Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Is One Day Enough?

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge from the Cache entrance.

Surely it’s not enough to explore Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in one day. There’s so much to see and to do. Not to mention if you have to drive three and a half hours to get there; like we did. We arrived on Friday morning at 10.30 and left the next morning before 8 a.m. because my son had a birthday party to attend at 1 p.m. So, we tried to use our time to the max.

Location: 32 Refuge Headquarters Road, Indiahoma, OK 73552.

Visited: April 14, 2017.

Our Accommodation: Doris Campground.

Our Activities:

  • Visited Holy City.
  • Visited Mt. Scott.
  • Observed Prairie Dog Town.
  • Hiked Elk Mountain Trail.

Our Stories:

My watch showed 10.30 a.m. when we got to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge entrance. We were welcomed by prairie and mountains when we continued to Visitor Center. But ahead, rain cloud was hovering in the sky. Oh, no!

Then we drove to Doris Campground. After we set up the tent, we had to go back to the nearest town, Cache. The back tire on the right side of our car was pretty low in air. Great! We lost an hour of our exploring time to take care of the car business. But we had to do it.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Mount Scott.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Lake Elmer Thomas seen from the summit of Mt. Scott.
Lake Elmer Thomas from the summit of Mt. Scott.

Located inside Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Mount Scott is probably the most well-known peak in Oklahoma. It towers 2,464 feet above sea level. You can hike a three-mile-long paved road to its summit, or choose to drive like we did. Once you get to the summit, park your car in the spacious parking available. Then enjoy the great outdoor the mountain has to offer: beautiful view all around and rock hopping or hiking. We enjoyed our time there and could spend more than an hour easily if we had more than one day to explore the refuge. One more thing: you don’t have to pay an entrance fee to get here!

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Elk Mountain Trail.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: tne end of Elk Mountain Trail.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has 18 designated trails. We decided to hike one of the recommended trails by the staff: Elk Mountain Trail. It has the best view, 2.2 miles round trip, and the most popular trail in the refuge though has a steep terrain and rated difficult.

Elk Mountain Trail started from Sunset Area. There are 2 other trails that started from here, too: Charon’s Garden (difficult) and Crab Eyes (easy to moderate). Charon’s Garden is rock climbers’ heaven while at the end of Crab Eyes hikers can see the rock formation that looks like crab’s eyes.

Part of the trail was covered with water because of the rain from the day before. Our first mistake was to follow the youth group in front of us. We left the trail because it covered with water, just like they did. When we approached them, we didn’t see a sign of a trail anymore. I asked the leader whether they’ve been here before, and the answer was NO. Sweet!

We then spotted a path at the bottom of the rock bed and went there. It didn’t look like a trail but we decided to follow it. After a while, we realized it was a game trail. We turned around and hiked the bedrock, following the direction on the map though we still didn’t see the trail. Finally, we saw a guy coming down from the top. He told us the trail was a bit confusing in the beginning but we would see it clear all the way to the top. Phew!

The trail was rugged and wet after the rain. I agree it’s not easy. My son asked me to carry his sling pack all the way to the top. He said he needed to reduce his load to make it easier for him to hike. Yeah, you’re right! I told him to finish the water from one bottle to make it lighter. Then the top part of my husband’s hiking boot stitches started to split. But it didn’t stop us to move forward.

Finally, we made it to the top. The view of the refuge was breathtaking. Unfortunately, we didn’t go to explore the other side of the summit. We needed our energy for hiking down. Besides, it’s already 5.30 p.m.

As usual, hiking down was faster. And the trail was visible all the way to the bottom. It’s weird! It took us around 2,5 hour to do the round trip hike.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Doris Campground.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Doris Campground.

Doris Campground is one of the three campgrounds in the refuge. It is a modern camping facility with individual and group sites. The individual campsites are on a first come, first served basis and are not available for reservations. I called the day before to find out whether there would be a site available at our arrival time. The lady said normally sites would be available until noon but if we come early, we can pick the site we want.

The campground is nice. It’s spacious and there are a table, fire ring, and fire grill/grate at every site. There’s no water source at every site but they are located conveniently around the campground, as well as the chemical toilets and trash dumpsters. The site is between trees so we could hang our hammock. And the car pad can accommodate 2 cars.

We chose one of the 47 single-unit sites without electricity that was close to the restroom with shower. It cost us $10 nightly. For $20 nightly you can have a site with electricity (23 units), but no water on sites. It is $8 nightly for semi-primitive (20 sites), where you have to park your vehicle and walk on a trail to the site.

The downside of the campground is the shower. The water was warm, but you have to press the button every 30 seconds. They really have to fix it.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Prairie Dog Town.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: the little family at Prairie Dog Town.

We were fortunate to stop at this ‘town’ in the springtime. Juvenile prairie dogs were running around and tried to catch each other tails while others surrounded their mother by the hole. The adults were active, too, scamper in and out of their burrows. I have never seen a prairie dog town like this before. Everyone looked super happy. We stopped there twice: before and after the hike. I tell you what. Those black-tailed prairie dogs were adorable!

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Holy City.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Holy City's Chapel.

Located in Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, this is the site of the nation’s longest running Easter Passion play, “The Prince of Peace.” Too bad we didn’t get to see the play. It was on Saturday night, the morning we left for home. They were also closed in preparation for the play. We only got to walk to the chapel and the Moses room.

The area built like an ancient Jerusalem. There were sites from the birth until the death of Jesus. After we looked around, my son decided that we need to visit the real Jerusalem in Israel in the future. Admission to Holy City is free but donations are welcome.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was established to provide habitat for large native grazing animals such as American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, and white-tailed deer. You can also find Texas Longhorn, otter, owls, and many more wild animals thrive in this refuge.

If you plan a trip to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, try to make a plan for a 2 days visit. If you only have a day, you can follow our itinerary, or skip the Elk Mountain Trail if it sounded too hard for you. You can change it to the family friendly (easy) trail like Elk Trail or Burford Lake Trail.

Enjoy Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge!



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  1. Anita says:

    Cuteness overload on the Prairie dogs!! What a great experience to see them in a “town” like that. Wichita looks beautiful!

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      Isn’t it? I could stay there forever just to look at those cute prairie dogs.

  2. This is so wild! First of all I had no idea there are peaks in Wichita! Much less a holy city! I love your site because you have visited so many US places that are completely foreign to me! There are so many new places to see. I need to get to the SW and midwest!
    Harmony, Momma To Go recently posted…Fall Round UpMy Profile

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      I was lucky to meet a lady at a place I volunteer every Monday who likes going hiking with her husband. She’s the one who told me about this place. I had no idea at all, even my husband who is active in the Scouts. And I know there are more places to explore in Oklahoma.

  3. Stacey says:

    What a beautiful place to camp! It would be fun to see the wildlife, especially the prairie dogs. The trails look great, too. The passion play would also be fun to see. It loooks like you had a great trip!
    Stacey recently posted…The Ultimate Winter Weather Road Trip Safety ChecklistMy Profile

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      We did have a great trip! It’s just too bad we missed the play. Maybe we’re going back again next spring.

  4. amit says:

    The wichita mountains are on my list of places to visit when I finally get to do my USA trip. This post is very informative and will come in handy. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference
    amit recently posted…Different budget travel experienceMy Profile

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      Thank you, Amit! I tell you what. There are so many places to visit here in the U.S. that I don’t even know whether I will be able to visit each one of them in my life.

  5. Wow, had no idea about this refuge and the Holy City. Really enjoyed learning something new.
    Kellee Anderson recently posted…Travel Tip Thursday – Travel LightMy Profile

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! We were surprised, too. I hope we can go there again next month for their Fall Foliage Hiking.

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