Welcome to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge! If you’re planning to go camping and hiking in this very underrated park in Oklahoma, here’s everything you need to know.
So if you don’t know, I managed to squeeze in a two week visit to Oklahoma this summer to visit my friends, Ryan and Stephanie, before they moved away. They both come from a long, loooong line of Oklahomans, and I figured it’d be fun to see the state from their eyes. Since they happened to have a 100km bike race in the Wichitas before I arrived, we agreed to meet there for a few days of camping, hiking, and getting off the grid. Truly one of the best ways to kick off a summer trip – especially with all those gorgeous wildflowers in bloom!
Part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service system, the Wichita Mountains span nearly 60,000 acres and feature some of the few mountain landscapes in the whole state. Whatever images you conjure up imagining Oklahoma, I swear this park will make you change your mind. As soon as I passed the entrance sign, I just wanted to stop constantly to take in the landscape. It’s such a stunning way to start the trip that the rest of my time could’ve been a crapshoot and I still would’ve left thinking Oklahoma was beautiful. (Obviously, the rest of my time was not a crapshoot!)
From no cell phone reception to plenty of hiking trails, and a very good chance of coming across a herd of bison, I thought I’d share everything to expect on your visit!
Places We Visited in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
As with any U.S. national park, the best place to start is at the visitor center. The workers there are well versed in the area and can offer insights and guidance into where to go and when. We met up here to check out their exhibit as well as the gift shop before going over what hikes we wanted to do.
The nearest town is Medicine Park which is a very cute area with places to eat, shops, and even some accommodation. It was actually founded in 1908 as Oklahoma’s very first resort town. It actually has quite a fun early history with everyone from Al Capone to President Roosevelt visiting for a little getaway. You can read more on its about page if you’re curious.
If you come during the summer, you can also take a swim in Bath Lake. It’s kind of right behind the stores in town and easy to climb in and cool off. Unfortunately, it was down pouring and chilly for the few hours we spent here (as seen by my fantastic poncho look above), so definitely not swim weather.
Run Dog Hollow Hike/ Bison Trail
As my friends said, if you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma just wait ten minutes. Sure enough after lunch and a little stroll through Medicine Park, the skies were blue and the sun was out. Thank goodness for long summer days because we had plenty of time to still do ur first hike of the trip! This relatively flat, 6-mile loop trail is called both Run Dog Hollow and the Bison Trail, and you know you’re going the right way when you come across one of these little symbols.
Because we were visiting when the wildflowers were out, we saw fields and fields of yellow plus tons of Indian blanket flowers (as seen above), which is the official state wildflower.
Neither a whole or obviously 40ft, the Forty Foot Hole is the main halfway mark for Run Dog Hollow. Just a fun site to see; we saw some people down at the bottom but I’m still not quite sure how they got there!
Charons Garden Wilderness Area
Another beautiful area are Charon Gardens. It’s a relatively flat path before you get to the boulder area. Pretty if you just want to stroll a little. Again – lots of wildflowers in late spring, early summer.
In Charons Gardens, you’ll notice a huge rocky outcrop in the distance and at the very top are perched what looks like two little crab eyes. This is the Crab Eyes trail! You’ll first go through Charons Gardens and then eventually start climbing up to get to the bottom of these eyes. On the other side is what basically looks like a rock garden, and we explore a bit before retracing our steps and making our way back.
There’s exactly one sign to tell you you’re headed towards Crab Eyes and after that the trail isn’t marked at all. With the summer growth, some of the obvious pathways also become shrouded – so you want to have either the Alltrails map pre-downloaded or use one of the physical maps/guidebooks found in the visitor center. Ryan and Stephanie had a little guidebook, so I just followed their lead.
Be prepared – there’s very little shade on this trail. Wear TONS of sunscreen, longer pants (poison ivy would be a bitch out here), and both a hat and sunglasses.
At 2,464 feet above sea level Mount Scott is the main viewpoint for the Wichita Mountains. You can hike up, but you can also drive up to take in the vistas. We obviously drove. I highly recommend visiting at golden hour so you can really see the surrounding area shine.
Visible and accessible from Doris Campground, Little Baldy is named so because it looks like a bald man’s head. It’s a very short and easy hike up. Ryan and Stephanie did it the morning before we left, but I was too exhausted to want to get up and hike again, so I slept in. This is the view from near our camping spot!
Other Trails & Places to Visit
Obviously we didn’t do every single trail in the park while I visited, so here are some other trails that might be of interest:
- Post Oak Falls Trail – a 1.5-mile out and back trail that ends with a little canyon waterfall.
- Narrows Trail – a 2.7-mile out and back trail with some stream crossings and rock scrambling.
- Parallel Forest Loop – a 0.8-mile loop trail that’ll take you through 20,000 red cedar trees that were planted by the government to help deal with the Dust Bowl.
- Osage Lake – a 1.3-mile loop trail that ends at Osage Lake
A Guide to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Where to Stay
For campers, the only campground in Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge is Doris Campground. You have to reserve ahead of time on recreation.gov.
Note that there are only vault toilets in most of the campground. Currently most of them are under construction, so there are actually porta potties set-up. There’s a Central Bathroom which has normal toilets as well as showers – no soap, so bring your own.
Also – all wildlife here is free roaming, so you very well may get a bison or longhorn passing through your campsite at night! I tried to sleep outside on the hammock for fun one night and was woken up by both drunk rednecks turning up their music and than a raccoon.
If camping isn’t your think, then the closest area you’ll want to stay in is Medicine Park. The most popular choice would be the very cute Birdhouse Cottages that line the lake. However, if they’re booked up, VRBO has some super cute options like this hilltop cottage, this tiny home, or this cute little cabin.
On our way out, we stopped into this really charming small town called Chickasha. It’s home to Giant Lay Leg Lamp like that found in A Christmas Story! Not only is the leg 40ft high, it also sits on a 10ft high crate. That alone is worth a visit. But as we walked around the downtown, we also realized it would another cute place to stay if you wanted a hotel and town feel instead of being in the park.
Lawton – not recommended
Lawton is often cited as the closest bigger town near the Wichita Mountains, but both Ryan and Stephanie recommended against staying there. From what they said it’s kind of sketchy and they felt unsafe even going in for some dinner. Let me know if you’ve had a different experience!
Best Times to Visit
I’ve only been at the end of May when the wildflowers were still out and blooming. I have to say it was a beautiful time of year to visit though things got both hot and humid by midday and there’s not a ton of shade to help keep cool. Since Ryan and Stephanie have come multiple times in different seasons, I asked them their favorites and they agreed this time of year with the flowers was one of their favorites!
What to Pack
What you pack really depends on where you’re planning to stay. If you’re coming just for hiking, here’s what I recommend:
- Sturdy hiking boots – The trails to get kinda rocky at certain points and while you’d be okay in sneakers, it’s much better to have some hiking boots with ankle support. I wore my Danner ones for everything.
- Longer pants – Definitely wear longer pants to protect your legs from things like poison ivy. I had Girlfriend leggings on for Crab Eyes and their pocket biker shorts for Run Dog Hollow.
- Sun protection – there was very little shade on any of our hikes and that Oklahoman sun is not messing around. Make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen AND wear things like hats and sunglasses. Loose, shirts will also help.
If you’re camping…
I mean if you’re planning to camp, I assume you already know what to bring and what to expect. But just a brief overview of what we had:
- A sturdy tent
- Sleeping mats
- Sleeping bags
- Camp chairs
- Anything you want for your camp kitchen
- Extra big jugs of water for refills
- Head lamps (ALWAYS bring a headlamp)
- Shower/Bathroom shoes
- Any toiletries you’ll want (we didn’t shower properly, just sort of cowboy showered at sinks)
- Hammock for relaxing
- Bug spray – you’ll want it
- Books to enjoy!
- Melatonin gummies
- Earplugs for light sleepers
Important Safety Notes
Be mindful of wildlife
As I mentioned above – this is a wildlife refuge. That means there are plenty of creatures and critters that roam this land freely – so be respectful and watchful. Especially for rattlesnakes!
And learn from my dumb, rookie mistake – just put your food in your car even if it should be secure in its bags/coolers. The racoon ate all my smart popcorn and I’m still mad about it.
Fellow campers might suck
Unfortunately, sometimes you get some shitty camper neighbors like we did on our second night. Two drunk rednecks from Texas that were there to get drunk and be assholes. They turned up their music at midnight and just generally slurred stupid things are each other until they both went to bed. Very annoying and kind of made me feel slightly unsafe. There’s a camp host you can reach out to but there’s no cell reception, so you’d have to go find them and the camp sites are spread out.
Just keep ear plugs handy to block out the noise and keep some mace nearby for emergencies.
Wear longer pants
This is just good hiking practice that we obviously didn’t practice most of the time. But they’ll come in handy for the more overgrown paths.
Beware of poison ivy and prickly bushes
Not only is there plenty of poison ivy to look out for (leaves of three, leave them be!) but there are also some prickly plants low to the ground that can hurt a bit they brush bare skin. Something got me on Run Dog Hollow, and it just felt like this tiny sharp pain for a few hours which was annoying.
Protect yourself from the sun
As I’ve also mentioned a few times, the sun can get strong in Oklahoma and this park is largely unshaded. Unless you want to worry and fork over some money for mole removals down the line, protect your skin! Longer clothes, hats, sunglasses, and lots and lots of sunscreen. Even my more melanated friends – we’re all at risk of skin cancer no matter how dark our skin gets without burning.
Where to Get Extra Supplies
There are different shops where you can pick up some supplies you may need for camping. I’m not sure if there was a proper grocery store or something similar but you’ve got at least sun gear, outdoors gear, etc.
There’s a great gas station near Medicine Park that we went to for more ice and to fill up. It was by far the cheapest gas I found in my entire road trip, and the bathrooms were really nice and clean. They have typical gas station food all throughout, so if you need any snacks or anything. I’m going to be honest – I have no clue where it is but I know we passed Medicine Park to get there and I saw it on my way in to the Visitor Center.
And there you have it – all you need to know for getting off the grid in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge! Any tips to add or questions to ask? Let me know below!
SHARE THIS ON PINTEREST
want to support?
I’m always grateful when friends and readereach out wanting to support There She Goes Again. Truthfully, I’m just happy my posts are helping people travel! If you’d like to support the blog, here are some companies and brands I’m affiliated with. Simply click the links, and I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
- Booking (Hotels)
- Sixt (Car Rental)
- Klook (Tours)
- Viator (Tours)
- Get Your Guide (Tours)
- Trazy (Korea Tours)
- Tiqets (Entrance Tickets)
BLOGGING / SOCIAL MEDIA