Lake Murray, Ardmore
Oklahoma’s oldest and largest state park is a blend of modern and vintage anchored by the gleaming new Lake Murray State Lodge. Stay in one of the lodge’s 32 guest rooms with views overlooking the water; enjoy a taste of nostalgia in rustic 1930s-era cabins; or bring your own shelter to one of the nine campgrounds. When you’re not catching small mouth bass in the 5,700-acre lake, discover the miles of hiking and mountain bike trails. And don’t leave without a visit to historic Tucker Tower, now home to a museum honoring those who built the park — the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Osage Hills State Park, Pawhuska
Native stone structures nestle in the dense Cross Timbers of Osage Hills State Park, looking as if they grew naturally from their surroundings. These examples of 1930s National Park Rustic design show up as bridges, culverts, cabins, and picnic shelters. There’s a modern swimming pool, but many folks prefer to cool off in the waterfall at Sand Creek. Take a drive to visit the world’s largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie at the nearby Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, then return to one of the wooded campsites here. The stone lookout tower on “Tent Hill” makes a comfortable place to stretch out and count shooting stars or watch the sunrise over Osage County.
Beavers Bend, Broken Bow
When you see the Mountain Fork River flowing beneath towering limestone bluffs, and mist rising from the waters in the wee hours of the morning, you’ll know that Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl image is back-dated. Beavers Bend/Broken Bow offers camping, canoeing, and hiking amid the pine forests and rugged terrain of the Ouachita Mountains, as well as stocked trout streams, including two catch-and-release trophy areas. Along the shores of Broken Bow Lake, Lakeview Lodge offers 40 comfortable rooms, and the clear waters of the lake make it a destination for scuba divers. After a round of golf at the 18-hole Cedar Creek Golf Course, enjoy fine dining in the nearby resort town of Hochatown.
Natural Falls, West Siloam Springs
This tiny park on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border is truly a hidden gem. A steep walk down into a fern-filled grotto ends at a 77-foot waterfall flowing over limestone cliffs into a turquoise pool. Nature trails, a small fishing lake, clean camping areas, and a large playground make this a perfect spot for a family getaway. Situated among the hardwoods of the Ozark Highlands region, this park also has deep shade in the summer and vibrant foliage in the fall.
Okmulgee Lake, OkmulgeeThe Cross Timbers were a notorious barrier to travel for early explorers and, though diminished, these thick stands of post and blackjack oak still run north to south across Oklahoma. One of the largest contiguous stands of ancient Cross Timbers is located at Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area, across the road from lakeside camping at Okmulgee Lake. Camp along the shoreline at the Red Oak campground for a bit of seclusion. The park’s scenic overlook is the perfect place to watch a spectacular Cross Timbers sunset. After a rain, don’t miss the thundering cascade pouring over the lake’s massive stone spillway.
Black Mesa State Park
In the tablelands of the Panhandle, Oklahoma’s highest point tops out at 4,973 feet above sea level. Hike to the summit in Black Mesa Nature Preserve, then camp down the road in the creek-side oasis of Black Mesa State Park. Shaded tent sites along South Carrizo Creek offer a peaceful canyon setting, and the area’s dark skies make for ideal stargazing. The park is especially popular in August when the Perseid meteor shower can be seen.