Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

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Summary

The Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma could be the most beautiful place within a four hour drive from Dallas. Bare rose granite rising a thousand feet above the prairie, cut with streams and oak forests that turn golden in the fall, and home to wandering bison and elk.

Written by

Brian Witte

Distance

7.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

170.0 miles

Difficulty

2 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

2 hours

Seasonality

All Seasons

Dog Friendly

No

Fees Permits

Yes

Free to hike. Back country camping $2/night.

Topographical Map

Trail Map

Land Website

Wichita Mountains

Review

Intro

The Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma could be the most beautiful place within a four hour drive from Dallas. Bare rose granite rising a thousand feet above the prairie, cut with streams and oak forests that turn golden in the fall, and home to wandering bison and elk.

What Makes It Great

There is a perilous lack of wilderness near North Texas. The Wichita Mountains hold a delicious taste of the wild, even if they are not quite large enough to get lost in. What they do have are bare rock summits a thousand feet above the plains, and acre after acre of tall grass prairie.

The most popular trail in the Wildlife Refuge climbs to the summit of Elk Mountain. The trail is well marked and climbs in switch backs through a low oak forest. The grade is unrelenting, and feels more like climbing a staircase than hiking a trail. The views, however, are magnificent, with miles of unspoiled valley stretching out to a line of peaks just to the north across the refuge. The peak, once reached, is the highest point on the ridge with a long plateau of granite stretching away to the east and west. The only drawback of the trail is that this is the only trail most of the park visitors experience, and it can be crowded on popular weekends. Despite the patches of forest, most of the trail is very exposed to the weather, and the midday heat can be intense.

The Charon’s Garden trail, by contrast, might have only a few other people. Instead of climbing a peak, it follows a stream valley through an oak forest before traversing a low pass. At the southern end of the pass, there is an amazing fall of boulders as big as houses. The actual trail is poorly marked here, and the safest way to pass is to skirt the fall along the right side. The adventurous, however, can hop from boulder to boulder. Finding the northern trail head can be the biggest challenge. From the parking lot of the Elk Mountain trail, stay on the same side of the river as the parking lot and walk to the western end. Eventually, there will be a sign pointing the way to the trail.

The longest trail in the park, Bison Trail, is only 5 miles long. It’s near the middle of the refuge and it’s a loop loop, unlike the other two, with very little elevation change. The forest is beautiful, and there are occasional glimpses of the park’s herds of semi-wild bison or elk.

None of these trail descriptions really do justice to the beauty of the park. Sunsets over the granite peaks are epic. The forests are strangely powerful in the tenacity it takes to survive between bare granite and dry grassland. The mountains themselves are powerful. 500 million years these rocks have weathered, grain by grain, and still they endure.

Who is Going to Love It

The mountains are perfect for those needing a taste of elevation and a landscape that is radically different from the flatlands. You could visit as a long day trip from Dallas, but it’s better to take a weekend and camp by the lake in the refuge.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Park is open year-round. The visitor center is open 9 am – 5 pm. The best times to visit are March-May and October-November. Spring break and summer break are very popular, so reserve a camping place ahead of time.

Free to hike. Back country camping $2/night. Make your reservations well ahead of time since arrangements must be made by snail mail. The drive-up camp ground is $10/night and also accepts reservations. It has ice and firewood for sale, running water and hot showers(!).

Directions: From Interstate 44 in Lawton, OK, go left on US 62 W for 13.7 miles, then right onto OK 115 towards Cache. Follow this road 5.8 miles to the park entrance. 


Location

Wichita Mountains

34.710644, -98.623426

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