When we started off on our trip to the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge, my 7 year old asked me where we were going. “Well,” I replied, “it’s kind of a nature place.” That was really the best I could do based on what I had read beforehand, but that description is like calling the Grand Canyon a big hole in the ground. This is a gorgeous, amazing place!
The Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1993 and encompasses 9,000 acres of land surrounding 34 miles of the Deep Fork River. The refuge is covered with beautiful forests and because of its closeness to the river, the land floods yearly. These wetlands and forests are home to a multitude of birds, fish and other animals.
When I called before our visit, I was warned that the refuge is “in the middle of nowhere.” While you may have a bit of a drive, Deep Fork NWR is easy to find.
From Oklahoma City, head east on I-40 to Henryetta and then go about fourteen miles north of town on Highway 75. From Highway 75, follow Lavender Road until it dead ends and you see the sign directing you to the left. The refuge will be down the road a little over a mile and a half on your right. Though you’re in the country, the roads are paved and easy to navigate.
There are several different parts of the refuge that are accessible to the public, but the most family-friendly area is the Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk area. This acreage is adjacent to the Deep Fork NWR offices. The office is open Monday through Friday from 7:30am–4:00pm and the staff can help answer any questions you might have during your visit. The 1,200-foot-boardwalk area winding through the woods is accessible 24 hours a day.
What is there to do at a wildlife refuge? Plenty! My kids (ages 2 and 7) both enjoyed themselves immensely. There are several trail areas available at the Cussetah Bottoms area. The boardwalk and the paved trails are stroller and wheelchair-friendly, so everyone can have a good time. The paved section of trail lets you literally get right in the thick of things. In several spots, the water comes right up to the edge of the trail, much to the delight of my kids! There is also a section of trail approximately ¼-mile long that is not paved, so if you want to try that out, make sure you bring good, sturdy shoes and some bug spray.
While you’re out on the trails, it’s a great time to notice all the plant and animal life in the refuge. After we arrived, I realized this would have been a great place to break out some of our bird and plant guides. Thankfully, there are some helpful signs along the way to show you what to look for during specific seasons and where to look for signs of certain birds or other animals. If you visit the Deep Fork NWR website, you can find a checklist for different types of birds living in the area. This is an activity even the youngest member of your family can try.
If you’re into nature photography, there are several areas that have wonderful panoramic views and a photography blind. This small shed has two different windows and can comfortably seat a few people with their photography equipment.
After you’ve explored the trails, take a break at the picnic area. Restrooms are available, along with portable sinks.
Hunting and Fishing
If your family enjoys hunting or fishing, visit the Deep Fork NWR website or call the office for specific rules. These activities are allowed in certain areas of the refuge during specific times of the year. Small watercraft are also allowed in some areas, though there are no docks. Camping is not permitted.
Planning Your Visit
If you would like to visit Deep Fork NWR with a group, call ahead to speak with one of the office staff. They are ready and willing to help plan field trips that will focus on topics of interest and they can provide information on any of the eight other refuges in Oklahoma. Various educational programs are also held throughout the year. Call ahead for information or check the website for details.
Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge
21844 S 250 Road, Okmulgee
918-652-0456 or www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/oklahoma/Deep Fork/
Admission is free
Office open Monday–Friday, 7:30am–4:00pm
Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk is always open
Jennifer Geary is a homeschooling mom from Broken Arrow, formerly of Oklahoma City, who loves to have adventures with her family. Read her blog at www.metrofamilymagazine.com/adventures-in-homeschooling.