Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a place where natural beauty meets history in harmony. Meander along any of the hiking trails. They will offer you a delightful experience. In the same hike, you can view the intricate and artistic rock work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps, catch a glimpse of a beaver building a dam or a bison grazing on the prairie.
Water has always been the reason people are drawn to this area. Many of the park trails in the Platt Historic District hug the banks of the streams, pass by the cool rushing waterfalls, and encircle the mineral water and freshwater springs. In the Arbuckle District the trails offer panoramic views of Lake of the Arbuckles.
Antelope and Buffalo Springs Trail
Distance: Main trail is approximately 1.2 miles (1.9 km) roundtrip
Average Time: Main trail/approximately 1 hour
Difficulty: Very easy/ main and secondary trails surfaces are hardpacked soil, with some natural forest litter (limbs and leaves) on the secondary trails
Starting Point: Travertine Nature Center
Antelope and Buffalo Springs trail is one of the more commonly hiked trails in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. A leisurely walk on the main trail to the east will let you enjoy various shrubs, hardwood trees, vines, grasses, and flowers in season. Along the way, you will find benches to relax and enjoy nature's many sights and sounds. The path follows the meandering Travertine Creek, which is fed by Antelope and Buffalo Springs. Normally water flows from these two springs at a rate of approximately 5 million gallons of water daily. Due to occasional severe drought conditions, the Travertine Creek bed is sometimes dry.
The main trail to Antelope and Buffalo Springs is wheelchair accessible with assistance, but the side trails are not accessible.
The following are descriptions of the three side trails you will encounter along the main access trail:
Prairie Loop Trail: This pleasant trail is approximately 0.6 miles in length. Where the trail leads across Travertine Creek you will see green reed-like plants that are often mistaken for bamboo. This plant is commonly known as horsetail or scouring rush. After crossing the creek, the trail forks. The left trail will take you up a limestone slope covered with cedar and oaks. You will pass by small openings of what once was vast mixed grass prairies, but now the dominant vegetation is cedar and several hardwoods. As you come to the top of the slope, you will see in season cone flowers, prickly pear, yucca, and primroses. As you finish the loop, you will return to the starting point at the main trail.
Tall Oaks Loop Trail: This trail is a 0.5 miles (0.8 km) long and crosses Travertine Creek. The right hand fork in the trail leads you through the thick stand of cedars. The trail then will drop down and cross a normally dry stream bed. You will now find yourself in a stand of tall oaks, sycamore, elm, hackberry, and other hardwoods. The trail will lead you along the Travertine Creek and back to your starting point.
Dry Creek Loop Trail: This trail is the longest of the side trails at approximately 1.8 miles (2.9 km) in length. East of Buffalo Springs, where the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a rock bridge across a creek, a side trail circles through the cedar, hardwoods, and crosses gentle slopes of limestone.
As you walk along, you will see patches of mixed grass prairie, which is being invaded by the hardy cedar. As you complete the loop, the trail will bring you back to the old rock bridge and to the main trail.
Arbuckle District Trails
The Bureau of Reclamation proposed the construction of Lake of the Arbuckles in 1956 to provide flood control, a water supply, and recreation. Lake of the Arbuckles was administered by Platt National Park. In 1976, the land was combined and the area renamed Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Described here are three prominent trails that are located along the shores of Lake of the Arbuckles, located at the Point and Buckhorn arms of the lake. The two Point trails are Fishing Rock Trail and Lakeview Trail.
Fishing Rock Trail: This one-way trail follows the Arbuckle Lake shore for about 0.8 mile. The roundtrip hike is a total of 1.6 miles. Moving west from the trailhead you will pass through a hardwood forest and then enter an open environment with cedar and mixed grass prairie vegetation. There are several places where you can access the shoreline and try fishing. A state fishing license is required and may be obtained locally. Arbuckle Lake has a variety of freshwater fish including bass, sunfish, crappie, and catfish.
Lakeview Trail: A one-way hike of 0.5 miles will end at a small pebbly beach. The view to the west, is the Point picnic and swimming areas, to the southwest is the Arbuckle dam. The dam, 1,890 feet long and 142 feet high, holds back the water in the 2,350 acre lake. To the southeast you can see the Buckhorn arm of the lake. In the late fall and winter, you might be able to spot bald eagles that winter here. Follow the same trail back for a roundtrip hike of one mile.
Buckhorn Area Trail: This trail begins at the first picnic area, follows the lake and connects with the "D" loop of the campground. It is a one-way trail of 0.9 mile [1.4 km]. As you begin your hike, you may see evidence of where armadillos have rooted up the ground cover while searching for insects and worms. You may catch a glimpse of fox squirrels playing, encounter wild turkeys or other secretive wildlife common in this area. Overhead you may see black vultures soaring on the updrafts along the shoreline. Close to the lakes edge, take a moment to watch the waterbugs, turtles, and minnows bustling around in their tiny worlds.
Bison Pasture Trail
Distance: 1.9 miles (3 km)
Average Time: 1 1/2 hours
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous/some elevation changes/surface is hardpacked soil
Starting Point: Bison Viewpoint
At the start of the trail, you may see the small herd of bison, that has been an attraction to the area since 1920. The original herd came from Yellowstone National Park and Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.
For your safety, please do not enter the fenced area.
The trail is a loop that leads you through prairie grasslands, lush stream bed growth along Rock Creek and mixed deciduous forest. This contrast is especially noticeable when you take the Bromide Hill branch and ascend to one of the highest points in the area. Bromide Hill, also called Robber's Roost because of its alleged use by outlaws in the early days, rises 140 feet above Rock Creek and gives a panoramic view of the Platt Historic Area. From this point the town of Sulphur lies to the north, the Rock Creek corridor winds south to the Arbuckle Lake, and the remnants of the Arbuckle Mountains rise in the west
Also accessible from this loop is the cutoff to Rock Creek Campground. The campground is open year round and provides many well shaded camp sites.
Distance: 0.5 miles (0.8 km)
Average Time: 1/2 hour
Difficulty: Very easy, surface is some concrete and some hardpacked gravel
Starting Point: Pavilion Springs or Vendome Well
A walk through the historic district of the park takes you back in time. Pavilion Springs, Lincoln Bridge, Flower Park, and the Vendome Well all have a distinctive place in the history of Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
The turn of the 20th century community of Sulphur began in the area of Pavilion Springs. Early settlers called this spring "Seven Springs". The first improvement was a hollow tree used to collect the water. A concrete structure replaced the tree and a pavilion was built. In the early 1900s, it was the only spring with a pavilion over it, therefore the residents of the area called it Pavilion Springs. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the present structure in 1936.
One of the dominant features along the trail is Lincoln Bridge, built in 1909. The builder was required to construct a bridge strong enough to support a four horse team at a full gallop.
In 1915, Sulphur residents planted flowers in the area north of Lincoln Bridge, hence the name Flower Park. CCC workers dug the original water course from Vendome Well to Travertine Creek in 1934. A common sight at that time was park visitors covered with mud drying in the sun along the banks of Vendome Stream. These mud bathers, or "mud puppies," believed the black sticky mud had medicinal properties in it that helped heal aching joints and skin problems.
The Vendome Well and the adjacent area to the west, was made a part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in 1980. Originally a commercial development, the well was drilled in 1922. A restaurant, dance pavilion, swimming pool, and skating rink were all located in this area. The well provided enough water for the swimming pool as well as and an adequate flow through the Flower Park area.
The area evokes images of a turn-of-the-century town. A four horse team and wagon running across Lincoln Bridge, mud covered people sitting along the stream in Flower Park, and music from the dance pavilion mingled with the sounds of swimmers splashing in the pools. Enjoy the beauty of this area, a favorite of visitors for almost a hundred years.
Travertine Creek Trail
Distance: 1.5 miles (2.4km)
Average Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy, surface is hardpacked soil
Starting Point: Travertine Nature Center or Pavilion Springs
Originally called Sulphur Creek, Travertine Creek gets its main water supply from Antelope and Buffalo Springs. The water that emerges from Antelope and Buffalo Springs contains dissolved limestone from underground deposits. Above ground the limestone is redeposited as a porous substance known as travertine.
From the Travertine Nature Center, you will follow the trail west to Little Niagara waterfall, a favorite swimming hole for many visitors. Little Niagara waterfall was formed by one of a series of dams constructed by the Civilian Conservation Center (CCC) along Travertine Creek. The water of Travertine Creek maintains an average temperature of 65 degrees year round, which makes for an invigorating plunge on hot summer days. Travertine Creek tumbles over 75 natural rock falls and down six man-made dams as it winds along its 2 1/2 mile course from the Travertine Nature Center to Pavilion Springs.
You may want to take a side hike to Travertine Island, an area the CCC improved for visitor recreation. They built a long slab rock picnic table and rock benches in 1934. You may also observe towering black walnut trees. In the fall of the year, American Indians would gather walnuts and store them for food. They would pulverize the husk and stir this into pools of water to stun the fish. The fish could then be easily caught and dried for winter.
The trees overhanging the waters edge with peeling, paper-thin whitish bark and broad leaves are sycamores. The sycamore is found in wet soil along stream and lake banks and in flood plain forests along with willows and cottonwoods. Red cedars and mixed prairie grasses such as the little bluestem, the Indian grass, and the broadleaf dangle grass speckle the border of the trail. Other plants commonly seen are the prickly pear cactus and yucca plants.
The trail ends at either the Travertine Nature Center or Pavilion Springs where you can backtrack to your original starting point.
Veterans Center Trail
Distance: 0.5 miles [0.8 km]
Average Time: 1/2 hour
Difficulty: Very easy/surface is hard-packed soil
Starting Point: Pavilion Springs
The Veterans Trail is an easy one-way trail that leads from Pavilion Springs to the perimeter road and to the Oklahoma Veterans Center. This trail through a cedar and hardwood forest was once the site for a golf course built in 1924. Since the closure of the golf course in 1934, natural plant succession has steadily reclaimed the land. This is a good alternative route from the Travertine Creek trail or the perimeter road.
Veterans Lake Trail
Distance: 2.8 (4.5km) miles roundtrip
Average Time: 1 1/2 hours
Difficulty: Easy/half of the trail surface is concrete and half is dirt/gravel roadway
Starting Point: Two Trail Heads, Parking lot at the dam and at the Northeast corner of the lake.
Veterans Lake Trail offers excellent views of the lake as it winds along the shoreline. Here, you pass through a transition from oaks and red cedars of the Eastern hardwood forest to the tallgrasses and wildflowers of Western prairie.
Prairie plants along the trail include yucca, prickly pear cactus, eryngo, indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, and blue gamma grass. Dominant wildflowers around the lake in the spring include black-eyed susan, purple coneflower (snakeroot), and false indigo.
In the early morning, the lake is still and peaceful and in the evenings you can see beautiful sunsets. Perhaps a white-tailed deer or armadillo may venture out in the open. Watch for colorful rafts of Canada geese and ducks, which frequent the lake in the fall and spring.
Veterans Lake was built in 1933 and became part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in 1983. The 67 acre lake was named in honor of American war veterans.
Address: 6 miles S off Sulphur on SH 177
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