Oklahoma’s second-largest city is located about 90 minutes northeast of Oklahoma City where the Osage and Muscogee Creek Reservations meet. While much of the western region of the state features tallgrass prairie and dusty plains, Tulsa is bisected by the Arkansas River and surrounded by rolling hills filled with trees as the land rises toward the Ozark Mountains in the east.
From urban adventures to encounters with nature, here are 11 excellent outdoor activities in Tulsa.
1. Take A Hike
Whether you hit the trails when the Eastern redbuds are full of delicate pink blooms, the paths are lined with colorful wildflowers, or the fall colors are on full display, there are many great places to hike in Tulsa. About 15 minutes south of downtown, the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area covers more than 300 acres, with miles and miles of riverside trails to explore.
In the opposite direction, near the Tulsa International Airport, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the Oxley Nature Center. Located in Mohawk Park, one of the country’s largest municipal parks, the Oxley Nature Center includes a 600-foot boardwalk, observation tower, and plenty of picnic spots. Hikers will enjoy exploring its miles of trails that wind through forests, fields, and wetlands, providing wildlife-viewing opportunities.
Pro Tip: Before you hit the Tulsa trails, lace on the perfect pair of hiking boots.
2. Visit The Tulsa Zoo
In addition to the Oxley Nature Center, Mohawk Park is home to the Tulsa Zoo. See furry mammals, feathered flocks, and scaly creatures from around the world at this AZA-accredited destination. You won’t want to miss an opportunity to feed the giraffes in the Africa exhibit or watch the chimps monkey around. Another fantastic experience is the Lost Kingdom, featuring a wide range of animals native to Asia. Watch for Malayan tigers walking overhead as they use the tiger bridge to move from one enclosure to another, and stop by the training areas to watch zookeepers interact with the animals.
The Tulsa Zoo is open 364 days a year, only closing on December 25 for Christmas.
3. Enjoy A Picnic
I think food always tastes a little better outside, especially in a picturesque setting. If you agree, there’s no better place to enjoy a picnic in Tulsa than on the grounds of the Philbrook Museum of Art. The sprawling three-story Italian-style villa now filled with impressive art from around the world was once the home of Waite and Genevieve Phillips. While I definitely recommend visiting the art museum, an excellent outdoor activity is a picnic in the gardens surrounding the home.
Stop at The Fresh Market for all the fresh ingredients you’ll need to fill your picnic basket. Or pack a European-inspired charcuterie board with gourmet meat and cheese from EuroMart. You can also grab ready-to-eat items from the Mother Road Market, a food hall with multiple local eateries under one roof. And whether you enjoy sushi, sandwiches, or salad for the main course, be sure to finish your picnic with chocolates from Glacier Confection.
Fun Fact: The koi pond near the colonnade at the far end of the formal garden was a swimming pool when the Phillips family lived at Philbrook.
4. Explore The Tulsa Botanic Garden
Another scenic outdoor spot is the Tulsa Botanic Garden on the northwestern edge of the city. Built into the rolling hills of the southeastern edge of the Osage Reservation, this 170-acre green space is an impressive four-season destination.
Visit in the spring to admire thousands of colorful tulips cascading down the hill of the floral terraces. In the summer, cool off with a visit to the Spring Giant, a 15-foot fantastical beast that fills Stream Valley from a small waterfall bubbling out of his toothy grin. As the summer turns to fall, take a hike on the 1.5-mile Cross Timbers Trail Loop. Watch for birds or simply sit on one of the benches in a thicket of trees and enjoy the sounds of nature. And as the last colorful leaves drop to the ground, you’ll find the garden aglow with thousands of lights during Garden of Lights.
5. Get Together At The Gathering Place
Nestled into 100 acres overlooking the Arkansas River, the Gathering Place is an impressive public park south of downtown Tulsa funded by the generosity of billionaire philanthropist George B. Kaiser. Enjoy the great outdoors by wandering through the gardens, exploring the trails, or paddling on the pond at the Gathering Place.
Pro Tip: While service animals are always welcome, all other dogs are only allowed to visit the Gathering Place on Wednesday mornings, when the park hosts a dog play group.
6. Step Into The Center Of The Universe
At the midpoint of a pedestrian walkway that connects First Street with Archer, you’ll find a concrete-and-brick circle with mysterious acoustics known as the Center of the Universe. If you step onto the concrete circle and say something -- whether it’s a whisper or a scream -- your voice will bounce off the concrete benches encircling you and create an echo known as the Center of the Universe. And if that isn’t freaky enough, anyone standing outside the circle won’t hear what you hear.
7. Go On A Scavenger Hunt
One of my favorite ways to explore a new destination is with an interactive scavenger hunt. Over a few hours (and a few miles), I’m able to get the lay of the land blended with history, a touch of culture, and a little exercise. The Let’s Roam Center of the Universe scavenger hunt incorporates some of Tulsa’s most iconic landmarks and hidden gems, including The Mayo Hotel, Guthrie Green, and the Tulsa Arts District. And, as the name of this interactive scavenger hunt suggests, the route also includes a stop at the Center of the Universe.
8. Tour The Art Deco Architecture
As America boomed in the Roaring Twenties, automotive industry giants in New York raced to build the world’s tallest building. Enjoying its own booming economy (thanks to its location on one of the country’s largest oilfields), the emerging Tulsa cityscape didn’t stretch as high toward the heavens as the Manhattan skyline. But local titans of industry were equally enamored with the arts decoratifs style developing in France. As a result, this city on the prairie has some of the most impressive art deco buildings in the country, on par with those in much larger metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and Miami.
Learn more about Tulsa’s amazing art deco buildings by taking a walking tour of the Terra Cotta City. Admire the grandeur of several impressive historic art deco lobbies that feature polished mahogany, gleaming glass, and smooth terrazzo tile floors. Then drive down Black Gold Row. Here, Tulsa’s oil barons (like Waite Phillips) constructed impressive Gatsby-esque mansions in the early 1900s as black gold flowed from the fields and the local economy boomed.
Pro Tip: Other tours of Tulsa include a church tour, high points tour, and underground Tulsa tour.
9. Explore Tulsa On Two Wheels
For a tour of Tulsa with a little kick, jump on an electric bike and get pedaling! For less than $10 a day, you can rent a bike from one of more than 25 kiosks through This Machine. If you’ve never ridden an electric bike, it’s like a mountain bike with a bionic boost. Pedal it like any other bike, but when you need a little extra power, allow the pedal assist motor to kick in and help you increase your speed or climb a hill with ease.
10. Learn About Black History
During Tulsa’s evolution from frontier town to boomtown, the African-American community of Greenwood, known as the “Black Wall Street,” was also thriving, despite the nation’s oppressive segregation laws. Nearly 10,000 Oklahomans lived in the bustling 35-block self-contained community northeast of downtown Tulsa. But on the last day of May in 1921, the worst race riot in American history destroyed Greenwood.
Learn more about the horrific riot that devastated the Greenwood District and the struggles of the black community in America by visiting John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. Just south of Oklahoma State University -- Tulsa, this lush green space educates visitors through a series of statues and signs and encourages thoughtful reflection.
11. Admire The Street Art
Murals are an increasingly popular way of sharing a city’s history, culture, and pride. In Tulsa, you’ll find street art that celebrates its indigenous people and connection to Route 66. Murals reinforce Tulsa’s status as the Oil Capital of the World and celebrate the rise of the Greenwood District. Don’t miss the most impressive murals in Tulsa with this guide.
From architectural tours of the city to quiet hikes in the hills, Tulsa has many outdoor activities to offer year round.