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Exploring Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Some states have far more to offer than outsiders might expect. Oklahoma is one of them.

By: Cameron Catanzano + Save to a List

Over Thanksgiving break (during the pre-covid times), I flew out from San Diego to spend time with my family north of Dallas. They just moved out there from Southern California the summer before, so we were both eager to explore the surroundings. This time, we set our sights on Oklahoma – 2 1/2 hours north at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The park is home to several miles of well-kept trails connecting a few cool points of interest. This made for a perfect day of Black Friday hiking with the family.

It seemed to me that the primary draw of this place is its abundant freshwater and mineral springs. Of these, we went to Antelope Springs (freshwater), Pavilion Springs (mineral), and Vendome Well (mineral).

Both Pavilion Springs and Vendome Well can be accessed by car. We included these into our trip by making them quick last stops right before driving back to Texas.

Each spring also has some cool history to it.

I met a man at Vendome well who said he’s been drinking water from that spring since he was 7 years old. He actually drove out of his way on a trip back from his mother’s house just to get a cup from that fountain.

The fountain at Vendome well actually used to be a big swimming pool haha.

Now, it can be argued the exact effectiveness of drinking a whole cup of water high in sulfur. I haven’t done much research, but drinking high quantities of it can really upset your stomach. I tried a couple of sips myself to know what it tastes like and this amount left me feeling fine.

I can be sure, however, of its benefits to the skin. Anyone who’s been by a sulfur spring knows that it has a particularly pungent smell, but if you get past that just splash some of that around on your face and you can feel it tightening up your pores right away.

After Vendome and Pavillion, we went to Antelope Springs. This one is not directly accessible by car, but it's only a short 1.5 mile round trip hike starting from the Travertine Visitor Center, right next to the majestic power of the (Little) Niagara Falls!!!

Little Niagara Falls ^^^

Ok, I’m joking when I say “majestic power”, but the Little Niagra Falls is a really pretty spot. You can easily park right by here before you hike to Antelope Springs and it’ll add no more than 100 ft.

If you’re looking for something a little bit longer push that hike to Antelope Springs a tad bit longer to Buffalo springs, and/or check out some of the short loops that go off of the trial to Antelope.

But Chickasaw has more to offer than just these springs.

We started off our day at Bromide Hill. This placed us in the vicinity of a couple of big points of interest. For starters, taking the trail to the left from the parking lot will bring you almost immediately to the Bromide Hill Overlook. The creek and the wide expanse of trees down below made this a very rewarding view for very little effort.

From there we took the trail down and around to the Rock Creek campground. There happened to be a couple of little kids in our party that were looking for a bathroom after the drive. So, I figured it would make sense to hit up the camp ground only .4 miles from us.

The trail will send you across the same creek you saw on top of Bromide Hill, and then boom you’re on the campground.

Coming on the backside of autumn made for some really gorgeous orange trees. It really was quite the pleasant campground, and it went right over my head, but the bathrooms had everyone else in my party talking quite a bit about how clean they were haha.

After exploring the campground for a bit we doubled back onto the trail in which we came from and made our way over to Bison Pasture. It was probably another 1.3 miles from Rock Creek Campground. This trail provided a relatively mellow walk in the woods type of feel to it. Perfect for the family Black Friday excursion that we were looking for.

This scene would be enough for me to call it a good hike. What I didn’t realize however was that Bison View Point at Bison Pasture actually had… Bison! I recommend making this hike at the same level that I would recommend hitting up the hot springs.

In addition, Chickasaw National Recreation Area is home to the Lake of the Arbuckles. We didn’t stop there on our trip, but this man-made lake is considered one of the best Oklahoma Lakes for fishing perch, bass, crappie, and catfish.

But if that’s not your speed, the lake is also utilized by everything from canoes to ski boats.

Boating permits are required for the Lake of the Arbuckles. Fee machines are located at the Buckhorn, Point, and Guy Sandy launches. A daily use fee or annual permit may be purchased at these locations.

Set yourself up in one of the 3 lakeside campgrounds and you got one heck of a weekend.

If you want to get away from those crowds, however, Veterans Lake might be the one you’re looking for. It is a much smaller lake located right above the Lake of the Arbuckles, and it is open to canoes and kayaks, but there are no campgrounds in this area.

Thank you for reading!

I hope you're also able to explore this amazing place.

(This story was originally published on camandtheoutdoors.com).

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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