Any animal and environment enthusiast should pay a visit to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. This refuge, located near Lawton in southwest Oklahoma, encompasses over 59,000 acres and is home to a variety of protected rare animals! The United States Fish and Wildlife Service manages it, and there is no entry fee. Bison, longhorn cattle, prairie dogs, elk, and deer live there. Furthermore, the view is breathtaking! The Wichita Mountains are around 500 million years old, and the terrain has been changed throughout time by natural processes. Views of large open plains, pristine lakes, and rugged mountains may be seen at the refuge. This comprehensive guide Wichita Mountains things to do will tell you all you need to know.
How to get to the Wichita Mountains?
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is situated in southwest Oklahoma, as previously stated. I suggest flying into Oklahoma City or Dallas and then renting a vehicle to travel to the refuge for out-of-state guests. It takes 1.5 hours to get from Oklahoma City and 3.5 hours from Dallas. During my visit, I stayed in Lawton, and the refuge entrance was a 30-minute drive from town.
This secret mountain retreat in the heart of the Great Plains is a refuge for animals and all types of travelers. The boulder, 1000-foot-tall Wichita Mountains are the last thing you’d expect to see travelling through Oklahoma’s flat plains. They erupt from the plains roughly an hour and a half southwest of Oklahoma City, producing granite domes surrounded by grasslands and pierced by precipitous canyons.
The mountains’ rough terrain made cultivation difficult, maintaining them as a sanctuary for traditional grazing animals like American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, and white-tailed deer, which were surrounded by a sea of private property and one-stoplight villages. There is plenty of public property to explore, with many state parks and the 59,020-acre Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. So pack everything you’ll need to climb granite cliffs, shred single track, wander eerie woods, and sleep beneath the stars in your vehicle.
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Things you can do
1. Explore the Charon’s Gardens Wilderness Area on foot.
Charon, the Greek ferryman of the dead, is honored in the Wichita Mountains’ lone federally designated wilderness area. However, don’t expect to see the River Styx. Instead, this jumble of granite boulders in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuges southwestern section is one of the few areas in the range where hiking is permitted. A permit is available at the Refuge Visitor Center on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hike Charon’s Gardens Trail from the Sunset Picnic Area through riparian meadows enclosed in by rock walls to Crab Eyes Trail, which will take you the rest of the way to the eastern boundary of the permitted backcountry camping area. It’s up to you to find a place among the dead—er, stones—from there. Just be sure to get a map from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure you’re pitching your tent in a suitable camping area, and study up on the camping restrictions, since the refuge has its own set of requirements to safeguard the sensitive ecology.
2. Camp at Doris Campground
Doris Campground is ideal for campers, adventure rigs, or those who just want a night outside with modest facilities. The facility contains 90 first-come, first-served sites, 23 of which have power, and is located in the refuge on the shores of Quanah Parker Lake. You’ll find a fire ring, grill, and picnic table wherever you set up camp, as well as drinking water, restrooms, showers, firewood, ice, and other amenities. Pro tip: The neighboring Quanah Parker Trail has a bird blind where you can see great blue herons, red-bellied woodpeckers, northern cardinals, and Carolina chickadees all year.
3. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge hike
Follow this 1.2-mile out-and-back to the peak of 2,200-plus-foot Elk Mountain if you still haven’t had your fill of animals. You’ll ascend 580 feet up steep stairs and through scrubby undergrowth from the trailhead (which is also located in the Sunset Picnic Area). The views are spectacular the whole way up, but from the peak, you can see the Charon’s Gardens Wilderness Area to the west and the snakelike French Lake to the east, where bison herds may be grazing.
The 5.3-mile Bison Trail, which begins at the Lost Lake Picnic Area and travels through rocky meadows and around French Lake, allows you to get (a little) closer. The buffalo are all offspring of 15 bison who were moved by rail from the Bronx Zoo in 1907 to repopulate their natural land. Just remember to stay on the route and allow the animals plenty of room.
4. From Elk Mountain
The singletrack at Pedal Lake Lawtonka Wichita isn’t only for boots and hooves. Load up your mountain bike and ride along the southern and western sides of Lake Lawtonka, just east of the wildlife reserve, for more than 20 miles of track. The rocky, cross-country-style circuits weave through grassy, lakefront meadows and beneath groves of pine, although they’re best suited for intermediate and advanced riders due to some tricky downhills. The 5.7-mile Lawtonka West Shore Loop is one of the greatest rides in the state since it incorporates a little bit of all the region has to offer. It’s also simple to cross the Lake Lawtonka Dam and continue your ride on the lake’s Blue and Orange pathways.
5. Hearing an Elk Call
To safeguard the bison, elk, wild turkeys, river otters, prairie dogs, and other animals that call the refuge home, more than half of it is closed to the public. However, there is a way in. During the peak of elk mating season in September and October, the refuge offers a bus tour of the special-use area where you can view roving herds of females and listen for the high-pitched whistle bull elk emit while fighting for partners. For particular dates and to book your spot, contact the sanctuary.
6. Quartz Mountain Climb
At Baldy Point, an outcropping on the west side of Quartz Mountain Nature Park, get up up and personal with the native granite. The granite monolith offers a good combination of traditional and sport climbing, as well as some bouldering, with routes ranging from beginner-friendly 5.5s to 5.12s. But be warned: the rock will put you to the test with frequent runouts and friction-heavy routes like S Wall, a fantastic two-pitch 5.9 sport climb. The crack climbs are very well-known. For all the beta, visit Mountain Project or pick up a copy of Tony Mayse’s guidebook, Oklahoma Rock: A Climber’s Guide, at REI’s new shop in Oklahoma City.
7. Get Scared in the Parallel World Forest
Traveling north on Meers Road (Highway 115), you’ll come upon an odd sight: acres and acres of red cedars standing like soldiers at attention, each one precisely six feet apart. As if that weren’t enough, the century-old grove has been the site of many claims of ghosts, floating orbs, unusual sounds, and paranormal happenings. Just east of Mount Roosevelt, look for the woodland and the small loop route that runs through it.
8. Eat a Burger that Caused an Earthquake
The “Seismic Meersburger” at Meers Store and Restaurant may be named after the region’s geologic history. Maybe it’s the enormous size of the burger. In any case, the Wichitas’ famous post-adventure dinner (or two) is a seven-inch diameter, one-pound patty of indigenous Longhorn beef. The shop, which is located on the northeast side of the wildlife refuge, not far from the path back to Oklahoma City, is the final vestige of the once-thriving mining town that gave the refuge its name. Drink a Meers Gold Beer (made in the neighboring Krebs) to wash down your meal, which comes in a 22-ounce bottle. If burgers aren’t your thing, stop by Small Mountain Street Tacos in Medicine Park, just south of Lake Lawtonka, for some Tex-Mex delicacies.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge offers a wide range of recreational opportunities!
- Fishing and boating: Fishing and boating are allowed in all of the refuge lakes and streams in the public use area, subject to state and federal laws.
- Biking: Ride your bike around the reserve’s main routes! I spotted numerous groups of motorcyclists during my visit, so it seems to be a favorite spot for them.
- The Doris Campground, which includes 47 tent sites, 23 RV sites with electric connections, and 20 sites situated a short walk away along a path, is open year-round for overnight camping inside the refuge. Within the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, backcountry camping is also possible.
- Wildlife viewing: Keep an eye out for bison, longhorns, deer, and prairie dogs. Longhorns abound, and there are a few bison sprinkled around the area. Prairie dog colonies are also identified along the major route (Hwy 49) and near the Holy City of the Wichitas.
- Hiking/Bouldering: The refuge contains about 15 miles of hiking routes suitable for all levels of hikers. There are bouldering chances in several areas. Some trail suggestions may be found in the following section.
As you can see, a large number of activities are available for people who visit Wichita Mountains. Therefore, you just need to engage with them and your stay will not be a boring one.