A Hike in the Oklahoma Ozarks
Did you know that the Ozark Mountains begin in Oklahoma? That’s right! The Ozarks, also referred to as the Ozarks Plateau, actually stretch across five states: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois. If you drive just a bit east from Tulsa before hitting Arkansas, you’ll notice how different the landscape and terrain appear in Cherokee and Adair counties compared with Tulsa county. Our family spends a significant amount of time here.
There are so many things to do in the Oklahoma Ozarks, but in this post I’ll talk about one of our favorite things — hiking! Though it is not as mountainous here in Oklahoma, the steep hills provide a fun challenge for families who want one. Along with the workout, here are three fun things to do.
We love the wide variety of rocks we encounter. It is not uncommon to find fossils — either from plants or animals — which keep us entertained. Perhaps this is because our hikes are off-the-beaten path, as there aren’t many well-known trails in the Oklahoma Ozarks. The most popular trail is arguably in Natural Falls State Park, but that adventure deserves a separate post of its own.
Once you know what to look for, it becomes somewhat easy to find other fossils. Plus, where you find one, you might just find another. However, don’t expect to find a complete fossil, as incomplete fossils are much more common here. Exposed limestone is a great place to check for hidden treasures and something called a crinoid fossil. A great resource for fossil identification in our state is the Sam Noble Museum website.
Identifying plants, flowers, and mushrooms can be a great way to keep kids engaged during hikes. In the Ozarks, we’ve noticed bits of nature that we haven’t seen elsewhere in the state. Plus, from a safety perspective, it is also good to teach about what is poisonous and what is safe to investigate more closely.
Though some people still use pocket guides to identify plants and wildlife, my stepson Kieren enjoys using an app on his phone. He takes a picture of the specimen in question and it quickly results in a matching photo, description, plus more information than we usually want or need to know. There are quite a few apps out there like this. Our family doesn’t see the iPhone as a hindrance to outdoor time if it is truly being used for research and education purposes.
On any given day, we see a huge variety of birds around the Oklahoma Ozarks. We see birds you might see in a Tulsa backyard as well as others with unusual sounds such as warblers and yellowthroats. Down by the Illinois River, we’ll see a blue heron on the water and a hawk soaring above looking for food.
I promise, I am not trying to push apps in what is obviously meant to be a nature post. That being said, there are some fun birding apps! Some of these are more geared for kids and families. You can log sightings, search bird calls and characteristics, compare species and much more. Not all of this has to be done during a hike of course, but can be a type of journaling afterwards. Kids might also enjoy taking out a sketchbook to draw birds they see during or after a hike.
Why the Ozarks?
The Ozarks in Oklahoma and beyond offer lush forests with amazing views. There are also caves and springs leading to streams that one can find along the way. Children will enjoy checking out the limestone, flint, and other rocks and minerals common to the area. You certainly need good hiking shoes for most areas, a device for wayfinding to avoid getting lost, and an awareness that wildlife including but not limited to snakes, coyotes, and bobcats are also out there. It might be a short drive from Tulsa, but it somehow feels like a different, magical world.