Hit the trails this summer for hiking adventures across the state
The Wichita Moutains National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma offers many hiking opportunities. Photos by Laura Araujo
From the western high plains of the Panhandle to the cypress swamps in the southeast, Oklahoma offers thousands of miles of backcountry trails with countless discoveries to be made along the way.
“Hiking is a great way to experience the natural diversity of our state,” Tom Creider, programs manager for Oklahoma State Parks says. “There are certainly other ways—on the back of a horse or on a mountain bike—but to me, the pace of hiking allows you to go a little slower and heighten the experience of enjoying where you’re walking.”
According to Creider, Oklahoma is one of the most ecologically diverse states, with 12 different ecoregions—areas that are similar in makeup based on geology and plant and animal communities. Only the coastline states of Alaska, California and Texas trump Oklahoma when it comes to ecosystem diversity. Oklahoma’s varied terrain offers opportunities for hikers of all skill levels, from the novice and families with young children to the experienced backpacker.
Susan Dragoo, a Norman-based travel writer and photographer, has hiked extensively in Oklahoma over the past 15 years. The Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member says exploring the state’s trails has given her a greater appreciation for her home.
“Oklahoma has a reputation for being a flat place. But it’s not. It’s more than what you can see from the highway,” she says. “You can’t drive to many of these places in a vehicle; you can’t see them unless you’re out walking on a trail.”
Two of her favorite hiking spots are the Charon’s Garden Wilderness in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail in southeast Oklahoma. She also enjoys the trail system at Lake Thunderbird State Park, an urban escape in her own back yard.
“Get off trail and wander. You can find so many boulders, waterfalls and pools you didn’t know were there,” she says.
This summer, discover something new. Try one of these trails—or one of the hundreds of others across the state. To learn more about Oklahoma’s many hiking opportunities, visit www.travelok.com. Happy hiking!
1. Oklahoma High Point Black Mesa Trail
Distance: 8.5 miles
In the far northwestern corner of the Oklahoma Panhandle, this trail winds through the Black Mesa Nature Preserve to the highest point in state, nearly 5,000 feet above sea level. The ascent is gradual in most places, except for a steep stretch between miles 2 and 3. The trail offers picturesque mesa views, but with little shade, it’s a journey best made in cooler months.
2. New Horizon Trail at Quartz Mountain State Park
Distance: .5 mile
This steep trail leads hikers up the rocky face of Quartz Mountain. The quarter mile climb is strenuous but rewarded with scenic views of Lake Altus from the peak. Nearby trails offer additional hiking opportunities in the state park.
3. Charon’s Garden Trail
Distance: 5.8 miles
Hiking opportunities abound in the Wichita Mountains, and the Charon’s Garden Trail is a trek worth the trip to southwest Oklahoma. Nearly 6 miles long, this trail connects with two other trails for hikers wanting to add extra distance. Expect stunning views of spring-blooming wildflowers, unique rock formations, waterfalls and lots of boulders along the way.
4. Bromide Hill Trail in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area
Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Located in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, this well-maintained gravel path makes for a family- and pet-friendly excursion. Along with scenic views of the valley, hikers might catch a glimpse of a bison herd. The trail connects to the Bison Pasture Trail for a different return path.
5. Lakeview Lodge Trail at Beavers Bend State Park
Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: easy to moderate
This family- and dog-friendly trail offers beautiful views of Broken Bow Lake. Three wooded loops of varying difficulties allow hikers to customize their experience to their needs.
6. Mountain Trail to Lake Carlton and Lake Wayne Wallace at Robbers Cave State Park
Distance: 7 miles
This well-marked trail offers diverse terrain with steep ascents, cliffs, wooded areas, creek crossings, and lake views along the route. Several shorter trails are available in the state park including the 1-mile Robber’s Cave Trail that leads to caves where outlaws may have once hid. Beware of ticks.
7. Dripping Springs Trail at Natural Falls State Park
Distance: 1 mile
This moderately trafficked, partially paved path leads hikers on a short journey along a creek to view a 77-foot-tall waterfall. Visit after a rain for the best waterfall display. Other trails in the park offer additional hiking opportunities. An entry fee may apply.
8. South Rim and Boundary Loop Trail at the McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area
Distance: 11.5 miles
Located at the southwest edge of the Ouachita Mountains, the McGee Creek Scenic Recreation Area maintains a system of longer-distance trails for hikers wanting a challenge. The peaceful, forested South Rim and Boundary Loop Trail is well-marked and offers moderate elevation change.
9. Ouachita National Recreation Trail
Distance: 210 miles
For the advanced hiker looking for a true backcountry experience, southeast Oklahoma’s Ouachita Trail starts near Talihina and continues into Arkansas, ending northwest of Little Rock. The Oklahoma portion of the trail spans more than 40 miles. The rugged, rocky path is accented with green forests and clear streams—a backpacker’s dream.
10. Keystone Ancient Forest Trail
Distance: 4.2 miles
Hike among 300-year-old post oaks and 500-year-old cedars in this nature preserve, just west of Tulsa. Helpful guides are on-site to answer questions and, if available, may accompany hikers on the trail that offers views of Lake Keystone. Trails are open limited days and hours; call before visiting.
11. Lake Thunderbird State Park Trail System
Distance: 26 miles
Originally built for mountain bikers, the trails at Lake Thunderbird State Park are a great place for hikers to escape from the Oklahoma City metro. Choose from various loops of different distances and difficulty levels, with good opportunity for elevation change. This well-maintained system of trails offers views of the lake and is best enjoyed in cooler months when ticks are not out.