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Wichita Mountains Wilderness

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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, the history of this Wilderness—which lies within what is now known as the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge—dates back to 1901 when the area was proclaimed a “Forest Preserve.” In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt signed a law creating the first "Game Sanctuary" here for the almost-extinct bison and a portion of that area has since become the Wichita Mountains Wilderness. Thanks to careful management, a remnant bunch of 15 buffalo has grown to a maintained herd of about 650, 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 285 free-ranging Texas longhorn cattle shares the Wilderness 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.

The Witchita Mountains Wilderness makes up roughly 15% of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and is split into two areas. The northern portion of Wilderness, the North Mountain Wilderness Unit, is a part of the refuge special-use area which is reserved for wild animals and has very limited public access. The southern portion of Wilderness, in the rugged southwestern corner of the refuge, is protected as Charons Garden Wilderness Unit and is open to the public. The outstanding and unique scenic qualities of this Wilderness unit attract many visitors. Two designated trails totaling about 3.5 miles are maintained by hand within the Charons Garden Wilderness. There are also some nondesignated and unmaintained trails the area.

The ruggedness of the weathered granite mountainous terrain in the Charons Garden Wilderness Area provides an experience of solitude, naturalness, and wildness. Group sizes are limited to alleviate the heavy use impacts. Temporary access restrictions are occasionally used to protect sensitive sites or resources from disturbance. In addition, temporary closures may implemented during periods of extreme heat and drought for public safety.

Planning to Visit the Wichita Mountains Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Wichita Mountains Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.