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Wichita Mountains Wilderness

General Location Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Trip Planning Images
A person stands dwarfed below a large balancing rock, surrounded by deep blue sky.
Library image #9: Person posing beside a large balancing rock.

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the Wichita Mountains Wilderness (map) in 1970 and it now has a total of 8,570 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Oklahoma and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Description

The American buffalo once roamed in uncountable numbers here among the grasslands that rise to lakes, streams, and stunning canyons. Today there's a small but growing herd. Something about seeing these near-extinct creatures, grazing in apparent contentment, leads visitors to believe that in the Wichita Mountains life must be close to the way it was in the Old West.

Although the National Wildlife Refuge System technically was born when it claimed Florida's Pelican Island in 1903, practically speaking the system began here just after the turn of the century, in what is now known as Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. In 1901 this area was proclaimed a "Forest Preserve," and in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt signed a law creating the first "Game Sanctuary" here for the almost-extinct Bison bison. Thanks to careful management, a remnant bunch of 15 buffalo has grown to a maintained herd of about 600, which live among the rugged rocky outcroppings, oak forests, and the mixed-grass prairie of the refuge.

Rare in this area, a herd of about 300 free-ranging Texas longhorn cattle shares the refuge with elk, deer, and buffalo. Open range allows the animals to wander through your camp, but they are not tame. At night you will probably hear coyotes howl and owls hoot, and you may be visited by the resident population of overly friendly raccoons.

Of the refuge's 59,020 acres, 22,400 acres are open to public use. The rest of the refuge is a special-use area reserved for the wild animals. Within the northern portion of the special-use area lies North Mountain Wilderness Unit. The rugged southwestern corner of the refuge is protected as Charons Garden Wilderness Unit and is open to the public. No fires and no alcohol are permitted.

Planning to Visit the Wichita Mountains Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

2. Travel on Durable Surfaces, Camp Permit Reqired

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

4. Leave What You Find

5. Minimize Impacts, No Campfires

6. Respect Wildlife

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors




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