We were super excited about our trip to Cedar Lake, I had read all of the reviews and this was our last trip of the year before the kids had to go back to school. We stayed 6 days and five nights. Unfortunately maybe we had our expectations set a little too high.
Know before you go: Reservations must be made 10 days prior to your stay, several sites are 1st come 1st serve so if you can't get reservations you might be in luck. You can make reservations on line or by calling the 1-800 number. Unfortunately you will get a help desk that services all national parks. While the operator was friendly, she really didn't have any information that wasn't on the web site and didn't have any 1st hand knowledge of the park. Oklahoma Highway 2 is the only way to get to the camp, it is a narrow 2 lane highway with a speed limit of 65 MPH. The HWY has very steep inclines and declines usually followed by 90 degree turns. Make sure your truck's engine and transmission are in good working order, I also recommend that you get your truck and trailer breaks serviced prior to getting on this road. Towns are pretty spaced out and your gas mileage will suffer in the hills so make sure you top off your tank when you can.
Camp site: The sign in the bathroom says it all: "We are short staffed so we can not keep the facilities as clean as normal, please pick up after yourself". The camp sites are extremely small, if you are planning on pitching a tent you will need to get a double site. If you have a large trailer stay on Loop E, the other loops are small and the turns are very tight. Each site had a picnic table, grill, fire ring, two lantern poles, two 12x12 corrals, and poles for a tether line. Unfortunately at some of the sites the grills and fire rings were in need of repair. The grass in the campsites was knee high, which meant ticks and chiggers were an issue at the site. The bathrooms have not been maintained and were never cleaned while we were there and frankly looked like they haven't been cleaned for a while. Be careful of the spiders in the bathroom, several black widows are nesting in them. Manure doesn't have to be bagged but you must drop it at the front of the campsite by the road. There was manure there when we arrived and no one picked it up while we there so flies were a big issue also.
Trails: As you have read in the reviews the trails are rocky, not as bad as Robber's Cave but shoes are required, I would recommend that you have boots as a back up. Our group had several horses freshly shoed that lost shoes during the week. Even the horses that were shoed had stone bruises after two days of riding.Seasoned trail horses are required and make sure they are in shape. You will be going up and down several steep hills on every trail that you ride.
Beware the maps you get on line or from the park rangers as they are useless. Our first day we wanted to do an easy ride to get the horses stretched out for a long ride the next day. We selected a simple four mile trail, the four miles actually turned out to be 12 miles due to the map inaccuracy. Do yourself a favor and drive down to the ranger station on Hwy 59 about 9 miles from the camp and purchase one of Hank's Hankies. It has a more accurate map with distances and rates the trails based on terrain. This was very helpful and really saved our trip. The trails are marked but in some areas you will have to hunt for the next maker due to fires and trees falling over. It rained while we there so the creek crossings were flooding but we experienced no issues with crossings. Several of the trails had water standing in them but for the most part they drained effectively or had gravel bottoms. I do not recommend getting off the trails these areas, the area is littered with several holes from trees falling over and you can easily miss them with the dense vegatation.
Other activities: Cedar "Lake", really just a large pond, does have a swimming area but has a muddy bottom and lots of vegetation growing in it. Their is a fishing peer, but we were advised by the locals that the mercury levels in the lake were high and not to eat the fish. There is a small playground for the kids at the non-equistrian horse camping sites. Heavner is roughly 12 miles away but there isn't a lot to do in town.
Final Recommendation: If you don't mind a little roughing it, are a very experienced rider and want to challenge your skills, this is a good place to go. There are some terrific views from the mountains along the trails. However if you want to have other activities beside horseback riding and don't want to put your horse through some pretty rough terrain I would recommend that you travel north to Robber's Cave. I would have loved to have been to this park when the facilities were first opened, unfortunately budget cuts or poor management have put this site on the decline. We may return to this site next year but it is not in our top five places to visit. It is very unfortunate because this is a really great area and little work would make this horse lovers dream riding spot.