Size: 8,570 acres
Year Designated: 1970
Fast Fact: Wichita Mountains was the site of the first “Game Preserve,” designated in 1905 and meant to help save the rapidly dwindling populations of American bison.
Though the world’s first wildlife refuge was officially created at Pelican Island in Florida, that refuge might never have come to be if it weren’t for the Wichita Mountains, which laid the foundation for wildlife refuges with its bison preserve in the early 1900s. In 1905, when President Roosevelt created a “Game Preserve” for the bison, only 15 roamed the area within the Oklahoma wilderness. Today, thanks to careful herd management and preservation, 650 bison live within the area.
Wichita Mountains’ wilderness is mostly limited to the 5,723-acre Charon's Garden Wilderness, which sits in the southwest corner of the refuge. Here, wind-worn granite canyons and peaks offer hikers and climbers prime opportunities for recreation. The area’s coarse granite formations are estimated to be more than 500 million years old, remnants from lava flows that once covered much of the area. Elk, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, bobcats and bald eagles can be found in the area.