Think Oklahoma is flat as a griddle? Think again! Visit southeast Oklahoma, and discover a world of evergreen- and deciduous-covered hills; clear, flowing streams; and good horse camps. We set out with our 6-year-old Missouri Fox Trotters, Cowboy and Nate, to explore several horse camps in those Oklahoma hills.
Robbers’ Cave State Park Robbers’ Cave State Park is located in the beautiful San Bois Mountains five miles north of Wilburton on Oklahoma State Highway 2. Robbers’ Cave has the distinction of being the first equestrian camp in Oklahoma. You can stay in cabins with fireplaces, the View Lodge, or the equestrian campground. The upscale equestrian campground is intertwined by two loops of paved road and surrounded by large grassy expanses. All campsites feature picnic tables and fire rings; most sites have horse pens, electricity, and water. Robbers’ Cave is located a few miles from its namesake campground. Several days each week, naturalists provide guided cave tours where you can learn about the area’s geography, plant life, early Native American legends, and outlaw tales. Adjoining Robbers’ Cave State Park is a wildlife-management area. Together, these two regions provide roughly 60 miles of trails, all accessible from camp. Park officials can provide you with trail maps. The trails are open year-around, except for a portion of the wildlife-management area, which is closed in the fall for hunting season. Most trails are in good condition. Horseshoes are recommended, because some trails are quite rocky. In the summer, ticks and chiggers may be out, along with a few poisonous snakes. Autumn brings pleasant temperatures, fewer flies, and a palette of fall colors. Tapestry of Color To our delight, we rode Robbers’ Cave in the fall when the surrounding tapestry of color was at its peak. First, we rode the popular Dogwood and Big John trails. When we headed out, thick tendrils of mist wound around trees, and the mountains were still wrapped in a gray shawl. We were in for a good ride! The Dogwood Trail passes a small pond on the left, goes up a forest-filled gorge, and climbs a ridge. From here, you can cross a road and ride to a panoramic spot that has a picnic table on the bluff overlooking Lake Wayne Wallace. After pausing at this overlook, you may ride either the Rim Rock Trail or the Big John Trail to a series of switchbacks leading down to Junctions BB and B. We continued on Trail #2 to the northwest section of the lake, where the view and picnic tables make an ideal lunch spot. On the Wildlife Trail On another ride, we explored the wildlife-management area. We rode north out of camp and across the road to Junction J. We then proceeded across an overpass to Junction K and beyond.
The wildlife-management area is a region of pine- and deciduous-tree-covered hills. Again, some trails are rocky, but there are also flat, soft stretches.
We spotted deer lurking in the brush but didn’t see any bears, raccoons, opossum, or rabbits, which are also native to this area.
Birdlife is abundant in these Oklahoma hills. In addition to small birds and songbirds, we saw all three types of local woodpeckers on one ride: the redheaded, red bellied, and downy woodpeckers.
One fun feature to check out close to camp is the second largest pine tree in Oklahoma. Take the trail out of the north end of camp to the road. Turn left on the road, and watch on the left for a sign to the tree.
Horse Heaven Ranch
Horse Heaven Ranch is located seven miles east of Talihina on Oklahoma State Highway 63 East. Look for the big entry sign by the highway. Turn onto the dirt road; the ranch is within a mile.
The setting for this ranch is pleasing to the eye. The spacious campsites and tranquil lake are relaxing. The 32 RV campsites, spaced for privacy, have full hookups and two pipe corrals at each unit.
For folks wanting to rent a cabin, there are six luxury cabins, each with its own little horse barn. We enjoyed meeting Lisa Cheney and Emma Moldy, both from Texas, who were renting one of the cabins. They loved their fully furnished cabin, where they could sit on the porch swing and watch their horses in the barnyard.
The campground’s bathhouse is nicely designed. There’s also a full-size arena where you can warm up your horse before a ride.
However, the secret ingredient to making Horse Heaven a success is its smiling, hardworking, animal-loving manager, Elfie Bowling.
Using Horse Heaven’s map, we saddled our horses and hit the trail. The map lists four main routes honeycombed with connecting trails.
Horse Heaven Ranch borders the Ouachita National Forest; there are five main entrances straight into the forest. One of these is the 35-mile-long Choctaw National Trail, which crosses Horse Heaven and continues into the national forest.
One of our favorite rides was the 3½-hour B Trail. Since it was fall, our path was lined with festive hues of scarlet and gold.
We meandered up and down the mostly gentle hills. Much of the trail is rocky, with some sandy stretches. Our trail culminated in a beautiful ridgetop view that we enjoyed while eating lunch.
More Oklahoma Horse Camps
A to Z Guest Ranch. A to Z Guest Ranch has it all, with cabins, camping, stalls, and plenty of room to roam. Trails wind over the Kiamichi Mountains, with panoramic views of southeast Oklahoma, water crossings, and more.
A to Z also provides rides for those folks without their own horses. One-, two- and three-hour rides are available. Plus, there’s a special four-hour ride with lunch that travels into the hills for incredible views.
Cedar Lake Equestrian Campground. Cedar Lake Equestrian Campground is nestled in the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. The campground has paved roads, electricity, and water; at some spots, there are pavilions and picket poles. A Cedar Lake Equestrian map is available to guide you through 70-plus miles of trails. Water is easily found on many trails in spring and fall, but less certain in the summer.
Indian Mounds Horse Camp.Besides offering you the peace and beauty of the wilderness, Indian Mounds offers complete camping facilities, including plenty of shady sites for RVs, horse trailers, and tents. Many sites have electrical hookups; restrooms and clean showers are centrally located. There’s also a lighted pavilion for gathering or organized events.
If you don’t have your own horse, Indian Mounds will rent you one by the hour or for the day.
Wild Horse Trail Camp. For something a little different, head over to the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, and check out the Wild Horse Trail rides. This camp is open for specific multiday rides. Generally, there’s a ride in April to greet spring, a ride over Memorial Day, one in October to view fall colors, and finally, one in early December.
Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. During riding season, you can usually find them on the trail, checking out new places to ride.