Camping and Backpacking

Camping and Backpacking

By Christian Toews
From the Nov. 2020 Biskinik

The cold air of the morning, the smell of smoke lingers, the sound of the zipper as you emerge from your sleeping bag. Maybe this brings back some of your best camping memories, or perhaps you have never experienced a morning like this. Waking up after sleeping in the great outdoors can be a refreshing experience.

Camping is a popular activity in southeastern Oklahoma. Some families go camping to reconnect and revitalize their relationships away from all the distractions at home. Some people go camping to escape their busy every-day life. Others want to get close to the ways our ancestors lived. No matter your reason for going, camping is a truly unique way to break away from routine and experience the great outdoors.

It turns out that setting up a tent and sleeping under the stars has many benefits too. One of these benefits is improved sleep cycles. In a study by Kenneth Wright at the University of Colorado Boulder, Wright set out to see how participants’ circadian rhythms were affected when they were exposed to only natural light. He sent them on a week-long camping trip and measured levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for telling our bodies when it’s time for bed and helps set a person’s internal clock. Wright found that people’s internal clocks were off by two hours in our modern environment with abundant electronics and artificial light. This isn’t a good thing because a lack of sleep has been associated with many health problems. Wright was able to show that the participant’s melatonin levels, and their internal clock, were able to recalibrate after only a week of camping in nature.

Weekend backpacking
Many people use short escapes into the wilderness as a way to reconnect, away from the distractions of home.

Another benefit of camping is reduced stress. That is something we all want. Our lives have become so busy that we forget to slow down and enjoy the world around us.

In a study published earlier this year, an interdisciplinary team from Cornell University was able to show that as little as 10 minutes in nature can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress. Imagine what a weekend in the great outdoors can do for you.

The night sky has become lost to most people who live in a city. Light pollution has choked out the stars in much of the country. You may see a few stars at night in your neighborhood, but a single streetlight can make it difficult to see the night sky in all of its glory. Oklahoma’s southeastern region still retains some of the darkest skies in the country. This is just another reason to get outside at night and look up at the unpolluted skies. On a clear night, you might even catch a glimpse of the milky way.

With beautiful scenery, diverse wildlife and plenty of terrain options to choose from, southeastern Oklahoma has some of the midwest’s best camping spots. Whether you enjoy camping near a lake, a river or near mountains, this region has it all.

Setting up tent
Adrianna Mandt setting up her tent.

Talimena State Park is the entrance to the Talimena National Scenic Byway. This winding paved road through the Winding Stair Mountains is known for dazzling spring and fall displays of foliage. Visitors from all over the country come to experience this scenic drive. Talimena State Park offers camping spots, hiking trails throughout the Ouachita National Forest, Dirt Bike and ATV trails and more. With its breathtaking mountaintop views and steep hikes, you might not feel like you’re in Oklahoma.

South of Talihina, another great camping spot, attracts campers year-round. Beaver’s Bend State Park near Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has spectacular lakeside camping spots and more wooded camping areas if that’s what you prefer. Beavers Bend is unique and offers hiking and mountain biking trails, world-class fly fishing on the Mountain Fork River, excellent angling in Broken Bow Lake, and many great restaurants and activities just minutes from the State Park. This area has become a vacation destination for many people who want to escape the big city’s hustle and bustle while still offering many restaurants and activities to enjoy. Beaver’s Bend, and the surrounding area, provide secluded and peaceful areas only minutes from great food, drinks and nightlife. It is truly one of Oklahoma’s hidden gems.

Campfire
Adrianna Mandt and Stephen Graham enjoy a weekend backpacking and camping.

There are other unique places to camp in this region near Durant, Atoka, McAlester, Poteau and Hugo, to name a few. Oklahoma is a diverse and exciting landscape that everyone should explore.

With the many benefits camping has to offer, the beautiful locations, and outdoor activities, there are many great reasons to plan your next trip to southeastern Oklahoma. Fall temperatures are here, and the holiday season is quickly approaching. Now is a great time to spend some time outdoors with your family and friends. Who knows, you might improve your health while you’re at it.

Backpacking in Choctaw Country