Visiting Oxley Nature Center and Red Bud Valley

Fall is one of my favorite times to hike in green country. One of the best places I know to experience deep nature connection while staying within Tulsa city limits is Oxley Nature Center. If you continue up the winding road behind the Tulsa Zoo, you will find a true nature escape. When you arrive, you will discover an informative sign that explains just a few of the natural wonders you will see in the preserve.

I like to start at the Interpretive Center. The Center offers an engaged learning experience with wildlife habitat dioramas and a peek inside a living beehive. There are charts on the wall with recent bird sightings and a large fireplace perfect for a cozy rest after a long walk. Near to the fireplace are couches that look out on a lovely view of bird feeders and a pond where you will often catch glimpses of unique bird species such as the ruby throated hummingbird and Eastern Bluebird. As you round the corner on the way to the bathrooms, you will find glass display cases filled with local wildlife pelts and skeletons.

When you stop at the info desk, there is a basket full of nature objects to touch and talk about. The staff and volunteers will encourage you to handle the nature specimens while you discuss what hikes the preserve has to offer. Before leaving make sure you check out the nature bookstore. This is one of the best resources for local information about plants and wildlife contained in field guides. It also has some fun animal- and plant-themed gifts for budding young naturalists.

As you leave the center, on your way to the trailheads there is fish food for sale. Throwing a few morsels over the side of the deck into the pond immediately rewards you with many fish and turtles emerging ready to gobble up each bite. If you stay long enough you may even catch a glimpse of the mammoth catfish that live in the pond. On the deck are benches as well, a nice spot to have a coffee or lunch before heading out for a hike.

The trails at Oxley are easy, meandering loops that all seem to connect to each other. I have never felt a fear of being lost while walking down any of the trails. They have fun names like Green Dragon (named after a plant that grows on the trail), Red Fox, Black Bird Marsh, and Woodpecker. These names are reflective of what you might see on the trails. I recommend carrying binoculars for potential bird sightings and wearing rain boots in the wet season. A lot of the trails have standing water, and you can easily end up in ankle-deep water when traipsing about. I also recommend wearing light, long-sleeve layers. Even in the cooler months, there is a lot of insect life at Oxley, and the best prevention is not having your skin exposed. I have experienced ticks and suggest not brushing up against any plants. Stick to the trails and you should be fine.

If you want to test your nature knowledge and learn more about what wildlife lives at Oxley preserve, try taking one of the awesome workshops, classes or guided tours. Oxley offers a variety of programming, including butterfly, bird and full moon hikes, Natural Babies, a preschool, seasonal class for ages 1-5, and a monthly Junior Naturalist class for children ages 8-12. You can find the schedule for these programs and more by visiting.

During May 2019 Oxley experienced an epic flood closing the preserve for multiple days. During the flood, plastic from a buried landfill close to the creek got unearthed and dumped all over the preserve. This was an eye-opening moment for visitors and staff as we got to see plastic sandwich bags left from trash in the 1960s, looking almost untouched by time. They piled in heaps around the plants and wildlife of the center. This was a teachable moment for all to see as we examined just how long it takes plastic to break down and decompose. If everyone took seriously how much plastic they used in their daily lives, maybe we could see a dent in what is sinking into our earth and what shows up in natural areas from the excess plastic waste we have in our culture today. Luckily this tragedy of human error was met with a superhero mass of volunteers coming out to help clean up Oxley. It was a massive effort, and most of the plastic, bottles and trash that were amassed during the flood have been properly disposed of.

For inspiration and tips on how to consume less plastic as a family, check out this blog post:

Red Bud Valley

The sister nature preserve to Oxley is Red Bud Valley in Catoosa, OK. This gorgeous natural wonder is its own unique ecosystem, not seen in any other part of the state! The trails include steep, rocky ledges, prairie and wildflowers and even a streambed to explore fossils and pond life. This natural treasure is mostly a self-guided experience. There is a small visitor center with a friendly staff person ready to share their intimate knowledge of this place. If you are looking for a guided, family friendly experience, check out Under the Canopy’s Annual Red Bud Valley Free Family Fall hike on Saturday November 1st 10-11:30 a.m.

Oxley and Red Bud Valley are wonderful places to start your local nature exploration this fall. These preserves also teach us big lessons about our place in nature and how to care for our environment.

Oxley Hours:

8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Interpretive center hours 10:00 a.m.-4:30p.m.
M-Sat. 12:00-4:30 Sunday.

Red Bud Valley Hours:

8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

See you on the trails!

Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997. She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. She is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek. You can learn more about the programs she teaches at She is a regular contributor to and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.”

Categories: Guest Blog