Jan/Feb 2014 Issue
Experience nature’s playground
Oklahomans like the outdoors. Much of the state is rural and contains everything from sand dunes to plains to mountains within its borders. And believe it or not, there are 55,646 miles of shoreline. Not bad for a landlocked state. With 35 state parks, visitors have a choice of terrain and activities, even in the winter months.
One of Oklahoma’s most popular state parks is Beavers Bend State Park Hochatown Area, tucked in the southeast pocket of the state, close to the Arkansas and Texas borders. Located off U.S. Highway 259, Beavers Bend’s main entrance is seven miles north of Broken Bow. This park has it all: mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers.
People invariably want to know where the Hochatown part of the name comes from. Like many towns along the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, Hochatown was a lumber camp. When the lumber had been cut and transported out, the lumber camps usually moved to new locations. Occasionally towns like Hochatown remained.
When a dam went up on Mountain Fork River in the 1960s, what remained of Hochatown was covered by Broken Bow Lake. A new industry, tourism, was born.
Today, people are drawn by the beauty of the park’s location in the Ouachita Mountains, which are part of the Ouachita National Forest. Hardwoods and pines grow side-by-side here, and the pine forest allows the park to stay green year round.
Wildlife and nature trails
The word “Ouachita” comes from a Caddo word “wishita” meaning “good hunting ground.” Wildlife is plentiful here.
However, as a state park, hunting isn’t allowed within park boundaries. Yet, next to the park is a 14,000-acre public hunting area, the McCurtain County Wilderness Area. Archery season for deer and wild turkey continues to Jan. 15.
Nature trails throughout the park showcase more than 50 species of trees. Some of the marked trails are approximately a mile or less, but some can include walks up rocky terrain. Other trails are part of the 12-mile David Boren Hiking Trail within the park. The seven-mile SkyLine Trail for experienced hikers is the most scenic and challenging. Adjoining the David Boren Hiking Trail are four miles of mountain bike trails that take you from creek bottoms to scenic ridges.
While cold temperatures can be expected, snow is rare. More likely than snow are sunny days, sometimes with temperatures pushing into the 60s. When this happens, you’re likely to see golfers playing the Cedar Creek Golf Course at Beavers Bend, an 18-hole course in the midst of oak, hickory, and pine stands with views of Broken Bow Lake.
The crystal-clear Broken Bow Lake is populated with houseboats, ski boats, sailboats, and jet skis in the summer months. But in winter, you can explore the various coves and islands on the 14,240-acre lake with few people to interrupt the silence.
The lake is populated with crappie and catfish, yet it’s the year-round trout fishing on Lower Mountain Fork River that calls to the dedicated angler. Dedicated trout streams and creeks also are inside the park boundaries.
Where to Eat and Sleep
You’ll find more RVs than tents among Beavers Bend’s eight campgrounds during winter, but there are other alternatives. Lakeview Lodge offers 40 rooms with a view from its perch on a hill overlooking Broken Bow Lake. Enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast looking out on the lake from the lodge’s great room.
Beavers Bend also features 47 cabins surrounded by towering pines. Some cabins have river views. Most have kitchenettes and fireplaces for cozy evenings in front of the fire where you might be lucky enough to be serenaded by a coyote. While the lodge and cabins are generally booked through the summer, you can snag a cabin or a room in the winter for under $100 a night.
In addition, the area around Beavers Bend offers 600 privately owned cabins, eight hotels and two B&B inns.
Take a Look
Indoor attractions are just as plentiful. Start with the park’s Oklahoma Forest Heritage Center Museum for a fascinating circular trip through the history of the Beavers Bend–Hochatown area. A whiff of cedar, which comes from several exhibits, floats in the air. There’s some eye-catching artwork here and at the Museum of the Red River in nearby Idabel. The museum in Idabel focuses more on the lives, history, and contributions of the area’s Native Americans, although its prize exhibit is a fossil of a 110- million-year-old dinosaur, Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. Designated Oklahoma’s state dinosaur, this discovery found nearby is the most complete fossil found of this species.
Traveling state Highway 259 between the two museums takes you by restaurants, shops, and attractions. Try the Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Tap Room located just outside the park. Both the Funky Chicken and Psychedelic Pizzas are out of this world, and weekends might include some live music. If you’re a sucker for great diner food and waitresses that call you “hon,” try the Stephen’s Gap Restaurant for breakfast or some tasty catfish.
Girls Gone Wine is a winery where you can sample more than a dozen vintages, and shop for gifts as well. As you head south on Highway 259, you’re likely to see flashing lights and lots of cars on the far side of Broken Bow. It’s one of the eight Choctaw Casinos in southeast Oklahoma. The mother of the Choctaw casinos is in Durant, about two hours away, but this one stays busy.
You’ll stay busy too, because there’s plenty to do in Beavers Bend, no matter what the season.
Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.
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