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Good day hikes in central Oklahoma

A late winter day in Oklahoma often is a great time to go hiking. There are no bugs or snakes to contend with and if a person dresses properly and plans for the weather, there are plenty of days when the temperature is very comfortable for a hike.

There are a number of trails near Oklahoma City that can provide an enjoyable outdoor experience. Four of the best are the trails at Lake McMurtry, Lake Thunderbird, Sportsman Lake, and Roman Nose State Park. All are within a short drive from Oklahoma City and are good day hiking destinations.

Lake McMurtry

Just west of Stillwater, the trail system at Lake McMurtry offers an easily accessible venue for hiking, trail running, and off-road biking. Although traditionally thought of as off-road biking trails, the Lake McMurtry trails are also popular with hikers and runners.

The trails (divided into four loops) are on land owned by the City of Stillwater and are maintained by volunteers from the Red Dirt Peddlers, the local bicycle club. The club keeps them in good condition and well-marked, including distance markers.

Two trails are on the west side of the lake: the Orange Trail (about 7.5 miles) in the northwest and the Blue Trail (about 7.5 miles) in the southwest. Two more trails are found on the east side of the lake: the Yellow Trail (6.2 miles) in the northeast and the Red Trail (6.75 miles) in the southeast.

A daily fee of $6 is charged for hiking or off-road biking, and helmets are required for bikers. The fee can be paid at the ranger station on the west side of the lake or by depositing it into a drop box at the trailheads on the east. The trails on the west are reached off of Airport Road and the trails on the east off of Burris Road.

The two trails on the east side of the lake offer more hilly terrain but all of the trails make for a good day hike of moderate difficulty.

Clear Bay Trails at Lake Thunderbird

The trailhead is located just off of SH 9, 12 miles east of I-35 near the entrance to the Clear Bay Recreation area on Lake Thunderbird.

The Clear Bay Trail System was developed by the Oklahoma Parks and Recreation Department and the Bicycle League of Norman (BLN), which helps maintain the trails. The BLN has done a good job of keeping the trails in good shape for walking or biking. Most of the trail is single-track, with more than 900 feet of elevation in ascents and descents.

A shelter just north of the Nature Center is easily seen from the road and identifies the trailhead. On the wall of the shelter is a color-coded map, which can also be found at several locations throughout the trail system. To design a hike, consult the map at the trailhead and be aware of the color codes.

The trail is broken down into five loops: the Green Loop (1.5 miles), Yellow Loop (1 mile), Red Loop (2 miles), Blue Loop (2 miles), and Gold Loop (4 miles). The Gold Loop has been extended by adding a number of other trails, bringing the length of the entire trail system to about 15 miles.

The trails are easy to follow on the ground but are not marked with signage and can be confusing. This is particularly true of the Gold Loop which has many side trails and bike detours. A good hike, one that can be navigated fairly easily, utilizes the Green, Yellow, Red and, Blue Loops.

Sportsman Lake

Sportsman Lake is located about seven miles southeast of Seminole. Take SH 9 about four miles east from Seminole and then turn south at a sign for Sportsman Lake. After about two miles, turn back to the east on a road that leads to the lake.

The trailhead is at Cove 1 and a combination of trails number 4 and 5 will take the hiker on a nice 5-mile loop. Maps are available at the trailhead as well as restrooms and paved parking.

The trails are also used as equestrian trails so sometimes they will be torn up by horse traffic, especially after a rain. However, the trails are typically not heavily used, particularly in the winter, and make for a good hike through hilly, wooded country.

Roman Nose State Park

The hiking and biking trail at Roman Nose State Park provides a uniquely western Oklahoma experience. Much of the trail wanders along and through mesas and canyons, marked by rocky outcroppings and bordered by cactus plants, giving it an almost desert feel.

Although the trail can be a bit confusing, hikers are in no danger of getting lost. If you are a novice hiker and want to proceed beyond a walk in the park, this is a good trail to break in your hiking legs. It has a few short steep climbs and,conveys the feeling of being out in the country.

The park is just north of Watonga on SH 8. The trail starts just beyond an iron gate north of the General Store at the end of a paved road. It follows an old road to the dam across the north end of Lake Watonga.

After walking across the dam and making a short climb to the top of a mesa, hikers will come to a Y in the trail. Follow the left fork as it curves around the east side of the mesa. The trail then turns north overlooking the lake and the park, providing a panoramic view of the entire area.

From here, take the well-defined trail leading to the south. This trail runs down the west side of the mesa to the lakeshore trail. Turn left (south) along the lakeshore trail. At about two miles from the trailhead hikers will cross a wooden bridge over a creek and soon see another bridge on the right.

Stay to the left and follow the trail in a zigzagging loop through a canyon that brings you back to the same spot. From here, stay to the left along the shore of the lake until you return to the dam and back to the trailhead for a hike of about 6.5 miles.

A hiker who picks any of these trails will not be disappointed.

Kent Frates of Oklahoma City is the co-author of the book "

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›