Robbers Cave Open for Fall Activities Amid Renovations | Local News

Although major renovations are expected to last until the fall, visitors can still enjoy a getaway to Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton.

Major renovations include a complete renovation of the Belle Star View Lodge, the renovation and construction of new cabins, a new dog park, new restrooms, a new restaurant and other projects.

“There’s a lot going on,” said Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation/Southern Region Deputy Field Operations Manager Merle Cox.

The renovations are part of a seven-year, $8 million park renovation, according to the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Service’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Cox said the park is open for fall family activities even though renovations are underway.

“You won’t find a more scenic park in the state in the fall,” Cox said. “Of course, southeast Oklahoma is known for that.”

Cox said many visitors to the park during the fall season are people traveling on State Highway 2, which offers spectacular views of the Sans Bois Mountain Range’s fall foliage that peaks in late October and early November.

“We’re open 24/7,” Cox said. “The hiking trails are still there; the cave is open every day of the week unless it’s flooded and you can’t cross that crossing at low water.”

The park also offers horseback riding through the park’s scenic hills and cliffs to view the dazzling fall foliage on horseback.

“The stables, they remain open,” Cox said. “They may close for a week or two in January to take a mini vacation, but other than that through the fall they’re open and doing rides and reservations.”

For those with all-terrain vehicles, the park offers trails and campgrounds that have been set up to make it easy to unload their ATVs, side-by-sides, or even Jeeps to navigate the 240 acres of different trails that have been fitted out for all-terrain vehicles.

“We have camping there,” Cox said. “It seems to be popular, we’d like it to get a bit more popular, but it’s a work in progress.”

The biggest event held at Robbers Cave State Park is the annual Robbers Cave Fall Festival, which will be held October 15-17. The annual three-day festival features handmade arts and crafts, a quilt show, carnival games and rides, and a variety of music and food vendors. The Fall Foliage Cruise takes place on October 16, featuring hundreds of restored and customized cars.

More information about the festival can be found by visiting www.robberscavefallfestival.com.

The cave’s name derives from its association with a place where Civil War deserters and outlaws – such as the legendary Jessie James, the Younger Brothers Gang, the Dalton Gang, the Rufus Buck Gang and Belle Starr – hid from the law.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the park’s origins began in 1929 when Wilburton newspaper editor and state representative Carlton Weaver donated 120 acres of land surrounding the cave to the Boy Scouts of America for use them as a camp.

John Narvall, then Warden of McAlester State Penitentiary, arranged for a group of inmates to improve the site for use by the Boy Scouts. The inmates used locally quarried rock to build a kitchen and several buildings that served as headquarters for different scout troops. The site was named Camp Tom Hale after a McAlester businessman and Boy Scouts supporter.

In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1825 was organized in the park and under the supervision of the National Park Service, built bathhouses, cabins, trails, group camps, shelters and roads throughout the Park.

After a 1936 renaming from Latimer State Park to Robbers Cave State Park, the CCC and Works Progress Administration created Lake Carlton, named for Weaver.

For more information about the park or how to make a reservation for a cabin or campsite, the park office can be reached at 918-465-2562 or toll-free at 1-800-654-8240.

Sally J. Minick