The Kiamichi Trail, or K-Trail, has an internet folklore all to its own. There are many stories and tales bouncing around of offroading disasters, illegal trespassing, Punji stick laden mud pits, and crazy locals setting fires around campers. This 80 miles of narrow, tree-lined trail in Central Oklahoma draws many offroaders and adventurers from all of the surrounding states. With the internet fame abounding, we couldn't leave this trail alone and decided to check it out for ourselves.
Once again we called upon our friends from the north in Joplin to join us on our adventure. We had Evan riding solo in his Toyota Tacoma, brothers Kevin and Brad pulling double duty in Kevin's Toyota 4Runner, and Sarah and I along with a 30-pound sidekick, Harper, in the trusty Nissan Xterra.
Our plan for the trip was to head west to east and start from Clayton Lake State Park. We would start on 9 Pines Road, follow the Clayton Trail, continue onto K-Trail Western Half, cross over the Indian Highway and continue towards the Fire Tower on the eastern half of the K-Trail. We all met up at Clayton Lake State Park Friday night around 11:00pm and set up camp. We shared a few quick chats about the drive up and the wildlife we encountered on the roads, quickly figuring out that we all had almost taken the life of the same crazy armadillo hanging out in the middle of a blind corner.
The weather was perfect the next morning; we had a quick breakfast and packed up camp. We nominated Evan to be the trail guide for this trip and he quickly set us on the path. We headed into town to fill up on fuel and quickly realized we weren't the only people headed out to the K-Trail. There were 20+ rigs, mostly Jeeps, all lined up waiting to get fuel or chatting with their buddies.
With only three rigs in our group, we made the quick decision to blast out in the front of the other groups as to hopefully be able to move through the trail quickly and not get bogged down behind some of the larger crews. We headed down 9 Pines and arrived at the Clayton Trail around 10:00am. From all of our research, the first section of the K-Trail is the most technical and difficult. This was exactly the kind of trail we were looking for and it quickly progressed from small rocks, into exposed rock slab with larger rocks thrown in the mix.
After conquering numerous hill climbs we were moving along smoothly on a rather flat section until Evan came on over the radio with a simple, "Does anyone have a chainsaw?" While I have contemplated adding a small chainsaw to my kit, I have yet to commit on actually doing so. Being the first crew on the trail that weekend, we found ourselves facing a 40 foot tall tree laying directly in our path most likely due to the heavy rains that have been in the area in recent weeks.
*There is no actual tension on winch line during photo, all people were removed from area during actual winching operation.*
We quickly devised a plan to have Kevin back into a small clearing and winch the tree to the side of the trail. We had toyed with the idea of setting up a snatch block in order to be able to pull the tree deeper off to the side of the trail, but were hindered by numerous trees that made it difficult to achieve a quality pull without cutting down a number of trees. After moving the tree as much as possible, we cut off the remaining upper limbs with our Zippo Woodsman axe and saw (awesome tool) until we were able to drive around the tree.
After being thrilled with our achievement and problem-solving skills we continued on the trail. We traveled along more medium difficulty trail features which required a few areas of spotting and route planning. Feeling confident and full of energy, we were faced with our most difficult trail feature yet. Remember that recent rain I talked about? We were faced with a large off-camber rock slab that had been eroded heavily at the base and was holding a large amount of wet Oklahoma clay and mud. We guided Evan's truck up to the feature and he maneuvered the best he could to try to clear the obstacle. Unfortunately as his front tires would almost crest the rock slab, his rear tires, caked in mud would slide sideways and turn his truck 90* to the trail.
With his back end now nicely planted against a 4 foot ravine wall, we had no choice but to pull him back with Kevin's winch. After some shovel action, rock relocation and tense off camber sliding, we were able to clear his truck from the wall without a scratch on it. We now put his truck in the offroading wash cycle. Build, attempt, winch, repeat. We found as many rocks, mud and dirt as we could in order to build up the eroded section that was causing his truck to slide down the slab. We then deployed the traction pads to overcome his caked tires. Finally after the 4th attempt, and perfecting our pueblo building techniques, he was through the section! It was now Kevin and my turn to attempt the feature. We talked over the technique of slight left-hand down steering angle up to the crest and then quickly angling right to help keep the back end of the truck on the high side of the slab. A nice constant throttle application, and we both made it through on first attempt. This was an excellent team building exercise and helped us have the confidence in each other to properly spot, communicate and execute a plan with the focus on keeping each other safe and equipment in good condition.
We decided after our victory we would stop for lunch and relax a little bit. Continuing on after our break, we headed towards the Indian Highway crossover. This is where things turned narrow. We had all heard about the heavy overgrowth that the Kiamichi Trail has and we were right in the thick of it. After crossing over the Indian Highway, the trail turned extremely flat, narrow, and with little to no technical sections to speak of. We charged through this section as best we could, and by the time we reached the Fire Tower lookout, we were all bored and beat down from the somewhat monotonous drive of the eastern half of the K-Trail. Like everyone has mentioned before, you will incur heavy pinstriping on the K-Trail, there is no way around it. The heaviest section of overgrowth is all after the Indian Highway crossover.
We all breathed a sigh of relief as we saw the Fire Tower peek over the treeline and knew we were finally out of the woods, literally. We arrived at the Fire Tower around 5:00pm and spent the next few minutes climbing to the top of the sketchy structure, taking photos, and talking about dinner.
Continuing on, we charged towards the Three Sticks Monument, hopped on 259 and headed north further into the Ouachita National Forest . We set up in the Winding Stair Campground and enjoyed some food, drinks, and stargazing; I learned two things this trip, you can see satellites with the naked eye, and everyone gets itchy when they roll around in grass, it wasn't just me (different story).
The next morning we woke up, made breakfast and headed towards Mena. We routed mostly through backroads and made it to Mena right before lunch time. Making a plan, we headed south to cruise around the Wolf Pen trails for a few hours before we all headed home. Mostly populated with ATV's and side-by-sides, Jeeps and small SUVs are allowed and can pass through the trails just fine. We even encountered a gentleman pulling a 25 foot trailer loaded with a side-by-side and riding lawnmower with his extended cab F150 on the trails. Quite the sight. We found a nice water crossing to hang out in and a small swimming hole to enjoy. Spending about an hour here, we decided to head back to Mena and call it a successful weekend.
After running the K-Trail, we came back with mixed emotions. We thoroughly enjoyed the western half of the trail. It was technically demanding, required us to think on our feet and challenged our skills. The eastern half after the Indian Highway crossover was the exact opposite. It felt like every tree limb slap to the windshield and every screech of a clear coat cutting thorn was a direct slap to a bored face. We would go back; but we would not worry about making it to the Fire Tower, we would travel the Clayton Trail, and the western half of the Kiamichi Trail and either loop back to the beginning at the Indian Highway or turn around do it in reverse.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this trip report. If you have any questions about our route or anything pertaining to the Kiamichi Trail, please ask in the comments section.