Spotlight: Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wilderness
Experience Oklahoma’s wild, wild West
What You’ll Find
The rugged and weathered Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma are ranked among the oldest ranges on earth, formed over 500 million years ago. Today the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge embraces these ancient mountains and includes thousands of acres reserved for the area’s unique wildlife, including parts of the Wichita Mountains Wilderness. Within the Wichita Mountains Wilderness and part of the public use area is Charon’s Garden Wilderness area, a rugged landscape of wind-sculpted granite summits, picturesque canyons and odd rock formations, surrounded by forests and open mixed grass prairie.
Appealing to visitors are the world-class wildlife viewing opportunities – especially within the wilderness. American bison once roamed in uncountable numbers among the grasslands of Oklahoma. But by the early 1900s, these magnificent animals were nearly extinct which is why President Theodore Roosevelt created the first “Game Sanctuary” in 1905. Today a healthy herd of about 650 head share the refuge with other free-roaming herds of elk, deer and even free-ranging Texas Longhorn Cattle protected and preserved as a significant cultural and historical resource.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is located 25 miles northwest of Lawton, Oklahoma. From Interstate 44, take exit 45 west 10 miles to the refuge gate. If coming in from Highway 62, take Highway 115 (Cache exit) north to the refuge gate. The Charon’s Garden Wilderness area is located in the southwest portion of the refuge.
Make Sure You
Participate in a guided hike and interpretive tour! The refuge offers a weekly Thursday Morning Walking Club, weekly Saturday morning hikes for the whole family and a Mountain Boomers Hiking Club the second Monday of every month for baby boomers who are wild at heart. Or join the Friends of the Wichitas on one of over 50 guided tours each year that cover topics and sights ranging from winter eagles to spring flowers, and bugling elk to wilderness walks.
Enjoy wilderness solitude by camping under the stars in a designated area of the Charon’s Garden Wilderness area! Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit and reservations are taken up to three months in advance.
For larger families and groups wanting a few more amenities, stay at the nearby Doris Campground. All single-unit campsites are obtained on a first-come, first-served basis only. Group sites may be reserved for groups of between 8 and 30 people per site and reservations may be made up to three months in advance also through the Refuge Visitor Center.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Charon’s Garden Wilderness area offer some of the finest rock climbing opportunities in the region. Technical rock climbing is allowed during daylight hours throughout the public areas of the refuge with some exceptions.
While most climbers are committed to "minimal impact" practices, over time, climbing and other recreational activities have begun to make an impact on refuge resources. In order to ensure that open access, minimal regulation and a healthy environment will continue to be a part of your climbing experiences at the refuge, each climber is encouraged to prevent or reduce adverse impacts.
The Charon’s Garden Wilderness area may be subject to extreme heat during the summer and often very cold weather during the winter. Bring plenty of water, especially during the summer. During the spring, the area is subject to severe storms, including tornadoes. Check the local forecast and be prepared for quickly changing weather.
The area is very rugged and rocky. Dress appropriately and wear durable shoes or boots suited for use in rocky and rough terrain. Also venomous snakes, primarily western diamondback rattlesnakes and copperheads, are common in the refuge. Visitors are cautioned to avoid close proximity to bison and longhorn cattle, which freely roam throughout the refuge.
Whether you hike, explore, observe and photograph wildlife and outstanding natural scenery, join a tour, participate in rock climbing activities or camp in the backcountry, you will discover an ancient land, a retreat from civilization, and a place to reconnect and rejuvenate in the wilds of the Wichita Mountains Wilderness.
Learn more about the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act and join events across the country in honor of the world’s most special places and landscapes. Take a moment to enjoy this short video from the National Wildlife Refuge System to celebrate the anniversary.