The most popular recreation areas in the state are the lakes and streams. The generally mild climate makes fishing a year-round sport on Oklahoma's lakes, which are well-stocked with bass, trout, and catfish.
Tourism has become an important economic activity in Oklahoma. Since the 1950s, many parks have been developed in the areas around Oklahoma's lakes and reservoirs. The parks have been supplied with luxury hotels, lodges, and camping and recreational facilities. Sporting events, including rodeos and horse shows, draw people from within and outside the state.
Oklahoma has 52 state parks and recreation areas. Lake Murray, Quartz Mountain, and Lake Wister state parks in the south and Sequoyah State Park at Fort Gibson Reservoir are the better-known parks in the state. These parks provide outstanding facilities for fishing and water sports, as do the state parks on the shores of lakes Eufaula, Texoma, Greenleaf, and Tenkiller.
In the northwest corner of the state, Black Mesa State Park has Native American pictographs, a pit where dinosaur bones have been found, and colorful rock formations. Other natural features in the northwest are springs that bubble up through the sand at Boiling Springs State Park; one of the largest known gypsum caves at Alabaster Cavern State Park; and the salt lake in the Great Salt Plains State Park. Roman Nose and Red Rock Canyon state parks are located in scenic canyon valleys in western Oklahoma. Robbers Cave State Park in the San Bois Mountains of eastern Oklahoma is said to have been a hideout for deserters from both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War (1861-1865). Other state parks in eastern Oklahoma are Osage Hills and Beavers Bend.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, in the Arbuckle Mountains near Sulphur, was originally established in 1902 as Sulphur Springs Reservation and then redesignated as Platt National Park in 1906. In 1976 it was merged with the Arbuckle National Recreation Area.
The area is famed for the mineral water that comes from its many springs and for Lake of the Arbuckles. Wilderness areas and botanical preserves are found in the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area, located in the Ouachita National Forest near Talihina in the southeast.Oklahoma also contains seven national wildlife refuges, with herds of buffalo and deer and prairie dog colonies. Private groups are also active. For example, the Natural Conservancy in the late 1990s operated 16 preserves in Oklahoma, including the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Bartlesville and the Black Mesa Preserve in the panhandle of the state.
Many sites of historic interest are visited by tourists each year. These include old frontier outposts such as Fort Reno and Fort Supply in the northwest and the reconstructed stockade at Fort Gibson, one of the old frontier posts near Muskogee. Indian City U.S.A., near Anadarko, contains reproductions of seven Native American villages.
Visitors to Oklahoma can sample the state's history at the Woolaroc Museum near Bartlesville, created from the estate of one of the cofounders of Phillips Petroleum; No Man's Land Historical Museum in Goodwell; and the Black Kettle Museum in Cheyenne, which contains details of an attack by General George Armstrong Custer on a Native American village.
The site of the old Cherokee national capital is Tahlequah, while those of the Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw tribes are at Tishomingo, Okmulgee, and Tuskahoma. The cabin of Sequoya, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, is a state memorial, as is the Murrell Home, a beautiful old mansion which is nearly all that remains of a pre-Civil War Cherokee community.
The Will Rogers Memorial at Claremore and the Pioneer Woman Statue and Museum at Ponca City are in northern Oklahoma. Among the more unusual attractions in Oklahoma City is the working oil well on the grounds of the State Capitol. Recently visitors have been attracted to the state while exploring the remnants of Route 66, one of the first national highways linking East and West and immortalized in American literature and music.