Posts Tagged ‘Greenleaf State Park’

Backpacking Greenleaf State Park, OK

31 March 2011

This past weekend, the Ghost Patrol of Boy Scout Troop 15 took a backpacking trip to Greenleaf State Park, OK. Greenleaf is in eastern Oklahoma, east of Muskogee; the nearest town is Braggs. We took five boys and three adults, and had a great time.

Summary: Two days, 17.8 miles of trail, 200+ft of altitude change. Wonderful time!

We left Oklahoma City around 1800 and got to the park around 2100. Tents went up quickly, and everyone was in them for the night around 2200. At some point around 0100, we had a couple good thunderstorms come through that dumped a bunch of rain. One thing I was impressed by: the campground was full of people. I think there were several hundred people camped there, including two other Tulsa Scout Troops.

We shook everyone out around 0730. Breakfast was heated up bacon and oatmeal.

We got the boys to fill their water, and we got out of camp just before 1000. Now the fun began!

The crew posed for photos (we told them it was for SAR…), both front and backpack sides.

We walked through the camp area (which was called Trailhead Camp), and found the road that leads down to Cabin on the Lake. At some point, we saw this:

We headed up it about 100 ft and found the actual Greenleaf Trail! Turns out the actual trailhead was on the road that leads out of the park area (you can see it on the GPS track towards the end of the post). We walked south along the trail. It was classic Oklahoma Ozarks terrain.

The trail runs above the lake, and eventually gets to the Greenleaf earth dam and heads west. Above on the north is the Gobbler Ridge part of the park. When I was a kid, it was a tent camping area with a couple shelters that the YMCA used as a day camp. Now, it’s RV pull-throughs. There are some outcroppings that got a lot of climbing on back then.

After walking along Greenleaf Creek, and then over it on the Highway 10 bridge, we eventually made our way to the Greenleaf Spillway. There was a fair amount of water coming over this WPA project, probably from the rain the night before running off into the lake. I did a lot playing around in the spillway, and the rocks that used to be exposed below it, when I was a kid.

We left the spillway area and started following the south end of the lake. The terrain was beautiful, the trail well marked. We ran across a number of other groups of hikers, including a couple Scout troops.

There was a pretty neat outcropping that made a small cave along the trail.

There was one part of the trail along here where you wanted to watch your footing, lest you slide down into the lake.

Along the south shore is a swinging bridge. It’s nice and loose and bendy! It saves probably a half mile of walking.

This is a view of the earth dam from the end of the bridge. There was a bass fishing tournament going on while we were there, and the two guys in the boat were some of the contestants.

Once we all crossed the bridge, we ran into another Scout Troop from Tulsa that was backpacking as well. We also learned some trail lore here. The Greenleaf Trail is a pair of linked loops. The first, or south loop, is from the swinging bridge to Mary’s Cove on the lake. The second loop runs from Mary’s Cove north to the primitive camp.

Each loop is characterized as a having a low side (that runs along the lake) and a high side (which runs along the ridges of the mountains on the east side of the lake).

At the swinging bridge, the Tulsa Troop took the right turn up the high side to start out, and our guys took the left turn for the low side. I thought we might run into them at the primitive camp, but never saw them again, so I presume they camped trailside somewhere.

A note here about water. I was worried about water, not wanting to carry more than we had to, obviously. I had called the Greenleaf Ranger station and asked about water on the trail, and was told there wasn’t any. I also emailed a guy who had hiked the trail in February, and said that there was plenty of water. Greenleaf is kind of unusual in that it is not surrounded by agriculture. The lake water is very clear. We found numerous places along the low trail where there were creeks feeding the lake that were perfect water sources. We also hiked half of the high trail, and the only water we saw were a couple places were rain had pooled in rocks.

We used a filter pump for some of our water, chemical purification (Aqua Mira), and boiling. We got water at Mary’s Cove (from the lake, outbound, and from a creek at the main campground, inbound), from a creek south of Mary’s Cove, and also from the lake at the primitive campground. The lake water tasted good!

The low trail towards Mary’s Cove was really nice.

The trail did a lot of popping up and going back down. We were never more than 50 or so feet high, I think. The cumulative changes started to get to the Scouts a little bit, but never enough to stop them.

At one point, we had passed the main Greenleaf State Park area on the west side of the lake, and I saw this:

There used to be a Group Camp area on the north end of Gobbler Ridge. I have heard that it is used by the National Guard now. Our High School class used this area for our Senior Class Picnic in May 1978. I have never seen it from this perspective until now.

There were occasional Dogwood trees in the area. They are beautiful.

We had lunch at Mary’s Cove, along the shore. Everybody had tuna salad, using a neat kit that was pretty inexpensive. It was 3.0oz of tuna, some mayo, and some relish, with crackers. I took this idea from Traci of the Girl Scout HAT, and thanks to her!

Mary’s Cove had a largish camp area, and west of there were some other camp areas that looked very nice. One of the camp areas was near what looked like a beaver den, with other evidence around.

The weather was not the best for the trip. The forecast for the area had been going downhill all week. When I first looked on Monday, the weekend was 50s/70s. Midweek, it was 40s/60s. The actual weather was 30s/40s. We actually got sleeted on twice on Sunday. Not much, but there was clearly a cold layer close above us. I took a sweatshirt and a long sleeve shirt that got a lot of use. I wore my shorts, but didn’t bring sweatpants. I ended up using my vinyl rainsuit a lot during this trip. It was not so cold as to be debilitating, but it was close. One of our Scouts brought a fleece sleeping bag liner, which was probably not quite enough to keep warm.

North of Mary’s Cove, the walk got a little more up-and-down. There were a lot more outcroppings, and we occasionally climbed to over a hundred feet over the lake.

There were a lot of wildflowers, and some other plants I didn’t recognize.

We got into the primitive camp around 1600. There was one other guy there. Everyone got tents up quickly and relaxed. Dinner was backpackers beef stew and mac and cheese.

We were right on the lake shore for camp. You can see that the campsite area is very tight. There are a lot of trees and short grass. It makes LNT kind of hard to implement.

We got everyone up around 0830 and left camp around 1000 again. Breakfast was more oatmeal. Since we taken the low road in, we started out on the high road. We had a couple steep climbs, but the views were magnificent!

This is looking back toward where we camped Saturday night; it’s on the right, and around the “corner”. We are two mountains away at this point.

Glen noticed this tree growing around a rock.

At this point we had a problem. Most of the Scouts had not in fact filled their water bottles up. They were getting dry, and we were not even halfway back yet. We decided to take the low road back as we knew there was water there. We took the connector trail down to Mary’s Cove. It was beautiful, with deep ravines.

We got to Mary’s Cove, filled bottles using the pump, and some we chemically treated. Lunch was a cup of peanut butter, choice of grape or strawberry jam, and Ritz crackers.

We headed back south towards the trailhead. We got a new perspective on some of the streams and other features we had passed yesterday.

We got back to the spillway area, and most of the Scouts were bushed. Glen and another Scout and I power hiked from that area back to the main part of the State Park. We saw our guys in the spillway from across Greenleaf Creek.

We got to the main part of the Park, coming out at the actual Greenleaf Trail trailhead. We then drove back around to pick up the rest of the crew along Highway 10.

There were some crashed Scouts on the way back. I had been concerned that the almost-10-mile length of each days hiking would be too much for the boys, but they handled it just fine.

This is a GPS track for the trip.

This is the GPS track overlayed on Google Maps.

And finally, this is the altitude plot of the trip.

Random Comments

Some of the boys managed to get to camp largely without some basic gear. They needed to have personal water bottles, cups or mugs, a bowl (or use a cup or mug), and utensil(s). Stuff like this is in the Boy Scout Handbook. I think it is because they are used to being able to get stuff out of the patrol box during regular camping. Before the trip, I worked with the Patrol Leader on a message about the camp, and he and I decided to not include a full equipment list in that message, under my assumption that the boys would know about basic equipment. It worked out more-or-less in the end by me having more than one utensil, so they could share, and re-using some of the lunch stuff for eating oatmeal.

We probably should have had another medium pot for boiling water. We had two, but another would have made dinner go a bit faster.

It took a while to get out of camp both Saturday and Sunday morning. I expected it Saturday, since it was the first day of the camp and the boys had stayed up late talking as usual, and then we had a couple thunderstorms.

Our overall forward speed was somewhat less than I had predicted. I had though that two miles an hour was reasonable, but we ended up making 1.5. This included the stop for lunch, and the rest stops we made.

Water on the Greenleaf Trail bears another mention. If you are on the low trails, you will have plenty of water from the lake and the streams that flow into the lake. If you are on the high trail, at least the north segment, there will be none.

I had read some comments on the web prior to the trip about the condition of the trail being overgrown and impossible to find. That was not the case, ever. The trail is well marked by blazes, and of course the trail itself was worn down a bit. A couple times, our point guys walked past a blaze into and off-trail, but someone else always caught it and got us redirected. The only place I totally missed a blaze was when we took a shortcut along a road coming out of camp – the road crosses the low trail twice, and I never saw the second crossing. We were taking the high trail, so that didn’t matter anyway. We had GPS with the area topo map loaded into it, and that verified that we thought where we were. BTW, if you have a Garmin GPS, I can heartily recommend getting open source topo maps from GPS File Depot.

The low trail had a couple campsites along the south segment, but the trees and brush are denser, kind of like it was at the primitive camp. The high trail had a lot more camping options, since the trees were spaced farther apart, and there was a lot less dense brush. The views up there are better, also, and you can probably find a place with semi-flat places to pitch tents near rock outcroppings that would make good cooking/sitting/eating areas.

This trip was important to me as a shakedown. I am planning a 24-mile 2.5-day trip in California over the summer, and knew this one would be close to 20. The altitude change there will be much greater, but the raw distance is comparable, so I am confident that I will make the summer trip without too much problem.

Overall, this was a fantastic trip. I love the terrain of eastern Oklahoma, and while the weather was a bit chilly it beat 100F and 100% humidity!

We saw no (zero) mammals. There were a fair number of birds, to include a couple woodpeckers, but that was it. Only one reptile – a small frog. There were a lot of tracks of coyote and deer at various points.

This trail is recommended. It might be a better hike for beginner backpackers to take the first loop for a starter trip. That would be roughly ten miles round trip.

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