Opt outdoors this fall to explore the best of Oklahoma’s hiking trails for kids!
Did you know spending time outdoors improves your attention span and helps relieve stress and depression? It’s true! Unfortunately, it can be hard to find time to spend outside in our fast-paced lives. But fall is here and there is no better time to be outdoors. The air is cool and crisp. Leaves crunch underfoot and hues of red and gold fluttering against a blue sky can’t be beat.
So take a break this fall for a family hike. It provides a unique opportunity to unplug, save money (most state and national parks in Oklahoma don’t charge admission) and spend special quality time together. The famous naturalist John Muir said, “In every walk in nature, one receives more than he seeks.”
Tips for Fall Hiking with Kids
As with most things, planning is the key to success when hiking with kids in tow. If your kids are new to hiking it can be challenging at first. Here are a few things that will help you have the most successful fall hike with kids:
- Foliage changes colors at a different time each year depending on weather. If you want to see the most beautiful fall colors, call the park before you head out to see if the trees are changing in that region.
- Fall colors are best where there are many different species of trees. In Oklahoma, the most diverse forests occur close to water sources, so hikes that follow streams or lakefronts are most likely to have the best fall colors.
- Fall weather is beautiful; the mornings are cool and the afternoons are warm. However, the changes in temperature can make it tricky to dress comfortably for hiking. It is very easy to dress too warm or not warm enough. So instead of wearing a heavy jacket, try layering. Lightweight gloves and scarves may be needed as well.
- Bring bug spray. Bugs start to thin out in the fall but you never know when you might need it.
- Hike when energy levels are their highest for kids. Dragging tired kids on a hike can be miserable.
- Bring healthy snacks. Hiking burns a lot of energy. Snacks like granola bars, trail mix, nuts and dried fruit help hikers feel fuller longer.
- Bring a special “treat.” It doesn’t have to be much but bringing along something out of the ordinary can ignite a new interest for your children.
- Tailor your expectations, especially if your kids don’t have much experience hiking. Most of the trails in Oklahoma are easy but it will take much more time hiking with kids than without.
- Stop and smell the wildflowers. Take time to enjoy the little things along the trail. See how many different colors of wildflowers you can find. How many different types of insects can you find? Let your kids experience what moss and tree bark feels like. Kids are naturally curious and love to explore. Help them focus on what is around them instead of their tired legs.
- Don’t give up. Just because your kids can’t hike as far or as fast as you would like doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
6 Stellar Places to Hike with Kids this Fall
Martin Park Nature Center, OKC – This is the perfect place to develop little hikers’ endurance along the easy 2.5 miles of trails, plus you can punctuate the trip with a stop by the nature-themed playground and Visitor Center to see the live animals on display. Early morning visits typically yield more deer, bird and other wildlife sightings.
- Lake Thunderbird State Park, Norman – Also great for beginners, Lake Thunderbird offers 25 miles of well-marked, flat, easy trails. Note: trails are multipurpose, which means you may encounter cyclists.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Sulphur – The merging of deciduous forest and mixed-grass prairie makes the trails here especially unique. Take an easy loop on the 2.7-mile Bison Pasture Trail, where, yes, you may see bison in the enclosed pasture. Or enjoy the challenge of 2.4-mile Bromide Hill, offering easy terrain but along a steep incline.
- Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa – A thick canopy of trees blanket the 600 acres featuring several trails, boulders and streams. Trails range from less than a mile to almost 6 miles in length. Don’t miss the new natural staircase!
- Keystone Ancient Forest, Sand Springs – Enjoy easy-to-moderate trails, even some that are paved, in this lush and varied landscape. Stop by the new Visitor Center for recommendations on the best hikes for your crew depending on ages and the recent rainfall. Note: The terrain here can be slick.
- Robbers Cave State Park, Wilburton – The fall colors are especially vibrant in southeast Oklahoma. Take the .6-mile hike on the Robber’s Cave Trail to see where Jesse James and fellow outlaws are said to have hidden out. The terrain is rocky and requires a bit of climbing up and down but rewards with beautiful views. For more seasoned hikers, connect to the 3-mile Mountain or 2.7-mile Rough Canyon trails to extend your trip.
Here are a few places that offer beautiful fall foliage:
- Beaver’s Bend State Park, Broken Bow, about four hours southeast of Oklahoma City -The combination of pine and hardwood forests nestled along the Broken Bow Lake and the Mountain Fork River makes this a particularly beautiful spot to enjoy fall colors.
- Wichita Wildlife Refuge, Indiahoma, about an hour southwest of Oklahoma City – As one of the most popular hiking destinations in Oklahoma, the fall season at the Refuge does not disappoint! The picturesque granite formations are an amazing backdrop for the post and blackjack oaks in the area.
- Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park, Hinton, about an hour west of Oklahoma City – The abundance of Caddo maples against red rock walls makes this canyon an exceptional treat every fall. Maples in general are known for their spectacular fall colors but most do not thrive in Oklahoma. The Caddo maple is unique to Oklahoma and can withstand our wind and heat.
- Osage Hills State Park, Pawhuska, about two and a half hours northeast of Oklahoma City – This state park is located in northeastern Oklahoma and offers rocky terrain and calm waters to offset the beautiful fall colors. As this park is closer to two and a half hours away, it is the perfect location for a weekend getaway. If you don’t like to camp, cabins are available.