Hiking “The Falls” Trail at Keystone Ancient Forest
My family and I have only visited Keystone Ancient Forest (KAF) a handful of times. We have loved it every time we have gone, but never seemed to get the timing right to make it a regular hiking destination. Up until April of 2021, the trails were only open a handful of weekends a month. A lot has changed since I last wrote about this awesome trail system just 15 minutes from downtown Tulsa. To learn more about the other trails KAF has to offer, see my article here.
Keystone Ancient Forest has now opened a beautiful and modern visitor center. They have expanded their trail system to include the “Falls Trail” and are now open Thursday 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and Friday-Sunday 7 a.m.-6 p.m. As I described in my first article, the vegetation at Keystone is very unique, and having expanded access to this preserve makes my naturalist heart sing.
Hiking Falls Trail
My family and I left for our hike on a cool, slightly damp April morning. It was 54 degrees, ideal hiking weather. We first checked in with one of several volunteers on sight. The volunteers had a wealth of helpful information including finding the best hike for our family. We have a six-year-old and a ten-year-old. They are good hikers but don’t last long if the trails are challenging. We let him know we were interested in the new “Falls Trail.” The volunteer said to use extreme caution when hiking this trail. It is a challenging hike with many inclines, rock scaling and hiking next to slippery cliff edges. Especially with the recent rain, he suggested we consider a different trail.
We told him we came there to see the new trail so he suggested an alternative route to enjoying it safely with children. We would make our way up the “Fire Road” trail and pass the entrance to the “Falls Trail.” The majority of cliff edges were at the beginning of the trail. By going in the back way, we would get to a large waterfall 1.5 miles in and enjoy the experience without too much hassle.
We were very happy we talked with the volunteer first. As we made our way up the Fire Road, we were pleased to find a nice, wide trail with lots of plant and animal life. We caught glimpses of butterflies, saw deer tracks, cliff ferns and wild blackberry. We also saw fields of poison ivy popping up from their winter dormancy. This was a good reminder to always stay on the trail. There were some deeply muddy parts, too, so wearing good, grippy hiking boots was essential.
We entered the back entrance of the “Falls Trail” easily and were immediately surrounded by deep woods. The trail had fun dips and twists, and you could tell the trail had been freshly cut out. We saw the heavy underbrush of the black jack oaks and ancient-looking cedars whose trunks were wider than I have ever seen. We passed boulders that looked like they had faces carved into them from years of sitting in one place, covered in beautiful, scaly lichen and moss. About halfway in, we came to a tiny waterfall and stopped to enjoy the small falls and have a snack. The views along this part of the trail were lovely. The spring green of all the new leaves contrasted beautifully with the dark blue, overcast sky.
My oldest child wanted to stay put, but I encouraged her to stay the course and see if there might be a bigger waterfall in our future. As we continued along a ridge, we had to ford our first small spring. As we jumped over the edge of the running water, my daughter slipped down and got the side of her pants wet with mud. Luckily, it was just some mud and no twisted ankle. She was upset but also okay. The trail can be very slippery in places, so make sure your children do not run too far ahead.
The magic of the Falls Trail revealed itself as we went further along. We came to our second spring to ford, and this time were extra cautious and did not slip. Our walking sticks were useful in navigating the slick terrain. As we rounded the bend, we heard the lush sound of water trickling. We were rewarded with a beautiful, large, flowing waterfall. My youngest child was delighted and immediately wanted to hop in and play. We all took off our shoes and waded across the slippery rocks and wiggled our toes in spongy mosses.
The sound of the falls calmed us as we listened to the running water without any city noise pollution. This was the peace we had been hoping for. A gorgeous waterfall in the middle of a quiet wood. We stayed by the flowing stream for a nice long time, exploring the surrounding area, eating snacks and just taking in the wonder of this place. Despite being a lovely day for hiking, we saw only a handful of other guests and mostly had the place to ourselves.
Reluctantly we put our shoes back on and began our descent back into the woods the way we came. My husband and I decided we would try the whole Falls Trail on a day we did not have the children with us. The walk back was full of stories. The falls had created a fun imaginary world for my youngest, and we discussed all the real and imagined animals that lived near there.
It was also a neat experience retracing our path and seeing new trees and shrubs revealed to us from a different angle. One plant I identified with my Inaturalist app as Sparkle Berry. Even the names of the plants here sound ethereal. We made our way back down the fire road discussing our dinner plans when a hawk swooped just over our heads. Its large white wings almost brushed the tops of the oak trees above us. I looked to my left and saw a beautiful view of Lake Keystone just above the brush line. Keystone Ancient Forest truly is an enchanting place.
We ended our trip in the new visitor center. This modern building had a lovely viewing room for folks that couldn’t make it far on the trail and a small gift shop. We purchased a new bumper sticker for our car and took the small, free, tree cookie memento they gave out. We put the date of our hike on the slice of wood. We look forward to taking more hikes here and with Under The Canopy classes, my nature program for children and adults, in the near future.
Address: 160 Ancient forest Dr., Sand Springs
2021 Hiking Dates: Open Thursday 8 a.m.-2 p.m., Friday-Sunday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
About Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek
Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997.
She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK, where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. Margaritte is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek.
You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She is a regular contributor to TulsaKids.com and also keeps a personal blog about nature connection, gardening, parenting and life as a creative entrepreneur, Tap the Root. She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.” She is currently working on a novel about nature connection and her Czech American heritage.