Oklahoma is nicknamed ‘Land of the Red Man’ as a result of its actual name, which means red people in Choctaw. Today, more than 25 Native American languages are spoken in Oklahoma, and the cultural diversity is matched by the state’s vast diversity in landscapes. It is home to flatlands, grasslands, mountains and hills, as well as numerous lakes. In fact, the largest number of lakes created by dams of any state in the country happens to be in Oklahoma.
All natural lakes in Oklahoma are oxbow and playa lakes, though there are over 200 man-made lakes spread across the state. These vary in size from just 222 hectare to over 42,000 hectare. Most lakes in the state are publicly owned, with some being dotted with state parks and lodges. If you ever plan to visit the state, these are the 15 best lakes in Oklahoma.
1. Broken Bow Lake; McCurtain County
One of the deepest and most scenic lakes in the state, Broken Bow Lake sits in the southeast corner of Oklahoma surrounded by forests, mountains and hills. Due to its serenity and location, it is a popular destination for locals from neighbouring Texas and Arkansas.
The lake stretches for 35 kilometres and has a total surface area of 5,700 hectares, with its surroundings being home to many native bird species. This makes it a haven for birdwatchers.
Kayaking, canoeing, swimming and fly fishing are all activities that can be enjoyed at the lake. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, there are numerous trails that can be hiked or explored on horseback.
2. Eufaula Lake; Haskell, McIntosh & Pittsburg Counties
The largest lake in Oklahoma has a surface area of 41,000 hectare that stretches through three counties. Eufaula Lake also features a 970 kilometre shoreline that is home to numerous marinas, camping grounds and accommodation options.
Every year the lake hosts a well-known tournament that attracts anglers from all over the country. Largemouth bass, Kentucky bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, catfish and sand bass are what they are catching.
There are also plenty of other activities offered at Eufaula Lake, including swimming, boating, hiking, horseback riding and picnicking. It is even possible to play a round of golf or to go hunting.
3. Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees; Delaware, Ottawa, Mayes & Craig Counties
Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees is nestled in the slopes of the Ozark Mountain Range in the northeast corner of Oklahoma. It is the state’s third largest lake and sits at an elevation of 226 metres above sea level.
The lake was created in 1940 with the completion of the Pensacola Dam. Today, it is a premier destination for water sports, especially sailing.
This is one of the most scenic lakes in the state thanks to its natural surroundings and beautiful shoreline. There are picnic areas, parks and camping grounds surrounding the lake, as well as restaurants and a variety of accommodation options.
4. Lake Texoma; Bryan County
Not only is Lake Texoma the second largest lake in Oklahoma, but it also happens to be one of the largest reservoirs on the country! The 36,000 hectare lake sits right at the border of Oklahoma and Texas at the confluence of the Washita and Red Rivers.
This is the most developed lake in the region, as well as being the most popular. Around 6 million people come to the lake each year to go sailing, windsurfing, water skiing and fishing.
There are hundreds of camping ground and numerous resorts along the shoreline of the lake. There are also golf courses and marinas, as well as two state parks and two wildlife refuges.
5. Tenkiller Ferry Lake; Cherokee & Sequoyah Counties
Also known as Lake Tenkiller, this reservoir was named after the prominent Tenkiller Cherokee family who owned the land where the lake was formed. It was created in 1952 with the damming of the Illinois River.
Tenkiller Ferry Lake sits in the Cookson Hills of the Ozark Mountains, 193 metres above sea level. It is one of the deepest lakes in the state, attracting scuba divers from all over the world.
There are 24 boat launching ramps, 14 parks and ten marinas on the lake’s 210 kilometre shoreline. The lake also features five floating restaurants and is home to a number of islands, including the famous Goat Island.
6. Lake Overholser; Oklahoma City
This is not a large lake, but it quite a beautiful one and is a popular city attraction. Locals and visitors alike come to the lake to go boating or fishing for white bass, bluegill, bream, striped bass, catfish and largemouth bass.
The Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge sits at the north end of the 610 hectare lake, which is a great place for hiking, bird-watching and biking. Lake Overholser Park is at the south end, which is a popular spot for picnicking.
Lake Overholser was formed by the damming of the North Canadian River. It was named after Ed Overholser; the 16th Mayor of the City of Oklahoma City.
7. Lake Hefner; Oklahoma City
Also located in Oklahoma City, Lake Hefner was built in 1947 to supply water for the city. Today, it is a popular recreational spot for city residents, particularly these wanting to go fishing.
There is an abundance of game fish in the lake, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, channel catfish and bluegill. It is also a haven for boaters, with both sail boats and motorised boats being seen on the lake.
The 1,000 hectare lake is bordered by residential areas, with the Lake Hefner Dam taking up the entire north end of it. You will also find marinas, sailing schools, golf courses and cycling trials along the lake’s shoreline.
8. Keystone Lake; Pawnee, Osage, Creek & Tulsa Counties
This 9,600 hectare lake sits along the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers. It is around 37 kilometres west of the city of Tulsa, making it a popular weekend escape for city residents.
Keystone Lake’s 530 kilometre shoreline is home to two state parks, 16 recreational areas, 11 boat ramps and 4 marinas. There are also numerous campgrounds for those wishing to stay the night.
Fishing is very popular here, as there is an abundance of striped bass, small mouth bass sand bass, black bass, crappie, and catfish. Wildlife found around the lake include bobcats, white-tailed deer, beavers, cottontail rabbits, dicks and geese, amongst others.
9. Lake Murray; Carter County
Lake Murray sits within the Lake Murray State Park, which was the first park in the state to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is Oklahoma’s oldest state park, as well as being its largest.
The 2,300 hectare park is a popular spot for recreational activities, as all water sports are allowed. There are numerous cabins and camping facilities on the west side of the lake, while the historic Tucker Tower sits on the southern shore of it.
The tower opened as a nature centre on 1982 and houses the famous Lake Murray Meteorite. The meteorite was found on a farm and to this day is the fifth largest to be found in the world!
10. Lake Thunderbird; Cleveland County
Sitting in the city of Norman just south of Oklahoma City, Lake Thunderbird is a 2,165 hectare reservoir that was made to provide water to the city. It was named after the Native American supernatural bird, though locals often call it ‘Lake Dirtybird’.
There are two marinas and one boathouse that offer access to the lake to go boating and fishing. Sailing lessons, sailboat races, regattas are offered at these facilities, and there is an annual fishing derby for developmentally disabled children.
The Lake Thunderbird State Park surrounds the lake, offering hiking, mountain biking horseback riding and hunting. It is also home to a nature centre, an archery range and over 440 camping grounds.
11. Great Salt Plains Lake; Alfalfa County
This 3,800 hectare lake sits within the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, which is notable for its wide variety of birds. The refuge also contains 4,500 hectare of salt flats, where selenite crystals can be found.
Great Salt Plains Lake was named because of the salt plains in the area, and visitors can dig for selenite crystals on the west side of the lake. Boating and swimming are also offered on the lake itself, while the surrounding park offers hiking, picnicking, hiking and mountain biking.
Visitors that wish to stay overnight can do so at the RV Park, which also offers tent sites. The camping ground also features a beach, a playground, a boat ramp and picnic shelters.
12. Lake of the Arbuckles; Murray County
Built in 1966, Lake of the Arbuckles is one of the best lake’s in the state to go fishing for catfish, bass, perch and crappie. The lake’s 58 kilometre shoreline features camping grounds, picnic areas, boat docks and boat ramps.
Lake of the Arbuckles is extremely scenic thanks to its magnificent surroundings. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is on the north side, while prairie and woodland surrounds the rest of it.
There are several kilometres of hiking trails within the recreation area that are particularly popular in the summer months.
13. Lake Hudson; Mayes County
Also known as Markham Ferry Reservoir, Lake Hudson was created by the completion of the Robert S. Kerr Dam. The 4,900 hectare reservoir sits at 189 metres above sea level and features a 320 kilometre shoreline.
Snowdale State Park sits on the west side of the lake around 1.6 kilometres from the town of Saline. The park is a popular place for recreational activities, including water sports, hiking, volleyball, picnicking and fishing.
The state park is the best place to head to if you wish to stay on Lake Hudson overnight. It offers 17 motorhome sites and 20 tent sites.
14. Skiatook Lake; Osage County
Federally owned and operated, this 4,200 hectare reservoir is surrounded by rolling hills, making it extremely serene. It is the fifteenth largest lake in the state.
Skiatook Lake is located within the Osage Reservation just northwest of the city of Tulsa. City residents and visitors alike come to the lake to go fishing, swimming and boating.
There are a number of hiking trials surrounding the lake that offer beautiful views of the surrounding bluffs and the water. There are also numerous places to go camping around the lake’s 260 kilometres of shoreline.
15. Lake Oologah; Rogers & Nowata counties
Named after the Cherokee word meaning ‘dark cloud’, Lake Oologah sits along the Verdigris River and provides water for the Tulsa area. It is also used for recreational activities.
There are 11 parks sitting along the lake’s 336 kilometres of shoreline, as well as a swimming beach, a marina and a camping ground. The east side of the lake is home to the Will Rogers Country Centennial Trail, which winds around Lake Oologah for over 25 kilometres.
The lake is great for fishing for sand bass, largemouth bass, catfish, walleye and crappie. There are a few boat ramps that provide access to the lake, as well as docks.