One of the great advantages of moving west is a change of hiking scenery! My east coast self equates hikes with forests, rivers and mountain views. Here in Oklahoma it’s more cacti and rocks, but we’ve still managed to find some mountain views at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Charons Garden trail.
While southwest Oklahoma definitely qualifies as “plains” territory, it’s not completely flat. The Wichita Mountains are less than an hour from Altus and one of our favorite hiking spots! The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has trails, camping, a prairie dog town, something called the Holy City, and bison! We’re planning to try all the trails eventually and share our favorites, but today I’m sharing our hike of Charons Garden.
Charons Garden is an area of Elk Mountain. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we bushwhacked our way up it last winter when my brother came to visit. This time, though, we decided to stick to the trail.
The hike itself is 2.5 miles one-way up to the top of Elk Mountain. It’s pretty strenuous – nothing too hard, but definitely more intense than the first hundred yards of gravel path might lead you to believe. The trail winds its way up the mountain, alternating brushy sunshine and with groves of trees. And of course, rocks. If you like to boulder, this is a great trail for doing some exploring.
This was Wedge’s first real hiking trip, and he really loved the chance to smell all the things! Luckily we didn’t encounter any unwelcome wildlife on the trail, but he did try to make friends with all the other hikers and dogs we passed.
The trail is mostly well-maintained, with rock steps carved out on the steeper bits. However it’s not labeled well, so sometimes it took a moment to get our bearings when crossing a rock flat. That being said, if the trail forks, most of the time both forks keep you going on the trail, they just choose slightly different paths.
The path ends at the top of Elk Mountain, a large flattish expanse perfect for bouldering or having a picnic. From the top, you get a sense of how big the wildlife refuge is and that the Wichita Mountains are, in fact, a range. They’re old mountains, estimated at 500 million years, so they don’t always feel that big. But once you get up there and take in the views, it’s easy to feel the difference between the miles of flatness and the Wichitas.
We took our time heading up and made it to the top in about two hours. We went a lot faster going down, and were back at the car in less than an hour.
One thing I hadn’t seen on our winter hike was a purple thistle: it was voilet, and I couldn’t stop taking photos of it! We joked that based on the shape, it must be Oklahoma’s version of a pineapple.
Follow your basic common sense on this trail: it’s a long enough hike that you’ll want to bring some water, and wear pants year round unless you want legs bathed in ticks. The bugs are for real out here.
We love living close to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, and any hike ending in scenic views is a win for us! I’ll keep sharing our favorite trails as we try them!
Where is your favorite place to hike? Any Oklahoma or Texas suggestions out there for me?
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