August is not the time to think hiking in oklahomabut fall with its cooler temperatures and colorful foliage is within sight.
With that in mind, why not plan a hike this fall? Oklahoma has many state parks with easy to difficult rated hiking trails. But where to go? Where are the best hiking trails in the state?
I posed this question to my Twitter followers last week and received several destination suggestions. Based on this informal poll and some of my own sources, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best hikes in the state. Now we only have to fall to arrive.
The Ouachita Trail
This trail is for serious backpackers. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail stretches 222 miles from Talimena State Park near Talihina to Pinnacle Mountain State Park just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas.
The portion of the Ouachita Trail in Oklahoma runs from the westernmost trailhead in Talimena State Park to the Arkansas state line. It’s 46.3 miles of excellent hiking, through mountains, across rivers and through pine and oak forests.
The entire Oklahoma section of the trail is located in the Ouachita National Forest. It crosses the slopes and, along the crest of the Ouachita Mountains, some of the highest peaks in the United States between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians.
The trail is open for hiking year-round, but is best done in late fall when the weather is generally moderate and bugs are less of a bother.
The Oklahoma section of the Ouachita Trail, which for much of its way parallels Talimena Drive, has a number of access points. Thus, the trail can be hiked or broken down into day hikes of varying lengths.
If you decide to hike the entire trail, there are a number of primitive campgrounds along the way. There are a few water sources, but it depends on the section of trail involved and you should be careful to identify where to get water before you start.
Two of the best day hikes are the Talimena State Park Trail at Deadman Gap and the Winding Stair Campground Trail at US Highway 259. Both of these trails have trailheads and parking areas. easy to locate at both ends.
The hike from Winding Stair Campground to US Highway 259 is nearly seven miles and runs along the side of Rough Mountain. This section of the trail is one of the most secluded and quiet spots on the entire Ouachita Trail.
On this hike, you will ascend to the highest point of the Ouachita Trail, 2,451 feet above sea level. There are also good campsites along this trail.
The best time to catch fall colors is usually late October and early November, but this varies each year depending on weather conditions.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
One of the state’s most popular hiking destinations is the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma, and one of the refuge’s most popular trails is the Elk Mountain Trail.
Elk Mountain is one of the highest granite peaks in the refuge. Its summit is 2,270 feet. Considered a moderately difficult route, it takes an average of just over an hour to complete this 2.3 mile trail. At the top there are great views of the mountains and the Charon Garden Wilderness.
The Elk Mountain trailhead begins at the Sunset Picnic Area off SH 49. The trail winds up to the top with plenty of lookouts along the trail for scenic views. The area is also a popular place for rock climbing.
From the top of Elk Mountain, you can return either by descending back to the trailhead or by taking the road through the Valley of the Boulders.
Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area and Trailhead is near the Elk Mountain Trailhead and offers vistas of rugged beauty. It is six miles long.
Kite Trail, part of the Dog Run Hollow trail system in the refuge, offers the shortest route to the Forty Foot Hole and is accessible from the Lost Lake picnic area.
Inspiration Point Trail at Roman Nose State Park
Rated moderate, the 3-mile trail takes its name from the stunning views of the canyon with its unique gypsum outcrops. The trail passes by Lake Boecher and Lake Watonga.
There are steep inclines and declines along the way and is part of a larger trail system at Roman Nose State Park. The trailhead is near the Watonga Lake parking lot.
Black Mesa State Park
Hike to Oklahoma’s highest point (1,200 meters) on the High Point or Summit Trail in the Black Mesa Nature Preserve near the state park.
Offering great views to the west, the trail begins at around 4,200 feet so hikers will only face 800 feet of elevation gain along the more than four-mile hike to the summit.
Most of the climbing is along a challenging one-mile ascent up the side of the mesa. The well marked trail provides good footing and the overall hiking rate is only moderately strenuous. The developed trailhead is located about five miles north-northeast of Kenton.
While in Black Mesa, see the famous dinosaur tracks that have been preserved in a sandstone stratum beside Carrizo Creek near the nature preserve. This dinosaur track was originally discovered in the 1980s.
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Robbers Cave State Park
The Rough Canyon Trail is one of the most popular trails in Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton. This is a 2.9 mile scenic loop that starts about 100 feet from the Robbers Cave Nature Trail.
Highlights of the Rocky Trail include the Rough Canyon (a creek valley) and Lost Lake areas. This is a moderately difficult trail with about 500 feet of cumulative elevation gain.
McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area
Located at the northeast corner of McGee Creek State Park in Atoka, the McGee Creek Scenic Recreation Area trail system is considered a hidden gem with over 25 miles of hiking trails.
To hike, mountain bike, or horseback ride this trail system, you must register for a permit with the Natural Scenic Recreation Area office. Each permit is free and tracks the number of trail users.
There is an 11.2 mile loop that takes just over four hours and a shorter 1.4 mile trail.
Great Plains State Park
The Granite Hills Trail System, located in Great Plains State Park near Mountain Park at the southeast end of Tom Steed Reservoir, is a series of challenging trails for hiking and mountain biking. Comprised of three trails that wind through the rugged terrain of the granite hills, these trails are easily accessible from multiple points.
Considered intermediate to expert level, the Granite Hills trail system offers views of the reservoir and surrounding landscape. The Orange Trail is a 3.9 mile trail that explores the heart of Great Plains State Park.
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Beavers Bend State Park
The Friends Trail Loop is the newest trail in Beavers Bend State Park and has become the most popular. A 1.5 mile loop trail near Broken Bow, this is a moderately difficult route with a steep climb that averages about 45 minutes to complete.
The trail offers stunning views along a river with rock formations, waterfalls, and tons of trees. In the fall this is a great hike to see the foliage.
To learn more about hiking trails in the state, download the Oklahoma State Parks app.