Explore Oklahoma’s Best-Kept Secret

The scenic small town of Medicine Park, nestled at the foot of the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma, has been called by many names since its founding in 1908, including, most recently, Oklahoma’s best-kept secret. But in its earlier days, the little town with the river that runs through it was known as a playground for many of the state’s rich and famous—and notorious. Among the former: Will Rogers, Wiley Post, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Among the latter: Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd.

The cobblestone community—named after the many buildings, bridges and other structures constructed from locally sourced stones—was founded by a young lawyer had just been named state senator. Elmer Thomas, who went on become a U.S. senator, envisioned a need for a recreational area as well as a permanent water source for the newly established, nearby city of Lawton.

The tiny resort at first consisted of little more than a large surplus Army tent. Two dams were constructed on Medicine Creek to form the Bath Lake Swimming Hole. Soon, campsites and other improvements were added. Like similar resorts located near national parks and forests across the country, Medicine Creek benefited greatly from the automobile revolution and its attendant tourism explosion.

Two inns, along with a health sanitarium, dance hall, canteen, petting zoo, bath house, general store, school and other public and private buildings quickly sprang up. The dance hall attracted the likes of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. In the 1940s, the little town, with its beautiful gardens, trees, footbridges and people-friendly grassy areas, became known as the Jewel of the Southwest.

Beginning in the 1990s, David and Candace McCoy helped jumpstart the rebirth of Medicine Park through construction and renovation of businesses and residential houses as well as donations of land and time.

Today, Medicine Park hosts numerous festivals, concerts and other events that attract people from far and near. Check out MedicinePark.com/calendar-1 for up-to-date listings.

Among places you’ll want to visit are the new Medicine Park Aquarium and Natural Sciences Center (mpmns.org), which is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Many of Medicine Park’s visitors also explore the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1901 and today is one of more than 556 refuges throughout the United States managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You’ll note that the Wichita Mountains look old—and they are. Capped by 540-million-year old granite, the mountains exposed and rounded by weathering during the Pennsylvanian and Permian periods.

Thanks to the numerous underground rocks that defeated the farm plow, the 59,020-acre refuge is one of the few remaining large mixed-grass prairies in the region. The prairie provides a habitat for large native grazing animals, including the American bison, Rocky Mountain elk and white-tailed deer, as well as smaller critters, such as the prairie dog. In addition to Texas longhorn cattle, which share the refuge rangelands as a cultural and historical legacy species, the refuge is home to more than 50 mammal, 240 bird, 64 reptile and amphibian, 36 fish and 806 plant species.

Visitors interested in backcountry camping will want to make plans to visit the Charon Gardens Wilderness area, home to popular fishing lakes and trails for hiking. Additional points of interest are the refuge’s visitors’ center, the Holy City of the Wichitas, Quanah Parker Lake and Dam, Lake Jed Johnson and Lake Lawtonka.

While in the area, no matter what time of the year, don’t forget to visit Mount Scott, at 2,464 feet the second-highest mountain within the refuge’s boundaries. (Mount Pinchot in a special-use area is 12 feet taller.) Follow the paved road to the summit of Mount Scott, where you’ll discover a stunning view of the granite promontories to the west, the wind farm to the north, the lakes to the south and east, and Fort Sill and Lawton.

Who would enjoy a trip to this picturesque portion of the state? History buffs, nature lovers, rock hounds, and hikers and mountain climbers to name just some. Check it out and see for yourself!

For more information about Medicine Park, including lodging (which include a tipi, cabins and cottages, bed-and-breakfasts and lodges), restaurant and shop descriptions, and things to do on your visit, visit MedicinePark.com.  For more information on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, visit fws.gov/refuge/wichita_mountains.