By Amanda McCarty
As most in the south know, summers are best spent in the water. Maybe for you that’s spending the day skimming across the lake with a boatful of friends. Maybe it’s lounging by the pool with a good book and a cool drink. But if you’re anything like me, it means paddling your kayak down a river somewhere.
There’s nothing quite like setting off from a grassy bankside and surrendering your fate to wherever the water takes you. You become an explorer of sorts, on an expedition to discover the parts of the world we take for granted. The soft filtering of light through a canopy of trees arching gracefully overhead, the majestic beauty of the looming cliffside, the variegated patterns and swirls in the rock formations gliding by and the way green stains everything with the color of life. You become a captive audience to the menagerie of wildlife surrounding you – a family of ducks swimming past, the kaleidoscope of colors in their oil-slicked feathers, the luminous splash of a silvery fish breaking the water’s surface.
It doesn’t have to be all laid back and dreamy, though. Maybe you crave the thrill of the split-second decisions required to navigate more turbulent waters, maneuvering your way through narrow channels, the rush of being ruthlessly carried over jagged rocks and the pride in coming out the other side as more than just a survivor. If your style is more adrenaline junkie, there are certainly opportunities – often in the same river – requiring a more high-energy performance.
In the end, the adventure is what you make it. And Choctaw Country offers some of the most beautiful places to dive into the unknown and see where the current of the wilderness takes you.
Mountain Fork River | Broken Bow, OK
There’s no shortage of places to rent a kayak for the day in Beavers Bend State Park if you don’t have one of your own, and they’re usually relatively cheap. If you have the option (and you’re not doing anything too crazy), I recommend the sit-on-top kind, because they’re the easiest to get in and out of when you feel the urge to slip in the water to cool off. But you find what works best for you.
Beavers Bend River Floats is a great place to start if you’re just looking to dip your toe into the water, so to speak. After being shuttled to the drop-off point, it’s a peaceful trip downstream back to their shop and only takes about an hour. The best part, though, are the stunning views as Mountain Fork River cuts its way through the Kiamichi Mountains.
If you want to make a day of it, River Rats has options ranging from two and a half to six hours and offers a bit of excitement with Class II rapids and a three-foot waterfall. If you have your own kayak, they’ll even shuttle you to the drop-off point, for a small fee of course.
Kiamichi River | Antlers, OK
Sometimes, you just need a little more space to breathe, where you feel that the river is yours alone. The Kiamichi River delivers with a beautiful stretch of water between Clayton and Antlers that’s perfect for paddling away from the more touristy areas.
K River Campground is the go-to here for kayak and canoe rental, and they’ll shuttle you to wherever you want to put in upriver. There are a few gravel bars dispersed throughout the river if you want to camp out on the water. Or you can just make your way back to the campgrounds at K River, where they offer everything from tent and RV sites to tree houses and cabins.
Lake Eufaula | Eufaula, OK
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a river that you venture into. You can always kayak on the lake; but without the assistance of the river’s current, it’s best to go on a calm day when the water is relatively smooth. There’s nothing so exhausting as fighting choppy waves with nothing but a paddle and your upper body strength.
Lake Eufaula is a great place to set out, with the surrounding hilly landscape offering stunning views. There are also plenty of other activities to explore nearby, including numerous campgrounds and marinas with on-the-water restaurants and bars.