Splash and Spelunk at Turner Falls Park
Photos and text courtesy of City of Davis, Oklahoma
The largest waterfall in Texas, Capote Falls, is around 450 miles away from Amarillo, beyond Alpine and Marfa. It’s on private property, though, so seeing it in person is a challenge. If you’re in a waterfall-viewing mood, though, never fear. Oklahoma is right next door, and the largest waterfall in that state is much more accessible. You can find it less than five hours from here, at Turner Falls Park, in the heart of Oklahoma’s historic Arbuckle Mountains.
Owned by the City of Davis, this 1,500-acre nature park offers much more than just a 77-foot waterfall. Turner Falls Park is a sprawling collection of more than 5 miles of hiking trails that attract thousands of visitors every year. Since 1925, generations of families have enjoyed the abundant natural beauty and unique geological formations of this outdoor escape. Guests will find three well-known caves to explore, as well as a few hidden caves tucked into the ancient mountains. Even better, Turner Falls is home to Collings Castle, constructed during the Depression from the region’s abundant rocks.
Primitive tent and RV camping are popular here, as are summer nights spent in screened shelters and rustic cabins on the property. During the off-season, the park remains open from 7 a.m. until dark from October to the end of April. (From May through September 30, the park opens at 6 a.m.)
The natural “Blue Hole” swimming area—which the Falls splashes into—serves as the highlight of most visits to Turner Falls Park. The refreshing water of this spring-fed creek helps keep the Oklahoma summer heat at bay. With plenty of shallow areas for little ones, sandy beaches, slides and diving boards at Blue Hole, the site provides hours of enjoyment for all ages during the late spring and summer months.
There are no lifeguards on duty at Turner Falls. For this reason, the Park requires all children younger than 13 years of age to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Turner Falls does not provide or rent these devices. Turner Falls also doesn’t allow pets, so leave those four-legged loved ones at home.
Visitors will also want to be aware of the parking situation at Turner Falls. Parking permits are required on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, with different tiers sold in relation to the popular swimming hole and Falls. Level 1 VIP Parking is located closest to the water, at $20 per car. Level 2 VIP parking is located a bit further up the hill, with a cost of $10 per car. Level 3 parking is free in the back of the park, but be advised visitors will then need to travel around three miles from that parking area to the Blue Hole Swimming Area. (On the weekends, shuttles are available to transfer guests from the furthest parking area to the Blue Hole.)
There’s much more to Turner Falls Park, however, than swimming and camping—especially during the late fall and winter. Starting in November, depending on water temperature, the park is stocked with trout. That means trout fishing is a popular activity from the end of November into March. In December, guests can enjoy Christmas light displays and a holiday-themed Laser Light Show, with the Falls as a backdrop. Wintertime weekday admission rates are $9 for adults and $6 for children through April 30. Weekend rates are $12 for adults and 9 for kids.
ATV fans will also want to put the Arbuckle Mountains region on their itineraries. Thanks to a new partnership with Cross Bar Ranch Off-Road Park—the largest off-road park in Oklahoma and Texas combined—off-roading enthusiasts will have access to 6,500 acres and 200 miles of creek beds, hills and spectacular views. Cross Bar connects to Turner Falls Park and both are now doubling the fun with dual park-admission tickets. Guests will need to bring their own ATVs, as rentals are not available here. Drivers must have a valid license and abide by all motor vehicle laws. ATVs are not allowed on hiking trails, and four-wheelers, three-wheelers and dirt bikes are not allowed on any road at Turner Falls Park.
The Park is located off Interstate 35 and Highway 77 in Davis, and admission and parking passes are available online at turnerfallspark.com.