Driving through the flat plains and prairies 30 minutes outside Lawton, Oklahoma you have no indication that you will soon be in a rugged bouldering paradise. The rugged mountains and canyons of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge sneak up on you as you pass by Fort Sill on the northern edge of Lawton. However as you enter the Refuge boundaries, a distinct change in terrain takes place and suddenly wide valleys and scenic low mountains roll out all around.
My campsite was a hike-in site near a water post but with no electricity. It seemed private enough for a quick overnighter, but not too far from the parking lot. I had intended on finding a primitive area to backpack in to, but I didn’t do my homework early enough. The Refuge only allows a handful of permits to be issued for backcountry camping and they book up quickly when the weather is nice. Tip: book your trip permit as far in advance as you can!
The Refuge is home to a managed herd of bison and you can encounter them throughout the park. There are also longhorn cattle, deer, antelope and the usual variety of wildlife for southwestern Oklahoma.
For me, the highlight of the area was the collection of otherworldly rock formations and boulder fields in the area known as Charon’s Garden. It’s a mixture of rugged canyons, meandering trails and boulder congested narrows. It’s perfect for day hikes, overnighters or multi-day excursions if you want to really explore the entire Refuge. The trail thru the boulder field is rugged but suitable for active kids 8 and older and anyone able to clamor about using arms and legs to get over and around the massive stones. There are also some fun cave like cavities beneath many of the house sized boulders
My stay focused on an out and back day hike, some bouldering and a sunrise hike to the top of Mt. Scott. While not a tall mountain by most standards, the 1500 ft elevation change of Mt. Scott (2,400 ft above sea level) will get your heart pumping and the view from the top is a panoramic overview of the entire range. The “trail” to the top is just a paved road with little character, but at least they keep it closed to vehicle traffic until later in the morning. Once the gate opens and cars start up the mountain, the top gets crowded.
Overall it’s a nice outdoor experience with a variety of options of activities, terrain and wildlife to enjoy. Tip: keep in mind that the Refuge is adjacent to the Ft Sill artillery training range and, when in use, the big guns can be heard loud and clear for miles.