4 Local parks you have to experience

Graphic of "For Local Parks You Have to Experience"
Jon Benson

I've always loved exploring and experiencing new sights, smells and tastes. I could ramble on for a while about all of the awesome shops and restaurants OKC has to offer (maybe in another post), but what about all that can be found outside the city? Drive along any interstate out of here, in any direction, and it won't be long before you hit a state park or hiking trail that will take your breath away. I all but completely revert into my 9-year-old inquisitive self when released into the wild, stopping every 50 feet to squat and stare at some bug or plant just off the path or stand atop the nearest rock. Lucky for me, there are so many places around here to slake my wanderlust. Here are a few of my favorites.

Wichita mountains wildlife refuge

When my family came to visit from out of state, with no hesitation, this is the place I took them to show off Oklahoma. Head southwest on I-44 for a little more than an hour and a half, and the landscape suddenly transforms into a fantastic, desert-like mountain range, home to free-roaming bison, longhorn, prairie dogs, and all manner of bugs, birds and small reptiles. You can hike or drive up Mount Scott for a view that in my opinion is unparalleled in this state. Be sure to catch a sunset from up there. It's incredible. If you're feeling a more leisurely hike, you can take the winding, gentle path that goes up Elk Mountain, and then clamber around at its peak. There are boulders everywhere at the Wichitas, in case you're a climber. And, if you do consider yourself half mountain goat, absolutely follow the Charon's Garden Trail, which will lead you to some serious boulder hopping. If you plan on treating yourself to the Wichitas, be sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen and a first-aid kit. Once, I decided to touch what looked like an otherwise harmless cactus blossom, which turned out to be covered in micro needles. The tweezers in the first-aid kit came in handy that day.

Turner falls park

This place is a close second to the Wichitas — maybe even a tie, depending on whether you prefer majestic mountains or crystal-clear waterfalls. Head south on I-35 for an hour and a half, and you're there. You'll have to pay $12 per adult to get in (Turner Falls has camping grounds and definitely enough to do for a weekend), but it is cheaper outside the summer season. Definitely bring a swimsuit, because there is a wonderful swimming hole complete with a waterfall, which, depending on the recent rainfall, can really be incredible. You can also wade along the creek above that feeds the falls for quite a while. Go during the summer months, and the water is fine. If you're just feeling hiking though, there are tons of trails and caves to explore. One cave in particular is high along the side of a canyon wall, and you will have to pull yourself up into it by a rope. I conquered the climb but to my horror was greeted by a cave ceiling literally covered in daddy longlegs that would collectively vibrate as I got closer. I still get the heebie-jeebies thinking about it.

Robbers cave state park

This one is the farthest out on the list, so you should have an entire day planned around it at least. You'll take I-40 East for close to three hours (you'll nearly be in Arkansas), but the trip is completely worth it. This park gets its name for once being a hideout to infamous bandits Belle Starr and Jesse James. The park is huge and has more than enough to do in a weekend. There are several walking trails, a horseback trail, camping grounds and a reservoir sided by a dam and cliff that overlooks the water.

Red rock canyon state park

One hour to the west of OKC is a hidden hiking gem. Red Rock is nestled down in a canyon just off I-40 and is perfect for an impromptu Saturday hike, or rent a cabin for a weekend getaway. The trails are easy, well-marked and almost always under a tree canopy, so they're enjoyable even during the dog days of summer. There are a few quiet pools that are home to lazy turtles and large patches of bare rock face to clamber around on. You can even go rappelling down the canyon wall. You can make a morning and early afternoon of fun here and be back in OKC for dinner.

The next time you yearn for the great outdoors, be sure to consider one of these places. You won't be disappointed!