Those of us traveling in Oklahoma summers prefer to be submerged in cool water at every given opportunity. Like animals of the African savannah, we move in herds to life-sustaining watering holes. Fortunately for us, though, the threat of predators is minimal, and Oklahoma State Parks offer affordable and accessible swim escapes. From metro-adjacent favorites like Lake Keystone and Lake Thunderbird to popular destinations like Lake Sequoyah or Lake Texoma, there’s no shortage of options. Here are six other state parks where you can beat the heat.
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With all its water features, Lake Murray near Ardmore is one of the best places in the state to spend a summer day. The lake temperature always feels just right. On-site vendors offer boat, kayak, and paddle board rentals so you can traverse the 5,728-acre lake to find the perfect coves for splashing around. Conveniently close to the lodge and Lookout Kitchen restaurant, Lake Murray Water Sports & Mini Golf has water slides, bouncy floats, paddle boats and more to keep kids entertained. Plus, the splash pad and pool are just on the other side of the parking lot. Even when you bunk up for the night in the A/C, you can remain close to that refreshing lake at the waterfront lodge or the new tiny cabins. And if being close isn’t close enough, you can sleep right on top of the water at the Lake Murray Floating Cabins, where you can get from the sofa to the lake in literally a few steps.
Way out west, big lakes are a little harder to come by, and palapas are even more scarce. But at Foss State Park, less than thirty minutes from Clinton, you may forget you’re in the midst of an Oklahoma heat dome while you kick back at Foss Lake. Here, you can live out a more cost-effective approximation of your Bora Bora fantasy under the shade of one of five palapas at Sunset Beach. As the name implies, it’s an ideal vantage point to watch the merciless celestial orb depart for the day while you cook up burgers and steaks on one of the handy grills installed there.
You can take the kids to the pool and the splash pad here, but Tenkiller State Park near Vian has a unique feature: scuba diving. From eight to twenty-eight feet deep, the water is remarkably clear, which makes it easy to check out sunken boats, helicopters and even a school bus. In some areas, you can also see pieces of old homesteads that existed prior to when the lake was made. Before you get in too deep, contact nearby diving shops, like Gene’s Aqua Pro or Nautical Adventures, for certification training and equipment rentals. If you’d prefer to tread closer to the surface, there are plenty of swim beaches lining these shores as well.
Deep in the belly of southwestern Oklahoma, Quartz Mountain State Park near Lone Wolf is a beautiful oasis among the sunbaked plains and valleys around the Wichita Mountains. It overlooks Lake Altus-Lugert, which hosts watercraft and swimmers of all speeds and sizes. From the lodge, vacationers can watch the sunrise over the lake, and, most importantly, take advantage of the pool there, which stretches both outdoor and indoors. So, even if there happen to be a few sprinkles, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to head inside—unless park staff instructs you to. Listen to those folks.
One of Oklahoma’s original seven state parks, Roman Nose near Watonga is set among sagebrush and spring-fed creeks that run through the canyons. Although it encompasses Lake Boecher and Lake Watonga, keep your pants on and stick to fishing and no-wake boating in those waters. Here at Roman Nose, they ask that you swim in the pools. Fortunately, there are two of them. The lodge pool is open only to the park’s overnight guests, but the large pool on the western edge of the park is open through Labor Day, and for a small fee, any human can take a dip. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, the pool is lined with locally quarried stone,and includes not only water slides but also a rock climbing wall. So, kids can work those lats and calves before they eject themselves back into the water.
Lake Wister is a small park, but it sure is beautiful. Situated in Poteau along the upper half of its namesake lake, you’ll be greeted with a stunning landscape all year. This time of year, though, you’ll want to take a swim and admire the surrounding wilderness. I highly recommend staying in one of the fifteen cabins, which provide some spectacular views. If you don’t feel like venturing out to the lake, you can hit up the splash pad, try some miniature golf, or venture outside the park to the nearby Ouachita National Recreation Area or Wister Wildlife Management Area.
The original version of this article was posted to the OklahomaToday.com blog.