Travel

The Definitive Guide to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Trails

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has so many great trails. Today I’m sharing a rundown of most of the trails in the park, including the best sights on each one!

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During our time in Oklahoma, our main entertainment has been hiking. And our favorite destination has always been the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

We love it because it offers mountains, woods and lakes in an area that’s otherwise mostly flat prairie. You can see bison and longhorn, sometimes right on the trail!

And there’s a trail for every situation: no matter what you want to see, how long you want to hike, or how strenuous you can handle, there’s something that suits.

Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge Trails

If you're looking for a short hike in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, try the Longhorn and Elk trails! | Teaspoon of Nose

Elk Trail

Length: 0.7 miles each way

Hike it when: You want a quick hike through the woods.

The Elk Trail is part of the interconnected Elk-Longhorn-Bison trails. This is the shortest one and is a great quick walk when you’re jonesing for trees.

Longhorn Trail

Length: 1.5 miles round trip

Hike it when: You want to see a lot, but don’t have time for the Bison trail.

The Longhorn Trail offers a taste of the Bison trail. You’ll hike through prairie, forest, and along the French lake and dam. The trail is mostly flat, making it a good choice for large groups or kids.

Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge's Bison trail is a great longer trail in southwest Oklahoma with plenty of views and a few bison if you're lucky! | Teaspoon of Nose

Bison Trail

Length: 6 mile loop

Hike it when: You want to experience a little of everything, on a good length hike.

The Bison Trail is probably my favorite trail because it offers a little bit of everything. Massive prairies that the area is known for, forests where you’ll regularly see bison and longhorns, and lots of water views. In addition to two dams – one dating back to the CCC’s days creating the park – most of the trail follows along lakes or streams.

The most surprising part is affectionately called the 40 Foot Hole: an unexpected gorge that opens up suddenly along the trail. You can often see climbers here, but size of the gorge is surprising given the gradual climb in the rest of the terrain.

A suggestion: when you start, begin by veering right (southwest). We’ve done this trail more than once and always lose the trail at the halfway point. You cross a mostly-dry creek and the trail disappears. This is in a group of four experienced hikers. We picked it back up but only after a good bit of bushwacking. So hopefully starting in the other direction will help with that!

Secret Oklahoma hiking spots are the best! Check out the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for Oklahoma's biggest gorge and beautiful scenery. | Teaspoon of Nose

Kite Trail

Length: 1.1 miles each way

Hike it when: You want an unexpected gorge.

Kite Trail runs parallel to a section of the Bison trail on the opposite side of the river. It offers views of the 40 Foot Hole, continuing to be a surprise in the flatlands of southwest Oklahoma.

The trail begins and ends in lush picnic areas, so it’s a great one to leave a cooler in the car for lunch after you finish!

Burford Lake Trail

Length: 0.5 miles each way

Hike it when: You want some greenery, or to go fishing.

Burford Lake Trail wins the prize for being the most green! Seriously, go in the spring and it’s a thing of beauty. It’s another quick trail that wanders through the woods along the lake. The park installed educational signs about the formation of the local geology, so you can actually know what you’re talking about instead of saying “you know, that reddish rock.”

The trail ends at an overlook of the lake’s waterfall into Panther Creek, and it’s pretty common to see people fishing along the banks.

Osage Lake Trail

Length: 0.6 miles each way

Hike it when: You want a quick win.

I like this trail because it’s simple and beautiful. Osage Lake Trail mostly covers the grassland leading up to an outcropping over the lake. It’s definitely worth heading down to the water’s edge – we miiight have done some rock climbing into this shallow indentation over the water just for the fun of it!

Hiking in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma gets even better in the snow! | Teaspoon of Nose

Elk Mountain Trail

Length: 1.1 miles each way

Hike it when: You’re up for a challenge and want views!

Probably our favorite trail in the park! I’ve shared about it before, both in sunshine and snow. It’s also the most strenuous in the park, and easy to slip off the trail if you’re not paying attention. But the end provides gorgeous views in all directions and looks especially magical in the snow!

Charons Garden Trail

Length: 2.4 miles each way

Hike it when: You want workout and an unusual landscape.

For nearly 3 years, we never found the Charons Garden trailhead. On our very last trip out to the refuge before moving, I happened to turn around as we headed across the bridge to the beginning to Elk Mountain trail and there it was! Follow the gravel road until it ends, and you’ll see a trail to your right.

This trail crosses through Charons Garden, which is a valley filled with massive boulders that fell over the centuries. It’s beautiful and unexpected, but very strenuous to cross the rock garden and continue on the other side. Unfortunately, this isn’t one to bring any furry friends on – after about one mile you hit the rock garden and it’s really more bouldering than hiking.

Little Baldy Trail

Length: 0.8 miles each way

Hike it when: You want to climb some rocks.

Also not a tough trail, Little Baldy Trail does take you up to a bit of a view. The trail skirts and then climbs Little Baldy, a hill set a little apart from most of the mountains.

At the end, you can climb the bald itself! It’s a fun spot for a picnic, but steep enough up the bald that it’s not great for hiking with dogs.

Jed Johnson Tower Trail

Length: 0.5 miles each way

Hike it when: You’ve got kids with you

The Jed Johnson Tower Trail is a quick trail, perfect if you have kiddos with you want to do some exploring but not commit to anything too long. You pass through a grove of trees, a small lake, and head up a hill. The trail terminates at Jed Johnson tower, a former lookout point that’s now boarded up. You can still get some views from the base, though, including a glimpse of the nearby Holy City.

Oklahoma DOES have a mountain! Mt. Scott is in the heart of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, and the views are beautiful! | Teaspoon of Nose

Mt. Scott Nature Trail

Length: 1.5 miles each way

Hike it when: You want a flat trail.

Half of the Mount Scott Nature Trail follows a gravel road, and the entire thing is flat, making it an easy trail to do with groups. The name is a bit of a misnomer: it’s across the street from Mt. Scott, in it shadow rather than up or down the mountain. This one is good for bison sightings, especially in the wooded sections.

Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge's Bison trail is a great longer trail in southwest Oklahoma with plenty of views and a few bison if you're lucky! | Teaspoon of Nose

There are a few more trails in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, but they’re either 8 miles each way or so short we never checked them out.

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