Load up the kids and take off for plenty of adventure in Northwest Oklahoma. The four parks highlighted here are a perfect combination of family fun, unique terrain and plenty of exciting kid-friendly activities, some that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
When planning this trip, consider making Boiling Springs State Park near Woodward your home base during your travels. One of Oklahoma’s first state parks, Boiling Springs is named for springs that bubble (no, they aren’t really boiling). Accommodations range from camping and cabins at the park. If you cannot get reservations for a cabin, consider a motel or hotel room in nearby Woodward, about 10 minutes away. (See sidebar for details.)
There are several activities that kids will enjoy at Boiling Springs State Park. If you add in time for exploring nature and free play, there are enough activities to keep your kids busy and happy for at least a day—or two.
When you arrive, be sure to stop by the observation area to observe the bubbling water and read about the history of the area. From there, enjoy the following:
- Swimming: From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the park’s large swimming pool includes a bathhouse that, although now updated, was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s. Swimming there is a memorable experience.
- Fishing: Right next to the swimming pool is the original swimming hole of the park, Shaul Lake, a spring-fed lake that is now a fun (and easy) place to fish.
- Playgrounds, hiking, wildlife watching: Need to run off energy? You and your kids will enjoy the updated playground areas and easy hiking trails that lead through woodlands and spring-fed creeks. Deer, turkey and other wildlife are plentiful in the park. At dusk, be sure to drive slowly and look towards grass areas as they meet the woods for your best chance to observe the wildlife.
- Golf: Boiling Springs includes a unique 18-hole golf course that challenges players with its changes in elevation. Another perk? The views are beautiful.
While in Woodward, visit the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum to learn about the history and heritage of northwest Oklahoma. Exhibits show the history of the nomadic Plains Indians that inhabited the area, Fort Supply and General George Custer, the Land Run of 1893 and the settlement of Woodward and other northwest Oklahoma towns, the infamous 1947 Woodward tornado, and more.
2009 Williams Avenue—Highway 183, 580-256-6136, Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm, free admission
Next on your exploration of Northwest Oklahoma is a day trip to two nearby parks. The first place to explore is Alabaster Caverns State Park, home of the largest natural gypsum cave in the world that is open to the public and located just 40 miles north (Hwy 34 then east to Hwy 64 then follow the signs). The caves are a cool 59 degrees, making this a perfect destination for a hot summer day. When you arrive, check in at the park office and schedule a one-hour guided tour of the caverns. These tours begin promptly on the hour and are limited to 40 visitors per tour. The tour includes seeing the rare black alabaster and even experiencing total darkness. After the tour, ask about the nearby hiking trails; two of the trails are rated for all ages and abilities, providing a great way to explore more of the unique flora and fauna that make up this beautiful park.
If you have a four-wheeler or dune buggy, you most likely have heard of Little Sahara State Park, one of the largest sand dunes in the country, located 42 miles southeast of Alabaster Caverns. Consider this park Oklahoma’s biggest sand pile—a 1600 acre sand pile with 25- to 75-foot dune heights! If you don’t have your own vehicle that will work on the sand, either plan to drop by for a short time to view the dunes from the observation area (near the park entrance off Highway 281) or look into renting dune buggies from private vendors in nearby Waynoka. Whether you bring your own or rent a four-wheel vehicle, be sure to observe all safety rules.
For your third day in the area, take off from the Woodward/Boiling Springs area towards the Sod House Museum in Aline, OK. Located 60 miles east of Woodward (take Highway 412 east then north on Highway 8 towards Aline), the Sod House Museum won’t take long to tour but will certainly make your family understand the harsh life that the pioneers led and appreciate their own modern home.
(4628 State Hwy 8, Aline, 580-463-2441, www.okhistory.org/sites/sodhouse. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-5pm but be sure to call ahead to verify they will be open. Admission is $4, less for children and seniors.)
Next stop is to head northeast towards Great Salt Plains State Park (go north on Highway 8 and east on Highway 64) where your family can participate in the ultimate natural “treasure hunt.” On the Great Salt Plains, in an area that resembles a moonscape or perhaps the surface of Mars, your family will be able to carefully dig for the unique selenite crystals which are only found here. This hands-on activity is great for a wide range of ages and is the perfect way to to celebrate the diversity of landscape we have in our state. (See instructions to the right.)
After you clean up from the crystal dig, find overnight accommodations at either the Great Plains State Park or at one of the many hotels in the city of Enid, your next destination.
The city of Enid, located one hour southeast of the Great Salt Plains area (south on Highway 38, east on Highway 64, south on Highway 60) offers two award-winning museums perfect for families.
Kids will explore science and creativity at Leonardo’s Children's Museum (200 E Maple Ave, 580-233-2787, www.leonardos.org, Monday-Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm, Sunday, 1:00-5:00pm. Admission $8 for ages 2+; seniors $7; Everyone enjoys $4 admission after 3pm). The museum hosts exhibits inspired by the genius of Leonardo DaVinci that include a carpenter shop, artist’s studio, flight exhibits and more. Adventure Quest, the outdoor part of the museum that looks like a castle, is open in the afternoons and includes water play, a dinosaur dig, slides, swings and much more.
Then, take a short drive over to the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center to experience the history of the early years of the area’s settlement. Recently updated and expanded, this museum uses technology and artifacts to bring the history of the pioneers to life. (507 S 4th St, 580-237-1907. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm.. Admission $5 for adults, free for ages 5 and under, seniors and students with ID, $3 or $13 per family of 4 or less.)
Your family will likely remember the treasures you discovered in Northwest Oklahoma for years to come.
One of the most unique wildlife experiences in the state is offered near Alabaster Caverns, typically in June or July. With a little pre-planning, you can ensure your family (children ages eight and up) gets to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Operated by the Oklahoma Wildlife Department, the Selman Bat Tours start from Alabaster Caverns State Park and include a tour of the area by knowledgeable naturalists. Then, at dusk, the spectacular show begins with millions of Mexican free-tailed bats leaving their nesting caves to feed on mosquitos and other bugs—over 22,000 pounds of them in just one night. After all that excitement, stay longer to do some star gazing, taking advantage of the University of Central Oklahoma’s Selman Living Laboratory Observatory, weather permitting.
Registration for the Selman Bat Tours begins at the end of May each year and registration forms must be postmarked by a specific date. The extra efforts to enjoy this tour are worth it as this is one Oklahoma experience your family will be talking about for years to come.
Find more information at www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/batwatch/aboutselman.htm.
How to Dig for Crystals at the Great Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge
For best results, come prepared. You will need a shovel, a bucket or jug of water and a container (such as an egg carton) to carry the crystals, which are fragile until dry. Since crystal hunters spend most of their time on hands and knees, an old towel is handy, both for kneeling and wiping hands. Sunglasses and sunscreen are essential; bright sun combined with the glare from the white salt surface can quickly result in sunburn.
Use a shovel to dig a hole about two feet deep until you reach wet sand. Allow two or three inches of water to seep in from the bottom. Use your hands or a cup to splash water gently against the sides of the hole. (Some people bring a container of water, so they have plenty of water to splash…and to drink when it gets hot!) This washes the soil away and exposes the crystals. When you find a crystal, continue splashing it with water until it is mostly exposed. Newly-exposed crystals are fragile and will break if you try to pull them from the soil. After removing the crystal, place it where the sun and wind will dry it. You are permitted to remove up to ten pounds of crystals, plus one large cluster each day.
Hampton Inn & Suites
511 Delma Ct, Enid, OK 73701
Price: $144 plus tax – $179 plus tax $124 plus tax – $144 plus tax
Amenities: free hot breakfast, cookies in the afternoon, indoor, heated pool, hot tub, exercise room, free wifi, business center, guest laundry service and facility, sweet shop with candy and ice cream
Holiday Inn Express (Hwy 412)
4702 W Owen K Garriott Rd Enid, OK 73703
Price: $119 – $159
Amenities: fridge & microwave in rooms, free wifi, breakfast, indoor pool, hot tub, exercise room
Ramada Inn Enid
3005 W Owen K Garriott Rd Enid, OK 73703
Price: $118.99 plus tax
Amenities: free wifi, full service restaurant, exercise room, indoor pool, hot tub, sauna
5815 KL Drive Enid, OK 73703
Price: $139 – $209 $129 – $169
Amenities: lounge, indoor pool, weight room, continental breakfast, meeting room, free wifi
Baymont Inn & Suites Enid
3614 W Owen K Garriott Rd Enid, OK 73703
Price: $98 – $105 $101 – $120
Amenities: indoor pool, mini fridge & microwave in rooms, work center, fitness room, hot breakfast, free wifi
Hampton Inn & Suites
2814 Williams Ave, Woodward, OK 73801
Price: $109 plus tax – $149 $119 plus tax – $129 plus tax
Amenities: wifi, complimentary hot breakfast, indoor pool, hot tub
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites
3333 Williams Ave, Woodward, OK 73801
Amenities: hot breakfast, exercise room, hot tub, indoor pool, wifi
La Quinta Inn & Suites
3410 Williams Ave, Woodward, OK 73801
Price: $109 plus tax – $149 plus tax
Amenities: hot breakfast, business center, indoor heated pool, fitness center, wifi
3202 1st St Woodward, OK 73801
Price: $99 plus tax – $129 plus tax
Amenities: hot breakfast, microwave, mini fridge, coffee (remove?), indoor swimming pool, indoor fitness center, wifi
Boiling Springs State Park
207745 Boiling Springs Road Woodward, OK 73801
Located 1 mile north on Hwy 34, then 4 miles east on Hwy 34C from Woodward.
Senior & Military Discount
Facility Amenities: ADA Compliant, Campsites, Credit Cards Accepted, Dump Station, Elec. 30 Amp, Elec. 50 Amp, Full Hookups, Gift Shop, Grills, Lake/River View, Meeting Space Available, Non-smoking, Outdoor Grills, Park Ranger, Pets Allowed, Picnic Area, Playground, Pool Outdoor, Pull Thru Sites, Restrooms, Showers, Water Hookup
Number of Units: 4
On-site Lodging: Cabin/Cottage, Group Camp, RV Sites, Tent Sites
The cabins run $105 per night. Each one bedroom cabin includes a kitchenette with full size stove, refrigerator, microwave and all the dishes you need, table and chairs, sleeper sofa, flat screen tv with Dish network, and a fireplace.
Great Salt Plains State Park
23280S Spillway Dr., Jet, OK 73749
Located 8 miles north of Jet on Hwy 38, approximately 45 minutes NW of Enid.
Extended Stay Discount, Group Rate Discount, Senior Discount
Facility Amenities: ADA Compliant, Campsites, Credit Cards Accepted, Dump Station, Elec. 30 Amp, Elec. 50 Amp, Grills, Handicapped Parking, Lake/River View, Meeting Space Available, Non-smoking, Outdoor Grills, Park Ranger, Pets Allowed, Picnic Area, Playground, Pull Thru Sites, Restrooms, Showers, Swim Beach, Water Hookup
Number of Units: 6
On-site Lodging: Cabin/Cottage, RV Sites, Tent Sites
Room Amenities: Cable/Satellite TV, Coffee Maker, Hair Dryer, Kitchen Facilities, Microwave, Refrigerator
Room Type: kitchenettes
Cabins 1-5 (sleeps four adults): $75 plus tax (Weekday); $80 plus tax (Weekend)
Cabin 6 (sleeps six adults): $85 plus tax (Weekday); $90 plus tax (Weekend)
Primitive Camping: $12
RV Camping: $20
Pet Fee: $10 per night (Cabins only).
Born and raised in Woodward, Sarah Taylor is publisher of MetroFamily Magazine and author of the book Exploring Oklahoma with Children. The mother of three young adults, she and her husband live in Edmond.