Robbers Cave State Park, Wilburton, Oklahoma
NEW: A two-sided weatherproof version of the Robbers Cave map is now available at the park office.
Hideout for notables such as Jesse James and Belle Starr, Robbers Cave is located in the San Bois Mountains north of Wilburton OK. It's 25 miles of hiking trails and two back country campsites make it a great spot for an overnighter.
Background: The San Bois Mountains are one of the many mountain ranges that dot the southeast Oklahoma landscape. Part of the Arkoma Basin, these and their brethren, Cavanal Mountain, Poteau Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Magazine Mountain (in AR), etc. are erosional remnants of a coastal-to-shallow-marine environment that existed 250 million years ago. Picture the Ozarks to the north as a continental land mass that grades to an environment not too dissimilar to Louisiana and the greater Mississippi delta. To the south, where the Ouachita Mountains are today was the deep water marine environment of an ocean that predates the Gulf of Mexico. After the sands and clays the make up today's sandstones and shales were deposited, tectonic forces from the south pushed the deep sea floor up on to the continental crust. This was the Ouachita Orogeny which resulted in folded and thrust-faulted deep marine rocks of the Ouachita Mountains and an uplifting and slight folding of the coastal rocks that would form the Arkoma Basin mountains.
The main drainage is Fourche Maline Creek, which has been impounded to form both Lake Wayne Wallace and Lake Carlton. Rising above the lakes are bluffs of Pennsylvanian aged Bluejacket sandstone. Whereas most caves are in limestone, Robbers Cave is in a sandstone of the upper Savanna Formation (found below the Bluejacket sandstone, it is older). The cave owes its formation to 1) the fact that the cement holding the sand grains of the sandstone together are calcite and 2) it is at the junction of a fault plane and a bedding plane. Calcite is the mineral that makes up limestone, and while the quartz sand grains may not dissolve in water, the calcite cement does. The fault plane means the sandstone was stressed and weakened. The bedding planes are often conduits for water. Taken as a whole, a perfect combination to make a hole.
Back to the present, Robbers Cave State Park has full accommodations including a lodge, cabins, RV and tent camping. Recreation includes 189 acres of lakes for small boats and fishing, equestrian trails, rock climbing at the cave and hiking.
The park plus adjacent wildlife management area is 8,246 acres of wood covered hills. The forest is hardwood, predominantly oak (post oak and blackjack) with a lesser population of hickory (black and mockernut). Short leaf pines are also present. In the spring you will be treated to the white blossoms of the dogwood and the magenta of the Oklahoma's state tree, the redwood.
The Maps: The map may be downloaded for FREE. It is preformatted, ready to print on 8.5x11 paper. The map is true 1:24,000 scale based on the USGS 7.5 minute quadrangles. All of the trails are based on the GPS tracks. The featured loop is shown as red dots overlaying the trail system. The main hiking trails are in varying shades of blue to differentiate individual trails. The Multi-use Trail used to create the loop is green. The Coon Ridge trail is solid red. The Robbers Cave Nature Trail is in yellow (it is the small trail north of RC-01). The pipeline traces are gray and the forest and park roads are black. Some may not be drivable, often because they are blocked off. There are many equestrian trail in the area but only a few are mapped. They are shown in yellow. Others follow the pipelines and forest roads that are shown but their equestrian nature is not displayed. The two back country campsites as maroon tents.
A two sided version of the topo map is available for purchase on 8.5x11 weatherproof, Rite-in-the-Rain paper. On one side is the topo and on the other are trail descriptions and mileage charts. The two sided map is available at the Robbers Cave park office, Backwoods in Tulsa or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (See bottom for pricing).
Trip Mileage Table: Click here for trip mileage table.
Video Note: Some of the links in the narrative are to short videos. Sometimes reference is made to waypoints. These are my trail notes and those waypoint numbers do not correlate to waypoints on the maps or mileage charts.
Robbers Cave Trails: In all the years I lived in Oklahoma, I had never heard of any backpacking options in Robbers Cave. In fact, as recent as 10 years ago I was exploring the possibility of hiking the equestrian trails in the wildlife management area (WMA) but was told no back country camping is allowed. Times have changed and while you still can't backpack in the WMA, the creation of two back country campsites in the park have opened up a new opportunity.
As background there are 3 hiking trails, a multi-use trail and numerous equestrian trails in the park. In addition, this is an active oil and gas producing area and the park is crisscrossed by pipeline traces and access roads. The equestrian trails are marked with yellow blazes. I mention in the narrative and show on the map several places where the "yellow" trails cross the hiking trails but it is not comprehensive. I also don't show the equestrian trails on the map. Using Google Earth and aerial photos, I have added all pipeline traces and roads I could see. Some of these are now used as equestrian trails and are blazed yellow in the field.
The three hiking trails are the Rough Canyon Trail, Cattail Pond Loop and Mountain Trail.
Checking In and Permits: All backpacking trips start at the Cabin Office where you need to register for a campsite and pay $12. You have to pick your site at that time. The office is on the east side of Highway 2, about 2.5 miles south of the cave parking lot. Look for the sign to the lodge and follow the asphalt road to the top of the hill. The office is on the left, just past the restroom.
Robbers Cave Mega Loop: Since the trail system was not set up for backpacking, I decided to try may hand at putting together a loop that would take in as much of the trail system as possible and make use of the back country campsite. This meant using the Multi-use Trail on the east side of Highway 2 and the hiking trails on the west side of the highway.
While you can pick any number of places to park and start your hike, this narrative will start and end at the cave parking lot. Note: the road connecting Highway 2 and the cave parking lot is closed to traffic. So instead, from the Cabin Office head north on Highway 2 about a mile to Ash Creek Rd. Turn left (west), go about 0.1 miles, and make the first right. Follow the park road that parallels Highway 2 north for 1.5 mile. The road will force a left turn that will get you to the cave parking lot. Put your permit on your dashboard, put on your boots, grab your gear, and let's go! But one last advisory. This parking lot closes at dark so if you don't want your car trapped behind a barrier an extra night, be sure to get back before it closes. Any doubt, park on the other side of the gate.
Multi-use Trail East of Highway 2: The parking lot is waypoint RC-01. Walk back down the entrance road to the forced turn mentioned earlier (now a forced right). Across the road is a gate and a short asphalt road to Highway 2. Follow it to the highway and turn right. Cross the highway, head south and go to the WMA sign. Turn left (SSE) on NW Double Falls Rd (RC-02, mile 0.4 of the Mega Loop). This is a little used gravel road. Within a 0.1 mile you'll see the multi colored blazes of the Multi-use Trail. The Multi-use Trail uses the road until RC-03 (mile 1.4), where the road turns left and the trail goes straight ahead towards the wood. There is not an obvious trail marker at this junction.
About 0.15 miles into the woods there appears to be a reroute. You will see a creek bed in front and a trail going left. Go left. You'll run into the trail that followed the creek in a few hundred feet. According to a sign along the trail, the Butterfield Stage used to run through this area. (I'd love to see some data on that because everything I can find indicates the stage route went through Wilburton.) The trail meanders through the woods, crosses a gully at mile 1.7 and crosses Coon Creek at mile 1.9. At this point you will be on a road trace. At mile 2.0 on your left there will be a flat sandstone outcrop forming a ledge next to a small lake (RC-04). There is a blaze on the other side but it is not obvious. However, if you miss the turn, a few hundred feet up the road trace is a building and dam on the left next to the lake. If you see it, you went too far.
On the other side of the ledge, the trail enters the woods. The trail to RC-05 is difficult to follow. Treads are intermittent and often just not to be found. The key is to follow the trail blazes. They are often clearly visible but sometimes you just have to be patient and search for them. Don't go wandering to far from your last know position. If you aren't seeing the blaze you are probably going the wrong direction and it would be easy to get lost in this forest. Also, sometimes the Multi-use Trail is shared by equestrian trails. When this happens the tread is good but it is easy to miss the less developed Multi-use Trail when it peels off.
Just before RC-05 you will reach a small open valley and see the highway bridging the valley above you to the west (RC-05, mile 3.8). The trail goes under the highway and ends at the Deep Ford Campground. Turn left and follow the campground road to the low water dam. (If there is water under the bridge, you can also head up the south side of the valley to the treeline and work your way to the highway along a road trace that soon becomes part of the highway grading. Cross the highway, head south, step over the metal crash barrier and walk down to the asphalt park road. Turn left and go to the sign for Deep Ford Campground.) Cross the low water dam. If the water is too high, I suggest going a little further down stream and crossing the Fourche Maline where the channel narrows. In some ways this is the crux of the trip because if you can't cross, this trip doesn't work. Since you can drive to the crossing, check it out before you start your hike.
Mountain Trail: Once across Fourche Maline, you will be on the main hiking trail system, at the south end of the Mountain Trail (RC-06, mile 4.0). Follow the blue blazes beginning with a 160 foot up hill through the forest and then down again to the Lake Carlton Dam (note this video calls this Lake Wallace. That's wrong, my bad). The trail follows the lake shore for the next 0.5 mile. When it leaves the lake it climbs 200 feet up the side of a bluff. It is steep but short. On the way you will catch some glimpses of some outcropping sandstone, a small ravine to your left and maybe a little water fall if its been raining. On top the trail meanders along the edge of the bluff though the oak and pine. While there are few vistas from the trail proper, there are ample opportunities to work your way to the ledge for an extra view.
The trail drops down into a small drainage and then begins a 300 foot climb to the top of the hill that forms the main bluff of Lake Wayne Wallace. There are no bluff side views. About 0.15 miles past the gully is a spur to a horse camp (mile 6.2). Stay right. About 0.2 miles later a yellow equestrian trail crosses Mountain Trail (mile 6.5). Near the top of the hill is RC-07 (mile 6.6), the junction of a road with a sign referencing several park features. Go straight and cross the top of the hill. At mile 6.8 there is a pipeline road. By mile 6.9 you will see Lake Wayne Wallace and the trail will intersect and follow a yellow equestrian trail. As the trail works its way down to lake level the equestrian trails will come and go. Another 0.5 miles and a few equestrian junctions and you reach Rocky Top (RC-08, mile 7.4), the first back country campsite.
Camping at Rocky Top is by permit (this was the $12 you paid at the Cabin Office). The campsite has a huge sign, a big fire ring and some flat areas for tents. There are 5 options for water. 1) Carry it. 2) If I was even thinking of carrying it, I would instead cache it off of Ash Creek Rd. It is only 0.2 of a mile. 3) There is a small creek fed by a seep about 50 feet south of camp. This had the clearest water of the "natural" sources and this was my option. It was spring and I don't know if this is a reliable water source. 4) There is a creek that feeds the lake about 100 feet north of the campsite. The water looked ok but the topo shows it as intermittent and therefore an unreliable source. 5) Lake Wayne Wallace is very reliable but you need to look for a spot where you can pull clear water. Any of options 3, 4 ort 5 require treating (filter, chemicals, boiling).
Beyond Rocky Top the trail crosses the aforementioned creek and two pipelines/roads. The trail crosses Ash Creek Road at mile 7.6 (RC-09).
Heading north into the woods. The trail will cross a small creek at mile 7.8 and a gravel road at mile 8.0. (The road starts at Ash Creek Road and goes almost to Cattail Lake. The short dashed trail on the USGS base map that connects the road and Cattail Lake is an equestrian trail). Once you cross the road the trail runs with a yellow trail. At mile 8.3 there is another small creek. At 8.5 miles, the yellow trail leaves to the south and the Mountain Trail turns north following the west site of Rough Canyon. RC-10 (mile 8.8) is the junction with the Cattail Pond Loop.
Cattail Pond Loop. The Cattail Pond Loop is 2.1 miles and runs up and down the east and west sides of Rough Canyon. The single blue blazes of the Mountain Trail are now replaced by the double blue dots of the loop. It is now hiker's option. If you want to go past Cattail Pond, you go straight staying on the west side of Rough Canyon. If you want to go to Lost Lake, you can go straight and go past Cattail or turn right, cross Rough Canyon and take the east loop trail. If you are going back to Robbers Cave parking lot, turn right and cross Rough Canyon.
I went north on the west side and headed for Cattail Pond (RC-11, mile 9.4). It is basically a walk through the woods. It was pretty level and too far from the canyon to get many views. There are some, however. Just before getting to the pond, the aforementioned equestrian trail comes in from the gravel road and crosses the Cattail Pond dam with the loop trail. On the other side of the dam, the loop continues on an easterly bearing. Just past a small creek the trail turns south generally following the Rough Canyon drainage.
RC-12 (mile 10.0) is the junction of the trail to Lost Lake. The sign here points south to get to the Mountain Trail and depending which side of the sign you are on, points the direction to Lost Lake or Cattail Pond. Though my "mega" loop goes to Lost Lake, I also hiked the east side of the Cattail Pond Loop to check it out. I'll describe it now and come back to RC-12 in the next section.
Heading south on along Rough Canyon is pretty scenic. There were two spots in particular. One was a nice bluff overlooking a pool. The other was a mossy sandstone bench in the stream bed where I took a break. At RC-15 is the junction of the Rough Canyon Trail that begins at the Robbers Cave Parking lot (more on this later). To finish the Cattail Pond Loop, continue south paralleling Rough Canyon for about 0.2 miles. The trail is shared by a yellow equestrian trail and the blaze is 2 blue dots, sometimes with yellow on one of the dots. I missed the turn of the Cattail Pond Loop the first time past. You will be on a real good trail and pass a downed pine on your right that has an arrow on it. Look the direction of the arrow and you'll see two trees with two very dark blue dot on them. Sounds easy but the yellow trail keeps going straight on an excellent path. Take the right, follow the loop trail down to Rough Canyon and then back up to RC-10.
Rough Canyon Trail: The Rough Canyon Trail begins at the west end of the cave parking lot (RC-01). After a few hundred feet is drops down into Black Gum Creek and follows it for about 0.2 miles where it makes a short but steep climb out of the valley. The trail crosses a road/equestrian trail at 0.6 miles and reach the RC-15 junction of the Cattail Pond Loop at Rough Canyon at 1.0 miles. The trail goes right (north) along with the Cattail Pond Loop for 0.5 miles to RC-12 where the two trails separate.
RC-12 (mega loop mile 10.0) is where the mega loop hike picks up again. It is 0.3 miles to Lost Lake where the second back country campsite is located (RC-13, mile 10.3). This is a much bigger site than Rocky Top. The area is open and overlooks the small lake. The trail pass the lake and heads into the wood on a northeasterly bearing. In 0.3 miles you will pass the intersection with the Multi-use Trail. This is the same trail you hiked on the other side of the highway. I hope to add this side of it to the map by Spring 2011. At mile 11.3 the trail crosses a utility right of way and then a gravel road. At mile 11.4 you will come to the back side of the huge outcrop (video note: the yellow blaze is the nature trail) that houses Robbers Cave. The blue blazes stop here and it is another 0.1 miles on the nature trail to complete the loop at RC-01 (mile 11.5).
Robbers Cave: Robbers Cave is a fun little area. It is a huge rock outcrop, there is a nature trail that goes around it and you are free to climb around. There is some legitimate climbing and rappelling areas so be sure you don't get yourself into something over your head. The outcrop has lots of features and nooks and crannies. Be sure to check out the cave and the view. And watch out for wild animals.
Info: USGS 7.5 minute Quadrangles: South Quinton and Wilburton. Robbers Cave State Park, Cabin Office (918) 465-2562. http://www.travelok.com/listings/view.profile/id.6415.
Directions: To get to Cabin Office from the intersection of US 270 and OK Highway 2 in Wilburton OK, go 5.5 miles north. Turn right (east) at park road to the Lodge. Go a half mile to the top of the hill and the Cabin Office is on the left.
To Buy Maps: This map is FREE. Click on image to access full size maps and download them. A two sided version of the topo map is available on 8.5x11 weatherproof, Rite-in-the-Rain paper. On one side is the topo and on the other are trail descriptions and mileage charts. The two sided map is available at the Robbers Cave park office, Backwoods in Tulsa, OKC and Norman or for $5/sheet plus S&H by emailing email@example.com.
Weatherproof Topographic Maps at
OuachitaMaps.com - Hiking Trails of the Ouachitas and Ozarks