Summer Guide: Near or far, adventure awaits across Oklahoma

Tiger Safari (webdam.com / provided)

Tiger Safari (webdam.com / provided)


Read more of Oklahoma Gazette‘s Summer Guide stories here.


There is no more favorite time of the year for young and old than summertime, when just about everyone can get out and explore the wild, beautiful parks and attractions locally and across the state.

Animal adventures

Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden
2101 NE 50th St.
Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden is one of the most well-known and popular attractions in the state. With a multitude of animals and exhibits, it is tailor-made for individuals or groups looking to spend a day surrounded by wildlife. Experience animal interactions like Stingray Bay, giraffe feeding, behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters, walking tours and Keeper Connections in addition to regular and special wildlife exhibits, family programs, conservation education, special events and more. The Wild Encounters program, in which guides take guests on behind-the-scenes tours of the habitats of Galapagos tortoises, grizzly bears, flamingos, sea lions, elephants or rhinos, is new to the zoo. Encounters Passes are $15-$50. Zoo admission is free-$25. Visit okczoo.org.

Tiger Safari
963 County St. 2930, Tuttle
For 15 years, Tiger Safari has been one of the most interactive zoos in the area, according to owner Bill Meadows. Guests can get up-close and personal to exotic animals like leopards, lions, alligators, tigers, bears and more housed on the 42-acre property. This spring, Meadows is opening an encounter pool to the park, which allows staff to swim with tigers as visitors watch. Additionally, he said he will allow guests to swim with otters. “Kids get to pet a kangaroo, a baby monkey, pet a tiger or lion,” Meadows said. “It gets them all excited, but it also teaches them conservation. … It teaches them that all animals are our responsibility.” Admission is free-$12. Visit tigersafari.us.

(Lori Duckworth / Oklahoma Tourism / provided)

(Lori Duckworth / Oklahoma Tourism / provided)

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
32 Refuge Headquarters Road, Indiahoma (west of Lawton)
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has been around more than a century and spans more than 59,000 acres in southwest Oklahoma. It is home to a wide variety of native grasslands, forests and wildlife, including bison, reptiles, fish, elk, deer, wild turkey, prairie dogs, river otters and burrowing owls. The refuge allows hiking, animal watching and fishing and hunting with a permit and is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day. Admission is free. Visit fws.gov/refuge/wichita_mountains.

Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History
2401 Chautauqua Ave., Norman
Using artifacts, exhibits, special collections and educational programming, Sam Noble Museum does its best to tell the story of our planet. One of the museum’s popular current exhibits is Ugly Bugs!, which has been extended through Labor Day. For the past 20 years, Oklahoma Microscopy Society recruited students from around the state to find bugs and send them to labs to be scanned and imaged for this exhibit, said Morgan Day, museum marketing manager. The museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free-$8. Visit samnoblemuseum.ou.edu.

Children’s Garden and Thunder Fountain at Myriad Botanical Gardens (Carl Shortt Jr. / Provided)

Children’s Garden and Thunder Fountain at Myriad Botanical Gardens (Carl Shortt Jr. / Provided)

Park it

Children’s Garden and Thunder Fountain at Myriad Botanical Gardens
301 W. Reno Ave.
In the southwest corner of Myriad Botanical Gardens lies two imaginative play zones: Children’s Garden and Thunder Fountain. Year-round, hands-on activities take place on the porch, where children’s books also await young readers. Children’s Garden and Thunder Fountain admission is free. The Children’s Garden is open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Thunder Fountain opens 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily beginning May 20. Visit myriadgardens.org.

Memorial Park
1150 NW 36th St.
Oklahoma City Parks & Recreation Department oversees 17 free community spraygrounds across the metro, and Memorial Park is one of them. There are multiple community tennis courts, a soccer field, a new playground, walking trails, covered picnic tables and the restored Memorial Fountain surrounded by beautiful spots to sit and enjoy a picnic or just reflect as you watch your children play till they’re exhausted. Admission is free. Hours are dawn to 11 p.m. daily. All city spraygrounds are open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily May 27 through July 30 and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekends July 31 through Sept. 4. Visit okc.gov/departments/parks-recreation.

Will Rogers Gardens
3400 NW 36th St.
Hands-on gardening classes and activities for all ages, along with special events, workshops designed for the family and acres of beauty, are the hallmarks of Will Rogers Gardens. More than 30 acres is home to Charles E. Sparks Color Garden, Margaret Annis Boys Arboretum, Will Rogers Garden Exhibition Center and Ed Lycan Conservatory. The gardens feature a disc golf course and an aquatic center open Memorial Day through Labor Day. Gardens admission is free, and it’s open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. Visit okc.gov/recreation/will-rogers-gardens.

Stephenson Park
E. Fifth Street and S. Boulevard, Edmond
Adjacent to Edmond Historical Society & Museum and the American Legion, Stephenson Park features a playground, tennis and basketball courts, its iconic “rocket ship slide” and a pavilion, and grills are available for public use. One of the city’s oldest parks, it was commissioned in 1892 as South Park. Admission is free. The park opens dawn to dusk daily. A special, free family movie, Night at the Museum: Secrets of the Tomb, screens at dusk June 9. Visit edmondparks.com.

(Provided)

(Provided)

E.C. Hafer Park
1034 S. Bryant Ave., Edmond
This 121-acre jewel has something for everyone: playgrounds, exercise stations, 1.5 miles of paved multiuse trails, grassy parks, water features, a grand pavilion, a sports complex and ballpark, a kids’ fishing pond and an outdoor stage that features free weekly Concerts in the Park 6:15 p.m.-8:45 p.m. each Thursday from May 25 to July 27. Park admission is free. Hours are dawn to dusk daily, and pavilions are open till 10 p.m. Visit edmondparks.com and edmondok.com/concertsinthepark.

The Oklahoma River and Boathouse District (Lori Duckworth / Oklahoma Tourism / provided)

The Oklahoma River and Boathouse District (Lori Duckworth / Oklahoma Tourism / provided)

Summer splash

The Oklahoma River and Boathouse District
800 Riversport Drive
The Oklahoma River offers a wide variety of events, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, adventure courses and high-speed slides, to name a few. For those who are up for a bigger challenge, a 4,000-meter race and training course also awaits. Two major festivals take place this year in the Boathouse District: the inaugural OKC Whitewater Festival May 20-21 and Stars & Stripes River Festival June 24. The district is open weekends through Memorial Day and every day through the summer. Admission is $19-$49, and the district opens at 10 a.m. most days. Visit boathousedistrict.org.

White Water Bay
3908 W. Reno Ave.
With over 30 slides, rides and pools, there is something for everyone. One of the waterpark’s newest features is Barefootin’ Bay, a kiddie area with mini-slides, spray toys and giant tipping buckets. Other adventures include the Acapulco Cliff Dive, Bermuda Triangle, Cannonball Falls and the Mega Wedgie. Dive-In Movies kick off June 30 with the musical Sing and continue with a new movie at dusk each Friday through July 28. White Water Bay opens May 20 with pass prices ranging from $28.99 to $50. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. most days. Visit whitewaterbay.com.

Andy Alligator’s Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Place, Norman
Down the road in Norman, Andy Alligator’s is ready to relieve summertime heat. Those who need speed will find it on Banzai Pipeline or four-lane Riptide Racer. For guests who would rather float down the stream of life, well, that’s what Lazy River — 800 feet of chill rafting — and Cowabunga Cove — a water playset with three slides and an 800-gallon tipping bucket — are for. For the littler ones, Bubbler’s Beach has mini-slides and water jets. The park opens May 13. Admission is $9.95-$19.95, and $34.95 buys visitors a dual pass for the waterpark and arcade. The park opens at 11 a.m. Visit andyalligators.com.

Pelican Bay Aquatic Center
1034 S. Bryant Ave., Edmond
Take a drive north to Edmond to visit Pelican Bay Aquatic Center. Featuring a current channel, a climbing wall, a slide splash pool, a playground with automated sprays, diving boards and two 150-foot waterslides, the City of Edmond’s municipal water park also hosts swimming lessons, Pelican Bay Café and more. Monday-Saturday operations run May 27-Aug. 13. The park switches to a weekends-only schedule Aug. 19-Sept. 4. Admission is free-$7 and the park opens 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday and noon Sunday. Visit pelicanbayaquatics.com.

Day trippin’ 

Oklahoma Aquarium
300 Aquarium Drive, Jenks
Located just south of Tulsa, the 72,000-square-foot Oklahoma Aquarium has remained a mainstay of the city of Jenks for over a decade, hosting approximately 400,000 visitors annually. It features eight exhibits focused on Oklahoma species, Ozark habitats, coral reefs, invertebrates and sharks. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday. Closed Christmas day. Admission is free-$15.95. Same-day re-entry is allowed with a hand stamp. Visit okaquarium.org.

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (Photo Mike Fuhr / provided)

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (Photo Mike Fuhr / provided)

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
15316 County Road 4201, Pawhuska
With over 39,000 acres, the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve stands as the largest protected tallgrass prairie on the planet. Placing an emphasis on conservation, it houses a variety of native wildlife and greenery. Summer sights range from bison and their frolicking calves to a veritable rainbow of wildflowers and grasses. Those wishing to stretch their legs will be rewarded by the preserve’s self-guided hiking trails, one being a half-mile and another about two miles. Admission is free. The visitor center is usually open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Groups of 10 or more should contact the preserve in advance by emailing kkrebbs@tnc.org. Visit nature.org/ourinitiatives.

Woolaroc Ranch Museum & Wildlife Preserve
12 miles SW of Bartlesville and 45 miles NW of Tulsa on State Highway 123
Bison, longhorns, deer, Scotch Highland cattle and elk all make the area home and can be viewed on the two-mile scenic trek through the 3,700-acre preserve. For those interested in an indoor adventure, the venue also features a 50,000 square-foot museum and tours of Woolaroc Lodge, the former country home of Frank Phillips (founder of Phillips Petroleum) and his wife Jane. Woolaroc admission is free-$12. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. It’s also open Tuesdays May 29 through Sept. 4. Visit woolaroc.org.

Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve (Kim Baker / Oklahoma Tourism / provided)

Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve (Kim Baker / Oklahoma Tourism / provided)

Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve
County Road 325, Kenton
The first major draw of Black Mesa is its views. Located in the panhandle, the mesa stretches from Oklahoma into Colorado and New Mexico, with its highest Oklahoma portion reaching 4,973 feet above sea level. The rewards are abundant for those willing to make the trek. Activities include a variety of vista tours, coming in at 349 acres, as well as an abundance of campsites, boat ramps, picnic facilities and trails for any looking to stay for more than an afternoon. Admission to the preserve is free from dawn to dusk daily. Tent site rental is $14, RV site rental with electric and water hook-up is $22, and premium sites are $5 more. Visit nature.org/ourinitiatives.

print headline: Wild summer!, There is no more favorite time of the year for young and old than summertime, when just about everyone can get out and explore the wild, beautiful parks and attractions locally and across the state.

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