Micro-adventures: A day trip to Natural Falls State Park, Oklahoma

Not quite the prairie scenery people imagine when they think of Oklahoma.

Not quite the prairie scenery people imagine when they think of Oklahoma.

I’m still on this kick about finding local outdoor fixes. Even though the summer heat is kicking into high gear, that’s not a good reason to be stuck inside.

The last of these posts had me looking at what outdoor fun could be had inside the city limits of my hometown. Quite a bit, as I discovered.

Next up, making a drive farther east to see what many consider Oklahoma’s most scenic state park.

Natural Falls State Park is near the town of Colcord, and just west of the Arkansas state line. Out here, you’re flirting with the topography of the Ozarks while also getting into thick woodlands.

The park isn’t very big, certainly nothing like you would see of the great western national parks. It’s just 120 acres, and contains about 4.5 miles of trails.

Natural Falls. It reminds me of a cenote in southern Mexico.

Natural Falls. It reminds me of a cenote in southern Mexico.

What it lacks in size it makes up for in its star attraction. The park is named after a 77-foot waterfall that drains into a pool that is usually fairly clear, but wasn’t on a recent visit. Still, the scene itself reminded me of the tropical cenotes of southern Mexico: A deep, circular stone amphitheater, lined with trees and lush greenery, all surrounding the tall-but-slender falls.

Concrete footpaths lead you to an observation deck overlooking the top of the falls and also take you down to the base. Park benches allow for a place to rest and absorb the view.

A stretch of trail at the park. The trails are anything from flat and easy to steep and rocky.

A stretch of trail at the park. The trails are anything from flat and easy to steep and rocky.

I was going to be a little disappointed if all the trails were paved, but they’re not. The rest of the trail system is all singletrack dirt — some easy hiking, some quite steep, with sections that are somewhat rocky. It’s not a big deal to me, but for your average day trip visitor, some of the trails might be challenging. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The falls are awesome, but really, the entire park is extremely scenic. The falls and the stream that they feed are tucked into a small canyon, and every bit of bare earth is covered in greenery. You’ve got the typical mix of oaks that you expect in this part of the country, but also lodgepole pines that tower 60 or more feet and a good mix of shrubs and ferns everywhere else. If you’re into nature and wildlife, you’re going to enjoy this place quite a bit.

Some scenes from the trails…

The creek that runs through the canyon.

The creek that runs through the canyon.

Moss-covered tree trunks.

Moss-covered tree trunks.

Another stretch of creek, with clearer water.

Another stretch of creek, with clearer water.

A look up to the forest canopy, anchored by this huge pine.

A look up to the forest canopy, anchored by this huge pine.

Pine bark details. They look like scales of a huge reptile.

Pine bark textures. They look like scales of a huge reptile.

Green. Green everywhere.

Green. Green everywhere.

The topography of the park also makes it different from the woodlands that are more common here. It is its own ecosystem, and a fragile one at that. For that reason, park officials do not allow swimming in the ponds inside the canyon.

The park can accommodate campers on prepared tent and RV sites. There are 44 sites for RVs (seven of which have full hookups) and 17 for tent campers. There are showers available, and areas where you can play volleyball and basketball. Fishing is also on site, as is a nine-hole disc golf course and a playground.

The great thing about a day trip here is you can pack in a lot of outdoor fun without the commitment of a backpacking trip or a long drive. On that count, Natural Falls State Park scores high. Be sure to check it out.

Getting there: From Tulsa, take U.S. 412 east toward Colcord. The drive is about 90 minutes. Using that same highway, it’s anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour west of Arkansas cities such as Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville and Bentonville.

Extras: After a good day of hiking, there are plenty of places to eat in Siloam Springs (Tex-Mex, home-style, steaks), and there is a restaurant at the Cherokee-run casino in West Siloam Springs.

Fun fact: Ever seen the movie “Where the Red Fern Grows”? It was filmed here.

Bob Doucette

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One thought on “Micro-adventures: A day trip to Natural Falls State Park, Oklahoma

  1. Pingback: Oklahoma is a case study in why you can’t cede federal public lands to the states – proactiveoutside

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