Get Out!

Five outdoor activities to try in Oklahoma this summer.

Get Out!

Oklahoma Soaring Association pilots fly a Schweizer SGS 2-33 two-person gilder on a training mission out of the Hinton airport.

Story Highlights

The Ouachita Mountains are one of the few east-west mountain ranges in the United States. Because of the strong southerly wind flow in the spring and summer, the mountains create excellent ridge flying opportunities for hang gliders, paragliders and even sailplanes.


Fishing in one of the many lakes and ponds in Oklahoma is an enjoyable, low-cost way to spend a hot summer afternoon.


For those looking for a good workout and a bit of backcountry experience, there are a variety of wilderness hiking and camping options in Oklahoma.


Many Oklahoma parks feature mountain biking trails the entire family can utilize. Some are located in or near urban areas, while others are more remote.


Are you interested in history and want to get outside for the summer? Exploring Oklahoma ghost towns may be a good option.

The wheat harvest combines have rolled across Oklahoma, the hot July sun is warming the air and summer vacation is in full swing for families. While a majority of Oklahomans head to the baseball park, golf course, or one of our many lakes for their summer recreation, a few folks look for a slightly different way to spend summer. Whether you prefer recreation in the air, on water or in the cool confines of your automobiles, these summer activities will provide you with unique family fun. 

1. Fly a Glider

Red-tailed hawk are not the only creatures to soar over the western Oklahoma landscape, searching for updrafts created by hot sun warming wheat fields and parking lots. Men and women in sleek fiberglass gliders launch into the summer air, hoping to rocket upward on the rising drafts for a view unparalleled from the ground. Flying a glider is a quiet sport, with only a whisper of wind rushing by the aerodynamically designed cockpit. Noisy motors are left behind. Pilots, like birds, use the natural convective lift created by the sun and the earth to fly high into the Oklahoma sky.

While flying a glider is most often a solo sport, it requires a team effort to launch and recover this delicate aircraft. Wing walkers hold the long spindly wings from dragging on the pavement during launch, and the launch craft—either a ground tow or airplane tow—must be manned. For this reason, most glider operations in Oklahoma are performed by glider clubs rather than by individual pilots. Enthusiasts gather during the warm summer afternoons and take turns launching and recovering gliders for each other. Joining these weekend flight operations is a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. You can bring the family, launch chairs, sunglasses and a big floppy hat, hang out with other glider enthusiasts, and learn how to launch and recover gliders. You might even get to ride in a glider and eventually learn to fly yourself.

There are two glider clubs in Oklahoma, plus a website that offers detailed information about gliding in the Ouachita Mountains in southeast Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Soaring Association

An hour west of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Soaring Association is based at the airport in Hinton, Okla. Club members fly most weekends and use both ground-based tow and airplane tow to get the sailplanes in the air. The club has two single-seat gliders and one two-seat glider for training. Numerous private gliders are owned by club members. New glider pilots are welcome and instruction is available to club members. For more information, visit www.oklahomasoaringassociation.com.

Tulsa Skyhawks Soaring Club

Based out of Mid-American Industrial Airport in Pryor, Okla., the club offers members the ability to learn gliding in the Tulsa area. Visit their Facebook page for more information or contact Randy Teel at 918-289-3310 or Rex Niver at 918-361-3132.

Talihina Soaring

Talihina Soaring is a website dedicated to teaching pilots how to safely fly a sailplane in and around the Talihina, Okla., area. Sailplane pilots launch from the Talihina airport to fly the abundant ridge lift created by wind blowing over the mountain ridges that make up the Talimena Drive. On a windy day visitors along the drive can see gleaming white sailplanes gracefully riding over the mountains. Interested pilots can join the Talihina Soaring mailing list to stay apprised of when pilots gather to fly. Visit http://talihina-soaring.com for more information.

Another way to get aloft and literally feel the wind in your face is to experience hang gliding (with a hard wing) and paragliding (with a parachute-shaped wing). Both are non-powered methods of flying free like a bird in the skies, with only the wind and thermals to keep you aloft. Hang gliding is popular in southeast Oklahoma because of the abundance of launch sites and the steady, regular winds flowing over the mountains that create reliable “ridge lift” used to stay in the air. Hang gliders have been launching from Buffalo Mountain, Talimena Drive and Heavener, Okla., for years and can often be seen while traveling the Talimena Drive.

“I have lived in Buffalo Valley all my life and would always drive by and see the hang gliders and paragliders flying off the mountains. Finally I decided last year to give it a try myself,” says Kiamichi Electric Cooperative member Dave Shaw of Talihina. 

Shaw joined a paragliding group called the Buffalo Mountain Flyers and began lessons. 

“I can toss my wing in the back of my truck, drive up the mountain and be in the air in 15 minutes. There’s nothing like the feeling of stepping off a mountain into the wind and soaring the ridge for hours before coming down. My sons, Deston and Derek, are also learning to fly. It’s a great family sport.”

The Ouachita Mountains are one of the few east-west mountain ranges in the United States. Because of the strong southerly wind flow in the spring and summer, the mountains create excellent ridge flying opportunities for hang gliders, paragliders and even sailplanes.

Buffalo Mountain - Talihina

Buffalo Mountain Flyers is a club dedicated to hang gliding and paragliding in southeast Oklahoma. Club dues provide insurance for flyers through the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. The club also maintains relationships with area landowners to provide launch and landing spots in southeast Oklahoma. It is an active club that welcomes newcomers and provides both basic and advanced training to flyers. Even if you have never flown, you can check their website, find out when they are flying and come join the fun of launching and recovering hang gliders. Bring a launch chair, bug spray, sunscreen and hiking boots and be prepared to watch the beauty of unpowered flight. Visit www.buffalomountainflyers.org for more information.

2. Fish From a Kayak

With the recent opening of Oklahoma City’s $45 million whitewater kayaking facility on the Oklahoma River, kayaking has become a hot topic in the Sooner state. Whitewater rafting is a great family adventure, but there are also a number of other opportunities for using a kayak to have some fun. Fishing in one of the many lakes and ponds in Oklahoma is an enjoyable, low-cost way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

Kayak fishing is one of the fastest-growing fishing water sports in the country. A kayak offers a low-cost, low-impact way of exploring Oklahoma’s many man-made lakes or ponds in search of game fish. Most Oklahoma lakes allow kayak fishing with the proper equipment. 

A small kayak for under $300 makes a great platform for fishing, and is easy to transport and carry to remote spots. Kayaks designed specifically for fishing feature rod holders, anchors and even live wells. You can toss a kayak in the back of your truck or on a roof rack and be fishing at a local pond within minutes. Many city neighborhood ponds allow local anglers to fish with a kayak since no motor is involved.

“I like that I can load up my kayak on Saturday morning, go fish at Guthrie Lake for an hour or so, and be home in time for breakfast,” Logan County resident Mark Hanks says. “A kayak allows me to reach fishing spots I can’t reach from the bank.”
If you prefer tournament fishing, there is even a kayak fishing tournament series in Oklahoma. You compete with other kayak anglers to catch fish in smaller bodies of water and see who has the largest catch. Of course, like most bass fishing tournaments, the fish are released back into the lake.

Gearing Up

Kayaks come in a wide range of sizes and configurations. When most people think of a kayak, they think of a sit-inside kayak like those used on the ocean or in whitewater kayaking. While those can be used and some people prefer sit-inside kayaks for fishing, sit-on-top kayaks are growing in popularity with fishermen. They allow fishermen to sit up comfortably on top of the kayak, providing a better view when fishing. Equipment such as depth finders, fishing rod holders and live wells can easily be added.

Kayaks can be purchased at most sporting good stores such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, Academy Sports and even Tractor Supply. Two specialty stores, OKC Kayak and Tulsa Kayak, offer customized kayaks designed with all the amenities a fisherman could want, including fish finders, trolling motors and depth finders. They even allow you to test out a kayak before purchasing it. Visit OKC Kayak/Tulsa Kayak at www.oklahomakayak.com and Oklahoma Kayak Anglers at www.oklahomakayakanglers.com for more information.

3. Get off the Beaten Path

For those looking for a good workout and a bit of backcountry experience, there are a variety of wilderness hiking and camping options in Oklahoma. One of the premier locations is in the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area of the Wichita Mountains. This federally controlled hiking area is accessible for day hikes, and overnight camping is available with a prior reservation. Hikers can expect to see buffalo, elk, turkey and a host of other wildlife in the area. The rocky ground is left much the way it was before statehood and one can imagine a Comanche warrior on a painted horse stopping for water in the 1870s.

“There are great trails all across Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member and Norman, Okla., resident Susan Dragoo says. “My favorite is the Ouachita Mountain Trail that starts in Talihina and goes all the way through Arkansas. Nature Conservancy also offers great day hikes into their land. The Wichita Mountains is a popular favorite hiking and camping spot. The Backwoods store in Norman even has a hiking club that organizes great hikes, and the Friends of the Wichitas regularly offer organized hikes that are easy enough for anyone to join.”


Gearing Up

While hiking only requires a pair of shoes and the will to hike, quality hiking and camping gear makes the experience much more enjoyable. Hiking and camping gear can be purchased at most outdoor retailers. More specialized gear can be found at retailers such as Backwoods, Sun and Ski Sports, Green Beetle Gear and Summit Sports.

Places to Hike

  • Wichita Mountains
  • Robbers Cave State Park
  • Greenleaf State Park
  • Ouachita National Recreation Trail
  • McGee Creek State Park Nature Conservancy 

4. Bike Through the Back Country

Oklahoma has an active mountain biking community. The Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship is a statewide organization that builds and maintains trails throughout Oklahoma. They work with local landowners and land managers to advocate for mountain biking, to develop trail systems and to build new places to ride.

Many Oklahoma parks feature mountain biking trails the entire family can utilize. Some are located in or near urban areas, while others are more remote. Races are held periodically throughout the year for those interested in competition. Local mountain biking clubs organize family rides, campouts and offer advice and training on how to safely ride bicycles off-road.

There are a number of mountain bike trails situated in Oklahoma’s state parks. These are usually managed by the local ranger and available for use by park visitors. The following parks offer an organized trail system:

  • Roman Nose State Park - Located just north of Watonga, Okla., Roman Nose features a vast trail system running through the mountains and valleys in and around the park. The terrain is similar to that found in much of the western United States with rocks, cactus, juniper and multiple elevation changes.
  • Lake Murray State Park - This popular trail system south of Ardmore, Okla., features sandy terrain with lush vegetation. With a new lodge under construction, this is a great family destination with a range of activities for young families.
  • Keystone State Park - Once again sand dominates the trails at Keystone. Nice camping facilities are available nearby and the lake is midway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
  • Clayton Lake State Park - While there is no officially maintained and marked mountain bike trail system at Clayton Lake State Park, the riding opportunities in and around the park are unparalleled. Mountain bikers can easily ride multi-day mountain biking trips based out of the park. The well known K-Trail across the Kiamichi Mountains begins just a couple of miles from the park.

In addition to the numerous trails at Oklahoma State Parks, a number of towns and cities have developed extensive off-road mountain biking trails for riders. There are several trail systems in and around Oklahoma City and Tulsa, plus trail systems near Lawton and Ponca City.

  • Arcadia Lake - This fairly new trail system offers several miles of excellent trails on the east edge of Edmond.
  • Bluff Creek - One of the most popular trails in Oklahoma City, this trail system just north of Lake Hefner dam offers tight, technical trails. It is a busy trail on weekends.
  • Turkey Mountain - Turkey Mountain in Tulsa is one of the oldest mountain biking trail systems in Oklahoma. It features rough, rocky terrain with a lot of elevation change and a scenic view of the Arkansas River.
  • Medicine Park - There are several excellent trails around the small tourist town of Medicine Park, nestled near the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma. Base Camp Adventure Outfitters in Medicine Park offers trail maps and bicycle rentals.

5. Explore a Ghost Town

Are you interested in history and want to get outside for the summer? Exploring Oklahoma ghost towns may be a good option. There are hundreds of old towns that no longer exist in Oklahoma. Some are nothing more than a spot on a map, while at other towns you can see remnants of old buildings, sidewalks and even a few businesses or houses still in use.

Oklahoma wasn’t fully settled until the late 1800s. Many towns sprang out of the prairies to service nearby farmers and ranchers. As roads and transportation improved, some of these smaller towns disappeared, yet their remains can sometimes still be found.

The best reference to find these last vestiges of rural towns is “Ghost Towns of Oklahoma” written by John Morris and published by the University of Oklahoma Press. It provides detailed history on ghost towns all across Oklahoma, along with pictures and location information. He describes how they were established, the activities surrounding the town, and why the towns faded away. This excellent historical record provides readers with interesting information about each town and how to find remnants of the town today. Although written in 1978, most of the information is accurate today. Keep a copy in your car and the next time you run across an Oklahoma ghost town, read the book to learn more of the history of the town.

The book was written before GPS technology was available, so the author used township and range coordinates. This can spot the location within one square mile. Writer James Pratt translated the township and range coordinates from Ghost Towns of Oklahoma into GPS waypoints in Google Maps. Visit this site to view a map of the ghost towns, and download a .KML file for use in a variety of GPS units to navigate to each town: https://goo.gl/BUKZki  OKL Article End

James Pratt