Oklahoma’s Best Kept Secret

Oklahoma’s Best Kept Secret

With swimming, boathouses, hiking, and fishing, one of Oklahoma’s top gems is located amongst the cobblestone charm of Medicine Park.  What makes this area even better is the mixture of plains and mellow mountains found in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge uphill from this quaint town.

Before diving in, here's a list of my favorite free things to do in the Medicine Park area:

  • Take in the view at Mount Scott
  • Cool down in the summer at Bath Lake or Lake Lawtonka
  • Enjoy the up-close burrowing action at Prairie Dog Town

Getting There

Located off Interstate 44 in southwest Oklahoma, Medicine Park is the perfect weekend getaway for urban dwellers escaping city life.  It’s adjacent to Lake Lawtonka and Mount Scott, and about 20 minutes from Lawton and Ft. Sill.

Out-of-towners can expect a 3-hour drive from Dallas or a quick 1.5-hour drive on I-44 West from Oklahoma City (OKC).  Medicine Park is approximately 3 hours from Tulsa, and the newly built Kickapoo Turnpike helps drivers bypass the majority of OKC area traffic. 

Several camping areas are located around the lakes and hills, and most of the sites are primitive.  If that’s not your idea of a good time, check out the affordable cabins and cottages available on sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and medicineparkrentals.com.

Medicine Park

Medicine Park

What started as Oklahoma’s first resort town later became a hotspot for outlaws and bootleggers during the Roaring Twenties.  As legend has it, Bonnie and Clyde traveled here, and Jesse James and his gang buried treasure around Buzzard’s Roost in the adjacent Wichita Mountains. But in the decades to follow, Medicine Park experienced years of neglect.  Fortunately, revitalization efforts helped to restore this town.

This small town provides plenty of charm with its cobblestone buildings, aquarium, shops, and year-round events. Think of it this way: Medicine Park is to Oklahoma what Eureka Springs is to Arkansas, but smaller and with less commercialization. Bath Lake offers swimming holes in the middle of town for $3 per person.  The area is complete with small waterfalls, bridges, and beautiful rock areas.  At Lake Lawtonka, it’s not unusual to see people on boats going to and from their floating lake houses.  This lake offers additional swimming and fishing in its striking shades of deep blue and turquoise water. 

For scenic views of the water while eating, visit The Riverside Cafe. If you’re craving comfort food, check out the Old Plantation Restaurant, which is in a three-story building over 100 years old. Other restaurants with overlook views of Medicine Park can be seen along the drive up to the wildlife regue. Just keep in mind that in Medicine Park, the price for food is likely higher than your average chain restaurant in Lawton. 

mountainsWichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge

With 59,000 acres full of scenic hiking and camping areas, the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of wildlife, including prairie dogs, bison, deer, and elk. While bobcats and coyotes are common predators, mountain lions are a rare sight. Longhorn cattle are the easiest animals to spot throughout the day. The best chances of watching wildlife can be found at sunrise or sunset. 

Photographers flock to this area to capture scenic shots. Drive up to the top of Mount Scott for the best lookout point. Check the travelok.com website for designated hiking and driving times.  Keep an eye out when climbing around rocks to avoid a potential rattlesnake encounter, particularly--it's rare, but it has happened! 

It’s easy to spend a couple of days exploring the ancient mountains and grass praires of the refuge.  At the very least, plan for 2- 4 hours. Prairie Dog Town is one of the most popular locations off the side of the main road for viewing prairie dogs up close.  Keep in mind that feeding them is prohibited. Several hiking trails, including Charon’s Garden Trail, offer scenic water views. Additionally, sites like Ferguson House and Holy City are worth a look.

Prairie Dogs

In the foothills of the Wichita Mountains, just beyond the wildlife refuge, lies a tiny post-gold mining area called Meers. Nationally recognized for their large burgers, Meers is a small stretch of old buildings on State Highway 115, but it’s a common tourist and motorcyclist pitstop worth seeing.  Give this hole-in-the-wall place a try if you're craving a hamburger. 

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, some wildlife sightings, or outdoor recreation, Medicine Park and the Wichita Mountains have plenty to offer.  Keep this southwest Oklahoma destination in mind the next time you’re planning a road trip.  Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one who finally discovers Jesse James’ lost gold.

This article was originally published July 2021. It was been updated with minor revisions.  

If you haven't already done so, check my travel tips.