Located between Oklahoma City and Dallas, Texas in the Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma, Chickasaw National Recreation Area is one of the most popular parks in the country. Due to its close proximity with Interstate 35 and being located adjacent to Sulphur, Oklahoma, 9,889-acre Chickasaw gets over three million visitors each year. The park surrounds the Lake of the Arbuckles (also know as Arbuckle Reservoir) with the northeast finger of the park stretching to the town of Sulphur.
Man has inhabited the park for over 7,000 years with evidence of paleo-Indians lured to the region by mineral springs and abundant wildlife. More recently Native Americans called the region home with the Chickasaw Indians calling the area, "peaceful valley of rippling waters." Chickasaw is significant today because the park is a biological crossroads where the eastern deciduous forest meets the western prairie, and within its boundaries is a complex network of natural and mineral springs.
The heart of the park sits just south of Sulphur in the Travertine District off of US Highway 177. A visit to the park should start by stopping at the Travertine Information and Nature Center that sits on top of Travertine Creek. The Nature Center is world class with dioramas, live reptiles, amphibians and birds of prey, and an interpretive learning area for people of all ages. Exhibits include information on the regions ecosystem and the numerous springs that dot the area. Ranger led programs are held year round with the nature film, "Oklahoma Oasis," being shown in the winter and a wide variety of hands on activities in the summer.
Chickasaw has over 18 miles of trails including a newly constructed two-mile long paved handicapped trail. The 1.5-mile Travertine Creek Trail starts at the Nature Center and is an easy, improved trail. Water rising up from the ground at Antelope and Buffalo Springs carries dissolved limestone that forms a porous rock known as travertine (hence the name). The trail heads west to the Little Niagara Waterfall. This manmade fall is formed by a series of small dams that creates a very popular summertime swimming hole. Sycamore, willows, and cottonwoods grace the riverbanks with mixed prairie grasses along the trail. If you keep your eyes open you even spots some prickly pear cactus or yucca.
The Antelope and Buffalo Springs Trail also starts from the Travertine Nature Center is the most popular hike in the park. The 1.2-mile trail is flat and passes through a nature testing area so visitors are requested to stay on trail and pets are not allowed. The trail leads to the east to both Antelope and Buffalo Springs that feed the Travertine Creek with over five million gallons of water a day (recent drought conditions rendered the Travertine dry). The trail also offers three different side trails. The Prairie Loop is a half-mile long that crosses the Travertine Creek through a field of horsetail. Go left at the fork and up the limestone hill covered with cedar and oaks. The half-mile long Tall Oaks Loop Trail also crossed the Travertine Creek through a dense group of cedars before leading into a hardwood forest. The 1.8-mile long Dry Creek Loop Trail passes through an assortment of mixed grass prairie, limestone hills and hardwood forests. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the stone bridge that crosses the Travertine Creek in 1934.
The Bison Pasture Trail starts at Bison Viewpoint off of US Highway 177 in the Travertine District. The 1.9 mile long trail has several steep climbs. Be sure to stop and look at the small herd of Bison, brought here in 1920 from Yellowstone National Park. The trail offers the best view in the park, rising up 140 feet over the surrounding terrain at Bromide Hill. As you climb the hill hardwood trees once again disappear into a sea of prairie grass.
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