Urban Wilderness - Oklahoma's best urban hiking trails

Splurge Magazine, May 1st, 2015

Urban Wilderness

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Kathy Dinh of Oklahoma City is an outdoorsy kind of girl.

She likes to get out with her two Labradors and explore the wild places in Oklahoma and beyond. But when it comes to hiking, sometimes it’s easier to stay within the city limits and find those wild, lonely paths hidden among the sprawling urban landscape.

“Bluff Creek Trail is my favorite in city trail, and the trails at Arcadia Lake are nice too,” said Dinh. “Bluff Creek is a moderately distanced hike in the middle of the city, but I feel like it’s designed well to fit in the small space and is hidden from the city so you feel like you’re in the woods. There are also moderate inclines and trail obstacles like tree roots etc., that makes it interesting.”

Dinh is among the hordes of urban hikers who have discovered hiking trails inside central Oklahoma’s city environment. From Lake Thunderbird to Lake Arcadia and within the confines of Oklahoma City proper, citizens can find urban hiking trails to satisfy the need for outdoor adventure without driving hours away.

“Oklahoma City has some great trails,” said Jennifer McClintock, spokesperson for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. “Multiple studies have shown that people and children who experience nature–like hiking or even walking in a park–reduce stress and attention deficit issues.”

We’ve listed just a sampling of Central Oklahoma’s best urban hiking trails for those who want to walk off the beaten path without having to drive hours away.

In Oklahoma City

Martin Nature Park

Oklahoma City’s Martin Park Nature Center is home to 2.5 miles of easy hiking trails through pristine nature, providing outdoor adventure tucked away among the urban sprawl.

Located at 5000 W. Memorial, hikers along this trail can see wildlife like fox, squirrels, deer, coyotes, armadillos and more.

“Martin Nature Park has 140 acres of wilderness,” said McClintock. “Some of the land was purchased in the 1960s, and the nature center opened in 1975 to provide a close-up look at nature and the environment in and educational way. People who visit the trail number in the thousands every year.”

Summer will also herald the official opening of the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Courage Trail, a roughly one-mile trail suited to those with mobility issues or who are in wheelchairs.

Visitors in wheelchairs can access the park’s playground and nature education center on supported gravel trails. Dogs, however, are not allowed due to the wildlife refuge certification.

Bluff Creek

Located on the east side of Hefner Lake on Hefner Road is a hidden gem of hiking and mountain biking at Bluff Creek Park.

With more than four miles of rugged mountain biking and hiking trails that weave through the park, along with a more-than-a-mile paved running and walking path, the park is a favorite among the “suburban exerciser,” said McCLintock.

“Hikers can still experience wildlife on the off-road trails maintained by the Earth Bike Fellowship,” she said. “It’s a pretty tough hike with lots of inclines and some areas you have to be careful on. But, we also have the paved path, so hikers can come out even in bad weather and experience nature.”

The 1.5-mile paved path is also home to new wooden exercise equipment, thanks to a donation from Continental Resources. However, the cut dirt path attracts the wilder group.

“You’ll have to pay heed to bikers, and vice versa,” said McClintock. “People keep saying it’s a hidden gem, but I’ve heard from so many people about how they love this park that I don’t think it’s that hidden anymore.”

In most Oklahoma City parks, dogs are allowed on leashes.

Central Oklahoma’s Best City Hiking Trails Offer Taste of Outdoors Among Urban Sprawl

“Hiking in town means you have to share the trail with other users like bikers and joggers. I’m surprised at the variety and frequency of users on the trails,” Dinh said. “Hiking is a great way to be active and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.”

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge

Hikers who want to venture off the beaten path can visit the primitive Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge, located just north of Lake Overholser at U.S. 66 and U.S. 270.

This wild area of heavily wooded swamp encompasses more than two miles of wildlife refuge, but don’t expect clear paths.

“There’s more nature and a few trails, but this place is a lot more primitive,” said McClintock. “It’s probably more for those who don’t mind getting their feet dirty. There are no real ‘true’ trails here, and most people follow the footsteps of those who have gone before.”

This marshland is a favorite for those who like to explore by foot, mountain bike and boat. Several trails link four small lakes to the river with “trailheads” at NW 50th on the east side of the refuge and County Line and Morgan Roads on the west side.


Arcadia Lake

On the east side of Interstate 35 along Second Street in Edmond, Arcadia Lake is an outdoors playground for fans of mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. A total of 13 miles wilderness is home to trails that are open year around from sunrise to sunset.

The most popular of the trails is the Multiple-Use Trail, a 6.5-mile one-way trail that travels from the park office to the Spring Creek Park. Although designed for mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners traverse the dirt trail, bridges and water crossings.

The trails at Arcadia Lake are well-marked with color-coded markers. All of the trails eventually connect and end at the trailheads. In total, Arcadia Lake has six trails with one dedicated to horseback riding.


Lake Thunderbird State Park

For hikers keen on seeing white-tailed deer, wild turkey and “every kind of varmint imaginable,” the Hog Creek three-mile trail and the 10 to 15-mile Clear Bay Trail at Lake Thunderbird State Park in Norman is the place to be.

The Hog Creek Loop, located on the north end of the park, includes a view of Lake Thunderbird and a stroll through the native timber wilderness. The longer Clear Bay Trail is a multi-use trail that is popular with and maintained by cyclists.

“The bike trail is pretty popular and stays full every weekend,” said Sherman Johnson, assistant park manager. “You’d better be in pretty good shape if you start on one of those because some of them are pretty long and difficult.”

A good trail map of Clear Bay can be found at bicycleleague.com/clearbay/ClearBayTrailMap2010.pdf.