Get Your Cool On!
Plan a summer getaway to one of Oklahoma’s best swimming destinations.
Oklahoma is home to many hot tourist spots where visitors can cool off in the summertime. Photo by Tayler Hedgecock
Oklahomans love to be outdoors but our summers can be very hot.
OKL discovers five top swimming spots around the state.
Swimming pools are nothing new. Ruins of the oldest public pool were found in Pakistan. A pool there dates back more than 5,000 years. Wealthy Greeks and Romans had swimming pools. Early Oklahomans had swimmin’ holes too—deep spots in creeks or rivers—with a good tree and a rope swing if they were lucky. Oklahoma still has some good-looking swimming holes plus a number of beautiful, modern pools. There’s nothing better in a hot Oklahoma summer than a dip in cool water. Here are some favorite places to get your cool on.
Wentz Pool | Ponca City
From rural to royal, check out the Wentz Pool in Ponca City, Okla. It is the centerpiece of Wentz Camp, a 33.5-acre park, built by oilman and philanthropist Lew Wentz as a gift to the people of Ponca City.
In 1928 construction was started on the 150-foot by 50-foot, Olympic-size, above-ground pool. Built into the side of a hill, the pool is surrounded by walls on three sides.
Structures at the camp and pool are anything but ordinary, built in Romanesque Revival style from native sandstone and limestone laid irregularly in what is known as “uncoursed masonry.” The entrance to the camp is flanked by pseudo-guardhouses, small towers with crenellated parapets—like mini-castles.
The entrance to the pool is guarded by two similar structures. Wide stairs covered with small blue and white tiles lead down to the pool and serve as seating for up to 500 people. The pool was popular from the beginning for swimming contests and beauty pageants.
Wentz Pool opens Memorial Day & closes Sept. 3, 2016, but the pool is closed June 6-10 for a special camp reservation. Hours: 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday with hours extended until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday evenings. The pool is closed on Mondays with the exception of Memorial Day. Admissions: $1.00 for children 12 years and under (accompanied by parent or guardian) and $2.00 for 13 years and up. The camp and pool are located northeast of Ponca City, at 2928 L.A. Cann Drive.
Turner Falls | Davis
West of Davis, Okla., just west of I-35, is one of Oklahoma’s most scenic spots. Seventy-seven-foot-high Turner Falls is Oklahoma’s largest waterfall. A tourist destination since before statehood, the park surrounding the falls offers a number of swimming spots. The two most obvious swimming holes are the Waterfalls Pool and the Blue Hole.
“The water level varies, but during the summer season there are areas at the falls that are up to 12 feet deep. At Blue Hole, there are spots up to 10 feet deep. It’s all natural,” Park manager Billy Standifer says. “The Blue Hole features a slide and diving board.”
For the many people who think this is all there is to the park, they’re wrong. There are about 1,500 acres with a variety of camping and lodging options. And there are a number of other nice swimming spots along Honey Creek above the falls.
The two drawbacks to the park are the admission prices and the crowds. Summer weekends can be impossible with huge crowds and difficulty finding parking.
Summer rates are $12 per person for visitors 13 and over. Seniors and children 6 to 12 are admitted for $6 each with younger children admitted free. The swimming areas are open from 7 a.m. until dark. There are concessions available and a trading post for picnic supplies. Picnic tables are at a premium on busy days. In addition to swimming, visitors can hike and explore the “Castle,” an abandoned house built in the 1930s in Ye Olde English style.
Little Niagara | Sulphur
Travertine Creek widens and the clear spring waters spill over rocks in several areas in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The most well-known of these spots is Little Niagara.
Archaeologists believe the area has been inhabited for thousands of years. Native Americans called it the “Peaceful Valley of Rippling Waters,” an area with both fresh and mineral water springs. In 1855, the lands became part of the Chickasaw Nation.
Native Americans had long considered the mineral waters to have healing properties and feared loss of access as more settlers moved into the area. A 1-square-mile plot was sold to the United States government as public land in 1902. In 1906, it became Platt National Park. The park merged with the Arbuckle Recreation Area in 1976 and was renamed the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Under the guidance of the National Park Service, natural features of the park were enhanced. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps added bridges and dams over and on the creeks. Little Niagara, a natural falls area, was one of these. Made of the native travertine stone, the man-made dam blends into the surrounding rocks and provides a popular jumping-off spot into the pool below.
The depth of the pool varies depending on the flow of the springs, which feed Travertine Creek. In dry years, the creek is reduced to a trickle but in good years, the pool may be 7 or 8 feet deep.
Picnic tables, a parking lot and restrooms make it easy for visitors to enjoy this beautiful area. The water attracts waders and swimmers while the shady trees along the creek provide comfort for spectators. There are no lifeguards so visitors swim at their own risk.
Downstream, Garfield Falls, Bear Falls and Panther Falls offer more in-the-water opportunities. Lake of the Arbuckles, part of the Chickasaw NRA also has swimming beaches at the Point and Buckhorn campgrounds. But for old-fashioned fun, Little Niagara is the winner.
The park is open year-round and there is no admission charge to visit. The main entrance to the park is at Broadway and Highway 177 in Sulphur, Okla.
Bath Lake | Medicine Park
Medicine Park, Okla., was designed as a resort community in the early 1900s. At one time it bustled with politically prominent, fashionable and even notorious visitors from Oklahoma and Texas. The swimming hole—Bath Lake—has always been the heart of the community even during years when Medicine Park was on life support.
Candace Davis McCoy, who lived here with her family in the ‘50s, explains what Bath Lake was like then.
“They had a lifeguard stand with a big umbrella, a swinging bridge and a floating raft anchored in the middle. You climbed to the top of a slide, took a sled with metal wheels and slid down rails. The sled started slow then got faster until you splashed into the water,” she says. “There were penny arcades, hot dogs stands, bathhouses and burro rides around Bath Lake. There was even a monkey house with monkeys in it.”
Things were very different when McCoy and her husband David, Cotton Electric Cooperative members, moved back to Medicine Park in the ‘90s. They immediately got involved, spearheading many of the renovation efforts that have turned the town back into a destination.
Bath Lake is still a centerpiece. The swinging bridge has been replaced with an attractive, handicap-accessible bridge. There are sidewalks around the lake and old-fashioned street lamps.
For $2, visitors can swim in the lake. It’s open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 10 a.m. to dark.
Choctaw Casino and Resort | Durant
There are only seven AAA Four Diamond hotels in Oklahoma. The Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Okla., is one of them. For many guests, the big draw is the amazing pool complex—the Oasis Pool.
The pool complex includes an indoor/outdoor pool area which is family-friendly and features a waterslide and the Oasis pool area which is divided for family and adult guests featuring waterfalls; seven hot tub/spas including an adults-only grotto spa; a variety of cabanas for half- or whole-day rentals—think shade, ceiling fans, refrigerators stocked with water and soft drinks and LCD-TVs; and plenty of chaise loungers, including a number of water loungers. The family areas have games and a mini-putting green.
During the summer season, the Oasis pools are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with pool decks staying open until 12 a.m. so guests can enjoy the fire pits and beverage service. The indoor/outdoor pool area stays open until 10 p.m. Hotel guests receive pool bracelets upon check-in. Pools are for the use of hotel guests only.
Oklahomans love to be outdoors but our summers can be very hot. Try one of these swimming spots. Just remember to wear lots of sunscreen. And don’t lose your cool—just get in the pool!