On a recent road trip, my family needed a good stop to stretch our legs and let the kids play. We settled on The Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I’m so glad we did! This huge, family-friendly destination had more than enough to do for our one-hour break. I put together this guide to help you plan a short visit (or longer) the next time you’re near Tulsa.
Nestled in the heart of Tulsa, The Gathering Place is a premier park designed to captivate visitors of all ages. With its sprawling grounds, diverse attractions, and stunning natural beauty, this park offers endless opportunities for family fun and adventure. In this blog post, I will explain how you can make the most of your limited time by discovering the top things to do in just one hour at The Gathering Place. Whether you’re seeking thrilling playgrounds, refreshing water play areas, scenic trails, or memorable photo spots, this guide is tailored to help traveling families create lasting memories within a tight timeframe.
An overview of The Gathering Place in Tulsa
While The Gathering Place is huge – it spans 66 acres – it is certainly possible to have a meaningful experience with your kids in just one hour. By planning ahead and focusing on key highlights, you can make the most of your limited time and create lasting memories. It can be a little overwhelming if you arrive without a plan.
From the playground wonderland that caters to children of all ages, to the exhilarating water play areas where they can cool off on a hot day, there are numerous quick activities that offer fun and excitement. The Skywalk provides stunning views of the park, while the interactive fountains and the opportunity to rent paddleboats at The Boathouse add an extra touch of adventure.
Planning your visit
Our stop in Tulsa was completely unplanned, so we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to see or do. I just knew there was, like, a really cool playground somewhere. So, don’t be like me. Have a little bit of a plan and familiarize yourself with the park’s layout.
The Gathering Place is divided into distinct areas, each offering unique experiences for families. Here are some key details to help you navigate the park efficiently:
Around the Chapman Adventure Playground
- Chapman Adventure Playground – Iconic 5-acre kingdom with towers, slides, climbing features, sand, and water areas. It’s near shade trees, but the metal surfaces still get hot. Easy access to parking and restrooms. It reminds me of Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, which also had an unforgettable and spectacular playground.
- Spiral Connector – Very recognizable with seven towers, suspension bridges, slides, puzzles and instruments.
- Land of the River Giants – Featuring larger-than-life creatures you can climb in and slide down like Oklahoma native species Blue Heron and Paddlefish.
- Skywalk Forest – Located west of Adventure Playground, Skywalk Forest has pathways that are 20 feet above ground as well as slides and net climbing structures.
- Fairyland Forest – Best for preschoolers, this area has enchanting tiny homes.
- Volcanoville – Best for toddlers ages 6 to 24 months, this padded play area has bright colors and low-climbing structures.
- Ramble Sensory Garden – Explore a labyrinth designed to teach principles of STEAM education.
- Charlie’s Water Mountain – A seasonal area next to Picnic Grove and the Adventure Playground featuring a spray area, mist area, tunnels, dams and streams, a water lab and the water plaza.
- Picnic Grove – If you packed a picnic, head to this spot located behind the cabanas by the Chapman Adventure Playground Towers to enjoy it. There are tables and chairs of all sizes made from recycled trees.
Around the Williams Lodge
- Williams Lodge – We designated this lodge as our family meeting point, partly because it’s very easy to locate and because it has air conditioning. There are comfortable seats facing glass windows with views of the entire park. The Welcome Center is located in the lodge and is a good drop-off point for passengers arriving by car.
- Mist Mountain – The Mist Mountain is near the lodge, so it’s convenient to change clothes there before or after playing in the water. Mist Mountain’s various water features include mist areas (obviously) and interactive water fountains. Koi ponds are nearby. It’s seasonal and weather-permitting.
- Water Maze – It’s more than a splash pad. As you walk through, water walls shoot up around you. It’s located just south of Mist Mountain and is also seasonal and weather-permitting.
- The Patio – This quick-service outdoor restaurant is just east of the Williams Lodge with plenty of seating. We got our lunch here and enjoyed a mix of healthy food (I had a bowl) and not-so-healthy (the kids had chicken tenders and a cheeseburger). Local beers are on tap!
- Redbud Café – This café is located on the bottom floor of Williams Lodge (so, hello, A/C!). This is the spot to get coffee, ice cream and sweet treats.
- The multilevel boathouse is the place to go if you want to check out pedal boats or canoes to explore Peggy’s Pond (weather permitting). Rentals are free, and first come first served! There are also free boat rides on some days. Inside, there is food available, an educational space called Cabinet of Wonder, and the Overlook Deck with views of the Arksansas River and downtown Tulsa.
- Swing Hill – Adjacent to the upper level of ONEOK Boathouse, this is the highest point in the park. As you could probably guess, there are some (pretty unique) swings at Swing Hill.
Eastside of The Gathering Place
This area was furthest from the playgrounds and the lodge, and one that time did not allow for my family to explore. We’ll have to explore this area on our next visit to give you some details.
- Wetland Gardens – Located between Williams Lodge and Willow Beach, the Wetland Gardens are easily accessible from the parking lot.
- Willow Beach – This sandy beach is on the aside of Sandy’s Pond. Sand castle building is practically a required activity here.
- Slide Vale – A hidden gem of The Gathering Place, Slide Vale has four slides, including one that goes underground.
- Great Lawn – This large green space is built like an amphitheater and is the spot for all the fitness classes, movie nights, concerts and festivals held at The Gathering Place.
Note: Check the official website of The Gathering Place for the most up-to-date information on park hours, closures, and any special events. Some park attractions, like the water features and boat rentals, have specific hours, so check those too.
Quick activities for families
Our visit was in early May and while it was plenty hot, the water features weren’t turned on and boat rentals weren’t open. So, our choice of what to do was made for us: We’d explore all the playgrounds. But, I think there’s more than one way to spend a fun hour at The Gathering Place.
Exploring the Playground Wonderland: The Gathering Place is renowned for its playgrounds for all ages. You can easily spend an hour wandering from area to area. Let your little ones unleash their imagination at Adventure Playground, featuring climbing structures, slides, and interactive elements, and then easily move over to the Land of River Giants. Cool off indoors at Williams Lodge and head to the lower level to the Redbud Café for ice cream. Alternatively, you can get icees at The Patio. Consider parking near the Picnic Grove.
Splashing Adventures: Beat the heat and dive into the water play areas at The Gathering Place. Park near Williams Lodge, so it’s easy to change into swimsuits if you’re not already in them. Head to Mist Mountain and then the Water Maze. Grab a cool treat at Redbud Café when you’re finished.
Combine both the playground and water features. It can be done, but you may feel like you’re rushing things if you’re going to fit it all into one hour. I’d recommend parking at Williams Lodge, and starting with the playgrounds first and ending with the water features. Change out of your wet clothes at the lodge.
The Gathering Place in Tulsa is a haven for traveling families seeking an unforgettable experience, even if you have just one hour to spare. By strategically planning your visit and focusing on the key highlights, you can maximize your time and create lasting memories with your loved ones.
Is parking free at The Gathering Place?
How much does it cost to go to The Gathering Place?
The Gathering Place in Tulsa is free. There is no admission price. Food and drinks are not free, though.
Where is The Gathering Place?
The Gathering Place is located near the Arkansas River at 2650 S. John Williams Way E, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Can I bring food into The Gathering Place?
Yes! It’s a great idea to pack a picnic or snacks to bring with you to The Gathering Place.
What time does The Gathering Place open?
The hours for The Gathering Place are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., though different areas of the park open or close at different times. It’s best to refer to the official website for current hours and closures.