The Wichita Mountains – The Most Beautiful Place in America You’ve Never Heard Of

National Parks, Oklahoma, Photography

Most people don’t know this, but when God made the Earth, he spilled a bit of Colorado in southwest Oklahoma. It was late on the 6th day, and he was tired, so he left it. That bit of Rocky Mountains in the Great Plains is now known as the Wichita Mountains, one of the hidden gems in America.

I recently spent three days in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, a 60,000-acre park of mixed-grass prairie, ancient granite peaks, oak forests, and freshwater lakes and streams that would not be out of place in the national park system. I hiked the numerous trails, stalked the bison herds, photographed the colorful springtime wildflowers, and at night, talked the the even more colorful locals in the gateway town of Medicine Park.

The Wichita Mountains are a glimpse into the past, when the Great Plains were covered in grasslands and filled with wildlife. The refuge is home to bison, Texas longhorn cattle, Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, collared lizards, prairie dogs, and over 275 species of birds. But it wasn’t always this way.

In the mid-1800s, there were an estimated 20 million American bison in the United States, but a massive hunting campaign drove them to the brink of extinction. In 1907, the New York Zoological Society donated 15 pure-bred bison to the Wichita Mountains refuge to establish a herd. Today, about 650 bison roam the sanctuary. Ironically, the bison that graze lazily in the meadows of the Wichita Mountains are here because of the Bronx Zoo.

If you are ever driving across America, make a detour to the Wichita Mountains. You’ll have the park almost entirely to yourself, and when you go hiking in this slice of Colorado in the plains, you won’t get altitude sickness or pay tourist prices for accommodation and food.

What are some other hidden gems in America that are worth visiting?

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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

22 thoughts on “The Wichita Mountains – The Most Beautiful Place in America You’ve Never Heard Of”

  1. Three days of amazing-ness
    Your photos here are wonderful and the buffalo in front of the car is my fav

    • It is worth it. There are long expanses of nothingness all around but the are is magical, and if you like empty places, you’ll love southwest Oklahoma.

  2. Wow, what a beautiful place! And the fact that’s it’s not overrun with tourists an added bonus. The roaming buffalo – I’d love to see that, and the wild flowers. Great photos Jeff.

    • Thanks Alison. I got lucky to be there during the spring bloom. Especially during the week there are no tourists but the gateway towns are fun and lively on weekends as people go there to eat and drink. A fun place all around.

  3. Jeff I love your sense of humor. Well Hod
    Did have a lot going on that week.
    I also appreciate the information about the Zoo and the bison. I think many people think of all zoos as horrific places. Definitely some are but many do extensive conservation work.

    • Oklahoma is mostly farmland and plains but God spilled bits of Colorado, Utah, and the Appalachians here and there. I should probably do a post on all the geographic anomalies.

  4. What a beautiful place! Your photos really make me want to go out and explore the wilderness. The bison, the rocky outcrop, the flowers, the clear stream… the Wichita Mountains fit perfectly into the description of paradise on Earth. Thanks for sharing this, Jeff!

    • Thanks Bama. It does have a paradisiacal feel especially because it is so unique. There is nothing but flat farmland around it for hundreds of miles.

  5. Pingback: Oklahoma’s Out of Place Geography | Planet Bell

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