Southern Oklahoma offers the Arbuckle Mountains, a wildlife refuge, a national recreation area and more. Just a few hours north of Dallas/Ft. Worth, Lawton and Sulphur, Oklahoma, can be explored at the same time. Here are the top things to do in Southern Oklahoma with kids .
Top Things to do in Southern Oklahoma with Kids
With its outdoorsy location, a trip to Southern Oklahoma with kids will be focused on fun in the outdoors. From the state park to the national recreation area to the wildlife refuge, embrace it and pack a picnic.
Lake Murray State Park
Just a few miles north of the Texas/Oklahoma border, Lake Murray State Park is the first and largest state park in Oklahoma.
With over 12,500 acres to explore, Lake Murray State Park offers lots to do with kids. Boating and water sports are the obvious choices and the lake measure over 5,000 acres. t
Lake Murray features an 18-hole golf course, miniature golf and tennis courts. For those traveling together, there is also a baseball/softball field.
ATV and dirt bikes are also big. There’s over 1,000 acres to explore just for ATVs.
For hikers, there is over 30 miles of trails for both mountain biking and hiking.
WIth six camp grounds, there’s plenty of camping from primitive sites to deluxe RV sites available. Lake Murray State Park offers 56 cabins. Some are historic and built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A program that put young men to work during the Great Depression.
Lake Murray Resort that offers a range of accommodations, like newly renovated lodge rooms to historic cabins. The floating cabins also come in assorted sizes.
The Lake Murray Resort is 3323 Lodge Road, in Ardmore. Day Pass is $10 per vehicle.
While in Lake Murray State Park, a stop by Tucker Tower is a must for families. The historic tower rises up 60-feet above Lake Murray and acts as a beacon on the lake.
The tower is an original Works Progress Administration (WPA) project at the southern end of the lake. Today it houses a museum to the WPA in Oklahoma and the views can’t be beat.
The Nature Center is a family magnet at Lake Murray State Park. With interactive displays kids can learn about the animals in the area. That is always a hit with my kids.
During our visit, my kids earned a Nature Center at Tucker Tower patch by completing a booklet.
Tucker Tower and the Nature Center are located at 13528 Scenic Highway 77, Ardmore. Both are free though donations are accepted. Open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Bedré Chocolate Factory
Continuing north, I found a chocolate factory with convenient access right off Interstate 35, that bisects the state.
Over 40 years ago, a chocolate factory began in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma. Now it draws all the road trippers traveling through southern Oklahoma. Bedré Chocolates offers a shop full of temptations. So grab a treat with the kids and watch chocolates roll off the production line from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
During our visit, we sampled their classic treat, the meltaways in nearly every flavor available. Along with traditional chocolate, my kids loved the salty snacks dipped in chocolate. As a kid bonus, I found a playscape right outside.
Located at 37 N. Colbert Rd. Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free to enter.
Chickasaw Cultural Center
During my trip to Southern Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Cultural Center blew my family away. With an extensive cultural center across 184 acres, kids have lots of space to explore and learn about the Chickasaw people.
With facilities that include the Chikasha Inchokka’ Traditional Village, visitors can see reenactments and living history demonstrations. During our visit, we watched a stomp dance along with traditionally-dressed docents demonstrate Chickasaw crafts and agriculture techniques.
Along with the village, the Chickasaw Cultrual Center features a café, a gift shop, a fine art gallery along with a lake that kids can feed the fish. Such a beautiful facility that must be explored to appreciate.
Located at 867 Cooper Memorial Dr. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Sunday and Monday). Adult admission is $7, students are $6 with kids 12 and younger entering for free.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Before I visited the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, I had no idea it was the former Platt National Park. Sometimes national park gets reclassified and that’s the case for this area.
Chickasaw National Recreation area features a couple of units. In the Platt Historic Unit right outside the town of Sulphur, visitors will find the Travertine Nature Center and the swimming areas. The Arbuckle District offers Lake of the Arbuckles access at each of its three campground areas.
Platt Historic District
Created in 1902 and decommissioned in 1976, Platt National Park was created to protect the springs of the area. It was the seventh national park created though smaller than the other parks, like Crater Lake National Park and Mount Rainier National Park.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the park during the Great Depression. The group of young men worked in state and national parks across the U.S. as a works program.
Duing this time, they added dams, trails along with the historic buildings in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The campgrounds along with picnic pavilions were built along with the swimming areas.
Activities at Chickasaw National Recreation Area
With its historic buildings, natural pool swimming and scenic mountain vistas, Chickasaw National Recreation Area is more than its lake. The Lake of the Arbuckles features 36 miles of shoreline and offers four boat ramps. A $4 daily launch fee is required to use the ramps. Fishing is allowed through an Oklahoma fishing license is required.
There are several hiking trails in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Swimming is allowed in the Lake of the Arbuckles, Rock Creek and Veterans Lake. Swimming downstream from Little Niagara (a dam) is permitted, though not upstream from that area.
Finally the resident herd of bison is a must for a visit to Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Camping at Chickasaw
Campers will find three campgrounds at both the Platt Historic District and the Lake of the Arbuckles area.
The Platt area offers 174 campsites at the Central, Rock Creek and Cold Springs campgrounds. This area offers restrooms with running water though no showers.
The lake ares offers 229 campsites at the Guy Sandy, The Point and Buckhorn campgrounds. This offers offers restrooms with showers.
Some of the sites offer hookups with 30 and 50 amp service. Reservations are accepted at some of the campgrounds. Camping fees start at $20 a night.
Located at 1504 Perimeter Rd, Sulphur. The visitor center, Travertine Nature Center is free and open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. most days. The park grounds are open 24-hours a day.
Kids love animals so stop at the Bison Viewing Area located on both sides of U.S. Route 177, just south of Sulphur. A herd of buffalo call the Chickasaw Natural Recreation Area home.
After several attempts to see the buffalo, we caught the bison near twilight in the viewing area. During our visit, we even saw a couple of baby bison grazing near their mothers.
After exploring the Sulphur area for a couple of days, I decided to take the long road home. We drove over to Lawton, Oklahoma, before heading back to Texas.
About 90 miles west, I found a prairie landscape with rolling hills along wildlife refuge, the Comanche Museum and Cultural Center along with Fort Sill.
Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center
Our first stop, the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center, is a must for more information on Quanah Parker and the Comanche people. The Comanche Museum focuses on the history of the Comanche people from the beginning until today.
During our visit, we learned about the WWII Comanche Code Talkers. Seventeen Comanche men used their native language to communicate in an undecipherable code that helped to defeat Hitler during D-Day.
Located at 701 NW Ferris Avenue. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and closed Sunday. It’s free and took about an hour to explore.
Fort Sill Army Base
The Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum offers more history on the fort. With 38 historic buildings in the area, there’s lots to see. For artillery buffs, a visit to the U.S. Army Artillery Museum is a must. With an outdoor display, families can walk through to see Howitzers. Best of all there is an audio tour of the area.
As the final resting place of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, his mother Cynthia Ann Parker and his little sister, Prairie Flower on the high point of the cemetery, Chiefs Knoll. Part of my family history, I wanted to vistit the grave of Chief Quanah Parker.
Bentley Gate is located at 6795 Sheridan Rd. Fort Sill is an active U.S. Army Base all visitors over 16 must pass a background check at the Ft. Sill Visitor Control Center. It’s free and takes about 15 minutes to complete. The Fort Sill Visitor Center is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
ProTip: Fort Sill Army Base to visit the Fort Sill Post Cemetery (not be confused with the Fort Sill National Cemetery).
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge provides a refuge for free-range buffalo, Texas Longhorn cattle, prairie dogs, deer and elk over 59,000 acres. It also provides a habitat for 275 bird species.
First stop off at the Quanah Parker Nature and Visitor Center for an interpretive display. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge offers 30 miles of hiking trails though we drove through looking for wildlife
For campers, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge offers camping with 47 tent sites, 23 RV sites and 20 walk-in sites.
Located at 32 Refuge Headquarters, in Indiahoma. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset. It is free to enter.
Protip: The best time to see animals is at dawn and dusk, when they are most active.
Holy City of the Wichitas
Close to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, the Holy City of the Wichitas ia a religious shrine west of Lawton.
In 1926, the late Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock started an annual Easter Pageant. In 1934 the 66-acre site got a federal grant and the Federal Works Progress Administration built many of the buildings that remain.
As an annual Easter Pageant,the Prince of Peace remains the longest running passion play in the U.S. Depicting the birth, life and death of Christ, the play drew a record crowd in 1939 of 225,000. With the Wichita Mountains as a backdrop, Jerusalem comes alive with Temple Court, Calvary’s Mount and the walls of Jerusalem.
Located at 262 Holy City Rd. Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5p.m. It is free to enter.
Where to Stay in Sulphur
Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center
During my visit to Sulphur, Oklahoma, my family stayed at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center, located next the the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. With over 1,700 acres to explore, the Chickasaw Retreat offers the ultimate refuge for relaxing and reconnecting as a family.
During my stay, I enjoyed a Junior Suite with my family. With a spacious room, I found plenty of room for a roll-away or pack-n-play. In the separate kitchenette I found a small refrigerator, a full-size microwave and separate sink. The luxurious bathroom included a soaking tub for rejuvenating along with a separate shower.
In a separate building, I found a wellness center that rivaled any health club with lots of machines and an indoor track. With a steam room and a dry sauna, relaxing comes easy at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.
I also found the Sole’renity Spa, with services like manicures and pedicures, massages, facials, wraps and waxes. My kids enjoyed the indoor pool during our stay as well.
Located at 4205 Goddard Youth Camp, Sulphur, Oklahoma.
The Artesian Hotel
The Artesian Hotel offers refined lodging steps from all the sights in the revitalized downtown Sulphur, Oklahoma. The original hotel opened in 1906 and included five stories and named after the mineral water found on the property during construction.
After an extensive renovation, The Artesian offers visitors and locals a respite of refinement. The 81-room hotel features a traditional bathhouse, an indoor and outdoor pool along with shopping and restaurants. Make an appointment at the kid’s spa while you enjoy a treatment of your own at Sole’renity Spa.
Located 1001 West 1st Street, in the center of the revitalized downtown of Sulphur.
Where to Eat in Sulphur
Springs at the Artesian
During my visit to Sulphur my family enjoyed dinner at The Artisan Hotel restaurant, Springs at the Artesian. In an upscale dining room with seating for 140, I found homestyle-inspired entrees.
For our visit we sampled several entrees for dinner. My 12-year-old son ordered a classic cheeseburger served on a pretzel bun with bibb lettuce. Then my 9-year-old ordered the Chicken pot pie off the kids’ menu. With a flaky crust and loaded full of tender chunks of white meat chicken along with a rich béchamel sauce, this kid’s entrée would have satisfied me.
For dinner I ordered the Pecan encrusted Tilapia and along with a glass of merlot from the Springs at the Artesian’s full bar. To top off dinner, we enjoyed chocolate cake.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For a quick lunch we stopped by the Bedré Café, located on the street-level shopping area of The Artesian Hotel. In a 1950s inspired malt shop, I found a large selection of Oklahoma’s own, Bedré Chocolates. Along with assorted baked goods and a coffee-house style drinks, Bedré Café scoops up hand-dipped ice cream and along with shakes.
For lunch my family enjoyed a panini of the day along with a turkey club wrap along with a cup of tomato soup. All satisfying though my sons loved the Arbuckle Shake made with vanilla ice cream and Bedré chocolates the most, imagine that. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily.
Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies
Located right off Interstate 35, Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies provides a regional road trip snack. With both savory and sweet pies, we sampled the cherry and apple along with the pizza-style and beef and vegetable. With super flakey pastry that’s filled and pinched before your eyes, the pies are a must when visiting Central Oklahoma.
Located at Interstate 35’s exit 51 in an old Sinclair’s gas station and open breakfast through dinner. This is the original location with other shops across north Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Allergen Alert: All pies are fried in peanut oil.
Fat Bully’s Burgers
After exploring the Chickasaw National Recreation Area I pulled the SUV into Fat Bully’s that features half-pound burgers and live music. During our visit, we sampled the metric burger and my youngest had a kid’s meal. All the burgers sat on toasted buns with trimmings on the side.
Located at 3133 Chickasaw Trail in Sulphur. Open for lunch and dinner from Friday to Sunday. Live music on most Saturday nights and amazing sunsets every night.
Disclosure: This post was created after a media press trip.