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Top Things to do at Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Explore Chicksaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Explore the natural pools of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, Oklahoma, with your kids. Credit: Catherine Parker

in Southern Oklahoma, Chickasaw National Recreation Area  protects  natural pools, scenic mountain vistas and historic sites. For recreational boaters, there’s a large recreation lake with ramps and camping. Chickasaw also offers historic cabins and a resident herd of bison, just minutes outside of Sulphur, Oklahoma. Here are the top things to do at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

9 Top Things to Do Chickasaw National Recreation Area

  • Visit the Travertine Nature Center
  • Take a Hike
  • Go Swimming in Travertine Creek
  • Go Biking in Chickasaw
  • Take a Boat on Lake of the Arbuckles
  • Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
  • Spot the Bison
  • Learn about Platt National Park
  • Go Camping at Chickasaw
Explore Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur with kids.
Explore the Chickasaw National Recreation Area for family fun in southern Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Chickasaw At a Glance

Year Established: 1902
Location: Southern Oklahoma
Size: 9.899 acres
Top Features: Natural Springs, Platt Historic District


Once Platt National Park, Chickasaw features hiking trails, swimming in the summer, national park programming and even a herd of bison. Chickasaw National Recreation Area offers an outdoor recreation area with hiking, biking and boating as well.

Chickasaw National Recreation area features several units. The Platt Historic Unit, right outside of Sulphur, offers the Travertine Nature Center,  the historic buildings and the swimming area. Arbuckle District offers 3,600-acre Lake of the Arbuckles.

Explore the Travertine Nature Center in Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
At the Travertine Nature Center, we found a large interpretive area with displays and live animals. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Visit Travertine Nature Center

Acting as an interpretive area as well as a visitor center, the Travertine Nature Center has the namesake creek running under the building. It resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style architecture.

My kids loved the interpretive area with live animals. With a live Barn Owl and several native snakes in aquariums, this space offers kids a place to learn. I also found displays on the geologic features of the area.

The Travertine Nature Center is also the starting point for Ranger Programs over the weekends. On both Saturday and Sunday, rangers led a nature walk at 2 p.m.

Travertine Nature Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m and 5 p.m. during the summer.

Hike in Chickasaw National Recreation Area

During our visit to Chickasaw National Recreation Area, we hiked on several of the trails. I suggest any of the following.

  • Antelope and Buffalo Springs—a 1.2-mile trail, labeled easy originates from the Travertine Nature Center.
  • Bison Pasture Trail—a 1.9-mile trail labeled moderate originates from the Bison Viewing Area.
  • Flower Park—a .5-mile trail labeled easy originates from the Vendome Well.
  • Travertine Creek Trail—1.5-mile trail labeled easy originates at the Travertine Nature Center.

Splash or Swim in Chickasaw

Chickasaw National Recreation Area features natural swimming holes that excited my kids. Originally built by the CCC, the manmade dams along Travertine Creek are perfect for splashing and wading. Swimming is allowed at Little Niagara and downriver.

People can swim in several locations in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, like Lake of the Arbuckles, Veterans Lake, Travertine Creek and Rock Creek. Swimming is prohibited near boat ramps and fishing piers.

Biking in Chickasaw

In the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, cycles can use the road throughout the park. For mountain biking, the trails west of the Travetine Nature Center are open to cyclists. Though the trails east of the nature center are for hiking only.

For those traveling with stock animals, the Rock Creek Multi-use trail is the only one open to horseback riding.

Boating in Chickasaw National Recreation Area 

The Lake of the Arbuckles is over 2,300 acres in size and  features 36 miles of shoreline. With four boat ramps, it is a favorite with boaters. Boaters will find a ramp  at each of its three campground areas, Guy Sandy, The Point and Buckhorn. An additional boat is located at Upper Guy Sandy area too. A $4 daily launch fee is required to use the ramps.

Fishing is allowed at the Lake of the Arbuckles and catfish, bass, perch and crappier are all found in the lake. Anglers will need to have a valid Oklahoma fishing license.

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Earn a Junior Ranger badge in Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Earn a Junior Ranger badge at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Earn a Junior Ranger Badge at Chickasaw

The Junior Ranger Program offers the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Our first stop, the Travertine Nature Center, is the place to start with kids.

The Chickasaw National Recreation Area offers Junior Ranger programming over the weekends to earn the badge and patch. Take a hike, or if the weather is warm, swim in the natural swimming areas created by CCC-built waterfalls.

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Stop by and see the bison as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
The bison herd in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Credit: Catherine Parker

Animals in Chickasaw

As a national park service area, animals are found in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Common animals include several varieties of squirrels, red fox, white-tailed deer, bobcat, badger, coyotes and weasel. Lot of rodents as well as birds call the area home.

Bison Viewing Area

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 roam in Chickasaw Natural Recreation Area.

After several attempts at bison viewing, we caught the bison near twilight in the viewing area, including a couple of baby bison grazing near their mothers. The best time to see animals, including the bison, is at dusk and dawn.

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Explore the Lincoln Bridge as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
My boys climbed all over the Lincoln Bridge in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Credit: Catherine Parker

Learn about Platt National Park

A little know fact about Sulphur, Oklahoma, it’s home to demoted Platt National Park. It doesn’t happen often, but national parks can loose their designation and it happened to Platt National Park (1906 to 1976). It was the seventh national park and it became a national park when Crater Lake National Park and Mount Rainier National Park earned their designation.

The Federal Government purchased 33 mineral springs to protect the area from private overdevelopment in 1902 from the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Tourists and bathers flocked to the renamed Sulphur Springs Reservation.At the time in the U.S., hydrotheaphy was fashionable along with Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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Stop at Vendome Well as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Stop by the Vendome Well on the edge of Chickasaw National Recreation Area to see how Sulphur got its name. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1904, the area enlarged and then in 1906 the area was renamed Platt National Park, after Congressman Orville Platt of Connecticut. Early in Platt National Park’s history, attendance at the small park exceeded the visitation at Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

In 1976, Platt National Park lost its national park designation and rolled into the newly-formed Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The original Platt National Park area is the Platt Historical District, right outside the town of Sulphur.

Civilian Conservation Corps in Platt National Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, shortly after his inauguration. Nicknamed Roosevelt’s Tree Army, the New Deal program employed 3 million people over the term of the program from 1933 until 1942. In all, 4,500 CCC camps were established to restore or construct national parks, national forests, state and community parks across the country.

Explore Platt Historic District as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Explore the Platt Historical District in Chickasaw National Recreation Area for Civilian Conservation Corps cabins. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Open to unmarried men from 18 to 25 whose parents were on assistance, participants earned $30 a month with $25 a month sent home. Initial enrollment was for 6 months and could be renewed for 2 years.

Like the work in most CCC projects, Platt National Park’s work is organic with a heavy use of local materials. The CCC constructed the majority of the small dams along the rivers to provide natural swimming areas and built trails, pavilions and bridges.

Camping at Chickasaw 

Chickasaw National Recreation Area provides six campgrounds with over 400 sites, some reservable and most seasonal. There are three campgrounds each in the

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.

Lodging 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.

Located at 4205 Goddard Youth Camp, Sulphur, Oklahoma.

The Artisan Hotel

Located next to the Platt Historical District in Sulphur, The Artisan Hotel offers refined lodging, steps from all the sights. 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 rebuild in 2010, The Artesian offers visitors and locals a respite of refinement with upscale yet family-friendly dining, mineral bathing and notable spas for adults and kids alike.

Located 1001 West 1st Street in Sulphur.

Where’s Chickasaw National Recreational Area

It is 140 miles north of Dallas/Ft. Worth and 75 miles south of Oklahoma City. Located near the town of Sulphur, 12 miles east of Interstate 35, Chickasaw National Recreation Area is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. This area is a fee-free area.


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Located in Southern Oklahoma, the Chickasaw National Recreation Area offers a large lake for boating, a clear creek for splashing along with hiking trails. Find camping or luxury lodging nearby. There's even a herd of bison in the area. Top Things to do in Chickasaw National Recreation Area | Top Things to do in Sulphur Oklahoma #Oklahoma


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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