10 Noteworthy Oklahoma Destinations for Students
Oklahoma has one of the largest populations of Native Americans in the United States, and students have access to incredible cultural experiences and the history of the West. From deep-sea creatures to Sasquatch, the state offers diverse educational opportunities and teachable moments.
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
Formerly known as the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum offers an unusual look into the state’s history through more than 28,000 Western artifacts and pieces of art. It is home to the largest collection of rodeo photographs, barbed wire, saddlery and vintage trophies in the world. With the goal of preserving and interpreting the heritage of the American West, the museum has collected works by artists such as Frederic Remington and memorabilia from Western movie stars including John Wayne. Galleries offer students a look into the daily life of working cowboys and the history of rodeo clowns, trick riding and women in rodeo.
Chickasaw Cultural Center
Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur offers educational opportunities that will leave a lasting impression on students. It has interactive exhibits on Native American history and culture, a 360-degree stomp dance room with an artificial bonfire and the Spirit Forest where students can understand the bond between the Chickasaw people and nature. Students will love the Aba’ Aanowa’ Sky Bridge’s sweeping views of Chickasaw Traditional Village and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Cultural events, stomp dances, living history performances and concerts are held in a scenic open-air amphitheater. Students will love connecting with the rich history and heritage of the Chickasaw Nation through these educational opportunities, as well as the Honor Garden where students can pay their respects to Chickasaw elders, warriors and leaders who hold a special place in history.
Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks is the perfect place for student groups. The aquarium offers guided behind-the-scenes tours, shark feeding tours and educational programs that allow students to learn about the handling and care of marine animals. There is an expansive glass shark tunnel where students can view some of the largest bull sharks in captivity. With a reservation, student groups can spend a night in the museum, sleep in the shark tunnel or host an event in a memorable setting. The aquarium is home to rare creatures from all over the world and offers students the chance to learn through exhibits, stingray hand-feeding and touch tanks.
Honobia Bigfoot Festival
Tucked away in the Kiamichi Mountains, Honobia Bigfoot Festival has been drawing crowds for nearly 10 years. The event is held in an area known to have the most Bigfoot sightings in the state, and the quirky folk festival offers presentations from Bigfoot field researchers on their latest findings. Visitors are encouraged to ask questions and gather around the Friday night campfire to listen to stories of encounters with the legendary forest-dweller. For skeptics and enthusiasts alike, there are live music performances, guided nature walks, arts and games. The festival offers an authentic opportunity to learn about local lore, and students can decide for themselves if Bigfoot is just a myth or something more.
Woodward Elks Rodeo
Woodward Elks Rodeo is a week-long event held every summer since 1929. Students will love the combination of history, Western heritage and high-adrenaline rodeo events. From the longhorn cattle drive through downtown Woodward to nightly barn dances with live bands, the rodeo fills the town and provides a fun-filled week. Students can watch calf and sheep wrangling and rodeo competitions, or they can try their hand at riding on a mechanical bull. They will be amazed by the specialty acts like bullfighting and trick riding, and they will never forget watching real cowboys brave bucking broncos and raging bulls.
Sandridge Sky Trail
Riversports Adventures in Oklahoma City offers students the chance to explore an 80-foot-tall playground known as the Sandridge Sky Trail. Known as the largest adventure course in the world, the course becomes increasingly difficult as they ascend the structure, forcing students to push their limits. Safety harnesses ensure that they will have fun in a safe way. Once at the top, students can take the stairs back down, soar across the Oklahoma River on a zip line, brave the high-speed 73-foot slide or take a plunge on the Rumble Drop free-fall experience. Students are challenged to work together to conquer the obstacles.
Parks and Refuges
Alabaster Caverns State Park
Located in northwestern Oklahoma, Alabaster Caverns State Park is home to the largest gypsum cavern in the world and the only natural gypsum cave in the United States that is open to the public. Students will descend over 300 feet below the earth’s surface on a guided tour of the caverns. They will learn the geological history and significance of the alabaster rock formations and the bats that inhabit the caves. Smaller, more adventurous groups should plan ahead to hike into the canyon and spend the night in Water Cave.
Turner Falls State Park
Turner Falls State Park is an oasis hiding in the shadow of the Arbuckle Mountains. Students can enjoy swimming at the base of a jaw-dropping, 77-foot waterfall and water slides in natural swimming holes. The park is great for groups looking to cool off in the clear water or relax on the sandy beaches. There are easy hiking trails and an elaborate rock castle open for students to explore.
Endangered Ark Foundation
Endangered Ark Foundation in southeastern Oklahoma is home to America’s second-largest herd of endangered Asian elephants, many of whom are retired from the circus. The sanctuary is dedicated to educating visitors about the endangered species and the importance of wildlife protection. On tours, students learn about the care of the animals, assist in bathing and even hand-feed the gentle giants. The caretakers at the foundation are known to inspire visitors through their special connection to the animals, and getting so close to such creatures is an unforgettable experience.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton offers over 59,000 acres of protected wilderness where students can experience the beauty of an idyllic, untouched mountain landscape. The refuge provides a safe home for wild buffalo, longhorn cattle, prairie dogs and elk, as well as more common wildlife. Quanah Parker Nature and Visitor Center offers interactive exhibits and educational wildlife tours to teach students about the history and ecology of the area. Hiking trails and bouldering opportunities will thrill adventurous students. Be sure to stop in the Parallel Forest, where seemingly endless expanses of huge cedar trees grow exactly six feet apart.