Established in 1901, the nearly-60,000-acre Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was created to preserve endangered species. Once thousands of American bison ranged over the plains. These shaggy beasts were all but eliminated by the late 1800s. In order to reintroduce the species to the area, a herd of 15 bison was shipped by rail from New York City.
Today approximately 600 bison, over 800 Rocky Mountain elk, long-horned cattle, prairie dogs and lots of white-tailed deer make their home in the refuge. Dedicated birder have spotted almost two hundred and forty species of birds here.
Tent, RV and primitive camping are available in the refuge. Fifteen miles of trails offer multiple hiking opportunities. These range from easy walks to the more challenging Elk Mountain Trail which leads to the summit of Elk Mountain. Rock climbers enjoy their sport on good granite, multi-pitch routes. Fishing is allowed in the lakes (Oklahoma license required). Handicap-accessible fishing piers are located near the east entrance on Lake Elmer Thomas and at the Environmental Education Center. There are picnic tables throughout the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
Drive-up boxes near refuge entrances house helpful brochures with maps of the refuge. The Visitor Center is located near the center of the refuge. Take time to watch an interesting film about the refuge. There are also good exhibits of local wildlife here. The well-stocked gift shop carries a number of books on local history, flora and fauna as well as souvenirs. For information on special tours in the refuge, check out Friends of the Wichitas.