Hit the Trail - Beginner-Level Trails
No matter your skill level, Nature & Outdoors Expert John Gifford says there is an Oklahoma hiking trail for you.
|Photo: National Park Service|
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I find hiking to be the perfect outdoor pursuit. If I wake up feeling sluggish, then it can be a leisurely activity, enjoyed in conjunction with bird-watching, photography or even fishing. Or, on those days when I feel like running, but don’t want to deal with the aches and pains afterwards, I can take my frustrations out on the hiking trail, turning a simple walk into a grueling grind for distance, a quick pace or both.
Some of my most arduous hikes were those I undertook while serving in the military. Fortunately, hiking is a lot more enjoyable as a civilian. It is something that can be pursued year ’round and in most any location, especially if you determine your own route and pace. And maybe best of all, hiking takes us to some of the most scenic places on the planet.
This article is the first of a three-part series that will explore hiking in Oklahoma. This installment takes a look at three trails appropriate for beginners. Included here are trails in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Sulphur, though there are beginner-level trails all across the state. The main thing is to get outdoors and explore these trails yourself.
Martin Park Nature Center, Oklahoma City
Martin Park Nature Center is a 140-acre wildlife sanctuary and educational facility in northwest Oklahoma City. The park is comprised of creek-bottom woodlands and open fields with scattered trees. It’s a great place for bird and wildlife viewing, and the nature center offers a variety of educational programs and activities, including guided nature hikes.
There are four hiking trails at Martin Nature Park, and each of these runs just under one mile in length. There is a trail through the open prairie landscape, one running half its length through the open fields and the other half through wooded terrain, and two trails that meander entirely through the woods.
These trails are primarily gravel-lined with stair steps in a few areas, though there is little in the way of elevation change. This makes Martin Nature Park a great place for even casual hikers and walkers who just want to get outside and enjoy the scenery.
The park offers a guided hike led by a park naturalist each Sunday at 2 p.m., which introduces visitors to the area’s plant and animal life.
Oxley Nature Center, Tulsa
Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa is the place to go when you want diversity in your hike. Located inside Mohawk Park, about one mile north of the Tulsa Zoo, Oxley has nearly 11 miles of trails traversing a variety of habitats. The Prairie Trail, for example, runs through an open field, skirting a pond, while the Blackbird Marsh Trail features an elevated boardwalk, which allows you to observe aquatic plants, birds and other marsh wildlife.
Other trails include the Blue Heron Trail, complete with bird blinds, which are walls that allow you to approach closely and observe the birds without disturbing them; the Red Fox Trail, designed for a sensory-awareness experience; and an undeveloped path through the woods known as the Green Dragon Trail. Each of these trails is roughly a half-mile in length over fairly flat terrain. The North Woods Loop and the Beaver Lodge Trail, which features nature’s own engineer, the beaver, are each about a mile in length. And because the trails at Oxley are connected, you can customize your hike to your specific wishes.
“One of the special things about Oxley is that we have floodplain forest,” says Donna Horton, senior staff naturalist at Oxley. “Floodplain forests are hard to find in Oklahoma because we’ve dammed our rivers, so most of them are under water. But we have them here growing along Bird Creek. You can see them most anywhere in the park, but the North Woods Loop trail has some of the best examples of floodplain forest.”
Oxley Nature Center offers a guided Saturday Morning Bird Walk on the first Saturday of each month. Other Oxley programs include the Junior Naturalists, Kids’ Saturday and the Full Moon Walk, in which participants explore the park after dark using no flashlights. Make sure to check out the Interpretive Building at Oxley, which recently reopened with new exhibits.
Its diverse plant and animal life are one of the special qualities of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and one of the reasons why so many who come here to hike also pack binoculars for bird-watching.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Sulphur
The Chickasaw National Recreation Area, formerly Platt National Park, is an ecologically unique area. Located in south-central Oklahoma near Sulphur, it is in the transition zone where eastern deciduous forest meets the western prairie landscape. This means you have thick forests of oak, hickory and sycamore existing alongside open prairie. The intermingling of ecosystems extends to the area’s animal life as well. Here, you may see a red fox, even though the gray fox is the species typically associated with this part of Oklahoma.
The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is perhaps most famous for its mineral springs and clear streams, which attracted early Native Americans who came here to hunt and relax. Today, the park attracts all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Some of them just want to catch a glimpse of the bison that live here, while others come to swim, camp and hike.
There are more than 30 miles of trails at the Rock Creek Multi-Use Trails, running through a variety of habitats and offering something for every level of hiker. But if you just want to take it easy and enjoy a nice, leisurely walk through the woods, try the Travertine Creek Trail. This 1.5-mile path begins at the nature center and leads west to the Little Niagara waterfall. As its name implies, this trail follows Travertine Creek and leads you through limestone hills and a forest of oak, sycamore and elm. For a special treat, try hiking here in early spring, when the trees and plants are blooming, and the birds are nesting and singing.
A diverse plant and animal life is one of the special qualities of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and one of the reasons why so many who come here to hike also pack binoculars for bird-watching.
The hiking trails at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area are open year ’round.