WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE — Where would you look for gold in Oklahoma? Once home to famous American Indians including Geronimo and Quanah Parker, who chased wild buffalo across the open plains, this wilderness area is reputed to contain lost bullion that was buried somewhere in its hills by Spanish traders.
Legend also says that loot stolen by the Jesse James gang can be found among its rocks. It's never been found, if it's there at all.
If you're looking for challenging terrain, breathtaking views and Oklahoma's most affordable day out, this is it. Just more than one hour from Oklahoma City, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge's modern-day gold is its natural landscape, lakes and wildlife.
Nestled in the southwest corner of Oklahoma is a park with canyons, two 2,500-foot peaks, trails, lakes, elk, deer, about 550 bison, prairie dogs, Longhorn cattle and even a bird species on the endangered list — the Black-Capped Vireo.
If you love to hike, bike and fish, see animals in their natural habitat or just walk in the woods with the kids, it's the perfect one-day family getaway. Driving around or walking, you'll ooh and aah at the animals and sights. Best of all, there's no entrance fee.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge north of Lawton is one of 550 free refuges across the United States. Established in 1901 as a forest by President William McKinley, it is now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Its most famous visitor, President Theodore Roosevelt, turned it into a refuge in 1907 and stayed at Doris campground in the middle of the park.
The tallest peak in the refuge, Mount Scott, close to the entrance, offers views of Medicine Park and Lake Lawtonka as well as the refuge itself.
Some say you can see the Texas border on a clear day. Elk Mountain is a pinnacle of similar height on the west side of the park and part of the Charon's Garden Wilderness area. If you enjoy mountain climbing, there's no better place in this part of Oklahoma.