Zenfolio | Zach Elseman Photography | 42 in 52: Natural Falls State Park

42 in 52: Natural Falls State Park

April 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

 

Natural Falls, once called Dripping Springs, is home to one of the most unique and picturesque landscapes in the entire state of Oklahoma. At the heart of Natural Falls State Park is, of course, the 77-foot waterfall.  Natural Falls is one of the two tallest waterfalls in the state, rivaled only by the 77-foot Turner Falls near Davis, OK. Despite the similarities in height and the fact that the two parks are the only pay-parks in the state, the parks surrounding Turner Falls and Natural Falls couldn’t be more different. I will describe my trip to Turner Falls in a later post, so be on the look-out later this summer.

Natural falls is located near Colcord, OK a short 6 miles from West Siloam Springs, OK on HWY 412. The park is easy to access from the highway via a short access road. The entrance to the park is underwhelming, but does boast a decent sized visitor center and gift shop. The visitor center’s primary function is to collect the $5 entrance fee from each car that enters the park. The gate attendant was very polite and helpful during my visit and offered up plenty of information about the most interesting aspects of the park.

Once I made it past the visitor center, I followed the attendant’s directions in order to get to the falls. I arrived at the park at 9AM on a Saturday and was the only person parked in the falls parking lot. I wanted to make it to the base of the falls early to get the best light and to avoid a large crowd. If you plan to visit during the heat of the summer, I would suggest arriving very early to avoid the heat and the droves of park visitors that frequent this spot every weekend during the summer.

As soon as I left the car I knew that Natural Falls State Park would not be what I had expected or hoped that it would be. Before I go any farther in this post I want to make it very clear that the state park does protect the waterfall and nearby foliage from damage and vandalism. I would hope that this is the primary function of this state park. However, the rest of the park seems very poorly laid out and very lack-luster considering that it is one of the few pay parks in the state. I digress.

The trail to the base of the falls meanders down a few hundred steps past several rocky outcroppings and between stretches of maple and oak trees. As I approached the bottom on the valley, blankets of ferns and mosses scatter across the moist bottom of the ravine. As the paved trail approaches the waterfall, rails and signs become abundant to ensure that park visitors are not traipsing on the plant life or swimming in the pools of spring water. The walkway is well maintained and runs under the overhead viewing platform some 80-feet above the forest floor. Benches are scattered along the walkway and provide a great place to sit and take in the falls.

I came to the park after nearly a week straight of water in the early spring, yet the falls were barely trickling and the main falls weren’t running. This left a lot to be desired visually, but the falls still had a magical characteristic to them. There is something soothing about sitting at the base of a waterfall with nothing in your ears but the sound of the water hitting the rocks below.

I spent a good deal of time at the base of the falls taking in the scenery and the quiet. It was a much needed escape from the week previous. Turkish playwright and novelist Mehmet Murat ildan said,“There is a hidden message in every waterfall. It says, if you are flexible, falling will not hurt you!” I found there was truth in that statement at the base of Dripping Springs.

Upon leaving the falls, the walking path turns into a dirt-packed hiking trail that crosses the creek and follows beside a small lake directly below the RV campsites on the bluff a hundred feet above. Remnants of the previous private owners of the park are scattered about the grounds in the form of outdoor light fixtures and the dam and pump at the west end of the lake. The dam and pump were put in place in the 1920’s to ensure that the falls did not run dry. Once the water makes its way over the dam, it slowly flows into the larger Illinois River around 3 miles downstream.

The trail turns rocky and climbs up to the same elevation as the entrance to the falls, but on the opposite side. Benches and signs are spread throughout the trail system that winds approximately 4 miles through the forest and grassland on the outskirts of the park. The hike is gradual and easy for even the most inexperienced hikers. I would suggest good tennis shoes to anyone that plans to walk the trails, but none of the trails are more than a few hundred yards from the main park and camping areas.

Once you reach the plateau above the lake, the trail splits and hikers can choose to go left back to the falls or right to follow the hiking trail further into the woods and grassland. Oddly enough, signs of a Frisbee golf course begin to show up in the middle of the hiking trail at the farthest edges of the park. I forgot to ask the employee at the visitor center about the status of the course, but it seemed to be in the very early stages of construction.

Tracks of all different species of animals litter the trail in the grassland area including deer, coyotes, and raccoons. I am sure other critters roam around this area of the park, but I did not encounter any. This area of the park was my first experience with the neighbors of the park. Unfortunately, Flint Creek Race Track sits just north of the State Park and sounds of the dirt track can be easily heard in the park. Even on a Saturday morning in the spring, the revving of engines severely distracts from the natural beauty that is present in the park.

 

Once I completed the loop, the trail returns to the overhead walkway above the falls. The bridge is very well constructed and offers decent views of the falls below. By around 11AM, several more visitors had entered the falls area and soon the peaceful solitude was drowned out by the sound of loud children and squeaking strollers. Upon exiting the falls trail, the parking lot was nearly full of cars.

 

The parks amenities seem very accommodating and ideal for RV/Camper camping. The RV spots are large and neatly interwoven with the surrounding forest. The park offers ADA compliance throughout, 30A/50A hookups, and bathrooms with showers on site. The tent sites leave much to be desired and most seem to be just strewn about any empty space available. Near the restrooms is a playground area that looks to be great if you are bringing along a little one. The park offers other activities such as fishing and volleyball.

Once I wrapped up my morning in the park, I drove a couple of miles down the road to stop by the Flint Creek Scenic River access point. This area is a close swimming and fishing area to the state park. I spent my time at Flint Creek planning my next trip and taking in some sun on the banks of the creek. This area offers very good and safe swimming as well as some of the best small-mouth bass fishing in the state. Any visit to Natural Falls should be accompanied by a visit to Flint Creek.

Natural Falls State Park was an interesting trip to say the least. The falls themselves are unique and impressive and are definitely worth the trip to Northeast Oklahoma. It is unfortunate that the park costs money to enter when so many others are free. I feel that the park could be more geared around the natural beauty of the area and less geared toward trying to add entertainment to nature. I understand this is the nature of State Parks in most instances, but this situation seemed very obvious at Natural Falls.


This state park is only the second of the forty-one state parks that I will visit in 2016. So many of Oklahoma’s state parks are built around beautiful lakes and rivers so keep watching for my next post to include a trip to a more Summer-friendly park. Thank you for reading my post and for visiting my site. If you want to see more images from this trip or others, please take a look at the galleries. As always, stay up to date with my adventures by following me on Instagram and Facebook. Have a blessed day!

To see all of the images from this trip, check them out here!

Also, to follow along nearly live, follow me on Instagram!


Comments

No comments posted.
Loading...