Oklahoma's best hiking trails: New book singles out Elk Mountain, but Oklahoma has several great trails
Oklahoma has many excellent hiking trails and one is included in the new book, “America’s Best Day Hikes,” by Derek Dellinger.
The book focuses on 50 of the country’s most scenic hiking destinations that can be traversed in a day. Among the author’s bucket list of spectacular single-day hikes across the country is Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma.
The Elk Mountain trail offers hikers panoramic views of the rugged Charon's Garden Wilderness in the refuge. The 2.3-mile hike takes one to two hours to travel and is not very demanding, although hikers should prepare for a rough trail and the area is a popular destination for rock climbers.
The trail begins in the picnic area and crosses Headquarters Creek and Sunset Pool. Parking is available at the Sunset Pool lot and the trail is marked by a sign near the footbridge a short distance northeast of the dam at Sunset Pool.
It proceeds like stair steps up the northeast side of Elk Mountain and cuts through scrub oak and prickly pear cacti while offering scenic vistas along the way.
The trail becomes steeper as it winds around a larger rocky outcrop on the southeast corner of Elk Mountain.
“The view from the top of Elk Mountain is very good,” said Kent Frates of Oklahoma City, who co-authored the book "Oklahoma Hiking Trails" with Larry Floyd in 2010. “There used to be a lone buffalo that hung out on the top of Elk Mountain. No one could figure out how he got up there.”
While Frates included the Elk Mountain trail in his book of Oklahoma’s best hiking trails, the Oklahoma City attorney prefers other much longer hiking trails in Oklahoma such as Ouachita National Recreation Trail in southeastern Oklahoma and Black Mesa in the far northwestern corner of the state.
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 part of the Ouachita Trail in Oklahoma stretches from the westernmost trailhead in Talimena State Park to the Arkansas state line. It is 46.3 miles of excellent hiking, up and down mountains, across rivers, and through pine and oak forests.
In the other corner of the state in northwest Oklahoma, the Black Mesa Summit rewards adventurous hikers with stunning Western vistas. The buttes, mesas and bristling cholla cacti provide scenery reminiscent of remote areas of the rugged West.
A part of Black Mesa Nature Preserve, the state's highest point, lies nearly six hours northwest of Oklahoma City. The 8.5-mile trail that winds to Black Mesa Summit begins around 4,200 feet, so hikers contend with only 800 feet of altitude gain along the more than four-mile trail to the top.
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 hike rates at only moderately strenuous.
The developed trailhead is situated about five miles north-northeast of the nearly deserted town of Kenton.
Another hiking trail that Frates recommends on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is in the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area and its trailhead is located near the Elk Mountain trailhead.
“For primitive hiking adventure and ruggedly beautiful vistas, the Charon Gardens Wilderness Area ranks high,” Frates and Floyd wrote in their book. “These 5,000 acres are tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and rarely receive visitors.
“Hikers should be prepared for rough trails, boulder hopping, think underbrush in summer and eye-popping photo opportunities about every half-mile.”
The Charon’s Garden Mountain Trail is almost six miles long. These four hiking trails should be on a bucket list of every Oklahoman looking to explore the Sooner State.