Sulphur, Oklahoma was incorporated in the late 19th century, but its rich history extends centuries beyond that. Perched on the edge of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, one of the nation’s oldest national parks, Sulphur was once called “the land of rippling waters.” This town is historically rich, beautifully endowed by nature and any one of these stops can create a perfect day trip for the whole family.
Stop #1: Arbuckle Wilderness
Topping the kids’ list will be the chance for your own Oklahoma safari adventure at Arbuckle Wilderness (6132 Kay Starr Trail, Davis; www.arbucklewildernesspark.com). You can drive your own vehicle through winding trails lined with—and sometimes occupied by—a wonderful mix of exotic and native Oklahoman wildlife. Cups of pellet food are available for purchase at the main office and the animals readily eat when it is offered. Opening for he summer season on Memorial Day, families can get out of the vehicle to stretch their legs and exploring the House of Reptiles petting zoo, sweet shop cafe and gift shop.
Adult admission is $16.99, seniors and children ages 4–11 are $14.99 and children 3 and under are free. The park opens at 9 a.m. and the last car is admitted at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Check the venue’s website for money-saving coupons on admission and gift shop purchases.
Stop #2: Turner Falls Park
Just across the highway from Arbuckle Wilderness is Turner Falls Park (US 77 south of US 7, Davis; www.turnerfallspark.com). Turner Falls Park is home to Oklahoma’s tallest natural waterfall, falling a stunning 77 feet into a natural swimming hole. The area features a natural water park with sloping rock slides worn smooth by the waters of Honey Creek. Three caves will delight your young swimmers and natural trails wind through the ancient and scenic Arbuckle Mountains. Convenience is very important when day tripping with your family and Turner Falls Park offers many amenities. Picnic areas and public restrooms dot the acreage and a playground is available in case nature’s water park left your children with still more excess energy. The park stays incredibly busy through the summer time and park rangers will close the gates to new admissions once a maximum number of visitors has been welcomed. This serves not only to ensure guests of the park are able to enjoy themselves but to help preserve the integrity of the park itself, allowing staff to monitor and preserve this natural wonder of Oklahoma. It’s best to arrive early to ensure that you can enjoy all that Turner Falls has to offer.
Stop #3: Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Note: Due to COVID-19 precautions, swimming, camping and the nature center is closed. For up-to-date information, visit www.nps.gov/chic.
Find more natural wonder for your family at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (1008 W. Second St, Sulphur; www.nps.gov/chic), formerly named Platt National Park. Easily capable of sustaining a day trip by itself, the park boasts hundreds of acres of trails and picnic areas. Though it is one of the smallest National Parks, it is the seventh oldest and just as majestic as any of the nation’s bigger, more widely- known sister parks. Natural fresh water and sulphur springs adorn the landscape and your family can visit historic structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the many job recovery programs created during the Great Depression. Your children can be sworn in as Junior Rangers by a National Park Ranger after creating an age-appropriate booklet provided free by the National Park Service.
Guided nature walks are available at varying times (incluing night hikes) from the Junior Ranger Station and other stations throughout the park. The trails are meticulously kept and, for most trails, a good, sturdy tennis shoe will suffice, making hiking boots unnecessary. While hiking off-trail or through the wilderness backwoods is not allowed, lesser-used and more rugged trails are available for avid hikers. Boating and fishing is welcome on the lake with the proper permits, which are easily obtained from multiple locations around the lake. Swimming is allowed and encouraged in the lake and natural springs. The naturalist in your family can explore the Travertine Nature Center and six camp grounds are available if your day trip turns into a weekend experience.
Stop #4: Bedré Chocolate
Another family favorite is the Bedré Fine Chocolate Factory (37 N. Colbert Rd, Davis; www.bedrechocolates.com), an Oklahoma-based confectionary and a Chickasaw Country destination. The building is almost as beautiful as the chocolates created within. Floor to ceiling windows allow guests to watch the creation of this popular sweet treat. In addition to catching a behind-the-scenes peek, shopping Bedré’s full retail shop also helps support Oklahoma and the local economy. Bedré Chocolates is a quick and enjoyable stop, since the whole experience doesn’t take very long, even for the most dedicated chocoholic. Hours are 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday-Sunday.
Stop #5: Crossbar Ranch and ATV Park
Located near Turner Falls in Davis, Cross Bar Offroad Park (4530 Dolese Rd, Davis; www.rideyourlifestyle.com) offers 6,500 acres of extreme all-terrain vehicle fun, offering a wide range of ATV trails and areas to get your feet a little dirty. Bring your own ATV and book a reasonably-priced day pass ($20 adult, $10 for children ages 10 – 15, kids under 9 are free) for full access to trails, jumps and mind-blowing ramps. Camping and RV hookups are available for a fee if you want to complete your outdoor experience with an overnight stay.
Stop #6: Chickasaw Cultural Center
Note: Due to COVID-19 precautions, the center is temporarily closed.
No trip to the Sulphur area is complete without a stop to at the beautiful and educational Chickasaw Cultural Center (867 Charles Cooper Memorial Dr., Sulphur; www.chickasawculturalcenter.com). Begin with a calming experience in the Spirit Forest and end with exploring a traditional Chickasaw village. Performances, demonstrations and interactive exhibits are available nearly everywhere you turn. Every aspect of the life of the Chickasaw people is covered in rich detail, from their historical roots to their role in modern Oklahoma life. Questions, even the difficult ones posed by young visitors, are answered gracefully and the staff is nothing less than exemplary in explaining their purpose and mission.
The Chickasaw Cultural Center’s park-like grounds, made up of 109 acres of Chickasaw territory, are open to the public. Be sure to capture the breathtaking view of the grounds available from the Aba’ Aanowa’ Sky Pavillion. General admission to the state-of-the-art Chickasha Poya exhibits is $6 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and free for children ages 12 and under. Enjoy traditional Chickasaw fare at the Aaimpa Cafe, as well as American specialties, children’s meals and more.
The Sulphur/Davis area can easily whisk your family away for a day or weekend. With no shortage of family-friendly venues and experiences, everyone is sure to drive away pleased. Sulphur and Davis are located just east of I-35, approximately 75 miles south of Oklahoma City. For more information, visit www.sulphurokla.com and chickasawcountry.com/regions/southeast/davis.