Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma
Western prairie meets eastern forest in the land of healing waters.
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Little-Known Fact: Did you know springs are formed when water is forced through underground rock formations? Such springs are the focal point in Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
I sit under an umbrella of green and let the strong smell of sulphur penetrate my senses. As I meditate beside the healing waters of Buffalo Springs pool in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (NRA), I remember that I’m not the first to discover the magic of this place.
As long ago as 7,000 years, ancient people came to the “peaceful valley of rippling waters.” The mineral springs distinguished it as a place of strong medicine for tribes like the Comanche and Caddo.
The Chickasaw also revered the area as holy. As word of the healing powers of the bromide and sulphur springs spread, it wasn’t long before the town of Sulphur Springs sprouted next to the springs. The Chickasaw were so aghast at the destruction to their holy place that they ceded the land to the United States for use as a national park. In 1976, Congress combined the national park with the surrounding lakes and prairie to create Chickasaw NRA.
Bromide Spring has since dried up, but Pavilion and Black Sulphur springs are still flowing strong near the park’s entrance at Vendome Well, a spot that makes me understand why another name for this area was “land of the smelly waters.” From Chickasaw’s entrance you can hike along the 16 miles of interlocking trail in the 10,000-acre recreation area. I chose the short hike along crystal-clear Travertine Creek to get to my meditative sanctuary near Buffalo Springs.
This Oklahoma park boasts more diversions than just sulphurous springs, however. Summer brings people wanting to cool off in the Lake of the Arbuckles or Travertine Creek. Canoeing and boating are allowed in both Veterans Lake and Lake of the Arbuckles but Veterans provides no-wake solitude for paddlers. Swimming is allowed in all the creeks, but not in the springs themselves, which are protected by limestone walls.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Sulphur, OK 73086
Chickasaw is located in south central Oklahoma, 75 miles southeast of Oklahoma City and 120 miles north of Dallas, Texas.
From Oklahoma City, take I-35 south about 75 miles. Turn onto OK 7 and drive east to Sulphur.
The park is accessible year-round, but summer temperatures can reach an uncomfortable 100 degrees F with high humidity in the afternoons. Thunderstorms are common April through July. The best times are autumn and spring when the weather is more comfortable. If you’re looking for solitude, the lowest visitation occurs in the winter, especially January and February. Winter temperatures are mild ~ rarely dropping below 32 degrees F for more than two or three consecutive days.
Whitetail deer, roadrunners, coyotes, bobcats, and armadillos join an amazing array of birds in this ecotone, or transition area, between the prairie grasslands of the west and the deciduous forests of the east. Cardinals and goldfinches share the sky with scissor-tailed flycatchers and meadowlarks.
Alert forest visitors can be rewarded with glimpses of beaver, gray fox, skunks, hawks, and raccoons.
White bass, largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, walleye, channel catfish, blue catfish, bullhead catfish, and flathead catfish are all popular catches.
The area is home to scorpions and tarantulas.
Chickasaw NRA is home to more than 600 species of plants, including prickly pear, Buffalo grass, Indian grass, yucca, sumac, oak, sycamore, hickory, walnut, and pecan trees.
There are six developed campgrounds in the park.
- Rock Creek, Cold Springs, and Central campgrounds are located in the springs area of historic Platt District.
- Buckhorn, The Point, and Guy Sandy campgrounds are located in the Lake District around Lake of the Arbuckles.
All sites have tables, grills, restrooms, and water. Utility hook-ups and showers are available in the Buckhorn campground. There are no reservations except in Central campground, which is for group camping only.
The Travertine Nature Center is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, Memorial Day through Labor Day; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily after Labor Day.
Parking is available at individual campgrounds throughout the park. The best parking areas for day-use are located at the Travertine Nature Center and Veterans Lake.
- No permits are required.
- Campsites range from $8 to $14 per night.
- Camp only in designated sites for a maximum stay of 14 days.
- Bicycles and pets are prohibited on trails east of the Travertine Nature Center. Otherwise, pets must be leashed at all times.
- No swimming or wading is allowed east of the Travertine Nature Center.
- Climbing on rocks and ledges is prohibited.
- Waterskiing is permitted from sunup to sundown everywhere except Veterans Lake. Skiers must be accompanied by two people, one to operate the boat and one to watch the skier.
- The water from all springs, except Hillside Spring, is drinkable after treating.
- During periods of high rainfall, the three low water bridges on Perimeter Drive will close.
- Copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes live here. They are rarely seen in the daytime, but stay on the trails and carry a flashlight at night.
- Portions of the park are open seasonally for hunting.
Leave No Trace:
Hike on established trails and avoid trampling creekside vegetation.
All LNT guidelines apply.
A Chickasaw National Recreation Area map is available at the park headquarters.
Other Trip Options:
- A 77-foot waterfall is just 20 minutes away at Turner Falls Park (405/369-2988).
- Sulphur (405/622-2824) provides many quaint bed-and-breakfast choices such as The Artisian Bed and Breakfast and The Olde Bathhouse, dating back to the 1800s. Brick’s Restaurant and Quail Hollow Depot are well-known restaurants in Sulphur.