Finding a campground which also offers unique activities is something I truly enjoy. While many might have hiking or lake activities, finding something which is a bit outside of the box is a little more of a rare find, especially in certain areas of the country. Living next to Oklahoma and exploring it most of my life, I always thought that Oklahoma’s camping was just an extension of Texas, very similar in nature, climate and vegetation. That was until I discovered the Great Salt Plains State Park in northern Oklahoma.
Removed from much of popular civilization the campground is pretty well off the beaten path. Neighboring the small community of Jet, you will drive for miles and miles seeing only farmland with an occasional silo marking a town in this section of Oklahoma. Then out of nowhere the farms transition into a white glaze which is unmatched by the lands around. It almost looks as though snow is laying in the distance, but snow it is not…. It is salt!
Pulling into the Great Salt Plains State Park there are a variety of options for accommodation you will want to explore. Offering cabins at a reasonable $99 a night, unimproved camping for $14 and RV camping from $22- $25 per night the price point is right on target for most campers. But one thing to note is that the campgrounds themselves are not directly on the Salt Plains, instead these are located closely to the waterways of the location, giving a much cooler and more shaded place to enjoy your time away from home.
With a variety of camping options also comes a variety of vantage points, with some campsites in the more improved locations highlighting the shoreline of the Arkansas River while others overlook the lake from beyond the spillway. I was very pleased with the views available and the variety of options for anglers, boaters and campers alike. This did not feel strictly like a lake campground like so many of the camps do in this region.
The office of the grounds does close rather early at 4 p.m. so it made catching staff a bit harder as there didn’t seem to be anyone actively patrolling the park, with the exception of the dig site for the salt plains… (yes, I said dig site… but we will get to that in a moment). With that being said and also limited cell service, you really need to make sure you are prepared before coming to this remote location.
Of the many camping loops, the one closest to the campground office seemed the least interesting to me personally. There was limited tree coverage, spaces were closely packed together and the restroom was only a port a potty, which in the Oklahoma sun can become a little less than desirable to visit. This portion of the park seemed to be designed mostly for RVs.
Another one which slightly was confusing to me was the official primitive site campground.
There is a small community of homes which border the lake on this side and a small stretch of campground separates the homes from the shoreline itself. This seemed a bit uncomfortable for me camping solo to be basically right in someones backyard. This site had beautiful tall trees, great site spacing and the view was amazing so it was a bit unfortunate that this site was so close to everyone’s backyard.
The most appealing sites to me were those along the river which had amazing views and some of the most improved restrooms at the park. These were capable of accommodating both tents and RVs and had connections and amenities which would far surpass other campsites. Here you could find running water, flush toilets and showers in addition to a playground for the kiddos, fish cleaning stations and trash services. A small outdoor chapel/ampitheater was available in this area as well which would be ideal for a group camp.
Sites in this area are the highest of the park ranging between $22 and $25 but they are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, grills, lantern hooks and easy to pull in and out areas.
You can literally walk to the water and be in the river playing or fishing in seconds from any site in this location.
But now to the points of interest of this park….
The Salt Plains!
The unique ecosystem of this area is one to come out and see. There are several observation points in which you can view the birds and other wildlife which call this area home. But one of the things which makes it differ so much from other habitats are the Selenite crystals which can be found as a result of the salt and water table in this area. Birds are drawn to these and often you will find small nests housing eggs lined in crystals. It is unique to say the least.
But if you are not a bird watcher, there is still something for you…. Digging for Crystals! Yep, you can get hands on and dig into the plains around 2 feet down and find that the water will start flooding into the hole you created. From here you simply need to splash water along the sides of your new dig and expose your jewels to take harvest. Sound to good to be true? Well it is not! It really is that easy!!
And unlike the locations across the country which tell you to not take the sands, dirt, rocks or formations with you, you can take everything you find home with you!!
It is a great activity which can leave you busy for minutes, hours or even days and something which is fun for the entire family. On my trip we started early on an August morning and dug for approximately 3 hours. We brought our own sifters, a few jugs of water for cleaning off our finds and a shovel which seemed to be all we needed to find more than our fair share of crystals.
Crystals come in many shapes and sizes but the most coveted are large clusters or hourglass crystals. The crystals are mineral rich and appear to have a chocolate brown to redish tone based on the contents found in the soil which create them. And the unique thing about them and why we are allowed to take what we find home, is they are constantly regenerating.
Dig site is closed from October to April for migration of wildlife so you will want to plan a trip during the peak months to assure you will be able to dig. Don’t worry about crowds it isn’t terrible even on the most busy of days and there are plenty of crystals to be found.
Come early if you need park assistance. Offices close at 4 p.m. however you can check into sites through the honor box system.
Make sure to cruise Highway 11 when in the area and check out the Artesian Well which offers motorists a cool drink of water along the way which is fresh and delicious. Bring your jugs and fill them up if you would like.
Cabin rentals must be booked in advance as there are limited numbers available.
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