Whether you want to explore the ruins of a Civil War fort, bathe an elephant, play with a tiger cub, or venture through an unexpected desert in a dune buggy, Oklahoma has it all. After settling into your cozy Oklahoma vacation rental, head out to these amazing secret spots that will take your getaway to the next level. Check out these hidden gems in Oklahoma that few people have the opportunity to experience.

1. Lendonwood Gardens, Grove

Source: Facebook/Lendonwood Gardens

Step inside Lendonwood Gardens, and peace settles in all around you. Stroll amid eight acres of dogwoods, Japanese maples, day lilies, rhododendron, and so much more in this secret garden. Open from dawn to sunset, the site features a Japanese tea house pavilion that has a lovely koi pond. The Angel of Hope sculpture garden gives visitors a secluded, tranquil spot to relax and meditate. Other gardens include the Azalea Garden and the Oklahoma Garden. Throughout the venue, well-groomed paths and quiet walkways meander through the lush, colorful flowers and trees.

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2. Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Sulphur

Source: Flickr/intenteffect

For easy hiking in a beautiful and easily accessible park, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in the Arbuckle Mountains gives you an escape from the humdrum of daily living. Stop at the nature center to see the interesting displays, including live fish, turtles, and snakes, and to get a hiking map of the park. Whether you go for hiking, fishing, or swimming, look for bison and deer along the refreshing springs and creeks that run through the area.

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3. Great Salt Plains State Park, Jet

Source: Facebook/Great Salt Plains State Park

Although rock hounds travel from everywhere to collect selenite crystals at Great Salt Plains State Park–the only place the hourglass-shaped crystals exist–relatively few people know about the park. To dig for crystals, take plenty of water, sunscreen, and small shovels. While you’re there, check out other activities at the park, including fishing, boating, and photo opportunities. If you happen to drive your car on the salt flats, remember to wash it as soon as possible, including the underneath, to avoid any erosion from the salt.

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4. Sequoyah State Park, Bartlesville

Source: Flickr/Sharon Mollerus

Stop by the nature center at Sequoyah State Park to pick up a trail pamphlet as there are several trails for walking, jogging, and bike riding. Fossil Trail gives you a great opportunity to find and identify fossils, although you must leave them there. The park sits on the eastern shore of Fort Gibson Lake, where you can go fishing. There’s a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a golf course in the park, among other amenities, including picnic grounds. Bartlesville vacation rentals include rustic cabins near the park, giving you quick and easy access to make your getaway convenient to the park as well as shopping and restaurants in town.

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5. Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve, Bartlesville

Source: Facebook/Woodaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve

The Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve includes a bit of everything to see. In the museum, there’s a large collection of native American artifacts, paintings, and sculpture. The museum transitions to pioneer life as displayed through artifacts and art, included a massive barbed wire collection. From Native Americans to the old west to aviation history, the museum houses more than 50,000 pieces of art. On the 3,700 acre preservation, look for bison, elk, long-horned cattle, water buffalo, and many other species. As you drive through the preserve, stay in your car until you reach a parking area as the animals are wild and unpredictable. There is a petting zoo available where the kids get to meet and pet some friendly, smaller species.

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6. Turner Falls, Davis

Source: Flickr/anyjazz65

Turner Falls is a hidden gem just a couple of miles off I-35 between Dallas and Oklahoma City. It features Oklahoma’s largest waterfall and a walk-in castle built in 1930. Look for wildlife, including deer and wild turkeys that inhabit the lush forests around the waterfall and creek. Amenities include a playground in front of the 77-foot waterfall, hiking trails, picnic areas, swimming areas, and three caves. All children under age 12 must wear a Coast Guard approved flotation device for their safety, which visitors must bring to the park.

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7. Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, Wynnewood

Source: Facebook/Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh, yeah. Open 365 days a year, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park allows visitors to interact with baby animals, including petting and feeding. It is the largest private zoo in the world that admits visitors. Other rescued animals include wolves and bears. Ozzy, a grizzly bear, gives bear kisses in exchange for treats, and you get to play with some of the wolves that are as tame as dogs. The group tour also includes interaction with smaller animals, including a lemur, a skunk, and an opossum.

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8. Little Sahara State Park, Waynoka

Source: Facebook/Little Sahara State Park

Little Sahara State Park gives you access to 1,600 acres of sand for riding dune buggies and other ATVs. It looks like the Sahara Desert, right here in northwestern Oklahoma. Navigating a paved walkway, visitors reach the observation tower to view a large expanse to watch the ATV riders in action. This scenic desert in the middle of nowhere offers miles after mile of trails around the outer edge, and out on wide open sand dunes in the mid-section. Take a cooler as park amenities include little more than restroom facilities.

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9. Fort Washita, Durant

Source: Flickr/Brian Wright

Built in the 1840s on the Oklahoma prairie, Fort Washita established protection and safety for the Chickasaws and Choctaws during their relocation to the area. When the Civil War came along, Union Troops abandoned the fort and Confederate soldiers used it as a headquarters. Following the war, the Chickasaw preserved the fort until the state historical society took control. Although the building that held artifacts and historical exhibits burned down, visitors still tour the grounds. According to local lore, the ghost of Aunt Jane hangs around, floating about the ruins in her white gown. The story says some thieves murdered her before 1861 because she refused to give them her money.

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10. Endangered Ark Foundation, Hugo

Source: Facebook/Endangered Ark Foundation

The Endangered Ark Foundation functions as a retirement home for circus elephants. On a Friday or Saturday during spring and summer, join a tour of the site to see how the foundation cares for the elephants, to pet and feed them, and to learn more about the gentle giants. Give the kids a special treat by getting the family involved in helping bathe an elephant.

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