When the Chickasaw Nation was forced to relocate to Indian Territory, within their new borders they found a wooded area filled with fresh water and strong-smelling mineral water springs. They believed these springs had healing powers. Fearing that they would not be able to protect this area from commercial development and becoming another Hot Springs, Arkansas, they sold it to the Federal Government, with the condition that it be protected, and kept open to the public. In 1902 Senator Orville Platt introduced legislation designating this area the Sulphur Springs Reservation, and in 1906 Congress passed legislation creating Platt National Park, named for Senator Platt, who had recently died.
CCC built structure around Buffalo Springs.
At 640 acres, Platt National Park was the seventh and the smallest unit in the National Park System. Though small it was no less popular, in 1914 it received more visitors than Yellowstone or Yosemite. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned to make improvements, to make the area deserving of being a National Park. They added many buildings, and landscape features, that significantly altered the character of the park. By 1949 it was receiving more than a million visitors a year. However, many people within Congress felt that Platt National Park lacked the grandeur and scope expected of a National Park. On March 17, 1976, Congress changed the status from Platt National Park to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area because it was not the same natural beauty as Yellowstone and Yosemite. This former national park was added to the Arbuckle Recreation Area to create a lush playground for all to enjoy.
Lake of the Arbuckle’s on a foggy fall morning.
The older portion of the park, the Platt District, remains popular, still receiving more than a million visitors a year. It features the springs, a swimming hole, fishing, boating, hiking, and camping. The swimming hole has a small man-made waterfall called the Little Niagara. Here the spring water is cold and a host to people of all cultures.
The lower falls at Little Niagara.
There are three basic camping areas. The Lake of the Arbuckles areas: Buckhorn, Guy Sandy, and The Point. One, Guy Sandy, is first come-first serve and does not require a reservation. You simply show up, decide on your spot and visit the kiosk, then pay for your stay. Buckhorn and The Point are reservation camping loop is very nice with full hook-ups and full almost all year round. The third camping area is within the historic Platt District, the original area of the park has three camping loops, in which the only one is open year round and only first come-first serve. This area is surrounded by the rushing creek and active in the springtime.
Ren and I first visited in Fall of 2013, we were on the way back from visiting family in Oklahoma. This was before we really caught the travel bug, but we fell in love with the park and made plans to return. We have revisited the park several times since then, it is a reasonable drive from both Fort Worth and from Tulsa. When I started photography it was one for the first places I wanted to go.
We decided one day to visit the visitor center and hike trails behind it. Here the shade from the canopy of trees kept us cool in the Oklahoma August heat. It was quiet for the most part, except the various little waterfalls and birds chattering in the treetops. Here we found a peaceful place just minutes away from the main county road. It was an amazing hike.
Hiking along one of the many trails at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
We then took the time to swim in the swimming hole just below the Little Niagara Falls. We even followed many of the young people and jumped off the top! It was exhilarating. I remember my heart pumping and watching the people ahead of us pop up from down below. My knee was aching, it was only recently healed from being broken and the cold, spring water felt good, taking away the swelling.
It may not be a National Park anymore, but it is still worth a visit if you are in the area.
Thanks so much for visiting this park with us!
In 1906 Oklahoma had a National Park; it was actually the seventh National Park created, yet it is no longer as such. I was surprised to find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area just outside Sulphur, Oklahoma, was once Platt National Park, named after Orville H. Platt who was a Connecticut Senator who served on the Committee on Indian Affairs.
Oklahoma was once Indian Territory and these mineral springs were known to the Chickasaw and Choctaw to be “healing” waters. They would come together here to be refreshed and cooled during the summer months. Because the “white” man was beginning to encroach on this Native American place of healing and camping, the tribes approached the 1902 government about taking the area to be turned into a place where everyone was able to us use and enjoy instead of it being taken and used privately. It was then turned into the seventh National Park, Sulphur was moved a little ways from the area and there it sat for many years being used as a health spa complete with golf course.
The was not used for much more than mineral springs, health spas, and cattle grazing until the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to work on the area. The CCC company working on the Platt National Park was Company 808. This company worked on the park creating bridges, making swimming areas, building spring coverings, planting over 60 types of trees and so much more for eight years until they were moved to the Rocky Mountains National Park in 1940. The community of Sulphur was appreciative of these young men and did what they could to help them have a clean, attractive camp by donating many gallons of paint for their barracks.
Even though this was the smallest of all the National Parks, Platt National Park brought in many visitors and helped to create a highway system enabling the masses to visit the area. Unfortunately, because this park was not on the same degree of grandeur as Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks, it was not seen to be of the same superior status. Seventy years after this seventh national park was created, it was no longer a park, but a recreation area. The park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area (Lake Arbuckle) being renamed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Taking time to visit the Sulphur area to enjoy this hidden gem, you will find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Headquarters/Chickasaw Visitor Center is direct across from the main gate. It is a recent build and rather beautiful. You will find information about the park, local attractions and history; lots and lots of history to be enjoyed here.
Even though this is no longer a national park, you can camp in the campgrounds that were once well visited as Platt National Park. There are three areas: Central Campground, which is ten group campsites; Cold Springs Campground, which is direct across from the Travertine Creek and has 63 sites and open from May through September; and finally, the Rock Creek Campground, where 105 year-round sites can be found near Veterans Lake.
Scott and I have been begging friends and family to meet us halfway between them and us for a time of celebration and relaxation, but they never seem to be interested. Now with the knowledge of this having once been one of the first national parks, I feel an urgency to visit again; I long to camp beneath the trees lovingly planted by Company 808, to swim in the swimming hole where hundreds of thousands have cooled themselves during hot summer days, and to hike the paths once walked by those who had the courage to give up something so special and important to their people to save it for further generations to enjoy.
Taking time to visit the Sulphur area to enjoy this hidden gem, you will find the Chickasaw National Recreation Area Headquarters/Chickasaw Visitor Center is direct across from the main gate. It is a recent build and rather beautiful. You will find information about the park, local attractions and history; lots and lots of history to be enjoyed here. (The photo below is a direct link to their site’s photo; unfortunately, we have not been able to visit the center as of the writing of this post.)
For a very good video on this beautiful park, please click HERE.
If you are interested in a deeper, more intense amount of history about this location, please click HERE.
For the NPR story that caught our attention, click HERE.