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Tips For Hiking The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Updated: Feb 3, 2023



You might have always thought that Oklahoma’s landscape was just like the landscape in Kansas — flat. I know I did. The reality is that Oklahoma has diverse geographical regions, including those with mountains. One way to see and enjoy this diversity in landscape is by hiking the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, a popular place for outdoor activities in southwest Oklahoma.


But before you visit, learn about the ins and outs of this “park” so that you can be prepared and enjoy your day.



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Bison grazing at the Holy City of the Wichitas

About The Refuge

There are four main sections in the refuge: 1) Mount Scott; 2) The Holy City of the Wichitas; 3) Dog Run Hollow Trail System; and 4) Charons Garden Wilderness Area.


If you’re coming from the East through Medicine Park, then the first area you’ll run into is Mount Scott. While there is a trail nearby, walking up the mountain to see the view is the main activity people do there. Some prefer to drive, as there’s a road and parking. However, check the website or call ahead to see when the gates open for cars. Your second option is to walk the fairly steep incline (2.8 miles to the top) on that same road the drivers use. I suggest hiking it before cars are allowed, though, as there isn’t much space for vehicles plus people.


Yes, it is worth a drive or hike! I never expected to have too many great views in Oklahoma, but this one gives me hope. In the fall, your eyes will meet a flood of blue, green and brown, but mostly blue, as the surrounding lakes are very visible.


The Holy City of the Wichitas is the next turnoff and is a replica of notable Biblical structures in Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. It includes the temple court, Herod’s court, Calvary’s Mount, the Garden of Gethsemane and more. This city is known for being the home to the country’s longest-running annual Easter Passion Play. It definitely doesn't require a long visit, so I encourage you to stop before moving on through the refuge. However, if you’re only there to hike and don't want to lose any time, feel free to skip it.


The third area, Dog Run Hollow Trail System, consists of mostly non-incline trails. So, if you want to hike but don’t have great knees for climbing mountains or want a more chill experience, this is your spot. The trails are also decently marked compared with the other trails you’ll find in the refuge. It is also the perfect place to see wildlife, as bison and longhorns like to graze there.


The Charons Garden Wilderness Area is where you’ll get into the uphill and more difficult trails. Elk Mountain is a challenging hike with a nice view at the top. Just keep in mind that the trail branches off into other ones and is not marked. So, if you lose the trail, be prepared to backtrack, create your own or look and listen for other hikers. Another favorite spot in the Charons Garden Wilderness Area is the base of Elk Mountain (Treasure Lake trail). Here you'll find "caves" made from boulders falling on top of one another. They're fun to climb and great for photos!


structures in the Holy City of the Wichitas

Hiking Tips

• Download the online map. You won’t have a signal most of the time at the refuge, and it can be really helpful to have a map handy for road and trail navigation. You can also find a more generalized map at the visitor's center.


• Bring a lot of water. My husband and I always bring A LOT, but it's still rarely enough for a full hiking day. Most of the trails have no shade, and even in the fall, it's extremely hot. That said, there is a visitor's center where you can fill up your water bottles when you run out.


• Pack a lunch. You'll likely spend most of a day at this refuge, so pack a lunch. There's not a food option in the refuge, and it will be pretty tedious to leave it (and your parking spot if you're at a trail) to find some food in the closest town. Sandwiches, fruit and veggies are always easy foods to pack in a cooler.


• Don’t wear open-toed shoes. Some of the trails are brushy, and you never know what might be around like poison ivy or snakes. Additionally, think about wearing long pants or leggings rather than shorts. While those may not be as comfortable for you, in my opinion, it’s better to have something covering your legs when hiking this terrain.


• Be careful around the bison and longhorns. You will be close to these animals, so learn about how to act around them and what to do in case one is unhappy. However, I don’t think you’ll have much to worry about, as these animals see people all the time.


• Stop to see the prairie dogs! There are a variety of places along the road where you can watch prairie dogs moving around and popping out of their holes. So pull over and take some photos.


The thing that sets the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge apart from other hikes — and my favorite aspect of it — is the number of animals you get to see. We watched prairie dogs, bison, longhorns, birds and lizards, and they weren't just distant shapes. We were often feet/yards away from them. It's one thing to go on a hike for the view of nature's landscapes; it's another to also have the view of nature's animals.


 



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