There’s been a few times on this space where I’ve talked about different adventures in some of Oklahoma’s wild places, or even in places outside the state.
Crab Eyes and Mount Mitchell in the Wichitas. The high peaks of Colorado and New Mexico. They have all been fun places to go hike, camp and climb. But there’s a certain level of commitment for all of them in terms of time, gear, fitness and climbing skills.
So I realize not everyone is quite ready for that. Or, some folks might like to have these experiences with their spouses or kids.
So that got me to thinking. Let’s say your husband or wife isn’t quite the climber you are. Or your kids are a bit too young to be hanging off a real rock wall or trudging up the flanks of a 14,000-foot peak. What to do?
Simple. Give them an achievable adventure at a cool place that won’t stress them out too much but will spark their imaginations when it comes to the outdoors. For that, I’d recommend Elk Mountain in the Wichitas.
Elk Mountain is more of a large, granite plateau. It’s a complicated high spot that is filled with rugged climbing routes, interesting rock formations and great views. It can be as easy or difficult as you want to make it.
But the standard trail up Elk Mountain is something just about anyone can manage without having to take any serious risks that some of the other peaks in the area impose.
To get there, go west on State Highway 49 through the Wildlife Refuge. The signs will point you to a road that goes south and leads you to a picnic area. This is where the trailhead for the Elk Mountain Trail starts.
The trail itself is well-marked and maintained. It’s considered a Class 1 hike, meaning that the grade is pretty reasonable and your footing is good. A lot of people hike it in trail runners or even running shoes, but I’d rather be in a sturdier pair of boots because of the cactus.
The trail is a little over a mile from the trailhead to the top. From Elk Mountain’s summit, you can see a lot of the other peaks that surround it. Also visible will be the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, Crab Eyes and an array of rock formations near and on Elk Mountain.
One of its most famous is the Apple and the Pear. These massive boulders get their name from their appearance and sit right next to each other.
Wildlife is also abundant. Don’t be surprised if you spot buffalo, elk, deer, coyotes and longhorns.
This time of year is an ideal time to go, provided storms aren’t rolling in. We had a pretty wet winter and decent rains during the spring will mean lots of green grasses a variety of colors from native wildflowers. Over the next couple of months, the heat of summer is still a ways off.
That said, Elk Mountain – like all the peaks in the Wichitas – is pretty exposed when it comes to lightning. So watch the weather and don’t tempt fate by trying to beat a squall line to the summit.
Elk Mountain was the first hike I ever did in the Wichitas. I did it in the summer, so I felt the full brunt of July’s heat. In any case, make sure to bring something to munch on (even easier hiking can burn lots of calories) and plenty of water. I’d say each person should drink up before starting the hike and have a liter with you to sip along the way.
There’s a lot of places to explore away from the main trail, but that’s for another day.
I always figured Elk Mountain being a “family friendly” place to get in some decent hiking. It’s just wild enough to be interesting, but very accessible and not too difficult as long as you’re sticking to the main trail. When you finish, there’s plenty of shady areas at the trailhead to enjoy a picnic and rest up before your make your way home.