The unique terrain of Oklahoma has mystified and mesmerized visitors for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Preserving Oklahoma’s natural side has become of paramount importance to many of the state’s residents. Through a state park system encompassing 50 parks, nine national wildlife refuges, one national recreation area and many privately owned nature reserves, Oklahoma’s beauty will be around for years to come.
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The Oklahoma State park system offers a vacation landscape more diverse than any other state. In northwestern Oklahoma, you can race buggies on the vast dunes of Little Sahara State Park. If you’re more into scenic views and rolling hills, the Ouachita Mountains of Southeastern Oklahoma’s Talimena State Park are for you. Fairview is home to the breathtaking Gloss Mountain State Park’s geological wonders.
The Ouachita National Forest
From the onset of the national efforts to preserve America’s natural beauty, Oklahoma has been recognized as a place worth saving. The Ouachita National Forest was incorporated into the national forest system in 1907. This recreation area, stretching across southeastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, offers more than 352,000 acres of scenic vistas, hiking and mountain biking trails, hang gliding opportunities, an equestrian camp and trails, hunting and fishing opportunities. Four public campgrounds provide opportunities for a range of campers, from the biggest RVs to a two-man tent. Historic sites found along the Talimena Scenic Drive include Horsethief Springs and the Old Military Road. Many miles of unpaved forest roads also provide dirt bike and four-wheel drive enthusiasts the opportunity to enjoy some of Oklahoma's most scenic and rugged terrain.
Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge, another unique feature of Oklahoma’s landscape, has been identified as a Globally Important Bird Area and is a member of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. In addition to serving as one of only 17 shorebird reserves in the Western Hemisphere, the reserve maintains the remarkably unusual terrain of the Great Salt Plains. Created by the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, the salt plains are a unique geological area. The 11,000-acre barren area is near perfectly flat with a wafer thin salt crust. It is classified as the "largest such saline flat in the central lowlands of North America." Visitors to this area often enjoy digging for selenite crystals in the ground beneath the crusty layer of salt.
The Sequoyah National Wildlife Reserve
The Sequoyah National Wildlife Reserve was established in 1970 to maintain a vastly different view of Oklahoma’s environment. Half of this 20,800-acre refuge is made up of a deep open-water reservoir, riverine, oxbow lakes, wetlands or wooded sloughs; the remaining portion is divided between agricultural lands, river bluffs and shrub-scrub grasslands. Wildlife inhabiting this area includes the largest concentration of snow geese in the state, large numbers of wading and shorebirds in summer and fall, mallards in wintering months, songbirds, raptors, bobwhite quail, bobcat, squirrels, muskrat and rabbits. Reptiles such as the green tree frog, diamondback water snake, red-eared slider, cottonmouth and bullfrog are also common in the wetlands.
Oklahoma is perhaps most famous for its state animal: the bison. This beloved symbol of the West was nearly extinct at the time of statehood in 1907, but Oklahomans devoted land and resources in order to rebuild this mighty mammal’s numbers. A great place to see these creatures now is the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Northern Oklahoma. There is a ten-mile loop open to visitors that wish to observe the herds moving across the land.
Of course, there is so much more to see in Oklahoma. We invite you to trek to our state and discover just why Oklahoma’s natural landscape is unlike any other.