Published: April/May 2009
Central States
Check out the season's best weekend trips near you.
Text by Contributing Editor Robert Earle Howells
The Hidden Gem: Trout Fishing’s Best Kept Secret

"We’re in the mountains here," says park manager Jim Miller of Beavers Bend Resort Park in southeast Oklahoma, who doesn’t apologize for top elevations in the very low four figures. "We’ve got a clear lake, a covering of pines and hardwoods, and a trout stream that looks like it belongs in the Rockies." Broken Bow Lake, with 180 miles of undeveloped shoreline, drains into Mountain Fork River, a favorite with local paddlers for its riffles and—a genuine anomaly in Oklahoma—year-round trout fishing. The park will rent you a furnished cabin on the river ($70;, and Beavers Bend River Floats will provide a canoe ($21;

The Other Big Bend

At more than 320,000 acres, Big Bend Ranch State Park is huge even by Texas standards, but it’s often overlooked by park baggers who beeline for Big Bend National Park next door. BBR is 4WD territory, where a high-clearance rig gets you to some incomparable backcountry campsites, many of them new, such as wild, remote Las Burras, tucked against a boulder-strewn mountain ($8; April brings perfect weather and scads of birds—more than 300 species have been ID’d here. Another stat to bear in mind: 400,000 visitors a year for Big Bend National Park versus 5,000 for BBR.

The Adventure Lodge: A Frontier Hideout

It can be as moving to stand amid unbroken miles of tallgrass prairie as it is to stand in a redwood forest. Nothing but grasses, wildflowers, birdsong, and endless horizons. Few places preserve the feel of that landscape better than the Flint Hills of central Kansas, which were too rocky to ever meet a plow blade—a fate that befell most of the country’s original 140 million acres of grassland. One unsullied swath is the Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, a private 220-acre tract preserved by prairie devotees who have also built a lovely guest cabin surrounded by grasses and woodlands. Here you can wander at will—splash in creeks, bushwhack through hills where blue-eyed grass and blue wild indigo are coming into bloom, and scope wild turkeys and bobcats. At night, settle onto a private deck and turn that scope skyward, stargazing to the tune of bullfrogs croaking and coyotes howling (doubles from $75;

Trail to Nowhere

Central Louisiana’s Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail in the Kisatchie National Forest southwest of Alexandria is about the length of a marathon (26.2 miles), and you could hike the whole thing in a day. Or you can stop and smell the azaleas, following the double yellow blaze from Woodworth to the Valentine Lake Recreation Area. The route traverses hardwood forests, creeks, and piney uplands. The trail’s highlight: Castor Creek Scenic Area, where massive loblolly pines form a dramatic canopy. If you do the route as an out-and-back, camp at mile 8.3 near Little Loving Creek, which puts you on the edge of the scenic area. Watch for eagles, beavers, and the odd B-52—the trail borders an Air Force test range (no permits;