Everyone wants their kids to have fun on vacation, but if they can learn a little something, too, that's even better. Southeast Oklahoma is full of venues that provide excellent opportunities for hands-on learning that are so interesting your kids may not even realize they're on an educational trip.
The lush forests of southeast Oklahoma are a wonderful place to learn about nature. Before you head out, pick up a nature guide. (I think the Fun with Nature Take Along Guides are great for beginners, or something more detailed like Birds of Oklahoma may be more appropriate if your kids are older or more experienced.) You're guaranteed to see plants of all kinds and it's likely you'll see birds and other animals, so you may want to decide on a specific focus before your trip. Check the trails in the parks for signs about animals that are commonly found in the areas.
Editor's Note: State Park officials recommend checking online for closures due to high water.
Best Spots for Nature Hikes
Beavers Bend Resort Park in Broken Bow has miles of hiking trails for visitors of all ability levels. On your way along these trails you'll be able to see a wide variety of plant and animal life. You'll also travel through several different landscapes, from creeks to heavy forests to mountain ridges. No matter how many times you visit the park, you'll discover something new.
Lake Murray State Park is another vacation spot that's great for learning about nature. If you don't know much about nature yourself, have no fear, because the nature center at Tucker Tower is an amazing resource for parents and kids. There are plenty of hands-on opportunities in the interpretive center for families to learn about the environment and conservation.
If you're looking for a truly unique opportunity to see animals up close and personal, take the family to Arbuckle Wilderness. As you drive through the trails you'll see native Oklahoman wildlife along with some exotic animals. For a small extra charge, you can feed the animals, too! Once you're done with the driving part of the tour, be sure to visit the reptile house for a look at some of Oklahoma's most slithery residents.
Turner Falls Park is probably the state's most well known park, and it's also an opportunity to visit caves and waterfalls. There are nature trails and swimming areas, too, to help your kids burn off any extra energy. The park is very busy during the summer months and gates are closed to new admissions once a maximum number of visitors have entered, so you might want to arrive early!
Step into the Past
Southeast Oklahoma also offers visitors a glimpse into history at both the Chickasaw Cultural Center and Beavers Bend's Forest Heritage Center Museum.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur is an absolutely beautiful campus that shares the stories of the Chickasaw people from the past to the present day. Interactive exhibits bring guests into those stories, from the Trail of Tears to life in Indian Territory. If you visit on the weekend, you can see demonstrators participating in the daily tasks of 18th century Chickasaw life in the Living Village, weather permitting. Even your most reluctant history students will be drawn in and come away with a greater appreciation for the past. The center is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission into the Chikasha Poya Exhibit Center is $6 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and military. Children 12 and under are free.
The Forest Heritage Center Museum in Broken Bow is a very unique museum. You might wonder how there can be an entire museum about a forest and how interesting that could even be, but you'll be amazed and intrigued by the exhibits here. Visitors can view 14 different dioramas that depict everything from prehistoric forests to paper making and can listen to taped narration to learn more about each topic. There are also chainsaw carvings, a century-old log cabin, and an exhibit honoring the firefighters that risk their lives to protect the forests. No admission is charged and the museum is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you're looking to learn something new about Oklahoma, head southeast and off the beaten path for sights and sounds like nowhere else!