Summer Splash: 4 Natural Springs to Visit With Kids
Natural Falls State Park by Keli Clark
Although Oklahoma has been fortunate to experience mild weather the past few months, everyone knows those 100-plus degree days are just around the corner. Pools and water parks are great but don’t forget Oklahoma has a diverse and beautiful landscape with natural water features that offer a unique kind of excitement including several crystal clear natural springs. With summer break approaching, make plans to visit one (or all) of these natural springs.
What to bring: The best suggestion for visiting springs is to pack a lunch and be prepared to explore. The springs themselves are pretty but the parks in which they are found are some of the oldest and best in the state. Plan time for multiple activities like a short hike and exploring the history of the area in addition to enjoying the water.
Natural spring water comes out of the ground cold. The crisp water actually cools the area surrounding the springs making outdoor play a little more comfortable in the heat of the summer. The majority of the springs in Oklahoma are accessible from the parking lot and don’t require any hiking. A couple of the springs, at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and Natural Falls State Park, require light hiking.
Swimming is allowed in some areas at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and swimming pools can be found at Boiling Springs State Park and Roman Nose State Park. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area and Roman Nose State Park have lakes that allow canoeing or kayaking, which is another fun way to enjoy the water.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a free attraction about an hour and a half south of Oklahoma City. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is unique in that it allows swimming in the spring-fed creek just below the Travertine Nature Center, around Little Niagara and down Travertine Creek. The varied landscape provides thrills for little swimmers but you might want to pack some water shoes for sensitive feet. During the hottest part of the year, expect Little Niagara and Travertine Creek to be fairly crowded.
Visit the Travertine Nature Center in the summer for daily programs like night hikes and nature-themed talks.
The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is one of the most popular outdoor attractions in Oklahoma. There are hills for hiking, lakes for boating, bison for viewing and a spring-fed creek for cooling off. While in the area, visit two other family attractions, the Chickasaw Cultural Center near Sulphur and Turner Falls near Davis. Restrooms and water are available at Travertine Nature Center. To access the springs, drive up to Pavilion, Hillside and Black Sulphur Springs off HWY 177 then take a short hike behind the Travertine Nature Center.
Boiling Springs State Park
This park, which is about two and a half hours northwest of Oklahoma City, gets its name from a spring that literally looks like it is boiling. It is one of the original seven state parks created in Oklahoma. In addition to the spring and lush landscape surrounding it, Boiling Springs is home to fascinating history. They have multiple Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) buildings and a pool for hot summer days. Although the natural spring at this park is only for viewing and not for swimming, the on-site pool is a great reason to make the trek this summer. The newly-renovated pool features a water slide and climbing wall. Additionally, a hike around the spring provides views of a creek, hills and forests. Woodward is the nearest town to this park and is worth a stop. The city’s Crystal Beach Park has some unique play structures: a train (open on weekends), mini-golf, paddle boats and a water park.
Entry to Boiling Springs State Park is free but swimming pool admission is $4 per person. Park office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but the park is open to visitors from sunrise to sunset and the pool is open during the summer from 1 to 7 p.m. Restrooms and water are available at the park office and the swimming pool.
Roman Nose State Park
The springs are just one of the amazing things to see at Roman Nose State Park, which is located about an hour and a half northwest of Oklahoma City. The park is open from sunrise to sunset and the views around the park’s lake are hard to beat in Oklahoma. Highlights for kids include on-site teepees (which can be rented for $25/night) and many special programs for young visitors.
The natural springs are located off Hwy 8A near the springs pavilion. Depending on recent rainfall, visitors can sometimes see small waterfalls near the spring. For more water fun, there’s an on-site swimming pool and canoes, paddleboats and kayaks are available for rent at the lake. Admission to the park is free but there is a fee for the swimming pool: $5 for ages 4-12, $6 for age 13 and older, $3.50 for seniors and $2.50 for disabled guests. Restrooms and water are available at the park office.
Natural Falls State Park
Natural Falls State Park, located about three hours northeast of Oklahoma City, boasts one of the highest waterfalls in the state. Although it’s a bit of a trek from the metro, the scenery alone is worth the trip. Scenes from the 1974 film “Where the Red Fern Grows” were filmed at this park, so make the trip extra special by watching the movie before your visit. The springs are located at the top of the falls and are a very short hike from the park’s parking lot.
There’s no swimming allowed at the springs, but the views are worth the trip. The trail to the falls overlook is paved and handicap accessible, making it perfect for all ages. There’s a more strenuous hike available down from the springs to the bottom of the falls. Restrooms and water are available at the park office. Admission to the park is $5 per vehicle. For a one-of-a-kind getaway, plan a weekend of camping at Natural Falls State Park. The park is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for day visitors but campers have 24-hour access to the scenic surroundings.