Explore the Great Outdoors

Explore the Great Outdoors

By Christian Toews
From the May 2021 Biskinik

The weather is warming up, spring is in the air and there is no better time to enjoy the roads and trails around Choctaw Country.

The popularity of outdoor recreation has increased dramatically over the last year. COVID-19 had many adverse effects on our culture, but one of the positives is that many people have begun to take their health more seriously. Many people have picked up outdoor exercise such as cycling and hiking, with gyms closing or limiting access.

According to a New York Times article, the rise in bicycle sales, along with the pandemic, has led to a global shortage of bikes. Many customers are still waiting on bikes they ordered last year.

Thankfully, hiking shoes are plentiful, and bikes have recently become easier to find. While not everything will return to normal, hopefully, many of our good habits will remain.

Cycling or hiking in Choctaw Country is an excellent option for outdoor activities that are fun for the whole family.

Hiking can be a great way to get or stay in shape.

One of the best spots for hiking in southeast Oklahoma is the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. Located along Oklahoma Hwy. 1 or the Talimena Scenic Drive, this recreation area offers camping, cabins, fishing, horse riding, hunting, picnicking, and hiking.

The Oklahoma portion of the Ouachita trail begins here, and many distance options are available from Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. The Ouachita Trail is a 226.3-mile trail that extends from Talihina, Oklahoma, to near Little Rock, Arkansas.

The trail has smaller sections for people who don’t want to hike the entire route. A few loops connect to adjacent fire roads and trails that will lead you back to the trailhead at Winding Stair. A good resource for locating and looking at these trails is www.alltrails.com.

Dusty Hill, a trail runner and hiker from Texas, says his favorite part of the Ouachita trail is the views along the way.

Hill said he would recommend the trail to any level of hiker.

“It’s not terribly difficult, though there are some long climbs and some technical areas as far as running the trail. Just bring plenty of water or a way to purify water,” said Hill.

A good pair of trainers will work for this hike, but many people prefer hiking boots. Be sure to bring tick repellent and dress for the conditions if you plan to hike in this area.

The Talihina area also has some of the area’s best roads for cycling. Cyclists come from all over the country to ride near Talihina because of the challenging elevation and incredible views.

Benjamin Benson, a Choctaw tribal member and cyclist, says he would recommend the area to any cyclist who wants a challenge.

“There are not too many big climbs around Oklahoma, so it’s a good place to visit. Plus, the roads through there (the Talimena Drive) are quite smooth,” said Benson.

He said that he loves the challenge and the scenery of riding in the Talihina area.

“When you climb to the top of one of the climbs and just stop and look. Kind of makes all the suffering worth it,” he said.

Many cyclists choose to ride part of the Talimena scenic drive for the views, but there are also excellent paved and gravel roads around the area to enjoy.

A great resource for discovering routes around this area is the “heatmap” from Strava.com. This tool allows you to see where people ride and helps you plan a cycling route of your own. You can find this tool at www.strava.com/heatmap.

Beavers Bend State Park and the adjacent Hochatown State Park are also popular cycling and hiking locations in Choctaw Country.

This area has a lot to offer. You can hike trails, ride mountain bikes, enjoy road cycling and even ride gravel roads on your gravel bike. Whatever type of cycling or hiking you’re into, this area has you covered.

Don’t have a bike? Not a problem when you visit Hochatown. Sabra Blankenship is the owner of Flawless Wellness Spa, which offers mountain bike rentals.

According to Blankenship, her 16-year-old son, Kylen Myers, used his savings to purchase 16 mountain bikes and launched a mountain bike rental business last year. Kylen takes care of all the maintenance on the bikes himself.

“We started this business because we want people to be able to take care of themselves and stay active. We strive to help people reach the goal of wellness,” she said.

They now have adult and children’s bikes available for rent.

Blankenship said that business has steadily increased, and they hope to purchase more bikes soon to serve even more customers.

You can find more information about the spa and mountain bike rentals at flawlesswellnessspa.com.

The hiking in Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding areas will not disappoint.

There are multiple trail options for every level of hiker. One of the most popular hikes is called the “Skyline Trail” that begins inside Beavers Bend State Park. Nearly eight miles long, this trail has challenging terrain and incredible views. You can find all of the trails in this area at www.alltrails.com.

If you want to get out and do some new roads or trails on a bike, or if you’re going to take a family hike, Choctaw Country has an option for you.