Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Choosing a Hiking Trail

Updated July 6, 2021
A hiker on the Wichita Mountains

Hiking new terrain is a fun and active pastime for many people. Choosing a prime location to get your hike on is essential and often the first order of business for hikers. Those who choose the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge are in for a treat because this gem has it all, amazing trails, stunning sights, and tons of wildlife.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is located in southwestern Oklahoma, near Cache and Lawton. Established in 1901, the refuge spans 59,000 acres and is home to 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish, and 806 plant species. Hikers are likely to stumble across free-range buffalo, Texas longhorn cattle, prairie dogs, elk, and deer during their hiking excursion.

There is much to do at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Visitors can partake in various outdoor activities, like mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, hiking, camping, picnic areas, and fishing. Quanah Parker Nature and the refuge's Visitor Center showcase interesting exhibits on the natural wildlife of the Wichita Mountains. The refuge includes other attractions like the Holy City of the Wichitas, Quanah Parker Lake, and the Parallel Forest.

Those needing more than a single day to take in all that is offered at the refuge can camp at Doris campground. The campground includes 47 tent sites and 23 RV sites. Backcountry camping is also offered at the low rate of only $2 per person, and rates increase to $24 for a site at Doris with an electric hookup.

Choosing Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Hiking Trails

When you get to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, you'll see that the area has everything the old Wild West had to offer. It has been left relatively unchanged compared to the rest of the landscape and stands as a reminder of the past as well as a symbol for wildlife preservation. If you decide to choose the Wichita area for your next hiking excursion, don't forget to bring your camera. Some visitors go out just to take pictures of the wildlife. Others intend to wander around on foot and see what they may stumble across. Either way, you'll want to take home some evidence of the natural beauty that can still be found in the heart of the United States. Photography is the easiest way to do it.

Medicine Park In The Wichita Mountains

Here are a few reasons to make Wichita's wildlife refuge hiking next on your list of things to do, as far as hiking goes:

  • It may not be as exotic as a guided tour through parts of Europe, but if you live in the United States, it can be nice to take a moment (or day, or weekend) and appreciate the natural beauty found within your own country.
  • Again, for US citizens, it's a cheaper way to get a fun hiking trip in. There may not even be any airfare necessary.
  • You get to experience the prairies and learn more about the history there through their educational visitor center.

Which Wichita Trail Is Best for You?

No trail is going to let you down, that is for sure! That said, they are not all created equally. Some of the trails found at the refuge will be challenging and rugged, while others are designed for beginner hikers or young nature enthusiasts wanting to get into the walking game. Spend some time learning about the levels of hiking difficulty related to each trail and the unique qualities each trail offers visitors.

Bison Trail

Bison Trail is a 6.1-mile loop trail located in the refuge. The skill level of the trail is moderate and includes little or no significant elevation gains. Hikers will pass a lake, rivers and hike through a gorge. Bring along your four-legged furry friend as dogs are welcome on this particular trail. Don't forget to pack plenty of water, as you will be exposed to the elements for much of this hike. Remember your trusty camera! The vegetation that blooms in the late springtime is truly awe-inspiring.

Narrows Trail

Narrows Trail is a 2.7 mountain hike, but don't let the relatively short distance fool you. This is a challenging trail that beginners might want to pass on. If you take this trail on, you might find yourself hopping from boulder to boulder and crossing through small river beds. The views are the major payoff here! Be sure to wear hiking shoes that can go in the water, as your feet will get wet, and know your navigational skills. Some of the hike is unmarked or poorly marked.

Wichita Mountains Forty-Foot Hole

Forty-Foot Hole is a 1.4-mile hike that will appease seasoned hikers and beginner hikers alike. Following the 40 minutes trek (give or take, a stunning waterfall rewards) hikers at the end of the trail. This is one of the more scenic hikes and can be done by hikers of all abilities; hence it can get crowded on the trails.

Mount Scott Overlook

The 5.6-mile stretch back trail is located near Medicine Park, Oklahoma. This is a great place to hike if you hope to catch a few glimpses of wildlife roaming their natural habitat. With paved trails, most any hiker can navigate this terrain, so long as they can go the long distance. Once travelers reach the summit, Mount Scott itself, they will be left breathless at the sight. This is one of the best places in the entire refuge to snap some pictures.

Little Baldy Trail

Little Baldy Trail is less than a mile in total length, but that doesn't mean it is a piece of cake. Hikers can expect to encounter some climbing, making this trek moderate, not easy in skill level. If you explore it around Memorial Day, the flowers will be in full bloom, perfect for pictures. The trail also opens up to pretty lake views, and hikers can expect to see some wildlife roaming nearby if they are fortunate.

pathway leads from Sable Falls to the Ghost Forest

Jed Johnson Tower Trail to Central Peak

This 1.4-mile trail is doable for most people. Dogs are welcome, and those who have hiked it before claim to have had no issues getting young kids through the hike. For young families wanting to introduce hiking in Kansas to their kids, this trail is a solid option, to begin with.

Tips for Hikers

Like any sport or hobby, those getting into hiking need to know the basics to be safe and successful.

  • Know how to hydrate properly.
  • Hike in pairs or groups.
  • If hiking solo, let someone know where you will be and leave your anticipated trail notes with this person.
  • Dress like an onion; meaning learn how to layer your clothing for the changing elements.
  • Have a GPS on hand.
  • Purchase proper hiking footwear and consider trekking poles to aid sore knees.
  • Bring along suntan lotion, bug spray, and bandages.

Discover a Slice of Hiking Heaven

The landscape, wildlife, and history of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge create a small slice of hiking heaven for avid trail hunters. If hiking is your passion, and you relish in exploring the sights and scenes of the great outdoors, then this refuge is one place you will most certainly want to put on your bucket list.

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Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Choosing a Hiking Trail