Nature Experience #15 – Oklahoma’s Best Parks

Along the same line as last Friday’s post on National Parks – today’s post is about some of my favorite Oklahoma Parks; one of them is a former National Park, while another is a federal Wildlife Refuge.

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area, near Sulphur, in east central Oklahoma, used to be a National Park. But just because it no longer is doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. Once famous for it’s ‘healing waters’ the 640-acre site adjacent to the Lake of the Arbuckles, is a beautiful and historic place to visit. Travertine Nature Center, plus miles of trails and beautiful natural habitat, offer visitors many opportunities to boat, swim, fish, hike and camp. The Nature Center itself is a fantastic, modern facility packed with great information about Oklahoma wildlife.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, northwest of Lawton, in southwestern OK, was the nation’s first wildlife park. Comanche Chief Quanah Parker made a request to President Theodore Roosevelt to bring the buffalo back to the area where they once had roamed in magnificent herds. Roosevelt responded, and in 1907, the Wichita Mountains National Forest became a Refuge. Bison and Texas longhorns, both on the verge of extinction, were reintroduced to the granite mountains of southwestern Oklahoma. The area is a 59,000 acre wilderness, where visitors can camp, hike, fish and more. A fantastic visitors center features incredible dioramas about Oklahoma wildlife. Many programs and tours are offered by the refuge, which also features a large herd of elk.

Lake Murray State Park, Oklahoma’s first state park, located near Ardmore in southcentral OK, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the many remaining structures built there by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. This program of the Works Progress Administration put artisans back to work, and it is evident in the beautiful cabins, picnic shelters and stairways they built of local rocks throughout the park. This 1000-acre park is a great place to hike or ride horses, but also have trails for ATVs, a water park, a roller-blade trail, a remote-control airfield and miniature golf. The Nature Center in Tucker Tower is another historic structure unlike any other at an Oklahoma parks.

Robber’s Cave State Park, near Wilburton in east central OK, has ten cabins for rent, as well as a resort hotel. Visitors can golf, hike, fish, camp, canoe, ride hoses, mountain bike, swim and play tennis. But my favorite part of every visit is the hike to the ‘cave’ – a tumble of boulders said to once have been the hideout for bandits that frequented the wild forested hills of eastern Oklahoma. In addition to caves, the huge rugged boulders are used to teach rock climbing and the skill of rappelling.
Roman Nose State Park, near Watonga (and the cheese factory!) in west central OK, is another park built by the CCC. It also has cabin, a lodge and a big swimming pool. This park is dear to my heart, as it was the site of many great family picnics when I was growing up. My cousins and I ran free, wading in streams, climbing into caves and in general, having a great time while the grownups sat and visited back at the picnic area. The park has two lakes – so water sports are a must do, as well as hiking, mountain biking and more.

There are many, many more parks in our amazing state. So many that it’s unlikely you could drive more than an hour or two in any direction without running across one of them! Wherever you go, there are opportunities to view wildlife and get close to nature. Camp, stay in a cabin or a resort hotel, but get out there!

Roman Nose State Park

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