When hiking to the highest point in Oklahoma you may not feel like you’re in the Sooner State. This is amplified by the fact that New Mexico is actually closer than the trailhead. But hiking the Black Mesa Trail to Oklahoma’s highest point is a trip that will not disappoint.
Black Mesa Trail takes you to the Oklahoma high point at 4,973 feet above sea level. It is within Black Mesa State Park and Nature Preserve in the panhandle of Oklahoma. It is extremely close to the tri-state border of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado. The parking lot for the summit trail is just 4.5 miles to the southeast of the tri-state marker.
Finding the Trailhead
The trailhead for the Black Mesa Trail is along an unnamed County Road (at least I couldn’t find a name for it.) Driving along Highway 325 just before you get to Kenton, turn on a blacktop road with a marker pointing the way to Colorado. From that intersection follow the road for about 5 miles and you will see the trailhead on your left or the west side of the road.
The Nature Conservancy has a map and directions on its website. I do need to note that the Black Mesa State Park is actually about 15 south of the Nature Preserve, so if you are trying to pull up a map you will want to make sure you have the preserve and not the state park.
Black Mesa Trail
To get to the highest point in Oklahoma requires a roughly 8.5-mile out-and-back hike. The Black Mesa Trail is 4.3 miles one way. It’s mostly level hiking with the exception of climbing the mesa.
At this point, the trail climbs around 500 feet in a mile. It wasn’t too hard, but there is little shade and it can get hot, so you’ll want to carry plenty of water.
The trail follows the north side of the mesa for 2.25 miles. It follows an old roadbed and isn’t too hard of walking. Miles one, two, and three have benches for relaxing and I found myself utilizing the bench at mile one on the return trip. So really it was mile seven.
You get a really nice view of the surrounding mesas that make up this beautiful area. It’s neat to notice the difference in the colors of rock from the bottom and the top of the mesa, as well as the different vegetation.
At mile 2.25 the trail makes a sharp turn to the left and you begin heading toward Black Mesa. This is the beginning of the climb. It’s a slow climb at first. The trail takes you into a fault or cut valley. And around mile 2.7, the climb begins to get a little steeper.
A few switchbacks push you up toward the top of the mesa and at mile 3.1 you can catch your breath and enjoy flat hiking again. The view at the point is unmatched. You can see three states, and it’s easy to see why this area is a nature preserve.
The trail continues straight into the middle of the mesa before making a sharp right turn at mile 3.6 and heading west toward the summit.
At mile 4.3 a large monument stands tall noting the highest point in Oklahoma.
Black Mesa Preserve
It’s interesting to note the difference in vegetation and terrain from hiking along the bottom of the mesa and hiking along the top of the mesa. The vegetation is much more sparse at the top giving you an endless sky feel. At the bottom, there are juniper bushes and of course the mesas surrounding you.
Black Mesa gets its name from the black rocks at the top, which is a layer of lava rocks that once covered the area about 30 million years ago. I loved looking up at the black soil which is accented by bright green vegetation. There are also several cool hoodoos and interesting rock formation scattered throughout the area.
Black Mesa Trail takes hikers through the preserve that supports 31 rare species in Oklahoma, which include 23 varieties of plants and eight variety of animals. This area is where the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie. One unique aspect here is that the area is both the easternmost or westernmost portions of several species’ range. This gives the area a wonderfully unique mix.
The area is also a birder’s paradise. While I was visiting the Black Mesa, I noticed the abundance of varieties of birds. And I am not a birder.
Bighorn sheep also call the area home, however we did not see any.
Black Mesa State Park and Preserve is also a dark sky park, which means it a premier place to watch the stars, however the Black Mesa Trail is only for day hiking. Camping is allowed at the state park.
Black Mesa Trail
I was blown away with how unique and beautiful Black Mesa Preserve is. I loved the wide-open spaces, unique rock formations, wildlife, and flora. However, you’ll want to be careful of the elements. It can get pretty windy and hot.
- 4.3 miles one way
- Elevation gain and loss 650 feet
- Dogs allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed