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  Photo: Lisha Newman 
Travertine Creek at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur.

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Enjoy a fishing trip to McGee Creek Reservoir in southeast Oklahoma.

Given the choice, I’ll always opt to drive the scenic route rather than the interstate. To me, seeing the sights is best done from the small highways and back roads. One place you can do this and find a lot to do along the way is the portion of State Highway 7 between Davis and Atoka. Determined to explore some of these diversions, my family sets out from Atoka one winter morning.

Trail Mix for Breakfast: Carnasaw Nature Trail at McGee Creek

Before we can head west, we backtrack a few miles east of Atoka for some hiking. We choose to walk the Carnasaw Nature Trail at the McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area. This one-mile primitive trail runs through rocky, pine-covered terrain, which makes it a good choice on windy days because the thick forest helps buffer the breezes.

McGee Creek offers a variety of trails through the area’s rugged landscape, including multi-use trails that are suitable for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.

Bass Factory: McGee Creek Reservoir

Leaving the hiking trails behind, we proceed west toward Atoka, stopping off at McGee Creek State Park, near Farris. It’s a cool, windy morning, and the park and its namesake lake have few visitors. This isn’t a common occurrence, because McGee Creek Reservoir is one of the state’s most popular bass fishing lakes.

While the view from the dam is at first unremarkable, a closer inspection of the lake reveals rock bluffs, gravel shorelines, deep canyons and masses of standing timber. Serious bass anglers fish McGee Creek regularly simply because of its reputation as a producer of trophy largemouth bass.

‘Bogged’ Down in History: Boggy Depot

We stop for a few minutes to check out Boggy Depot Park, just west of Atoka. I want to see this park simply because it strikes me as a well-kept secret, which is usually a clue that I will like it. Turns out I do, because Boggy Depot is quiet and secluded. It’s situated at the end of a winding country lane, south of State Highway 7.

While Boggy Depot is off the beaten path for most tourists today, during the Civil War it was a well-established crossroads, serving as a Confederate commissary. It was a regular stop along the Butterfield Stage Line and for soldiers traveling the old Texas Road between Fort Gibson and Fort Washita.

Healing Waters: Chickasaw National Recreation Area

The drive from Atoka to Sulphur along State Highway 7 is my favorite part of this trip because it features the most pastoral landscapes. Upon arriving at Sulphur, we drive through the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. I remember coming here as a kid. The park would be packed with people swimming and wading in the cool-water streams, trying to beat the summer heat. Visitors still come for the water; the park is famous for it.                   

Given the choice, I’ll always opt to drive the scenic route rather than the interstate.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area also maintains a small herd of American bison. That evening, we stop at the bison viewing area, but the animals aren’t around, so we go hiking. Some of my favorite things about the Recreation Area are its many trees, and the birds and wildlife that this forest supports.

Not finding any bison, we decide to hike some of the trails at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. These are well-maintained trails, leading through a variety of ecosystems ranging from wooded creek bottoms to open prairies and limestone hills. As you head west on State Highway 7, driving from Atoka toward Davis, this area offers some of the last pockets of thick forest you’ll see. At this point, the eastern deciduous forest begins to fade into classic western prairie landscape, with its open fields and scattered trees and shrubs.

Blue Streams and Rainbow Dreams: Rainbow Trout

The next morning, we stop off at the Blue River on our way to Lake of the Arbuckles, where I plan to take my son fishing. Although trout are not native to Oklahoma, the state supports two year-round trout fisheries and, during winter, stocks rainbow trout at several locations across the state. One of these is the Blue River, located near Tishomingo.

As I expect, there are a number of anglers fishing the Blue on this day. It’s a popular stream any time of year, but especially during the winter months. Though the angling pressure is considerable, most people seem to be catching fish. And as my photo shows, there are some pretty good trout to be caught.

Arbuckle Angling: Jackson and White Bass

By late morning, the air temperature has warmed considerably, which makes fishing the Lake of the Arbuckles with my son a very pleasant experience. Being the middle of winter, however, the fish are holding in 57 feet of water, so we have to fish deep.

I outfit a spinning rod with a one-ounce lure, and soon Jackson is catching and releasing white bass. Our trip lasts about three hours, plenty of time to find and catch some fish. Winter is a great time to go fishing. The fish are very predictable, the boat ramps are open and the lakes are nearly always empty.

Turner Falls’ Off Season

On our way home, we stop at Turner Falls Park, near Davis. Many folks know about the park’s 77-foot waterfall and its popular swimming hole known as the Falls Pool. Because these features are so popular, visitors may miss the hiking, trout fishing and wildlife viewing available during the winter months. Enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, we take a camera and walk through the park, photographing Honey Creek, various songbirds and a dragonfly.