Sunday, October 01, 2006

Elephant Rock Nature Park - Illinois River Camping

What a great weekend! Dianne and I had a blast paddling the Illinois River and then enjoyed the night at cool new campground. Rod and Susan Foster invited us to Elephant Rock Nature Park, you can check out the pictures in my Elephant Rock Nature Park Flickr Set. I have passed their sign many times, but I never took the time to drive up the hill and see the place. We have been missing out on a great Illinois River resource for outdoor enthusiasts.

The Elephant Rock is one of the most widely recognized landmarks on the Illinois River. I think I got a pretty good picture of it. It looks like an elephant to me. What do you think?

Anyone who has read our blog for long, knows that Dianne and I love paddling the Illinois River. Spending the night in some of the Illinois River campgrounds has been a goal of ours for sometime now. Usually, we grab a cabin somewhere quietly hidden away from the summer Illinois River party scene. Elephant Rock Nature Park offered us something more exotic...a Yurt deep in the woods!

What's A Yurt

The Mongolian yurt is a round, usually portable, self-supporting structure designed for camping in comfort. Rather than relying on ropes or stakes to hold itself up, the walls, rafters, roof ring, and tensioning bands all work against each other to keep the structure standing. It is handy structure for camping because all of the interior space is useful living space with no space wasted on tent poles or low sides. The basic yurt collapses down into pieces no longer than 8 feet, so you can chuck it into the back of a truck.

The yurts at Elephant Rock have been highly customized to offer all of the comforts of home: refrigerator, stove, A/C, heat, toilet, shower, everything even the kitchen sink... literally. After our invigorating 14 mile paddle down the Illinois River (concluded with a dramatic backwards, toes-in-the-air, fall on my part while attempting to exit the kayak), we were grateful for a comfy night's sleep. Their yurt did not disappoint.

The Nature Park

The owners of Elephant Rock Nature Park do some volunteer wild animal rehab. We met two deer that they had taken in when they were too tiny to take care of themselves. Now the two deer, June and July, roam the yard at their house playing with guests and the family cat. I scratched a wild baby deer between the ears, it was quite an experience!

The park is a 120-acre hardwood and pine forest, right on the river, criss-crossed with well-marked nature trails and tent camping sites. This is over-night river lodging (no RV's) for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts that seems a million miles away from the pavement and parties, but in fact is a short drive to from the Tahlequah Wal-Mart. Best of all, Elephant Rock camp stays open all-year-long so you can enjoy the truly great outdoor seasons in Oklahoma: Spring and Fall.

The Illinois River

The water level was up just enough to make the journey from No Head Hollow to the Highway Bridge with only one portage. The one portage was a few steps on the gravel bar due to a downed tree in an area where the current wasn't very swift. With the water level this high, I'll bet you could make the whole trip from Chewey Bridge to the Highway Bridge in two days easily with little portaging. Better get on this water soon, before it is gone again!

Stop by sometime and meet Rod and Susan Foster at Elephant Rock Nature Park, whether you are looking for tent camping , yurts, canoes, kayaks or shuttling...they offer a uniquely, earth-friendly, family-friendly alternative to the familiar Illinois River camping scene.

Next time I get a free moment, I'll tell you about the side trip we made on the way the Port of Muskogee.


It's me, T.J. said...

I hope you have all of this stuff indexed so that I can find it again.

With all of my schoolwork, job,and everything, the kids and I have kind of missed out on all of this fun stuff.

I want to camp out in a 'whatchamacallit'.

It looks like fun!

Thanks for the great posts!


Rod Foster said...

Thanks to Thomas and Diane for the great review!!! Just going to let everyone know that the Bald Eagles have arrived and can be viewed from the bluffs along the Illinois River at Elephant Rock.
Last night Susan and I spotted 2 HUGE elk along Highway 10. It' my first live sighting of elk in this area and WOW! are they impressive!!!
Thomas and Diane were wonderful guests and they sure roast some great coffee beans...which I have blended, brewed and sipped...and now they're all gone :( Guess I'll find out how to get more on the website...Everyone who drinks coffee should try them out!!!
T.J. Just remember ...It can't hurt to YURT!

Anonymous said...


Donna Lee-LaBorde said...

Elephant Rock Review

1..Unprepared for our arrival even with frequent email messages and voicemail messages & conversations.
2. We would have been his only guests for two days & prepaid in advance. He was still unaware of our arrival .
3. The road to the location is steep, rocky, rutted, & washed out. 4 wheel drive would work best and again it is extremely steep (main drive). I was told afterwards that there are other ways in but never saw them & I bet they aren't much better.
4. We found other accommodations elsewhere and worked out an agreement with Elephant Rock for refund because he wasn't expecting us & I was asked to wait a few days and the money would be returned. I waited over 2 weeks from the original reservation and 1 week after it was promised and had to get a third party involved to get the money returned.
5. The website for Elephant Rock went down three days before we arrived and is still down almost a month later, which concerned me originally, along with the lack of a return calls to see what size sheets we needed to bring. I was told upon booking in May, three months before our arrival; that they were currently working on the website but I did not expect a professional business to have their site down for days. This is just an opinion and not an actual problem.

I have worked in the hotel industry for many years & have never received service or lack thereof like this before. This was a Birthday Vacation and the Illinois River is extremely beautiful but I would never recommend Elephant Rock Nature Park although Rod is very personable & I enjoyed speaking with him. There are other places along the river that are very well established and provide excellent customer service.