Wichita Wildlife Refuge
Randy Hale has been employed at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge as an environmental education specialist for 20 years, but he says he will never get tired of the hikes the refuge has to offer.
“My boss makes me go hike. I go every day, and I always enjoy it. I’d have to say that the Narrows is the prettiest hike though, and I’ve had more and more people tell me that is their favorite,” he says.
The distance can be as long or as short as you want, Hale says; the Narrows runs about two miles round-trip, but hikers can also go farther south and double the length. Another benefit of this trail is that it is usually not as crowded as some of the better-known trails at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge.
“On a nice three-day weekend, it can be hard to find parking close to the trailhead, but once you’re out there, it does not feel overrun like some of the other trails. But for me anyway, the best thing about hiking is meeting people along the way. I value solitude, but I also think others enhance the experience,” Hale says.
The trail follows a creek for most of the hike and later crosses through trees to reach a plateau. At this point, some people choose to turn back, Hale says, but hikers can continue on to switchbacks at the bottom of the creek and then gain elevation to reach an area that is popular with rock climbers.
“At the bottom of the creek, the trail is changing all the time, and it’s good even when wet; it doesn’t get too muddy. When it’s hot outside, there is also plenty of shade along the way. And it’s just so pretty,” Hale says.
He recommends stopping at the visitors center for a map and directions to the Narrows.
Each of Turkey Mountain’s trails – color-coded as Red, Blue and Yellow – provide different benefits, but Tonja Carrigg with the River Parks Authority says her favorite is the Yellow Trail.
“I like the Yellow Trail because of the more challenging terrain, the bluffs and the views of the river and Tulsa skyline,” Carrigg says.
The Red Trail is short and provides a quick workout, Carrigg says, while the Blue includes elevations and meanders near a small pond, but the Yellow Trail, at nearly four-and-a-half miles, includes a little bit of everything.
“The area can be described as a cross timber area that represents the transition between the Great Plains and the Ozark Plateau. The terrain is generally rocky but contains a lot of clay soils as well,” Carrigg says. “Since it adjoins the Arkansas River, there are many bluffs and rock faces as well.”
The forest includes oak, hickory, ash and elm trees with an understory of redbud, dogwood, hawthorn and more. Wildlife includes deer, foxes, bald eagles, coyotes and many migratory birds. The land now consists of more than 300 acres, and Carrigg says Tulsa residents can be thanked for part of that.
“The original tract of land was acquired in 1978 and has grown in size since. Turkey Mountain’s success has largely been the result of community donors who have not only helped acquire property, but have also developed the first-class facilities located at the trail head,” Carrigg says.
Along the Yellow Trail, hikers might be able to spot relics of oil field equipment from the 1920s. There are also rumors of Viking petroglyphs on one of the bluffs facing the river.
Rough Canyon Trail
Robbers Cave State Park
Animal spotting on the Rough Canyon Trail can take place when you least expect it – just ask Robbers Cave State Park Naturalist Ted Daniels.
“You go along a creek for about a quarter-mile, and, oh, wow, a bald eagle just flew by! There he goes!” Daniels says of the trail.
Rough Canyon Trail is about two miles long and makes a full loop back to the parking lot, following a creek for about a quarter-mile.
“I really like this trail because along the way there are a lot of little pools, and you can sit down, relax and take your shoes off when the weather is nice. There are sandstone cliffs and some cool rock formations, too,” Daniels says.
Robbers Cave State Park is known for its interesting history, as well as its trails. Outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr once hid out in this area, located in eastern Oklahoma.
“It used to be a stopping point for thieves. Because it was Choctaw Indian territory, their leaders couldn’t arrest non-tribe members, and the U.S. federal marshals nearby already had their hands full. It was a stopover point between California and Texas for a lot of these people,” Daniels says.
The famous cave itself is often crowded during busier times, Daniels says, but during May and June and the fall, hikers might run into other people on the Rough Canyon Trail only on occasion.
Information for a self-guided tour of the Rough Canyon Trail is available at the visitors center. Using GPS locations, the tour points out interesting spots along the way.
“It’s to let people stop and think and enjoy where they are, while they’re here,” Daniels said.
Hikers can also access longer trails from the Rough Canyon path. Robbers Cave State Park is located in the Sans Bois Mountains near Wilburton in southeastern Oklahoma.
Bluff Creek Park
It’s not always necessary to hop in the car and drive to the middle of nowhere to experience a good hike in Oklahoma. Urban hiking can occur far from the pristine scenery usually associated with hiking.
Luckily for Oklahoman City metropolitan area residents, Bluff Creek Park provides a serene landscape that traditional hikers usually expect, as well as paved trails and easy access for urban hikers to enjoy.
Located off West Hefner Road in Oklahoma City, Bluff Creek Park offers two miles of paved trail and three miles of single-track dirt trail through a wooded area.
“Bluff Creek Park is one of Oklahoma City’s hidden secrets,” says Oklahoma City Parks & Recreation Public Information and Marketing Manager Jennifer Lindsey-McClintock. “It’s popular with walkers, runners and bikers.”
Lindsey-McClintok also says there is a handicapped-accessible trail project in the works at Martin Nature Park.
“The project is still in its infancy, but when completed, it will really help the Parks & Recreation Department open new doors to nature for individuals who have been otherwise excluded due to physical limitations,” Lindsey-McClintok says.