Visiting Turner Falls with Kids

Oklahoma is full of natural wonders—- mesas, salt plains, and even five mountain ranges. This often shocks visitors, who have preconceived notions about Oklahoma being solely comprised of open prairie. I admit that I thought this prior to relocating here 18 years ago from New York. But, through the years, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

While driving on 1-35 through the heart of the Arbuckle Mountains south of OKC on a family trip last summer, we stumbled upon a sign for Turner Falls Park in Davis. Detouring to explore, we saw the place abuzz with visitors. It was so jam- packed that we didn’t get out of the car, but were enticed by clear-water Honey Creek full of people in tubes, others jumping off a diving board, and kids shooting down slides into the natural swimming hole below.

Making a mental note to head back, I did some research and learned that the crown jewel of the park’s watery playground is a 77-foot picturesque, cascading waterfall (arguably the tallest in the state) and its natural swimming hole directly below. I thought, “Wow, now we MUST take the plunge.”

To avoid crowds, I grabbed my teenage son and a handful of his dear pals, and off we went on a random Tuesday in June. Bathing suit and water-shoe-clad, we packed the Jeep with sunscreen, bug spray, towels  and a cooler filled with lunch (a great way to save money and time). After a 2 ½ hour drive, we arrived, staying until 5:30 p.m., which was definitely long enough to soak it all in.

Before entering the falls, however, we made a point to drive up into the Arbuckles — an ancient geological wonder with diverse resources including granite, limestone, and shale, to name a few.  We hugged parts of the cool, winding spring-fed Honey Creek, juxtaposed with natural rock formations and features in common with the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Grand Canyon. Of course, elevations are much lower, capping out at about 1400 feet, but we sure took in some incredible views.

The boys’ take on Turner Falls was spectacular.  When asked what they enjoyed most, 15-year-old Nick Fox said, “I really liked exploring and swimming around the falls and also riding tubes and floating with the current downstream.”

Another buddy and classmate, Kyle Hook, added, “I loved when we were at the actual waterfall, climbing rocks and touching the bottom of the swimming hole, not knowing how deep it was.”

My son, Garrett, and Cole Mabrey, the third friend and classmate in tow, were simply happy being one with nature —swimming in such a unique setting; one that is quite different from a pool, lake or the ocean. Clearly, the trip earned four thumbs up.

Honestly, from my perspective, the grounds and facilities are a little rough around the edges but, in the end, that didn’t really matter. We overlooked it (actually, I am not sure the boys noticed or cared) because the focus was the natural water park. Regardless, I’d like to see many more trash receptacles and better maintenance of the grounds’ and facilities’ appearance.  More shaded picnic areas and benches for parents who want to sit on the sidelines to observe their children would also be nice.  For someone who has enjoyed camping, I found the sites to be lackluster and I wasn’t impressed with the shabby cabins either, so if you go, focus on the water fun and be prepared for a rustic setting.

The park is open year round and lower winter rates apply. The park must be lovely when the leaves are changing and the creek is stocked abundantly with trout in the cooler months. There is a “per person” fee to enter. Summer rates from the first of May through the end of September are $12 for ages 13 and older, $6 for ages 6-12, seniors and active military with a valid ID and children 5 and younger are free.  Credit cards are accepted. For protection, all children 12 and younger must wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest. This new rule applies as a result of the drowning of a child earlier this year. Tubes can be brought into the park but are also sold at the Trading Post for $6 a pop. For added convenience, there are a few concession stands and a food shack serving up sno cones, nachos and such.

While driving home, I asked the boys, “If we do this again, should we make it an overnighter, stopping in downtown OKC to clean up, enjoy Bricktown, and leisurely head home the next day?”  They all liked this idea a bunch.

Although a day trip is totally doable, 5 to 5 ½ hours in the car roundtrip can result in tired and hungry kids eager to unwind.

No matter, with the hot summer sun upon us, a trek to Turner Falls is just the ticket for an outdoor adventure — with the goal of simply getting and staying wet!

Categories: Travel