35×40- Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Photos by Natalee Dobbs, words by Colin Newman


This week, we travel south to Sulpher, OK- to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Established as Platt National Park in 1906, CNRA is one of my favorite Oklahoma places. It isn’t as packed as Turner Falls, and it’s less of a drive than the Wichita National Wildlife Refuge or Beavers Bend (which I’ll get to in later articles). It’s a great place to take non okies who haven’t gotten over their dust bowl misconceptions about our great state.

I spent many a summer day swimming here as a kid; the water here is cool on even the hottest day. Lakes and ponds in OK tend to get a little lukewarm by the end of summer after heating for months, but the creeks here are brisk and refreshing. The mineral springs are attractions in and of themselves; once upon a time, they were thought to have restorative powers. I can’t vouch for that, but you are welcome to go see for yourself.

Native stone! That would be super expensive to build today!

Another very cool element of the park is the landscaping. Oklahoma was hit hard by the twin tragedies of the great depression and the dust bowl, and this park was one of hundreds of Civilian Conservation Corps works projects in the 1930s. The design and worksmanship that went into the limestone pavillions and buildings is quite impressive, and lends the grounds an air of permanance that is so often missing from new construction.

park rangers at work

The most impressive man made feature of the park is The Lake of the Arbuckles, which, like all of Oklahoma’s lakes, was money well spent. I don’t have a boat (I’m not made of money) but if I did, I would take it here. Anyone who wants to buy me a paddleboat or kayak, please feel free to do so.

The best reason to go to CNRA is to just be there. It really is one of those rare places that has a sort of magic to it; it’s one of the first things I think of when I think about why I love Oklahoma. It’s a place where you can feel completely immersed in nature while surrounded by dozens of people. It’s also my pick for best swimming in the state.

One of the best parts of all this is that the park itself is completely free, as a condition of the arrangement between the parks service and the Chickasaw Nation. If taking huge amounts of Texan money at Winstar and manufacturing a good portion of the Pecan Pies in the United States wasn’t enough to make you love the Chickasaw Nation, this should put you over the top.

We have a few weeks of hot weather ahead of us, so don’t wait until Labor Day and try to fight the crowds. Go next weekend. Do it. Seriously.


All photos by the inimitable Natalee Dobbs. You can see the full set of photos at our facebook page

Here’s a short PBS feature about the history of Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

Watch the full episode. See more KERA Specials.

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