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Every summer, the natural world calls to travelers of all stripes, whether they’re looking to hunt, fish, hike, camp, or just enjoy the serenity of fresh air and unspoiled landscape. These five managed wilderness areas are must-visit spots for any Okie needing to spend some time in nature.
By Alexis Shanes
Published May/June 2018
Altus-Lugert Wildlife Management Area attracts visitors hoping to bag a deer or turkey, but it offers more than hunting. “It’s a good bald eagle viewing area in December and January, when we have good waterfowl,” says Ron Smith, southwest region senior biologist. The north fork of the Red River winds through these 3,600 acres, and the land, thickly timbered with willows, borders the north end of Lake Altus. “It’s a critical buffer for the top end of the lake,” Smith says. “It provides a good cover for spawning fish.”
From Granite, travel three miles east on State Highway 9 to N2050, then travel 0.8 miles north, then half a mile west on E1400. (580) 471-3371.
Black Mesa Nature Preserve is named for the black lava rock lying underneath its buffalo grass, shrubs, wildflowers, and cholla cactus. The area is home to antelope, bighorn sheep, and Texas horned lizards, says Tucker Heglin, Black Mesa State Park manager. Via an eight-and-a-half-mile round-trip hike, visitors can access the highest point in Oklahoma, a plateau rising 4,973 feet above sea level. The nearby state park’s remote location also makes stargazing a popular spring and fall activity. “We have one of the few dark skies in the nation,” Heglin says.
From Boise City, travel thirty-five miles west on Highway 325, then follow Colorado Road north for five miles. (580) 426-2222 or TravelOK.com/state-parks.
Although a small portion of the Broken Bow Wildlife Management Area connects with a road, the 5,420 acres surrounding Broken Bow Reservoir and the Mountain Fork River are primarily accessed by boating or hiking. In the water, fishing opportunities abound all year. On land, the pine, hardwood, and riparian forest with gum, red maple, and redbud trees makes the remote destination a site for some of Oklahoma’s most breathtaking scenery.
From Broken Bow, travel twenty miles north on U.S. Highway 259. Turn east at the Mount Herman Store and travel eight miles on Holly Creek Campground Road. For directions, call Clay Barnes at (580) 241-5631 or download a map from wildlifedepartment.com.
In 1963, the Fite family of Tahlequah donated the 556-acre Sparrow Hawk Wildlife Management Area to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, requesting the land be kept primitive. The Cherokee County forest is open for hunting, but it’s also a hiking destination. “It’s one of the only WMAs open year-round for non-hunting activities,” says Curt Allen, Sparrow Hawk WMA wildlife biologist. The western bluffs, which rise three hundred feet above the Illinois River, are good reason to visit. “It’s a spectacular view,” Allen says.
From Tahlequah, travel two miles east on state Highway 62 and three miles north on State Highway 10, then turn east on E730. (918) 260-8959.
With 225,000 acres of mountainous pine and hardwood forest, the Ouachita Wildlife Management Area-Leflore Unit showcases a unique Sooner State landscape. “It’s not like the rest of Oklahoma that’s pretty flat,” says biologist Jeff Ford. In addition to year-round fishing opportunities, the area is bisected by the Talimena National Scenic Byway. However, travelers should educate themselves about the potentially dangerous fauna before visiting. “If it’s during spring, summer, or fall, be bear aware,” Ford says.
From Heavener, travel seven miles south on U.S. Highway 59, then head east on Fish Hatchery Road to the WMA headquarters.