic sites and important markers of our national history – including some dark chapters that remind us to strive to follow the better angels of our nature. The only question left is: which one(s) do you want to visit?

If you have questions about these national parks in Oklahoma, let me know in the comments or join my Great Plains Travel Tips Facebook group!

2 Comments

  • Jason

    Hi

    I noticed that in writing about the Trail of Tears it says that “several died” as they “relocated.” I understand that the number was around the 4000. That’s a quarter of the people who traveled. Any chance you could update this website to be more accurate? I would hate to think of students using this as a reference.

    Thanks!

    Jason

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