Tails from the Trail: Chickasaw National Recreation Area

When I think back to some of my favorite camping trips places like Mammoth Lakes, CA, Zions National Park and backpacking in the Uinta Mountains come to mind. I never thought I would say that one of my favorite campgrounds is in Oklahoma; but I am saying it. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is diverse, beautiful, historically significant and a perfect location for family outdoor adventures.

This National Recreation Area is ideally situated at the edge of the Arbuckle Mountains, the oldest mountains the the US, and along the Lake of the Arbuckles. There are plenty of family-friendly activities that are perfect for beginners or less-outdoorsy folks and camping is the only one that costs. So if you are traveling through Southern Oklahoma, plan to stop at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Little Niagara



There are numerous hiking trails but the most memorable for us was the Antelope and Buffalo Springs trail. It was very easy, my three year old hiked the entire distance, and the springs were beautiful. Buffalo Springs was capped by the Civilian Conservation Core in 1930's. The water was cold and clear, so unique for Oklahoma. The trails were somewhat busy but the views were worth it for me. If you want to beat the crowds, show up early.
Buffalo springs was capped by the CCC in the 1930's.
We also loved the Bison Pasture trail. This one has a few hills but was a lot less busy than the spring trails. Don't miss the Bromide Hill Overlook. It adds .4 miles rounds trip and the hike is more strenuous than the Bison Pasture trail but is well worth the work.
Bromide Hill overlook view. 

Travertine Nature Center

The building itself is unique as it straddles Travertine Creek. The back wall of the center is glass, affording a beautiful view of the forest and crystal clear creek below. The center is somewhat small but does offer a look at Oklahoma's ecosystems and live specimens of wildlife. You can also find a schedule of events or park rangers' activities here.


We have camped in The Point campground multiple times, which is located along the Lake of the Arbuckles. There is a mixture of tent and RV sites and all the facilities and sites have been recently renovated. There are two other campgrounds along the lakes and three along Travertine Creek. Keep in mind that Travertine Creek is very popular for swimming and is extremely crowed during the summer months and the campgrounds close in the fall. Personally, the crowds and noise would bother me. The Point, Buckthorn and Rock Creek campgrounds are open year round.
Arbuckle Lake at sunset. 


Swimming is allowed in Travertine Creek, Rock Creek, Lake of the Arbuckles and Veterans Lake. Little Niagara is just below the Travertine Nature Center along Travertine Creek and it one of the most beautiful areas in the Chickasaw NRA. Just be aware that during the summer the the swimming areas are extremely crowded. Basically from Little Niagara down, the creek is packed with swimmers. When we visited we waded right next to the Nature Center and it was tolerable. Swimming is not allowed above the Nature Center as they are reclaiming the area. Water level varies greatly. If you want to ensure there are decent levels, call the Natural Center before your visit.

The Bison Pasture

These iconic creatures are the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Although they once roamed from modern-day Northern Mexico to Alaska, they are now found on only a handful of federally protected lands. So don't miss the opportunity to see these unique animals in their native habitat. If you are going to be in the area for a few days stop here first and if you don't see them the first time you can always check back. The rangers suggest visiting the overlook on Highway 177 in the afternoon for the best chance of seeing them. The pasture is enclosed so safety isn't a concern.
The kids were very excited to see bison for the first time. 

Other Activities 

It wouldn't be Oklahoma if there wasn't boating, hunting and fishing. The Rock Creek Multi-use trail allows horseback riding and biking. As I am not a hunter, boater, biker, fisherman or horseman, I cannot comment on their quality.

Other Attractions:

The Chickasaw Cultural Center is a must see. They have a large living history village that you can visit free of charge. There is a charge for the exhibits and movie. We visited during the fall festival and had a wonderful experience. The festival was free and there were a ton of free activities for the kids. It is a great way to see the center if you don't want to pay. They have multiple festivals throughout the year.
Overlook view of the Traditional Village. 
Turner Falls are the largest falls in Oklahoma and are a short 15 minute drive from the Chickasaw NRA. The Falls are owned and operated by the city of Davis. There is an admission fee but the park has a lot of offer in addition to the falls. Once again, this place is packed during the hot summer and fall months. I would recommend visiting during the off season if you like solitude.


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