While we have some cool national park units in Oklahoma, our parks are designated national historic sites, national recreation areas, etc. But what if you want to visit one of the big sixty-three national park units given the designation “national park?” What are the national parks near Oklahoma?
How long would it take to get to them? Which can be done as a long weekend getaway and which are only worth it if you have four days or more?
This guide will help you determine which of the national parks closest to Oklahoma are right for your next trip, and which need to be added to your national parks bucket list.
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National Parks Near Oklahoma: What Does Near Mean to an Oklahoman?
This guide to the national parks near Oklahoma uses the word near, but what does that mean? Well, it’s an Oklahoma near. IYKYK. Translate is as: national parks within a day’s drive of Oklahoma.
In fact, the closest national park to Oklahoma City is five hours away, and many of the best national parks closest to Oklahoma are still ten or more hours away.
Oklahomans are used to tackling these kinds of distances for road trips. If you’re new to the state, this might seem insane. Well, welcome to the middle of the country, where a short drive can be 3-4 hours and a day’s drive is still a piece of cake.
For this post, I’m using a cutoff of 15 hours away. If you want even more options, look towards the bottom of this post, where you’ll find an extensive list of drive times to national parks that are further afield.
Map of National Parks Near Oklahoma (16 Hours or Less)
Good to know: if you’re planning on visiting more than one national park, you should consider investing in a national park pass. Our pass saved us $430 in one year.
National Parks Near Oklahoma City: Top 3
Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas (5 hrs 15 min)
Gateway Arch National Park – Missouri (7 hrs 20 min)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park – New Mexico (8 hrs 25 min)
National Parks Near Tulsa: Top 3
Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas (4 hrs 25 min)
Gateway Arch National Park – Missouri (5 hrs 45 min)
Mammoth Cave National Park – Kentucky (9 hrs 40 min)
National Parks Near Oklahoma: 26 Closest Parks + Why to Visit
Here are the US national parks you can reach in a day’s drive from Oklahoma.
I’ve been to thirteen of the listed twenty-six closest parks on road trips from OKC (and twenty-one national parks overall), so I have tips towards the end of the article on planning a national parks road trip from Oklahoma.
Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)
The closest national park to Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Hot Springs National Park in central Arkansas is the fabulous getaway weekend you may not have thought of yet.
There’s something to do here for everyone, from twenty-six miles of hiking to thermal bath houses to scenic drives and overlooks.
So come hike, unwind, and enjoy the view.
Drive Time: 5 hrs 15 min from Oklahoma City / 4 hrs 25 min from Tulsa
Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)
Located on the spot where Lewis and Clark began their North American expedition, Gateway Arch National Park’s location on the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis makes it the only truly urban national park in the United States.
Educational opportunities here include visiting the museum and the Old Courthouse, though most visitors are primarily interested in riding the retro elevators to the top of the arch.
If you want to spend some time connecting with nature while here, you can also enjoy five miles of biking and walking trails.
Drive Time: 7 hrs 20 min from Oklahoma City / 5 hrs 45 min from Tulsa
Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)
There are three national parks on this list, and three are worth planning a visit to see.
Carlsbad Caverns features over one hundred caverns. You can explore at your own pace, or go on a guided tour.
Other things to do at Carlsbad Caverns include hiking the Guadalupe Ridge Trail, bat watching, and star gazing.
Drive Time: 8 hrs 25 min from Oklahoma City / 10 hrs from Tulsa
Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)
The perfect national park for those who don’t want to drive (once you get there, anyway), Guadalupe Mountains National Park features over 80 miles of hiking trails and most activities in the park require at least a short walk to reach.
Choose your trail by checking out my friend Kate’s guide to hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Other things to do here beyond hiking include checking out the Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum and driving to the park’s car-accessible viewpoints and scenic overlooks.
Drive Time: 8 hrs 55 min from Oklahoma City / 10 hrs 25 min from Tulsa
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)
If you like to snowboard or ski, then you should definitely rent a sandboard or sand sled and hit the slopes. Er, hit the dunes.
If you prefer to stay on your own two feet, you can hike the dunes or enjoy the opportunity for astrophotography.
Great Sand Dunes is the closest of Colorado’s national parks to Oklahoma, so it’s a great way to start a Colorado national parks road trip.
Drive Time: 9 hrs 10 min from Oklahoma City / 10 hrs 20 min from Tulsa
Big Bend National Park (Texas)
The more famous of the two main national parks in Texas, Big Bend National Park is located in far southern Texas, near the US border with Mexico.
You can enjoy over a hundred miles of Rio Grande views along with scenic drives, hiking trails, and river trips.
Drive Time: 9 hrs 10 min from Oklahoma City / 10 hrs 45 min from Tulsa
White Sands National Park (New Mexico)
Another sand-based national park, White Sands offers a lot of similar activities to Great Sand Dunes National Park, including sand sledding and hiking in the dunes.
One activity that you can enjoy at White Sands NP that isn’t available at Great Sand Dunes NP is a scenic drive along the dunes. Here you can take in the sights along the aptly named Dunes Drive (which you can also experience on a bicycle).
Drive Time: 9 hrs 20 min from Oklahoma City / 10 hrs 45 min from Tulsa
Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
One of the UNESCO sites near Route 66, Petrified Forest National Park is one of three national parks in Arizona.
It’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to its UNESCO inscription:
[Petrified Forest] is one of the premier places in the world for the study of the ecosystem of the Late Triassic Epoch.
It contains the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world, as well as important fossils of plants and animals, including early dinosaurs, all in a detailed stratigraphic setting that allows changes in the ecosystem and biota to be effectively traced through the end of the Triassic.
At the park, you can walk the hiking trails, stay at the historic Painted Desert Inn, and see Ancestral Puebloan architecture.
Drive Time: 10 hrs 30 min from Oklahoma City / 12 hrs 30 min from Tulsa
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
A breathtaking collection of mountain vistas and lakes await visitors at Rocky Mountain National Park, which is so popular that it requires reservations to enter during the park’s high season.
And it’s not hard to figure out why people love it so much. Trail Ridge Road is so beautiful that it gets used in car commercials, while Bear Lake is one of the most iconic spots in Colorado – a state that is not at a loss for iconic spots.
There are so many places to visit in the park, though, that you can find some solitude if you know where to look for it. Hike up into the mountains or head to the (slightly) less crowded western side of the park.
Drive Time: 10 hrs 50 min from Oklahoma City / 11 hrs 5 min from Tulsa
Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
The only NPS unit designated as a national park in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave is a hidden gem among the parks in the National Park Service.
You can enjoy the caves at Mammoth Cave, as well as the almost 80 miles of hiking trails, canoeing, fishing, and stargazing.
Drive Time: 11 hrs from Oklahoma City / 9 hrs 40 min from Tulsa
Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)
Here you can enjoy the spectacular shores of Lake Michigan and all they have to offer, from swimming to birdwatching to hiking the dunes.
You can also enjoy the historic building in between beach hopping and exploring the over fifty miles of hiking trails.
Drive Time: 12 hrs from Oklahoma City / 10 hrs 30 min from Tulsa
Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
Beautiful scenic overlooks and short trails make Badlands National Park a great choice for families with young children. You’ll be able to spot wildlife from the car, as both bison and prairie dogs are abundant here.
With fewer amenities than some other parks, bring your own lunch to enjoy a picnic with spectacular views.
Drive Time: 12 hrs from Oklahoma City / 12 hrs from Tulsa
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
Dubbed the “Black Canyon,” this spot along the Gunnison river is so named because parts of the canyon are so deep and narrow that the walls only receive half an hour of light each day.
Too often overlooked in favor of Colorado’s other parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP has a lot to offer, from scenic drives to canyon viewpoints to hiking that can generously be classified as “extremely difficult.”
Drive Time: 12 hrs 15 min from Oklahoma City / 13 hrs 40 min from Tulsa
Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
Home to magnificent cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloan, Mesa Verde is a great way to learn about the people who lived on the Colorado plateau. A Mesa Verde visit can include a variety of activities, from hiking to cliff dwelling tours to learning about the area’s history at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.
Drive Time: 12 hrs 30 min from Oklahoma City / 13 hrs 20 min from Tulsa
Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)
Wind Cave is often overshadowed by Badlands National Park as well as Mount Rushmore National Memorial. However, that’s a complete shame! Wind Cave is a true hidden gem.
Wind Cave is home to hiking trails, a bison herd, and the seventh-longest cave in the world.
The perfect day at Wind Cave NP involves driving through a field of bison before heading underground on a cave tour.
Drive Time: 12 hrs 40 min from Oklahoma City / 12 hrs 45 min from Tulsa
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina)
Perfect for waterfall lovers, history buffs, and horseback riders, a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perfect for families traveling together.
In fact, this park is so popular with vacation goers that it’s the most visited national park in the US!
You can enjoy one day in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as part of a Gatlinburg vacation or Tennessee road trip, or you can stay out here for a full week, enjoying all this park has to offer.
Drive Time: 12 hrs 55 min from Oklahoma City / 12 hrs from Tulsa
Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
Everyone’s heard of the Grand Canyon, but you might be surprised that there’s more to do here than just peer into its depths.
You can hike to the bottom (just remember you have to hike back up), enjoy the scenic Desert View Drive, and, of course, go on one of the park’s famous mule trips.
If you can snag a cabin on the North Rim, go for it. I’ve never seen cabins or accommodations anywhere in the world with as magnificent a locale.
Drive Time: 13 hrs 35 min from Oklahoma City / 15 hrs from Tulsa
Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
There are a lot of canyons on this list, but, yes, each of them is worth visiting!
Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah, is easily paired with Arches NP (below), so a trip out here is a lot of bang for your buck.
This park is huge, with multiple sections, though most visitors barely scratch the surface.
Drive Time: 13 hrs 45 min from Oklahoma City / 15 hrs 15 min from Tulsa
Arches National Park (Utah)
This compact national park is iconic and is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches. You can see them by hiking as well as from the road driving on the park’s scenic drive.
Arches NP is a very popular park because of its compact size and impressive natural wonders. Timed Entry reservations are required from April through October.
Drive Time: 13 hrs 55 min from Oklahoma City / 15 hrs 30 min from Tulsa
Saguaro National Park (Arizona)
Named for the Saguaro cactus that dots its landscape, this national park is located near Tuscon, Arizona. In fact, the park is split in two sections and practically surrounds the city.
You can hike underneath the giant cacti, see ancient petroglyphs, and enjoy the beautiful scenic drives with mountain views.
Drive Time: 14 hrs from Oklahoma City / 15 hrs 30 min from Tulsa
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
This national park sandwiched between Cleveland and Akron is a great place to escape. Some of the top things to do here include taking a scenic train ride, hiking to one of the park’s waterfalls, and going horseback riding.
If you want to enjoy the park’s 125 miles of hiking trails. To help you decide which trail to pick, check out my friend Amanda’s guide to hiking in Cuyahoga Valley NP.
Drive Time: 15 hrs 15 min from Oklahoma City / 13 hrs 45 min from Tulsa
Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)
Drive Time: 5 hrs 15 min from Oklahoma City / 4 hrs 23 min from Tulsa
Capitol Reef National Park preserves both the gorgeous natural landscape of the Waterpocket Fold, as well as the historic Mormon settlement called the Fruita Historic District.
Some of the top things to do in Capitol Reef include walking to the petroglyphs, picking fruit in the orchards, and…wait for it…eating pie.
That’s right. One of the best things to do here after you go on a hike or drive is to eat pies made from the historic fruit varietals of Capitol Reef.
Congaree National Park (South Carolina)
South Carolina’s only designated national park, Congaree National Park protects the largest remaining US tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.
You can come to learn or to play, but make sure to set aside time to go on a hike in the primeval forest.
Drive Time: 15 hrs 35 min from Oklahoma City / 15 hrs 50 min from Tulsa
Zion National Park (Utah)
Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country, with famous hikes, jaw-dropping views, and cool breezes floating among the green trees and red rocks.
This is one of those places that you won’t fully understand its popularity until you get here, but you’ll leave with Zion as one of your favorite parks.
Drive Time: 15 hrs 40 min from Oklahoma City / 16 hrs 45 min from Tulsa
Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)
This Minnesota national park is so far north that it’s one of your best opportunities to see the Northern Lights in the lower 48. And there’s a ton to do here during the day while you wait to see if the lights will come out after dark.
There are waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and island camping to keep you entertained.
Drive Time: 15 hrs 40 min from Oklahoma City / 14 hrs 40 min from Tulsa
New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia)
The newest national park, New River Gorge NP has whitewater rafting and rock climbing along with more typical national park activities like hiking and fishing.
There are multiple scenic drives here, along with historic sites and the iconic New River Gorge Bridge.
Drive Time: 15 hrs 45 min from Oklahoma City / 14 hrs 20 min from Tulsa
Remaining National Parks with OKC + Tulsa Drive Times
Here are the rest of the US national parks with estimated drive times.
National Parks 16-18 Hours Away
Theodore Roosevelt National Park | Bryce Canyon National Park | Grand Teton National Park | Joshua Tree National Park (from OKC) | Shenandoah National Park | Death Valley National Park (from OKC) | Isle Royale National Park (from Tulsa)
National Parks 19-21 Hours Away
Joshua Tree National Park (from Tulsa) | Death Valley National Park (from Tulsa) | Isle Royale National Park | Great Basin National Park | Yellowstone National Park | Everglades National Park (from Tulsa)
National Parks 22-24 Hours Away
Sequoia National Park | Everglades National Park (from OKC) | Kings Canyon National Park | Yosemite National Park | Biscayne National Park | Glacier National Park | Pinnacles National Park | Dry Tortugas National Park (from Tulsa)
National Parks 25-31 Hours Away
Dry Tortugas National Park (from OKC) | Lassen Volcanic National Park | Crater Lake National Park | Acadia National Park | Mount Rainier National Park | North Cascades National Park | Olympic National Park | Redwood National Park
National Parks 58-66 Hours Away
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve | Denali National Park and Preserve | Kenai Fjords National Park | Gates of the Arctic National Park
National Parks that Are Not Reachable by Car from Oklahoma
Channel Islands National Park | Glacier Bay National Park | Kobuk Valley National Park | Lake Clark National Park | Katmai National Park and Preserve | Haleakala National Park | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | National Park of American Samoa | Virgin Islands National Park
Tips for Planning a National Parks Road Trip from Oklahoma
Here are a few things I’ve learned after road trips to many national parks from Oklahoma City:
Plan Your Itinerary to Include Multiple Parks
If you’re going to drive some of these distances, you can look to see if you can combine multiple parks into one trip.
For example, common road trip itineraries include visiting Badlands National Park with Wind Cave and Theodore Roosevelt, seeing all five Utah national parks in one trip, and combining Rocky Mountain National Park with Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and even Glacier.
Consider Adding Other NPS Units to Your Itinerary
There are amazing National Park Service units that have designations other than “national park.” You can add a stop at Mount Rushmore National Memorial to your Badlands itinerary, Bandelier National Monument to a New Mexico national parks road trip, and Grand Staircase Escalante to a Utah Mighty Five trip.
Invest in a National Parks Pass
Once you know your itinerary, add up the fees for the parks and other NPS sites you plan on seeing. Then compare it to the price of an America the Beautiful pass to see if you can save money.
Budget Extra for Gasoline
If you are used to Oklahoma prices, you might be shocked at gas prices in some of these places. Google the price of gasoline where you’ll be going and factor in that you will spend much more time driving in many of these parks than you might anticipate.
5 Things to Pack for a National Parks Road Trip
These are the items I take on every national park road trip.
First, I like to grab a Lonely Planet guide to the area, as well as a Falcon hiking guide for each of the parks on my itinerary.
Next, bring a good day bag. I use this day bag for visiting national parks. It’s survived twenty-one of them! It’s sturdy but inexpensive, yet big enough for me to organize what I need for a full park day.
Bring a portable charger to keep your phone charged during your trip. This is an important safety item in case of an emergency, so don’t leave home without it!
Grab a packable down jacket so you can easily add a layer of warmth.
Finally, you will want to have a small first aid kit with a small vaseline and bandaids for blisters, along with a small pocket knife.
Frequently Asked Questions about National Parks Near Oklahoma (FAQ)
These are the questions travelers most frequently have about the national parks closest to Oklahoma.
What are the national parks closest to Oklahoma City?
The three closest national parks to OKC are Hot Springs National Park, Gateway Arch National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
What are the national parks closest to Tulsa?
The three closest national parks to OKC are Hot Springs National Park, Gateway Arch National Park, and Mammoth Cave National Park.
What is the closest national park to Oklahoma?
Hot Springs National Park is the closest park to most of Oklahoma. Great Sand Dunes National Park is the closest national park to the Oklahoma panhandle.
Does Oklahoma have national parks?
Oklahoma has National Park Service sites, but none are labeled “national parks.”
How many national parks are in Oklahoma?
There are six National Park Service units in Oklahoma, but none are designated as “national parks.”
What are the six national parks in Oklahoma?
The six NPS units in Oklahoma are the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Fort Smith National Historic Site, Oklahoma City National Memorial, Santa Fe National Historic Trail, Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.
What is the most popular national park in Oklahoma?
The most visited National Park Service site in Oklahoma is the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which sees over 350,000 visitors a year.
Pin this Guide to the National Parks near Oklahoma City and Tulsa for Your Oklahoma Adventures!
Stephanie Craig is a born-and-bred Oklahoma mom and travel expert who has been to over fifty countries. After traveling all over the world, Stephanie moved back to Oklahoma to explore more of her own backyard. Her favorite things to do in Oklahoma include visiting the Blue Whale of Catoosa, the Arcadia Round Barn, and the Talimena Scenic Byway.