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sunset view on the Elk Mountain Trail
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Closest available address
The refuge is located about 20 miles northwest of Lawton, Oklahoma.
Visitor center is open 8am-4:30pm. Refuge is open daylight hours and for camping.
Best time to visit
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a 59,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. Established in 1901, the refuge is the oldest protected area of its type in the US and even predates Oklahoma’s statehood. The refuge is known for herds of bison and longhorn cattle. Recreational opportunities include wildlife observation, hiking, rock climbing, boating and camping. There also is a museum and a good 15 minute overview film.
President McKinley safeguarded the area in 1901 as a forest reserve to prevent it from being developed. Due to the rocky nature of the soil, the grasslands were never plowed which makes them exceptionally rare and valuable from a conservation perspective. Refuge lands also include parts of the Wichita Mountains, a 500 million year old mountain chain that runs east/west and sticks out prominently. The land was redesignated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1935. It is one of the most visited refuges in the country.
Given extensive facilities and recreational activities, Wichita Mountains seems more like a park than a refuge. The museum is large by refuge standards and includes informative displays on plants and animals, ecosystems and land stewardship. It’s also good for kids with lots of hands-on activities. Most people will want to drive around the refuge and see sites like an extensive prairie dog town, as well as the buffalo and longhorn cattle. To get a better view of the refuge and nearby areas, one can drive to the top of Mount Scott or hike up Elk Mountain. The 1 mile Elk Mountain Trail was rocky and rugged with a 500 elevation change. A more level but less noteworthy hike is the 2.4 mile Longhorn Trail, which passes through woods and by dams. Also on the refuge is an out of place replica of the holy city of Jerusalem as well as a related play around Easter time. With a beautiful landscape and multiple attractions, a visit to the refuge will have strong general appeal. It's worth a look when in the area.
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The Holy City of the Wichitas
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