If being stuck in the office makes you want to run for the hills, then why not just do it? With numerous nature trails and parks in and around Tulsa, there are plenty of reasons to get some fresh air and explore the great outdoors.
If you haven't been to Turkey Mountain lately, you may be in for a surprise. Located at 6850 S. Elwood Ave, this urban wilderness is a hidden gem that is easily accessible to most Tulsans and yet, when you arrive, you immediately know that you've entered the wilderness. Its sheer size -- 45 miles of trails alone -- makes Turkey Mountain quite a draw.
River Parks purchased Turkey Mountain 35 years ago. Since then, this well-known area has undergone quite a reinvention, dropping much of its former stigma along the way. Thanks to a sizable grant from the Kaiser Foundation, Turkey Mountain has an all-new rest room facility and parking area. This isn't the Turkey Mountain that most locals remember.
Bob Doucette, an avid trail runner and mountain biker puts Turkey Mountain at the top of his places to trail run, hike and mountain bike mostly because of the size and the diversity of the terrain. "It's as hard as you want it to be," said Doucette.
Though he frequents the gym regularly, Doucette prefers to exercise outdoors because it offers an additional benefit, "If I can go out and... hike a few miles, get a little solitude in, that kind of regenerates the mind a little bit... slows you down." He went on to say, "People spend way too much time inside as it is, especially in this state."
Whether you start with the beginner's Red Trail, go for the more technically challenging Pink Trail, or venture into the nearly 25 miles of unmarked terrain, there is plenty of variety at Turkey Mountain to keep you coming back. With roots and rocks along the way, as well as an occasional oil pump -- vintage remnants of Tulsa's rich history in oil -- the natural appeal of this beautifully rugged place speaks for itself. Matt Carver, Turkey Mountain's creative director said that of the four main trails, the Yellow Trail is most popular because, "You can see almost all of what Turkey Mountain has to offer."
To the north and just a hop, skip and a jump from Mohawk Park and the Tulsa Zoo, the Oxley Nature Center, 6700 Mohawk Blvd, offers 16 trails with a glorious mix of prairie, forest and wetlands. It's a good place for a solitary or family hike and perhaps a picnic.
Coyote, raccoon and white-tailed deer tracks along the trails are just a few of the reminders of the creatures who call Oxley home. Here, the focus is more on observing wildlife and nature according to Vinnie Robinson, Oxley's Natural Resources Coordinator. On the Coal Creek Trail, swarms of butterflies flurrying up amongst the willows, ash and catalpa trees make this part of the hike truly memorable.
Birdwatchers, Look! Here! Right Over Here! Yeah, it’s a bird. You’ve now watched a bird. Watch more by actually going outside.
COURTESEY OF OXLEY NATURE CENTER
Lined with gigantic cattails that make you feel midget-sized, the Blackbird Marsh -- a favorite among many visitors -- is a must see with its idyllic sea of lily pads and water striders. Wear bug spray though to avoid ticks and other unwanted pests which can be a problem here.
Also, be sure to check out Oxley's other site, Red Bud Valley Nature Preserve at 16150 Redbud Dr. in Catoosa to discover breathtaking cliffs, a varied habitat and wildlife similar to Oxley. Red Bud is another great find for incredible views, cliffs, caves and hiking trails.
Spring and fall are the most popular seasons to visit Oxley and Red Bud Valley but, "I tell people at both sites to come in every season," said Robinson. "Through the summer, there are...wildflowers and butterflies and things to see. In the fall, it's a great time to get out, and even in the winter...I like to be the first one walking and see all the tracks. Animals show up when there's snow on the ground and then it's spring again and everything cycles back around." Who knew this was in Tulsa?
Lake McMurtry, 30400 Bronco Rd., Stillwater, is a public lake that offers extensive hiking options. With two multi-use trails on either side of the lake, ranging from 6.2-7.5 miles, the McMurtry trail system will challenge bikers and hikers alike. The trails are quite narrow in parts and are full of roots, rocks and various elevations that will keep you on your game.
You could almost imagine one of author J.R.R. Tolkien's hobbits appearing any minute in this mesmerizing forest of post oaks, persimmon and red buds. The wildlife, breathtaking foliage, and boulders here and there makes the McMurtry trails rough-hewn and picturesque, while retaining that mostly untouched feel that makes you think you're the only one there.
The ever-changing terrain and level of difficulty make the Yellow Trails a stellar choice for more experienced hikers or bikers. For a more maintained trail that is a little less strenuous, the Red Trail is a popular option. With a variety of wildlife, birds and trees, it's easy to see why the McMurtry trail system may just be one of Oklahoma's best kept secrets, and it's just an hour from Tulsa.
With easy--to--challenging trails to conquer, wildlife to observe and sights to see, you don't have to go far from home to change up your workout and connect with nature.
In an ever-busy culture that thrives on staying wired in, simply unhooking for awhile and getting outside is good for the soul. And being active is important because, as Bob Doucette more succinctly said, "It gets you off your butt. We were not made to sit. We were made to move."
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