Photo Credit: Larry Smith

It only took half a billion years to grant government authorization to ensure the land called Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge could be enjoyed by thousands of animals and tourists each year.

But the hard work certainly wasn’t for nothing.

The oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States, Wichita Mountain is a unique mix of prairie grass, making it an important conservation area. Sprawling over 59,000 acres with 650 of North America’s largest mammals, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is the lesser-known twin of Yellowstone National Park. Situated in the wilderness of Oklahoma, the refuge is a gold mine for animal lovers who also appreciate the great outdoors. Meanwhile, birding enthusiasts and families will discover a vacation spot that proves to be one of the very best in the U.S. and easily one of the most memorable places they could visit in The Sooner State.

Before you head out there, make sure to follow these quick tips to ensure you get the most out of your visit:

Photo Credit: Larry Smith

Keep the camera on hand

From land, over 50 species of mammals and 240 kinds of birds call the wildlife refuge home. By water, visitors can see upwards of 36 different varieties of fish. With so many species milling about, it’s highly likely you’ll see an animal you’ve never seen before. Use your smart phone to help identify what it may be, or at the very least, snap a great photo to ask one of the naturalists later.

Photo Credit: Justin Meissen

Aim for springtime

Two words: baby animals. There’s nothing cuter than a baby buffalo stumbling through the prairie grass and during the spring months, the Wichita Mountains are certainly not short on babies in all shapes and sizes. The other perk of springtime? The hills come alive with gorgeous flowers and blossoms that make the area feel simply magical and add a great backdrop to your photos.

Photo Credit: Larry Smith

Ask as many questions as possible

When it comes to state parks, national parks, and wildlife refuges, no one knows the area better than the rangers who are there day in and day out. Refuge staff can explain the relationship the Comanche Indians had with the land in addition to describing the famous government and military leaders who used the area as a hunting ground during the late 1800s and early 1900s. While in the Wichita Mountains, be sure to ask the rangers about the various animals you can expect to see by season and about the rich Native American history of the special area.