Cascades, Oases and Grasslands

Waterfalls, lesser-known state parks, prairies and blooming gardens provide alternatives to popular getaway spots.

 by Mark Hughes and Brian Wilson
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The waterfall at Natural Falls State Park near west siloam springs is 77 feet tall. Photo by Raminta Wilson

If you’re looking for a secluded, natural adventure in Oklahoma, one that’s not a popular tourist destination, we offer some out-of-the-way spots in the wilderness with tranquil sounds of water falling or flowing.

Between Bartlesville and Pawhuska sits Osage Hills State Park, dominated by Sand Creek, which has three sets of cascades in about a 40-yard space. From the top of the first cascade to the bottom is about 8 feet.

“The creek that makes the cascades is considered pristine, which means, basically, there’s no industrial, farming or biological pollution,” park manager Nick Conner says.

Visitors can see white-tailed deer, bobcats, raccoons, gray foxes, gray and red squirrels, turkey vultures, Mississippi kites and pileated woodpeckers, Conner says.

“We have photography classes that come through the park to specifically take pictures of wildlife,” He says.

About 30 miles northwest near Foraker is the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, a 39,000-acre tract owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It has more than 2,000 roaming bison and is the largest intact tallgrass prairie in the world.

Sand Creek also runs through the preserve and a trail loop lets hikers view the gentle stream from various angles.

For a much longer road trip, head toward the Panhandle. Five miles northeast of Woodward is Boiling Springs State Park, which has two waterfalls. One runs from a tree line and the second runs from a small lake to a wading pool, which drains to the cascade, then into the North Canadian River. The namesake springs bubble so much that they look like they’re boiling.

“All the water in the park is spring-fed, including the 5-acre lake … and the water is 52 degrees year around,” says park employee Laura Hammontree, who calls it a “photographer’s paradise. We’re the place where you go to watch nature.”

In the northwest corner of the Panhandle (practically in Colorado) near Kenton is Black Mesa State Park and Nature Preserve, both about 15 miles from the tallest point in Oklahoma. The park straddles placid Lake Carl Etling, which connects Swede and South Carrizo creeks. The Nature Conservancy also owns the preserve, home to golden eagles, scaled quails, black-billed magpies, pinyon jays, black bears, mountain lions and bighorn sheep.

Way back to the east, just a few miles from the Arkansas state line near West Siloam Springs, is Natural Falls State Park. Its waterfall drops 77 feet (tied with Turner Falls as the state’s tallest). Visitors can view the cascade from above or below via a shady hiking loop. The steps are steep but worth the ascent and descent.

About 40 miles north in Grove, near Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, is 8-acre Lendonwood Gardens, which has seven distinct botanical areas with several pools of water, each flowing into the next. The first cascade drops about 8 feet, says Donnie Crain, president of the Grove Area Chamber of Commerce. Lendonwood board member Pauline Hale adds that another waterfall trails down rocks from the hillside into a koi pond sitting below a Japanese pavilion.

Botanical highlights include the English Terrace Garden, with sunny beds and rhododendrons; the American Backyard Garden, where plants thrive with minimal water; the Oriental Garden, featuring shade plants; and the Azalea Garden, abloom in April with pinks, lavenders, reds and whites.

“There are over 1,200 different types of plants, a really amazing collection of rhododendrons, many varieties of day lilies and several varieties of dogwoods,” Hale says.

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