Everything you need to think about before your next outdoor adventure
From left: Kendelle, Scott and Tricia Williams enjoy hiking as a family on one of Oklahoma’s many backcountry trails. Photos by Laura Araujo
The outdoors has long been a passion for Tulsa resident Scott Williams. Though he grew up in the city, his dad took every opportunity to expose him to nature. He fondly recalls fishing trips to Fort Gibson Lake and other northeast Oklahoma angling spots.
When Williams was in high school, his interest in camping began to grow.
“I had bunch of friends who were Boy Scouts. They would go backpacking, and that’s how I got started. When I was in college, I would throw my backpack in the car and go,” he says.
Today, Williams and his wife, Tricia, are instilling the love of the outdoors into their four children. They enjoy camping and hiking as a family in various locations across the state.
“I love it when I see kids enjoying the outdoors and experiencing things for the first time” Williams says. “There is so much to see and a lot of people don’t have an opportunity to get out. They miss out on how beautiful it is to be in nature, to put technology away, forget about problems, and get reoriented in the beauty of creation.”
He also passes on his passion to teenagers and young adults as a volunteer guide with the LongWalk organization. In January, he co-led a weekend back-country camping trip for seven high school students, an experience designed to build character and teach leadership skills.
One of the things Williams teaches both his own kids and the students he leads is that having a solid plan is key to a successful wilderness experience. With that in mind, here are some tips for planning your next family camping trip.
Select a location
Illustration by Hayley Leatherwood
Oklahoma offers a variety of unique camping experiences for families: the lush green forests of Southeast Oklahoma are replete with hiking trails; Northeast Oklahoma’s refreshing lakes are perfect for families who enjoy fishing and watersports by day; the Wichita Mountains in the southwest feature various developed and backcountry campsites surrounded by grass prairie beauty; and the Panhandle’s Black Mesa is home to some of the state’s most unadulterated night skies for stargazing.
When choosing a location, Keli Clark, media coordinator for the Oklahoma State Parks, says the 2018 Oklahoma State Parks and Outdoor Guide is the place to start. Order a free copy at www.travelok.com/brochures and find more information about Oklahoma’s parks and camping options on the Travel OK website.
“All of Oklahoma’s areas for public outdoor recreation, including public, private and corps campgrounds are included,” she says. “If you’re trying to choose a place to camp, it’s a wonderful asset to have.”
Williams says Robbers Cave State Park is one of his kids’ favorite camping spots.
“It has a lot of unique rock formations. You learn about Oklahoma history—about the cattle rustlers and bank robbers who used to hide out in the caves,” he says.
“Robbers Cave State Park has so much for families to do,” Clark adds. “There’s a pool, disc golf, a nature center, and an educational hiking trail. It’s a family park with things for people of all ages to enjoy.”
The scenic Talimena Drive in southeast Oklahoma, dotted with campsites along the route, is another favorite camping destination for the Williams family.
“We camped there about five years ago and when we got up in the morning to leave the fog was very dense in the valley. We rolled down our windows and the clouds filled the car as we drove up and down the hills,” he recalls.
In the opposite corner of the state, Northwest Oklahoma’s Alabaster Caverns State Park offers one of the most unique camping experiences—cave camping. Campers hike to the Water Cave, which has a small waterfall inside the main chamber, and spend the night inside the cave. During the day, enjoy a cave tour or spelunking in one of the area’s many caverns.
Less than two hours’ drive to the southeast, Roman Nose State Park offers campers an opportunity to spend the night in a teepee. For those who prefer a less rustic camping experience, several of the Oklahoma State Parks offer cabins and yurts as an alternative to tent camping.
“Yurts are round, canvas structures with a floor, modeled after the Mongolian shelters. Some of them have bunk beds, electricity, microwaves and refrigerators,” Clark says. “I consider it more ‘glamping’ (glamourous camping) than hardcore camping.”
Reservations for state park campsites can be made online, at least five days in advance of arrival, at www.gocampok.com.
Gather your gear
Photo by Laura Araujo
After choosing a location, the next step is creating a plan that includes shelter and food for the camping trip—and takes into account the weather.
“Depending on how far you’re traveling, you need to think about daylight,” Williams says. “You want to make sure you have time to set up your shelter when you arrive.”
He suggests making a meal plan and stocking up food supplies before the trip. Also know how you plan to cook the food—whether over the fire, on a grill, or on a camp stove.
“You may not end up near a store so you have to have a plan,” he says.
As far as weather is concerned, Williams says the best seasons for camping in Oklahoma are fall and spring—though he has been camping during the colder months. If going winter camping, make sure to have appropriate gear, like sleeping bags that are rated for cold temperatures. Check the forecast before heading out and avoid going in severe conditions. Williams also recommends packing clothing that can be added and removed in layers to be prepared for temperature variations that may take place during the day. See next page for a complete checklist of recommended camping supplies.
Set up camp
Some basic skills are needed for camping—the ability to build a fire and set up a tent, for example. These are things you may want to practice before your first overnight adventure. But more important than these, Williams says, is the ability to prioritize.
“When you arrive, before you start to enjoy, make sure to set up camp. Establish your shelter, collect firewood, organize your supplies, start a fire and prepare your food—before it gets dark. You always need to think ahead a few steps so you don’t get in a difficult situation,” he says.
When pitching the tent, look for a flat, shaded space that’s free of rocks and roots. After erecting the structure, place it on top of a groundcloth or a tarp that is slightly smaller than the tent floor and use stakes to fasten the tent to the ground. Don’t allow the ground cloth to stick out or it can draw moisture under the tent.
When it comes to fire, Williams says many parks don’t allow firewood to be brought in from the outside because of invasive bugs. Some places allow campers to collect wood in the forest; in others, campers will have to purchase firewood locally. Many Oklahoma campsites have fire pits and charcoal grills available. During dry seasons, be sure to heed burn bans.
Finally, campers should be aware of the wildlife that lives in the area. When the sun goes down, it’s important to store food—and trash—where critters can’t access it.
“Anything with a smell will attract animals, even dirty dishwater. Trash should be thrown away in a park-approved trash container and dishwater should be buried away from the primary campsite,” he says.
Once camp is set up, it’s time to do what you came for—relax and enjoy time with family.
Enjoy family time
Photo by Laura Araujo
Camping is time to slow down and enjoy oft-forgotten pastimes: reading a good book, playing cards, tossing a ball around or flying a kite.
“We typically take frisbees and footballs. I also enjoy lying in a hammock and reading,” Williams says.
At night, the Williams family gathers around the campfire to tell stories—and of course eat s’mores. Meals are a highlight of most camping trips because you work up an appetite being outdoors.
“Camp breakfasts are always phenomenal—eggs, bacon, pancakes, biscuits and gravy. There’s just something about eating breakfast outdoors,” Williams says.
In between meals, there’s plenty to do: go for a hike, rent a kayak or canoe, go fishing or bird watching. When night falls, stargazing under clear skies is spectacular.
“It’s always fun to hike and camp when the moon is full, to put on a headlamp and venture out on the trail. The moon provides so much light you can still see quite a bit,” he says.
Most importantly, take time to enjoy the surroundings.
“Get out and explore. See what’s in the area and what’s around you,” Williams says. “Don’t stay at campsite. There’s so much more to see.”
With hundreds of places to camp across the state, Oklahoma has an abundance of adventures awaiting. So make a plan, pack the car, pitch a tent and enjoy the great outdoors.