Hiking, climbing and mountains in Oklahoma? Yep. A tour of the Wichitas

A lot of space on this site has been dedicated to mountains and places outside of my home state, and lately, it’s been pretty run-heavy. One might think the only outdoorsy thing to do in Oklahoma is to go run trails or ride mountain bikes.

You’d be mistaken.

Sometime in the future, I’ll give you a full outdoors tour of the state. It’s much more diverse than the prairie image you might have in your head. But that’s for later. For now, I wanted to focus on one place, and give you a greatest hits tour.

The Wichita Mountains make up a small range in southwestern Oklahoma. Most of the range is within the confines of a wildlife refuge. Walk in their midst and you’re in one of the oldest ranges in the world, older than the Appalachians by a good number of years. Some geologists say these granite domes date back about 600 million years. By contrast, the Rockies are about 70 million years old; the Himalayas, among the youngest, are about 20 million years old.

Anyway, here are some sights and a few words about them…

elk

Elk Mountain: This is one of the more accessible mountains in the range, just past the visitor’s center and a gateway landmark into the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area. It’s a one-mile hike to the summit, with incredible views into Charon’s Garden. The hike is Class 1 on a well-marked trail that never gets too steep. For the more adventurous, the more sheer south face has plenty of technical rock climbing routes of varying degrees of difficulty. Route description

boulder

Boulder Field hike: From the same trailhead to access Elk Mountain’s summit trail, you can also hike into the Boulder Field, which is really a route that winds its way through the ravine between Elk Mountain and Mount Lincoln, as well as several smaller peaks. You don’t get a lot of elevation gain or loss, but this is a rugged 6-mile trip that includes a lot of boulder hopping, a few short scrambles and sights that include a waterfall during the wetter spring months. You can do an out-and-back to Treasure Lake, or just park a car at the other end, then pick up your other ride when you’re done. This is a classic Oklahoma hike and one you have to put on your list if you’re exploring the Wichitas. Route description

crabeyes

Crab Eyes: One of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire range, Crab Eyes is a small peak with two delicately placed boulders perched atop its summit. This is a fun and pretty easygoing hike that ends with a pretty sweet perch to take in the sights. If you’re feeling more energetic, you can do  short, exposed scramble to the summit. This includes shimmying upwards between two rock slabs and a highly exposed catwalk – or crabwalk, if you choose – to the top. There is also a challenging crack climb on the peak’s west face. There are some bolts installed, but some lead climbing experience would help. Route description

sunset

Sunset Peak: Another great hike is to Sunset Peak. You’ll take the same trail into Charon’s Garden that you do for the Boulder Field and Crab Eyes, but you’ll turn west to the far end of the wildlife refuge and do a tiny bit of off-trail hiking to get to this long ridge and its two peaks. The approach hike is a little long, but the hike and scramble to the top of short and direct. If you’re feeling energetic, make the traverse to the north summit and tag ‘em both. Route description

mitchell

Mount Mitchell: The wildest peak in the range, getting to the top requires, at a minimum, a Class 3 scramble with a highly exposed hop to the summit block. Tougher routes, Class 4 and 5, are also available. The peak may be the most remote in all of the range, and perhaps the most remote locale in all of western Oklahoma. You’ll find every route up to be mentally engaging and the summit one of the most rewarding in all of Oklahoma. This is my personal favorite. Route description

granite

Twin Rocks Mountain and Granite Mountain: I put these two together because they are neighbors, and summiting both on the same outing is very doable. From the Treasure Lake parking lot, hike west and through a scenic gorge that takes you to the foot of both mountains. Twin Rocks is mostly a Class 2+ scramble with maybe a short Class 3 section near the top. Granite is more demanding, with Class 3 and 4 routes to gain its upper slopes. Both peaks’ west faces are more sheer and go from Class 4 to Class 5. They are some of the most rugged in the range, taking a back seat to Mount Mitchell, of course. But the views of Elk Mountain, Mount Mitchell and deeper into Charon’s Garden is nothing short of amazing. Route description

There are, of course, many other peaks and sights to see here. The Wichitas are filled with wildlife, the most famous being a herd of buffalo. But deer, Elk and a host of other creatures are all over this place. I have yet to go there and not see buffalo. If you go in the fall, take special care not to get too close; they’re very twitchy during rut and can be quite aggressive. For that matter, don’t get to close any time of year. You don’t want to piss off a 1,500-pound animal with horns.

Oklahoma is often envisioned with the words of the famous Broadway song of the same name – winds sweeping down the plains. But if the Wichitas prove anything, the state has plenty of rugged, rocky and wild places within its confines. Hikers and rock climbers should take note and make plans to visit the Wichitas. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Oklahoma City, 3 hours from Dallas.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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12 thoughts on “Hiking, climbing and mountains in Oklahoma? Yep. A tour of the Wichitas

  1. I spent A LOT of time in the Wichitas during my four years of gradschool in Dallas. I could not get there often enough. I enjoyed the Ozarks and I was always fascinated by the underrated Caprock, but the Wichitas were always where I went when I needed a wilderness fix. It never ceases to amaze me that such an amazing place is so close to Dallas and is so unknown by the folks that live there…not that that is a bad thing. For what it is worth, I wrote an article about the Wichitas a few months ago:
    http://www.trailgroove.com/issue9.html?autoflip=57

  2. Nice article. And when I think about Oklahoma I often do think of that little surry with the fringe on the top. Or something like that. 😉 Definatley do not think of mountains of any sort out there.
    I am putting a mountain climb on my bucket list for 2014. I’m not a climber or fan of heights, so a nice class 1 I guess would probably be my speed.

    • If you’d do it in Oklahoma, Elk Mountain or Sunset Peak would be the ticket.

      I’m actually amazed at the geographic variety in this state. Hilly and wooded in the easy, plenty of prairie in the central and west, and some small, rugged ranges in the south and southwest. There is even a place called Little Sahara that has lots of sand dunes.

      All of that is a future post, ya know!

    • I thought about it, and really, I should have included it. But it seems most people either drive it or they’ll hit up its technical climbing routes. But yeah, I need to maybe spotlight Mount Scott in the future. It’s sort of the eastern gatekeeper of the entire range, and pretty imposing when compared to the rest of the peaks.

  3. Thanks for sharing! Oklahoma truly does have some hidden gems. The Wichita’s are rarely trodden. I love this range. What you may not get in elevation gain from the newer ranges, you can easily make up in bouldering at the top for an “all-over” body workout. On certain days on the top you can witness fighter jets doing bombing maneuvers or dog-fighting above you…reminiscent of “Red Dawn”.

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