From the caves of Alabaster Caverns State Park to the sand dunes of Little Sahara State Park and the oasis of Boiling Springs, the state parks in northwest Oklahoma serve up diverse landscapes for outdoor enthusiasts.
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Northwest Oklahoma offers an amazing variety of ecoregions and landscapes that invite you to get outdoors and enjoy the state's natural treasures. In the region, you can enjoy one of the hottest shorebird watching spots, dig for rare crystals, take a cave tour or try your hand at a wild caving adventure, hike and ride over 70-foot sand dunes and enjoy a spring-fed oasis filled with wildlife.
Situated on the plains just south of the Oklahoma/Kansas border is a jewel for nature lovers - Great Salt Plains Lake, a natural phenomenon and birding paradise. The lake, located near Jet, covers 8,690 surface acres, has 41 miles of shoreline and is about half as salty as an ocean. More than 300 species of birds have been documented in this area where 36 of the 40 shore bird species have been sighted. It is entirely reasonable to plan to see around 100 species of birds in a single day on these public lands.
Great Salt Plains Lake is part of a vast area of set-aside lands including Salt Plains State Park and the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge. Here you can camp, hike, fish, boat, enjoy fantastic birding opportunities and even dig for selenite crystals from April through October. There are cabins, RV and tent sites, equestrian trails with campgrounds, and picnic areas in the state park and around the lake to accommodate visitors. Fishing is popular at the Great Salt Plains Lake, where catfish, saugeye, sand bass and hybrid striper are common.
About 30 miles southwest of Salt Plains State Park lie the Gloss Mountains, also known as the Glass Mountains. The name has long been debated, but in either case they were named for the way they gleam in the sunlight thanks to the selenite crystals that cover them. These large red buttes rise out of the flat landscape creating a scene straight out of an old Western movie. Gloss Mountain State Park is a small park along Highway 412 where you can explore the area, even hiking up to the top of one of the mesas utilizing stairs and handrails. The view is well worth the hike and you can picnic at the park after your descent.
For the adventurous at heart, a visit to Little Sahara State Park near Waynoka is a definite must. With sand dunes ranging from 25 to 75 feet in height and over 1,600 rideable acres of desert dunes, this park is a haven for ATVers and dune buggy enthusiasts. Once on an ATV, the dunes become a natural roller coaster complete with stomach-dropping thrills as you crest the highest ridges and drop into the basins below.
After your ride, you'll be clearing sand out of your ears, nostrils and other places you didn't know sand could go, but the memories are well worth it. Park amenities include picnic areas, RV campsites with hookups, tent sites, hiking trails, seasonal concessions and showers to help rinse all that sand away.
Looking for a different type of outdoor adventure? Go spelunking at Alabaster Caverns State Park near Freedom. Alabaster Cavern is the main draw at the 200-acre park where you can take a guided tour through the world's largest gypsum cave that is open to the public. The tour path through the cave is well lit with stairs and handrails to aid visitors. If you feel like more of a challenge after your tour, you can go wild caving with a group of at least three if you sign in at the park office first and wear hard hats. There are several wild caves in the park for you to explore, or you can hike along trails through the rugged landscape dotted with cactus. RV and tent camping is available in the park.
Surrounded by the vast open plains, Boiling Springs State Park near Woodward is a genuine oasis. The wooded area with spring-fed streams contrasts starkly with the mostly treeless plains and provides a haven for wildlife. You are likely to see deer, wild turkeys and other critters during your visit. Hike, camp, fish or enjoy the swimming pool while in the area. The park offers RV and tent campsites as well as cozy cabins and two group camp areas.
Between your outdoor adventures in these northwest Oklahoma state parks, be sure to visit the charming towns in the area. Between Salt Plains State Park and the Gloss Mountains, you'll find the town of Aline and the Original Sod House Museum. This is the only sod house built by a settler prior to statehood that still stands. The museum has literally been built around the 1894 home to preserve the history for all to see. It is an interesting opportunity to learn about pioneer life. The town of Freedom near Alabaster Caverns State Park has a downtown area that looks like an Old West main street scene. Near Boiling Springs State Park, Woodward is home to the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum as well as a thriving downtown area where you can enjoy a tasty meal at Wagg's Bar-B-Q in an eclectic setting that's part former garage, part art gallery.