By the Backwaters of Elk City Lake


A different route to Elk City (click map for slideshow)

Meador PostLast month, Wendy and I drove north for another hike at Elk City Lake. I had already shared all of the shorter trails there with her, but she had never walked the central portion of the 15-mile-long Elk River Trail. I’ve hiked the trails at Elk City Lake almost two dozen times in the past six years, and documented many of those hikes. But even I’ve only been on that center section once before, way back in March 2010.

So when we reached Havana, Kansas just north of Caney, for once we did not angle northeast on US 75 towards Independence. Instead, we headed north on county roads toward tiny Elk City itself. Then we threaded more county roads to the east of US 160 and north of the Elk River to reach the Elk River Trail’s obscure central trailhead, which is located at the never-finished Oak Ridge Day Use Area. That is upstream from the developed Card Creek area, which is located on the opposite south side of the river and features the Timber Ridge Trail.

We pulled into the trailhead parking area, and I was surprised to see a few cars there. One had stickers indicating there was probably a female hiking on the trail who also enjoys rafting and the mountains. The latter are somewhat lacking in Kansas, but online I see that one can find whitewater on the Elk River Falls near Coffeyville. I wonder if that rafting adventurer ever gets that desperate, or sticks with mountain rivers. When we reached a log book stand a few yards along the trail, Wendy signed us in, and we noted that a few of our fellow hikers on this day had registered as well.

Wendy and I wound up hiking 2.8 miles, taking a short access trail to intersect the main Elk River trail. There we headed east, which would eventually take us within view of some flooded backwaters of the lake and would end up winding around one of the inlet streams.

Trail track

There were old short stone walls near the intersection with the main trail, something one finds at intervals along much of the Elk River Trail. I presume these mark old property boundaries rendered obsolete when the land was acquired by the Corps of Engineers. Satellite views show that the old Parker Cemetery is nearby, with a clear delineation between the wooded Corps land around the lake and the flat fields we’d driven through on the county road to reach the trailhead.

We eventually hiked to the lake backwaters and found a spot where you can walk out onto a promontory of the river bluff. Near-vertical cliffs fall off on three sides, and you are level with the top portions of the trees growing from down below. I termed this spot Cliffside.

Wendy at Cliffside

Later the trail turns to hug along an inlet, threading its way through and later hugging a short section of bluff which strongly resembles a rock wall thanks to its cracked layers of stone. The trail reaches a corner in the bluff I called Nature’s Corner, where we stopped to sip our drinks and chat before heading onward along the bluff until the trail finally crossed the stream. We enjoyed the reflections of the large puddles in the streambed.

Crossing the stream


The trail wound around a bit in trees before making its way back along the other side of the inlet. Cooler weather had lured us back onto the trails, but it was certainly not a comfortable fall hike. We were quite warm by the time the trail turned to again follow the lake backwaters, and we decided to turn around. Eventually we reached a point along the trail where I was confident we could shorten our return trip by bushwhacking across the inlet area. My instincts (and MotionX GPS app) were on target, with me leading us across to intersect the trail again at Nature’s Corner.

We enjoyed the solitude and quiet on this isolated section of the Elk River Trail; it was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the new school year. But the warm weather and a respiratory ailment would keep me off the trails for the next few weeks. Wendy and I would not get out to hike again until early October with hikes at Keystone’s Ancient Forest and along the bluff at Chandler Park in Tulsa, the subjects of my next post.



About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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