Explore OK {Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge}

When we decided to take a little trip around Oklahoma, we knew we wanted to go somewhere we had never been. I started looking online, ordered some travel brochures and came across the Salt Plains State Park. I don’t know how I’ve lived in this state for 30+ years and have never heard of the Salt Plains! We planned the rest of our trip around visiting the Salt Plains…and I’m glad we did.

It is hard to find a whole lot of information online, so we weren’t too sure what to expect. We knew we could dig for crystals under salt, but that was about it. We pulled up and it looked like we arrived at a beach. It was unlike any place I’ve ever seen in Oklahoma or anywhere for that matter. Miles and miles of salt…so weird and awesome.

Photo Tip: all of these were shot in Auto mode…it was so bright I couldn’t see a thing!

There are designated areas for digging that rotate every year to allow time for new crystals to form. We picked a place and started digging.

After breaking through the top salt encrusted layer, you reach red dirt. It is recommended to dig a hole about 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep. The dirt is soft, so it is pretty easy to dig the hole.

The soil was full of small crystals…easy for all of the kids to find.

The crystals are really fragile when you first dig them up, so if you want to get them out in large chunks, you need water to splash away the soil and gently remove the clusters. We brought drinking water, but not water for digging. We tried to transport water from holes previously dug by other people. It would have been better if we had brought a bunch of water.

If you look closely, you can see a few other people that were out there on the same day…not exactly a crowded place on a weekday. It is free to dig and each person can take up to 10lbs of crystals out of the park per day.

Little One wasn’t a big fan of this adventure…mainly because it was her naptime. She stayed covered from the sun under an umbrella for a bit. If we go again, I’d try to bring some kind of big sun tent that could hold up against the wind and keep us covered from the sun.

Oklahoma is the only place in the world that the selenite forms in an hourglass shape. My 7 year old naturalist found that incredibly cool. I did too.

So, if I were going again, here are things I’d want to know:

  • Bring water to pour into holes for digging
  • Bring a big shovel and little shovels
  • Bring something like a sifter (we took an old salad spinner bowl!) to hold and clean crystals
  • Sunscreen….lots of sunscreen
  • If you don’t want to carry out all your supplies, bring a wagon to pull so you can get out far from where all the previously dug areas are
  • Your clothes will get muddy and salty, wear old clothes. Bring a change of clothes.
  • There is no bathroom…or trees.
  • It is windy, but a sun cover would be handy
  • It is in the middle of nowhere…bring a cooler with food and drinking water
  • Sunglasses & hats, the sun reflects off all that salt

We had a really good time. It would have been a really great time for me if Little One had been a bit older and not tired. If you don’t mind getting messy it is a fun out-of-the-norm adventure. I think it would probably be too hot to go in the middle of an Oklahoma summer, but in the late spring or early fall it would be a fun day adventure.

We’ll go back….

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  • Angela - Yay for exploring our great state! We are also planning to visit the Great Salt Plains, but now that the summer heat has arrived I’ll probably take your advice and wait til fall. We just went to Wichita Mountain Refuge and it was great…buffalo! Going to Medicine Park at some point this summer and to the springs by Sulphur sometime as well.
    Love you blog 🙂

  • Christi Smith - That’s awesome. I haven’t ever heard of that place either in my 38 yrs here!! My daughter would love that. Definitely will keep that in mind for fall/spring!! I personally would fry like bacon out in a place with absolutely no trees and sun reflecting off of a white surface!!!

  • Shannon - If my family ever makes it to Oklahoma, I think we would love to stop there! Sounds pretty neat! Thanks for the info! I’m also happy to hear you shot the photos on auto, I always feel like I should try manual but sometimes it is so bright I don’t know what to do!

  • Danielle - Love seeing someone else enjoying all of these great places in our state! Exploring is the best way to fall in love with a place 🙂 We have never dug for crystals but we have gone when the birds are migrating and I have never seen so many pelicans in my life! My goal is to be their for sunrise. I almost made it one year but we got their a little later then I wanted. Definitly going to plan a camping trip for there. I do write blog posts about state parks and places in Oklahoma we visit to try to help people find more info.

  • Catherine Vargas - Love those pictures, your little girl looks adorable 🙂

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  • Kari - Thank you thank you thank you for doing this little series. Or I guess for traveling in general. We live in Moore and always go south for little adventures, never north. I showed my husband your pics from here and we’re planning a trip similar to yours.

  • Libby - Where in Oklahoma is this? We are in southern Missouri & would like to visit this place if fairly close.

  • Shanalea Atchison - I am coming this summer to visit my dad with the boys and I am so glad you posted this. My dad and I are going to do this while I am there and this is very helpful. I think they are going to love digging in the dirt to find treasures.

  • mandi@herbanhomstead - Oh wow! This place sounds like so much fun! Thanks for the info!

  • Jennifer - There is nothing like a first-hand review of places to visit. Love all the trip ideas and all your tips. Thanks!

  • Tyler - This would make for some fun “golden hour” photo shoots!

  • Kate - I LOVE the hourglass! what an interesting discovery

  • kelleyn - Thanks for sharing! I never knew that Oklahoma had Salt Flats! I love your tour around Oklahoma.

  • elizabeth H - AWESOME!! i love that hourglass ~ isn’t God amazing?!!

  • tracy a - About that hour glass shape…looks an awful lot like a tornado to me. I think God knew what he was doing when he made OK the only place those grow. A little reminder that he is in control!!

  • AshleyAnn - Tracy – I thought the same thing…tornado.

  • AshleyAnn - Libby – It is in NW Oklahoma

  • Marsha in OK - My hubby was from western Oklahoma, so we got to adventure ’round lots of cool places this Tulsa girl had never heard of. Last time we went to the salt plains, for the afternoon, we wound up spending the night in Raton, NM!!! That’s what happened when we continually expanded our day to include Black Mesa and the dinosaur prints in stone nearby. It helped living in north central Oklahoma at the time, but it was a seriously long (and wonderful) day! And, yes! You do NOT want to go to the salt plains in August, or even July. I would also advise against Little Sahara then, too!?!?!? What a great state we live in!!!

  • Victoria / Justice Pirate - That is so crazy!!! How fun!
    I had never heard of this before!

  • haverlee - All I could think of when I saw that big empty shot of the Plains all dug up was the book, Holes!! 🙂

  • Maclaine - We live in north Texas. I have decided that we are going to do this on Monday. We’ll go early and my kids are older than yours. I love road trips! Is there anywhere nearish here that we could swim that you know of?

  • AshleyAnn - Maclaine – I don’t know of anything…there is not much out there. You should look into Little Sahara park if you have older kids. We drove by it and will return when our kids are older! Have fun!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Ok – the hourglass thing is sooo cool. Amazing.

  • Keitha - I just found your site and it’s so exciting to see your pictures and read about how much fun you had digging crystals. Western Oklahoma has many great places (check out Great Plains Trail of Oklahoma @www.owpha.org) but Alfalfa County with Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, the Great Salt Plains State Park, and the Byron Fish Hatchery Watchable Wildlife Area are my favorites and then there’s the Sod House Museum, the Veteran’s Memorials at Jet and Helena and the Doughboy Statue on the lawn of the county courthouse at Cherokee. Thanks for sharing your family’s adventures. I’m going to share this on the Friends of Salt Plains NWR face book page. You should be a member! Thanks again! Hope you come see us again! Be blessed!

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