- 113101 Alameda Drive, Norman, OK 73026
- 2364° N, 97.2518° W
Where is Lake Thunderbird State Park?
Located in Cleveland County, Lake Thunderbird US State Park is 12 miles east of Norman, Oklahoma. The lake as well as the park sit directly off of State Highway 9, on its northwest side. The park is 15 miles east of I-35 on Hwy 9, or 11 miles south of I-40 if you take Exit 166 for S. Choctaw Road. The park is in the middle of the state, and while there are plenty of state parks circling its center, they are quite far from Thunderbird Lake, where there is a relative paucity.
How Big is Lake Thunderbird State Park?
The park itself is modest in terms of size, at about 3 square miles. However, it surrounds a large portion of Lake Thunderbird, which has entry points from within the park, and is 6 square miles. Located entirely within Cleveland County, the highest point listed is at 1,165 feet, which is the highest trailhead on the park’s numerous mountain biking paths. The higher regions descend into the lake, which the park all but surrounds.
Lake Thunderbird State Park Weather
Average highs in the area for summer are about 93 degrees, while the average summer lows are 71 degrees. In winter, the average low is 27 degrees. So, while you probably won’t be exposed to dangerously low temperatures in the winter, a hotter than average spell in the summer could be dangerous. Be aware of temperatures before setting out in the summer and bring water. Also be aware that tornados, though not frequent, are possible. Check the news and be familiar with the warning systems in place. With the many water activities available at the park, warmer months are more popular. However, it’s open all year long, and if it is too cold to boat there are various other activities to pursue, like mountain biking, archery deer hunting, and watching for amazing wildlife, like owls, herons, and snakes, oh my!
When did Lake Thunderbird become a National Park?
Lake Thunderbird was created as a reservoir with a dam, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the early 1960s. It was named in 1965. However, when a survey was conducted in 1997, Oklahomans reported they didn’t consider the area a state park. So, in 1997, the park was officially named Lake Thunderbird State Park.
Things to do in Lake Thunderbird State Park
Our State Park Visitors Guide points out that there is much to do in this state park year round. From boating, to hiking, to birdwatching, the young and young-at-heart can take part in activities. The park even has a dedicated guide for seniors and one for those with ADA disabilities as well.
With a fairly detailed guide to the feathered creatures onsite, Lake Thunderbird is a birders paradise. From small birds like orioles to colorful ones like northern flickers, to large birds like the screech owl, mighty horned owl, and even eagles, you’ll be able to capture images or spy these flyers with your binoculars.
With about 10 cross-country trails ranging from beginner to expert levels, the park is a much-needed hilly area with plenty of ups and downs, and elevations over a thousand feet. There are 24 miles of bike trail in total. You can achieve a fast clip at Lake Thunderbird, so be ready to stop for deer, should they cross.
Sailors, can dock their boats at Calypso Cove or Little River Marina and this park even has a sailing club. There are 9 boat ramps at your disposal, too. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular here, with the latter usually involving the vast amount of fishable species.
There are two large family-friendly swim beaches at Lake Thunderbird State Park. In the heat of summer, the rays beat down strongly across the plains, and you’ll definitely want to cool off, especially if you’ve been hiking or pursuing any other activity in the sun.
Discovery Cove Natural Center
Families with children will want to stop at this facility in the park, for lots of “wild” hands-on activities. Little ones might be introduced to a bearded dragon or a red-eared slider. Grandparents might want to take them during the heat of summer, to cool off midday when many are forgoing Discovery Cove for the outdoors.
This park has 200 RV campsites and 100 tent sites. Whether you want to have an overnight experience more akin to glamping, or completely rough it in the primitive camping area, Lake Thunderbird is a great spot to do it.
Near the Discovery Cove Natural Center in the Clear Bay section of the park is the equestrian area. The trails have 12 obstacles and are four miles in all. Keep in mind, the trails are open Wednesday through Sunday, and there are no stables on-site.
Archers can hunt for deer the same way that native peoples did on this land—with bow and arrow. Since not many venues offer this type of hunting, take advantage of it, if this is your sport. Do check with the park ahead of time to ensure your desired dates for a visit are in season.
If you prefer typical, modern day hunting to archery, head to Lake Thunderbird to search out some waterfowl. The list of species is long—you’ll find ducks, geese, and less common species. Be sure to download the park’s bird brochure from their website for a comprehensive list. Again, go in season and hunt in the designated area.
This park features lengthy trails for avid hikers who want to exercise as well as nature trails for those who want to stroll and take in the pretty views. There are plenty of options for all types of folks, including seniors, kids, or those who require assistance with mobility.
When to go to Lake Thunderbird State Park
You can visit this state park all year long, with the exclusion of major holidays. Summers are most popular due to the lake-centered nature of the park, with all of its swimming, boating, and fishing recreation. However, winters aren’t quite as cold as more northern regions of the U.S. If you dress warmly the season is great for photographing wildlife when the park is not as crowded. It’s also the best time to spot a massive bald eagle soaring overhead. The bare trees of winter impart a less obstructed view for these creatures, which do most of their flying far from the ground. Bring your binoculars or your zoom lens. Finally, don’t write off early spring as being too chilly to visit Lake Thunderbird. With the abundance of animals who reside here, it’s a great time to meet their babies!
Must-Have things to bring to Lake Thunderbird
You’ll need a small supply of most of the basics when you visit and here at List of Parks we highly suggest a larger supply of water. It’s warm here for much of the year and many of the popular activities work up a sweat even in cooler temps. Read on to learn what else you should bring along.
You’ll need plenty in the warmer seasons. Between the sun and wide array of physical activities like biking and waterskiing, and you’ll lose a lot of moisture. A few bottles per person should be enough to replace it for an afternoon.
While there are several restaurants in the area, the park is known for being a fantastic picnic spot, so you might want to pack your own. Also, you’ll want to tote hydrating fruits and protein snacks if you’re hiking or pursuing excursions outside for any length of time.
Pulling up maps of the park sections on your phone ahead of time will free up more time for fun while you’re there. Additionally, the Lake Thunderbird website has detailed downloadable maps on their website that may be even more relevant than what you find online.
There is much to do at this park, so ensure you have the right shoes for each activity. While lightweight sandals might be most convenient to carry for a day at one of the swimming beaches, hikers will need good sneakers or hiking boots to handle the elevations in terrain.
Even if you’re not specifically visiting Lake Thunderbird to swim, the water activities at this park are popular for a reason. You might change your mind once you get there, when you see others frolicking in the refreshing water. After hiking or biking uphill, a cool dip might be just what you need.
Sunglasses, Sunscreen, and Wide-brimmed hat
A day by the water will likely bring a great deal of sun— from both the sky and reflected off the water. Be careful not burn.
Winter park-goers will definitely benefit from a pair. Field glasses will permit an up-close look at eagles swooping about in search of their next meal. While the park’s hawks fly at lower levels, they may be afar when they surprise their prey. It’s somewhat grisly, but fascinating to see the many facets of mother nature at work here.
Take Fido to the park but be certain to bring a leash as well (required). Carry plastic bags, too, so that you can clean up after your pooch.
Basic First Aid Kit
A few medical supplies can come in handy, especially when you’re staying in a tent. Stock your kit with some anti-itch cream as well, in case the bugs gather ‘round the fire with you.
If you don’t have an RV and are staying at one of the more primitive campsites, you might want to bring along some rudimentary items. Large towelettes, hand sanitizer, and other hygiene-related items aren’t a bad idea.
Where to stay in Lake Thunderbird State Park
You can hook up your RV, pitch your tent, or stay in a hotel if you like, as all of these are available. Stay at one of about five nearby chains, or for a more personal touch, at the Manor Bed & Breakfast in Norman. It’s about 4 miles from Lake Thunderbird. The town is historic, and the Manor is rumored to be the most romantic place to stay in it.
Food Nearby Lake Thunderbird
Oklahoma is known for it barbeque, so be sure to get some at Billy Slims BBQ. Or dine on the rooftop at “The Porch”. The latter is a nice venue for starry nights that cool off a bit after steaming hot days. Both of theses eateries are in nearby Norman, Oklahoma.
Airports near Lake Thunderbird State Park
Under 20 miles from the park is Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. Other major airports are much farther. While the miles are long, you should be able to skip along at a quick pace, given the relatively low population in the region. Tulsa has the next closest major airport, at 110 miles.