Exploring Oklahoma’s Top Family-Friendly Destinations with Wonder Wherever We Wander

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By Car Brand Experts


During this summer, we’ve made the decision to spend a few months in Oklahoma with our family. Ordinarily, Oklahoma wouldn’t be at the top of my summer travel list due to the scorching heat, but we’ve been longing for some family time and needed to address some matters with our rig. That’s why we find ourselves back at some of our most cherished attractions in Oklahoma.

Some may assume that Oklahoma is not the most thrilling place to hang out, but the reality is that there are plenty of wonderful activities to enjoy in Oklahoma with children. Having already explored these fantastic places with our little explorers, I’m here to share our adventures and help you navigate through Oklahoma’s top attractions with kids.

Ideal Times to Explore Oklahoma

First and foremost, let’s discuss when you should plan your visit to Oklahoma. I would strongly advise against visiting during the summer months. The heat during July and August can often soar over 100 degrees (°F)! Instead, I highly recommend scheduling your trip in the autumn, which is when we usually visit our family in the area. We’ve found that from late September to the end of November, the weather in this region is perfect for camping.

Aside from autumn, spring can also be a pleasant time to visit Oklahoma. Just bear in mind that tornado season typically begins towards the end of April and extends into early June. While daytime temperatures might be pleasant, you may encounter thunderstorms, lightning, rain, and even tornadoes.

In addition to our annual fall trip, we also usually make a spring visit, although I never look forward to those storms.

Family-Oriented Recommendations for Exploring Oklahoma’s Attractions

Now that you know the best times to visit Oklahoma, let’s delve into the top activities to enjoy in Oklahoma with children and how to manage these attractions with the little ones in tow.

The Gathering Place

The Gathering Place stands out as one of the most remarkable urban parks we’ve ever visited, likely ranking among the best nationwide. This park boasts various play areas, including a complete Swing Hill, a vast Slide Vale, and a water attraction named Charlie’s Water Mountain. For hours of delightful playtime, don’t miss out on exploring the Chapman Adventure Playground as well.

Due to the park’s vastness, I highly recommend packing a picnic lunch to relish during your visit. A stroller is essential for young children. If your kids are interested, consider bringing skateboards, bikes, and similar gear for the skatepark!

If you need parking for your RV, the 33rd Place Parking lot offers space, but be sure to check your route for any low clearance bridges or tunnels in advance. Some suggest dropping off your RV at Riverwind Casino before heading downtown.

Jenks Aquarium

Located not too far from Tulsa in Jenks, there is a charming aquarium that our family has enjoyed on numerous occasions over the years. While it may not be the largest aquarium around, it provides an intimate experience, boasts knowledgeable staff, and offers engaging activities.

I recommend checking the feeding schedule before your visit and planning your day around watching the animals being fed. Our family particularly enjoys observing the playful otters during mealtime.

If the kids need to expend some energy after exploring the exhibits, head outside to the playground, which features a variety of options that my kids absolutely love, including an exhilarating roller slide!

Boy playing at Science Museum Oklahoma, one of the best Oklahoma attractions
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Boy playing at Science Museum Oklahoma, one of the best Oklahoma attractions
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Image source: Wonder Wherever We Wander

Science Museum Oklahoma

Undoubtedly the premier attraction in Oklahoma City, Science Museum Oklahoma is a must-visit if you’re in the area with kids. This expansive science center is among the best we’ve encountered during our nine years of travel (we utilize our ASTC pass whenever possible!).

Our children are captivated by the CurioCity section, particularly the vast interactive playground. The Tinkering Garage is also a big hit, offering diverse opportunities for building and creating, which my kids thoroughly enjoy. For any space enthusiasts in your group, catching a planetarium show is a must, and the live presentations are always a crowd-pleaser.

Science Museum Oklahoma features a spacious dining area, so bringing and eating your own lunch within the museum is convenient. Alternatively, food can be purchased on-site, although it can be quite pricey.

This museum is affiliated with the ASTCmutual program is available, so in case you possess an ASTC pass, ensure its utilization for complimentary admission! The parking is without charge and there is ample space in the lot (with additional parking available), but it tends to fill up on weekends and during school breaks. 

Zoo in Oklahoma City

Located right beside the Science Museum Oklahoma, the Oklahoma City Zoo is another essential attraction in OKC. While we lean more towards the science museum, I must admit that the zoo is also exceptionally well-crafted and may very well rank among the top 10 in the nation. 

We genuinely enjoy the elephant showcase and the chance to feed giraffes. Our 4-year-old loves the petting zoo and the Endangered Species Carousel, and the discussions with caregivers are constantly informative. Don’t forget to allocate time to explore the two amazing playgrounds within the zoo during your visit. 

The zoo can easily occupy an entire day. Consequently, we suggest bringing along snacks and lunch, as well as a baby carriage for the little ones who may get fatigued. 

This zoo is a part of the AZA mutual program, enabling you to save 50% with an AZA pass. Similar to the science museum, parking is complimentary and the lot is extensive (with overflow available), but it can get full on weekends and during school breaks. 

Pro Tip: For a budget-friendly and convenient meal post your zoo or museum visit, there is a McDonald’s with an indoor playground nearby, as well as a Sonic Drive-In featuring an outdoor playground.

Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

Desiring some outdoor excitement? Make your way to Lawton and explore the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. This destination is stunning, and observing the bison and elk that reside there freely is truly captivating. 

During your visit to the park, we highly recommend visiting the visitor center to learn more about the terrain, the history of the site, and the flora and fauna that inhabit the park. Ascending Mount Scott is also a must-do activity offering breathtaking views. Numerous trails are available for hiking (which is rare in the OKC region) and the various lakes provide opportunities for fishing and boating. 

Given the scarcity of potable water in the park (there might be none at all), it’s advisable to pack an ample supply of water. We usually carry a couple of gallons of water in the trunk of our car for this reason. Owing to sporadic cell service, download maps beforehand and do not rely solely on staying connected with travel companions via phone. Plan to dedicate an entire day (or more if possible) and prepare sufficient food. Admission is complimentary!

Boy playing at Chickasaw Cultural Center
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Boy playing at Chickasaw Cultural Center
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Image source: Wonder Wherever We Wander

Chickasaw Cultural Center

Surprisingly, we hadn’t made the trip down to Sulphur to explore the Chickasaw Cultural Center until very recently. What we encountered was truly marvelous! 

The center boasts an expansive and well-kept campus. The video presented in an impressive, modern theater with a large screen is an excellent way to commence a visit, as it delves into the history of the Chickasaw tribe. We also took pleasure in the quaint living history village (although no reenactors were present during our visit) and found the detailed information on each building intriguing. 

The highlight of our day was witnessing the stomp dance demonstration, where we could observe traditional stomp dancing and even participate in a few dances. This experience was exceptional, especially for the dancing enthusiasts in our group (accompanied by multiple sets of family friends).

Entry to the cultural center is free, but certain activities (like the museum) may entail a small fee. Parking is complimentary as well and there is ample space in a lot that could likely accommodate an RV. Situated adjacent to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area—there exists a pathway connecting the two—consider amalgamating them into a single day-trip, although allowing each attraction a full day would be preferable if feasible. 

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Concluding our list of Oklahoma highlights is the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. This is yet another Sulphur gem that we only recently discovered, and like the cultural center, it is truly a sight to behold.

Managed by the National Park Service, this park is presented and maintained to the high standards you’d anticipate from an NPS site. Our journey commenced at the Travertine Nature Center where the kids were provided with Junior Ranger books, and we viewed a film about the park. Subsequently, we embarked on a ranger-led hike that was truly exceptional. An individual from the Chickasaw tribe assisted in leading the hike and displayed extensive knowledge about the area and the park’s history. 

For the children, the most enjoyable part aboutthis journey was swimming at Little Niagara. This location had seating areas for picnics and shade, facilities, a shallow area for young ones, a deeper section for proficient swimmers, and even a spot to glide down the falls. Do keep in mind that our children did find tiny bloodsuckers after frolicking in the cool, motionless waters.

This park is an excellent choice for a family outing. I highly suggest commencing your exploration at the nature center like we did to discover the activities available and proceed from there. Bring along swim gear, sunblock, insect repellent, hydration, sturdy footwear, and a packed meal, and you’ll be all set! Admission is complimentary, but parking for RVs is extremely restricted (potentially unavailable entirely) unless you are camping within the park.

Trailer in Oklahoma campground
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Trailer in Oklahoma campground
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Image source: Wonder Wherever We Wander

Family-Oriented Camping Sites in Oklahoma

Naturally, you’ll require a spot to station your vehicle while exploring the state and its attractions in Oklahoma. Typically, we park on my grandmother’s property, so this isn’t a frequent concern for us. Nonetheless, we have spent time at Oklahoma campgrounds over the past 9 years, providing me with a few recommendations for places to camp with the kids.

Oklahoma City East KOA Holiday

We have lodged at the Oklahoma City East KOA on various occasions and have relished our visits each time. Each period, we stayed for a few months and paid the (surprisingly modest) monthly fee. The daily rate is slightly elevated, but that is customary for a KOA establishment.

We particularly adore the private shower facilities in this campground, and the compact yet well-maintained pool is a lifesaver during the warm months. The sites offer full connections, there is a small play area within the park, and a dog enclosure is accessible. The effortless access to the highway is also a bonus.

Wes Watkins Reservoir

Situated further east from OKC, Wes Watkins Reservoir is a suitable option for shorter stays. Priced at only $25 per night, it is incredibly economical, and the locations are tidy and well-shaded. It’s also pleasant to have access to the sandy beach at the reservoir.

The bathing facilities may leave something to be desired, and there are no sewer hookups at the locations, making showering a bit bothersome during your stay, but if it’s just a brief visit, showering within your rig and draining tanks at the dump station when departing is an option.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

We have never experienced a stay here, but we did pass by one of the campgrounds during our day expedition, and it appeared marvelous. I’ve included it in my list of campsites to explore in the future, and I suggest you do the same if you intend to spend time in Sulphur.

As mentioned on the NPS website, this park encompasses 6 distinct campgrounds. Among these, The Point Campground and Buckhorn Campground provide water and electric connections—alongside bathing amenities—and appear to be the prime choice for RV owners.

Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area

Lastly, there is Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area (LETRA). This camping area is situated within the Wichita Mountains and was a frequent destination for my family in my youth. It boasts pristine restrooms with showers, full-hookup sites, and stunning vistas of mountains and the lake.

We adored the water chutes and the beach for swimming when I was young, and I expect my children would delight in them as well. The adjacent mini-golf course seems immensely entertaining, and the on-site store is undoubtedly convenient.

We have never sojourned in Tulsa (aside from an overnight stay in a Cracker Barrel parking lot), hence I lack recommendations for campgrounds in that locality, but I am aware there are plentiful alternatives available.

Clearly, there are numerous splendid attractions in Oklahoma. Any of these would provide delightful experiences for families with children, but truthfully, my spouse and I find joy in these activities by ourselves as well. Which of these will you add to your vacation agenda?

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