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— I’d like to wander off my usual path a bit and write about a park that, although located very close to the hometown area, is actually out of state.

Natural Falls State Park is located just off highway 412, approximately five miles west of the Oklahoma state line. The small sign on the highway marking its whereabouts is not exactly eye-catching, so it is easy to drive by without giving a thought to stopping. When I finally paid an overdue visit, I found the park packed with plenty to offer visitors, including incredible natural beauty. In fact, the view from the bottom of the waterfall is nothing short of picturesque.

It was just over a year ago when I made my first visit to the park after a co-worker encouraged me to check it out. I left there feeling amazed that I had lived so close to such a beautiful place for over 20 years and had somehow missed this hidden jewel. Within a day or two, I returned to the park with my two favorite travel companions - husband and camera - to share the experience and attempt to get a good photoof the 77-foot water fall. Since then I have returned a couple more times, including a chilly visit last Christmas Day with son, Zack.

Back in May, my friend Lynn Garside and I spent part of an evening at the park. It was the first time she had been there and she was so impressed that she encouraged me to include Natural Falls in a write-up for A Walk in the Park. At that point I was only a few issues into my role as a columnist, and hadn’t considered writing about anything outside of Arkansas. Then, last weekend, another long-time resident of the area mentioned that she has never visited Natural Falls State Park. That’s when I reconsidered and decided it was time to remind people about this Oklahoma park and what is being missed if you haven’t gotten around to seeing this place. The short drive is more than worth the trip.

Natural Falls State Park includes a total of 122 acres of land with many RV and tent camping spaces available for rent. Tables, grills, a shower station and other amenities are included for campers. The park also has a nice indoor “reunion center” that may be rented for large group functions.

Those entering the park for day use are charged a fee of $3 per vehicle. In addition to hiking and viewing the waterfall, day users will find other recreational opportunities such picnicking, fishing, a playground for the kids and a formal gardens area displaying a variety of green and flowering plants.

My favorite part of the park is, of course, the area that surrounds the water. Although it is always advised to wear “sturdy walking shoes” on the hiking trail, don’t pass up a chance to see this place just because you left home in flip-flops. Lynn and I made our spur of the moment hike to the falls wearing sandals, but I wouldn’t say that is the best idea.

The observation platform above the falls is handicap accessible and offers an incredible view (beware if you are bothered by heights). The trail leading from there to the lower level is somewhat rough and steep in places, but it is not a long walk. Some steps and hand railings have been installed for assistance. A longer trail winds around the stream and small lake and back, giving opportunity for a nice, longer hike as well as offering views from other vantage points.

The main event, as far as I am concerned is the scene that waits at the bottom of the seven-stories-tall waterfall. This area is home to a dense forest of trees and shrubs, and the moisture from the waterfall creates an environment ideal for a variety of ferns, liverworts and mosses to flourish. The bench near the pool of water at the base of the falls is a perfect place to sit and relax while taking in the sights and sounds of the peaceful surroundings. This is also a popular place for photographers.

After seeing Natural Falls State Park, I was not surprised to learn that it had been used as a location for filming scenes from a 1970s movie. Do you know which movie that might be? I will tell you next week. Stay tuned….

Opinion, Pages 5 on 10/07/2009

Print Headline: A Walk in the Park

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