By Judy Brotton
With more than one million surface acres of water, Oklahoma offers a vast selection of lakes with breathtaking views, sandy beaches, fishing, water sports, and overall family fun. Here are some of our state’s best lakes and state parks for weekend or weeklong summer getaways.
Oklahoma’s largest lake is Lake Eufaula, whichboasts 600 miles of breathtaking shoreline and 105,500 surface acres just made for swimming, boating, fishing and camping by the water. On one end of Lake Eufaula is Lake Eufaula State Park, and on the other is Arrowhead State Park.
Golfers will enjoy Fountainhead Creek Golf Club or Arrowhead Golf Course, while nature enthusiasts can choose to bike, hike or ride horses throughout the two state parks’ miles of trails. Kids will especially enjoy the Deep Fork Nature Center for a close-up wildlife experience, while paddle boats, miniature golf, sand volleyball and swimming pool are available at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort.
Crappie, striper, catfish and several types of bass are plentiful, so bring your own boat, rent one at various marinas around the lake, or use the enclosed heated docks in cooler weather.
Located in Vian, Lake Tenkiller ’s steep stone bluffs and water that is crystal clear up to 28 feet deep provide great scuba opportunities, including an underwater dive park complete with sunken items like a school bus, helicopter, two boats, and even artifacts and homesteads left behind from before the lake was formed. Underwater terrain and rocky cliffs run as deep as 165 feet in places. With 130 miles of shoreline and 13,000 surface acres, the clear waters are perfect for spearfishing for non-game fish, water skiing, boating, tubing, and fishing for spotted and largemouth bass.
For family fun, try nearby Fin and Feather resort for sand volleyball, tennis, swimming pool and guest accommodations near the water. Nature enthusiasts can pitch their tent at Tenkiller State Park, but watch out for deer, quail, geese and rabbits. On the east side of the lake is the Belle Starr Campground, with waterfront campsites, picnic tables, grills, or RV hook-ups for those looking for a more luxurious camping experience.
Tenkiller State Park, known as Oklahoma’s “heaven in the hills,” offers a 1.5-mile nature trail for birding, so bring your binoculars. The 1.5-mile Tenkiller Multi-use Trail is paved trail for handicap accessibility. The park can accommodate tents and RVs, or stay in one of 39 cabins with fully equipped kitchens and satellite TV (some are pet-friendly). Kids will enjoy visiting the nature center and angling in the kids’ fishing pond.
Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees can be best appreciated while dangling 500 feet above the blue waters from a parasail. Although only about half the size of Lake Eufaula at 46,500 surface acres and 1,300 miles of shoreline, Grand Lake is situated in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and offers five park areas with plenty of lodging, dining and recreation activities. Travel the lake on a sailboat, leisurely pontoon, opulent yacht, speedy Jet Ski, or even water skis, all of which are available for rent at various marinas.
Fishermen will have plenty of luck angling for crappie, bass, catfish, bluegill and spoonbill.
Around Grand Lake, you will find many family-oriented activities, including paintball at D-Day Adventure Park; ATV and ORV adventures on five square miles of trails and rock structures at Hogan’s Off Road Park in Disney; or horseback riding and petting zoo at Monkey Island Trail & Hayrides.
The Cherokee area at Grand Lake State Park, located near the Pensacola Dam, is known for great fishing and water sport, along with a 9-hole golf course, RV and tent sites and a swim beach. More campsites are available at the Grand View, Riverside and Grand Cherokee areas, located below the Pensacola Dam.
Lake Texoma, providing some of the best striped bass fishing in Oklahoma, is located in Kingston. Also plentiful are crappie, white and black bass, sunfish and various catfish. Project lands are open to the public for hunting whitetail deer, bobwhite quail, mourning dove, ducks, geese, cottontail rabbits and squirrel.
Resorts and marinas abound, with over 600 campsites provided by the Corps of Engineers. Riding stables, equestrian trails and hiking trails will please nature enthusiasts. The championship Chickasaw Pointe Golf Club features picturesque views along Lake Texoma.
Spelunkers will enjoy Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom. The main cave offers daily guided tours of the world’s largest natural gypsum cave that is open to the public, along a family-friendly paved trail. Hardcore cavers can get a permit from the park office from March through September to explore the area’s four caves. Parties of at least three will need hardhats and flashlights, and wear boots and long-sleeved shirts.
A very special cave experience would be the Selman Bat Cave, six miles south of Freedom, Oklahoma – the only cave where the public can view bats. It takes about 45 minutes for a million Mexican free-tailed bats to leave the cave in clusters and eat their way through about 10 tons of flying insects nightly, traveling as much as 60 miles each night. Bats help local farmers as the only major predators of such night-flying insects as moths, mosquitoes, cucumber and June beetles, leafhoppers and even scorpions. Bats can consume more than 3,000 mosquitoes each night using echolocation. Evidence shows that the bats have been using this and three other nearby gypsum caves for more than a century as a maternity roost; the bats migrate 1,400 miles to Oklahoma each summer, where the females give birth and raise their young.
Beginning in July, the Wildlife Department offers summer bat watches – eight nights, on four consecutive weekends. A random drawing allows 75 people to attend each night, ending with stargazing at the nearby Selman Living Laboratory Observatory. There is a deadline to apply for the bat watches, so get your mail-in registration form at www.wildlifedepartment.com beginning May 26 to be in the drawing pool. Attendees must be 8 or older, and a check for all admission fees must be mailed in with registration. The area is closed to the public except on these viewing nights. Viewing dates for 2015 are each Friday and Saturday in July, plus August 1. Bus ride begins at Alabaster Caverns State Park, about a three-hour drive from both OKC and Tulsa.
Beavers Bend & Hochatown State Park in Broken Bow is one of the state’s most scenic areas. Fly fish in one of the South’s best trout streams, as well as the Mountain Fork River and Glover River. Outdoor enthusiasts can hit the David Boren Trail, play golf at the 18-hole Cedar Creek Golf Course; go biking, boating, or horseback riding, or take a river float trip; scuba dive in Broken Bow Lake; or take a miniature train ride during the summer.
In far northwest Oklahoma lies Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve, the highest point in Oklahoma at 4,973 feet above sea level. Hike to the top of Black Mesa for awe-inspiring views of the scenic landscape found nowhere else in Oklahoma. Black Mesa is the spot where the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie, and is home to wildlife like golden eagles, pinyon jays, antelope and bighorn sheep. Stand at the “three corners marker” and you will at once be in Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.
One of Oklahoma’s original seven state parks, Greenleaf State Park in Braggs dates back to the 1930s and ‘40s, when the WPA built the cabins and structures. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the 18-mile hiking and mountain biking trail, including a swinging bridge that spans the lake. Largemouth bass and sunfish are plentiful in Greenleaf Lake, along with a swim beach and nature center. The park provides free pontoon boat tours of the lake, with history of the park’s wildlife and environment.
Jet, Oklahomais home to the Great Salt Plains State Park with its 11,000 acres of white salt flats and nearly 9,000-acre body of saltwater, nearly half as salty as the ocean. But don’t let the salt fool you – white bass, hybrid striped bass and saugeye are plentiful, and the water provides buoyancy for swimmers. From April through October, guests can dig for hourglass-shaped selenite crystals that are formed only here.
Birders bring your binoculars because the Great Salt Plains Lake and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge are a stopover for migrating waterfowl like the whooping crane and American white pelican as they travel through the Central Flyway.
Keystone State Park, located in Sand Springs, on picturesque Lake Keystone. Fish or water ski on your own boat, or rent one onsite. The park offers birding and wildlife watching, as well as a kids’ fishing pond and playgrounds. Tent and RV sites are available, as well as 22 furnished cabins with full kitchens, fireplaces and satellite TV. Pets are allowed in some cabins for a fee.
An on-site conference center with full kitchen is available for group meetings or special events, arranged through the main office of Keystone State Park.
Ardmore’s Lake Murray State Park is Oklahoma’s first and largest state park, and with 12,500 acres along Lake Murray, is a haven for fishing, boating and water sports. Nearby recreation includes about 1,000 acres of trails for ATVs, motorcycles and dirt bikes; an 18-hole golf course, equestrian trails, tennis, swim beaches and paddle boating. The park also features an extensive trail system for hiking and horseback riding, birding and wildlife watching.
In the middle of 6,000-acre Lake Murray stands Tucker Tower, originally constructed as a retreat for Oklahoma’s governor. It now contains a nature center and viewing deck.
There are nine RV campgrounds, available tent sites, as well as lodges, cabins and guest rooms located throughout the park, including three gated RV parks. Lake Murray Lodge offers 52 guest rooms and suites, five meeting rooms, a lounge, banquet catering, and lobby commons area with fireplace. An outdoor pool is available for lodge guests, but alas, no pets are allowed. They are, however, allowed in some of the 56 available cabins. Some of these are historic structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and feature kitchenettes. For daytime use, several large pavilions with outdoor grills are scattered throughout the park.
Off-roaders and ATV enthusiasts should head straight for Little Sahara State Park just south of Waynoka in northwest Oklahoma. Fondly known as “the state’s sandbox,” the park boasts 1,600 acres of sand dunes, some towering as high as 75 feet. Explore the dunes on dune buggies, jeeps, ATVs and motorcycles, all of which can be rented onsite. The park also has RV and tent sites, as well as picnic areas.
Visitors to Norman, Oklahoma have plenty of water sports and recreation to choose from at Lake Thunderbird State Park, including hiking, mountain biking and nature trails. Equestrian trails can be found at Lake Thunderbird Nature Center, while RV and tent sites, boat ramps and swim beaches are available around Lake Thunderbird.
Osage Hills State Park in Pawhuska features 1,100 acres of lush forests, rocky bluffs and serene waters of Lookout Lake and Sand Creek. Hikers and mountain bikers will find many trails to choose from, many offering glimpses of wild turkey and white-tailed deer along the way. Bass, perch, catfish and crappie are just some of the fishing found in the two lakes. The park offers tent and RV sites, along with cabins constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, featuring fireplaces and kitchens. For a small fee, you can bring your pet.
Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton boasts having been a former hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr. Nestled in the Sans Bois Mountain range of southeast Oklahoma, the 8,246-acre park provides hiking to the outlaw cave, rappelling down rock walls, horseback riding along wooded equestrian trails, camping under the stars, and hunting wild game in the adjacent 3,800-acre wildlife management area. Enjoy canoeing or fish for trout, perch, bass and catfish on Lake Carlton, Lake Wayne Wallace and Coon Creek.
Tent and RV sites are available, as well as equestrian campsites, or book one of 20 rooms at the Belle Starr View Lodge, all of which have scenic views of Coon Creek Lake and the wooded valley below. Park views and fireplaces are available at 26 cabins, plus fully equipped kitchens and satellite TV; some are pet-friendly. “Honeymoon” cabins available, as well as group camps that can accommodate 160-250 people, open from March through November.
Robbers Cave State Park offers two indoor community rooms looking out over Lake Carlton, and an amphitheater, swimming pool and beach, paddleboats, a nature center and miniature golf.
More gypsum cliffs are evident in the scenic canyons of Roman Nose State Park in Watonga, named after a Cheyenne chief. One of Oklahoma’s seven original state parks, recreational activities include hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding the nature trails, as well as an 18-hole golf course and swimming pools. Camp along the shores of Lake Watonga in your RV, rent a teepee from April through October, book one of 11 cabins, or stay at the Roman Nose Lodge, originally built in 1956 but recently remodeled to emphasize its original mid-century design. With three natural springs and two lakes, enjoy no-wake boating, canoeing and trout fishing, but no swimming is allowed in the lakes.
So whether your summer activity of choice is swimming, boating, mountain biking, spelunking or fishing, there is a lake or state park in Oklahoma that will suit you perfectly!
More information on these and other Oklahoma lakes is available at www.oktravel.com