Located in the expansive Great Plains, Oklahoma is the topographical crossroads of the United States. Rolling green hills and the iconic Ozark Mountains in the east give way to semi-arid plains and grasslands in the west. The state is also located almost dead center in the country, and it’s roughly 2,000 miles to the east, west, and gulf coasts making it too far for a quick beach getaway.
Going to the lake is a favorite pastime for Okies. Fortunately, they have plenty to choose from. The state has 200 of them spread across more than a million acres. They range in size from 550 acres to 104,000 acres.
Most of them are manmade, created to produce electricity, flood control, or household water. In fact, the state has the most lakes created by dams in the country. The few natural lakes in Oklahoma are either xbow (u-shaped) or playa (shallow wetlands) lakes.
Most of Oklahoma’s lakes are publicly owned, some of them with state parks offering other outdoor adventures. Here are the 10 best lakes to explore in Oklahoma.
The Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees ( Grand Lake for short) is nestled in the Ozark Mountains in Oklahoma’s northeast corner. With a surface area of 46,500 acres and a 1,300-mile shoreline, it is the state’s third-largest lake. It was created by building the Pensacola Dam in 1940. Sitting at an elevation of 742 feet, the lake is deep and rocky, unlike other lakes in the state.
Grand Lake is one of Oklahoma’s most picturesque lakes with a lush, green shoreline and distant rolling hills. It’s mostly visited for watersports, especially sailing, but anglers also come to fish. It ranks as one of the top bass fishing lakes in the country. The Cherokee Queen Riverboat has been operating on the lake since the 1940s. Passengers relax with day tours, dinner tours, and dance tours.
The lake has parks, picnic areas, and campgrounds as well as restaurants and other accommodation options.
Lake Overholser is a small city lake that the locals and out-of-towners come to for fishing and boating. The 1,500-acre reservoir was created by damming the North Canadian River to supply water to Oklahoma City in 1919. It was named in honor of Ed Overholser, the 16th mayor of Oklahoma City.
Although the lake’s average depth is only six feet, it provides anglers with excellent fishing. It is teeming with striped and hybrid striped bass, catfish, sunfish, crappie, walleye, and saugeye. Boat ramps are plentiful and motorboats and ski boats are allowed. There is a covered fishing dock on the southwest side of the lake.
Visitors can go hiking, bird-watching, and biking in the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge at the north end of the lake. A picnic area with a covered pavilion is located at the south end of Lake Overholser Park. There are also tennis courts and soccer fields.
Lake Hefner is another local lake for Oklahoma City residents and visitors. It was created in 1947 after the completion of the Hefner Dam to help increase the city’s water supply. The reservoir has a surface area of 2,500 acres and an 18-mile long scenic shoreline excellent for picnicking. The shoreline also features nine miles of hiking and biking trails. The east side has pedestrian trails that are flat and six feet wide.
Sailing is the most popular sport at Lake Hefner, and sailboat races are often held on weekends. Anglers will also be happy at this lake. There’s an abundance of game fish including large and smallmouth bass, channel fish, walleye, and bluegill.
Lake Hefner is bordered by residential areas, and there are marinas, golf courses, and sailing schools available in the area.
Lake Murray sits within the state’s oldest and largest state park, Lake Murray Park in southcentral Oklahoma near the city of Ardmore. The 5,728-acre lake is a result of damming the Anadarche and Fourche Maline Creeks in 1941. The park has a golf course, softball fields, and several other facilities for sports.
All watersports are allowed on Lake Murray. Scuba diving and fishing are popular. The clear lake water is stocked with big bass, drum, crappie, walleye, sunfish, and catfish. The park also offers boat rentals, horse stables, campgrounds, and cabins. Tucker Tower is a unique nature center and museum in the park that features wildlife displays.
The Great Salt Plains Lake is within the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for a wide variety of birds. The lake gets its name from the salt flats of the Salt Fork Arkansas River which was dammed to create the lake. Visitors to the lake can dig on the west side for selenite crystals.
The 9,300-acre lake has a shoreline of 91 miles and is boating and swimming. The surrounding park offers picnicking, hiking, and mountain biking. Overnight visitors can stay at a campground with tent sites and an RV park. The campground has a beach, picnic shelters, a playground, and a boat ramp.
Keystone Lake is just minutes from Tulsa in north-central Oklahoma. The 26,000-acre lake is the result of building the Keystone Dam on the Arkansas River in 1957 for the purpose of w electricity, flood control, wildlife management, and water supply to nearby cities. The setting is scenic featuring sandy beaches, steep hills covered with hardwoods and cedar, and sandstone bluffs.
Walnut Creek and Keystone State Parks lie along the 330-mile long shoreline. The parks offer RV and tent camping, fishing, swimming, boating, horseback riding, and hiking and biking trails including the 15-mile long scenic Sand Plum Trail. The lake has a rich population of black and smallmouth bass, striped bass, sand bass, crappie, and channel catfish.
Lake Eufaula is a 105,000-acre reservoir in eastern Oklahoma about 25 miles upstream from the town of Eufaula. It was created in 1964 by the construction of the Walter F. George Dam on the Canadian River for the main purpose of flood control. It also provides power, water supply, and recreation. The 600-mile shoreline varies between sandy beaches and rocky cliffs.
Lake Eufaula’s waters are clear and blue in the deeper parts and murky from agricultural runoff in other parts. Recreation on the lake includes fishing, boating, and swimming. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, sand bass, crappie, and catfish. Annual fishing tournaments are held at the lake.
The lake area includes Lake Eufaula State Park with 235 campsites for RV and tent camping. The park also has a marina for boaters. Two additional state parks, Arrowhead and Fountainhead were created by the state for additional recreation at the lake. Activities at the parks include hiking, horseback riding, a children’s playground, and an 18-hole golf course.
Located in the southeast corner of Oklahoma, Broken Bow is one of the state’s largest and most scenic lakes. The 20,500-acre lake was created in the late 1960s for flood control. It has a shoreline of 180 miles. Surrounded by mountains and forestland, its serene location makes it popular for visitors from neighboring states to enjoy swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and fly fishing.
Birdwatching is also popular at Broken Bow Lake. The surroundings are home to a variety of species. Two trails are available for hikers and birdwatchers. Big Oak Trail is easy enough for children and the elderly. Beaver Lodge Nature Trail is more challenging. Facilities at the lake include camping, picnic tables, water, and restrooms at nearby Beavers Bend Resort Park and Hochatown State Park.
The Lake of Arbuckles lies within the popular Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The reservoir was created in 1966 by constructing the Arbuckle Dam over Rock Creek. It has a surface area of 3,127 acres and a 36-mile long shoreline. Visitors come to the lake for swimming, boating, sailing, waterskiing, tubing, scuba diving. Fishing is also popular; anglers can expect to catch catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie.
Visitors to the lake will find camping facilities, boat docks and ramps, and picnic areas. Some of the campsites have beaches for swimming. Hiking trails around the lake are scenic with mountain views and pastures with grazing bison.
Arcadia Lake is a manmade lake in central Oklahoma in what is known as the Frontier Country Region. It was created by damming the Deep Fork River. The 1,725-acre lake is surrounded by a scenic mix of grasslands and forests.
The lake is popular for boating, fishing, sailing, and windsurfing. Anglers catch their share of largemouth bass, striped bass, catfish, bluegill, and crappy. Spring Creek Park on the lake’s shore even has a heated indoor fishing dock for the cold months. Two other parks, Edmond Park and Central State offer sandy swimming beaches, playgrounds, ball fields, and boat ramps, and picnic areas.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!