If the busyness of life has your soul craving time in the great outdoors, a short 90-minute drive to Lawton may be just what your family needs over Fall Break. Lawton is home to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, a 59,000 acre preserve boasting rock mountains more than 500 million years old, expansive grass prairies and an abundance of wildlife. The city is also rich with history and interactive museums for the entire family to enjoy before ending the day with a gorgeous sunset over Lake Lawtonka. Team Murnan (including my husband, Patrick, our boys Mason, 7, and Aiden, 6, and our Great Pyrenees pup, Max) has compiled our six favorite Lawton stops sure to delight kids of all ages.
Whether your family weaves a Lawton day trip into your Fall Break plans or spends several days exploring the area, the close-to-home hub of outdoor play and culture will inspire memories for years to come.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Families could easily spend an entire day exploring the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (32 Refuge Headquarters Road, Indiahoma, 580-429-3222, www.fws.gov/refuge/wichita_mountains). The Visitor Center is the perfect place to start to gather maps, check out the educational exhibits and take part in guided family hikes, starting at 9 a.m. every Saturday morning. The refuge offers 15 miles of designated hiking trails, and leashed pets like our Max are always welcome. Some good starter trails for kids are the Little Baldy Trail and the Elk Trail, which can be extended for a longer hike along the Bison Loop. Charon’s Garden Trail is the perfect place to find bison roaming, and the Kite Trail is popular for overlooks into the Forty-Foot Hole, a natural depression filled with water from Cache Creek.
Keep in mind the terrain can be rough in some areas, so sturdy shoes and lots of water are a must. Cell phone service can be spotty throughout the refuge, so keep those maps handy and enjoy the chance to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with family. For those who enjoy camping and fishing, the refuge offers 90 well-maintained campsites at the Doris campground, and there are 13 public lakes available for fishing.
Elmer Thomas Park
Elmer Thomas Park (501 NW Ferris Ave, Lawton, 580-581-3400, www.lawtonok.gov/places/elmer-thomas-park) is a beautiful urban park providing plenty of outdoor spaces to play, including a splash pad in summertime and a shaded playground.
The park is also home to two museums dedicated to the history of early life on
the Great Plains. The Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center (701 NW Ferris Ave, Lawton, 580-353-0404,
www.comanchemuseum.com) is free to visit and an opportunity for the family to learn about Lawton’s largest American Indian tribe through both historical collections and art. Located next door, the Museum of the Great Plains (601 NW Ferris Ave, Lawton, 580-581-3460, www.discovermgp.org, tickets $8-10) is an interactive museum providing new perspectives on what life was like as an early Oklahoma settler. Kids can explore an outdoor fort, learn how to lasso a cow or even step inside a basement for a tornado simulation.
Ready to venture off the beaten path? Lawton has unique curiosities to add to a family-friendly weekend. The Holy City of the Wichitas (262 Holy City Rd, Cache, 580-429-3361), built in the 1930s, is a little slice of ancient Jerusalem located east of the Wichita Refuge. The grounds are free to explore every day of the year but are best known for its annual Easter passion play, a now 90-year tradition. Just up the road from the Holy City, the Parallel Forest (on Meers Road near Lawton) is worth a quick stop. The eerily beautiful forest, with more than 20,000 red cedars planted in rows six feet apart in all directions, was built by the government as a workforce project to grow fence posts in the early 1900s. Several other nearby lots were planted and used, but the Parallel Forest was added to the refuge before its turn for harvesting, leaving the unique site for visitors to enjoy today. The area is rumored to be prime for paranormal experiences, so it may be best to explore this forest before the sun goes down!
Wildlife & Nature Views
Autumn is the ideal time to plan an extended drive along the Wichita Mountains Scenic Byway (Loop W of Apache on Hwys 19, 58, 115 & 49). This 105-mile stretch of highway will leave you wondering if you’re still in Oklahoma as you take in the rocky landscape and changing colors of trees and grasslands. Wildlife viewing is guaranteed especially throughout the refuge, where herds of bison, elk, white-tailed deer and longhorn cattle can easily be spotted from the road. Prairie Dog Town (located along Highway 49) is another highlight for children of all ages. Observe a large community of highly entertaining (and equally adorable) prairie dogs in their natural habitat. Families will also enjoy the 3-mile drive to the top of Mount Scott for some breathtaking summit views and boulder hopping; just be sure to check online for road closures (www.fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_Mountains).
When it comes to dining in Lawton, there is no shortage of classic burger joints. Back Porch Drafthouse (1925 W Gore Blvd Lawton, 580-699-2990, bpdrafthouse.com) is a popular spot for incredible burgers with unique topping combinations and a wide selection of craft beer to pair with them. For a lighter meal, the Cobb salad or veggie-loaded tacos and wraps hit the spot. Red Boot Grill (1916 SW Lee Blvd, Lawton, 580-713-5335) is a family-owned American diner, praised for outstanding customer service and delicious scratch-made food. The lunch menu offers sandwiches and burgers, but their Indian taco gets all the rave reviews. For a historic dining experience, Meers Store and Restaurant (26005 OK-115, Meers, 580-429-8051, www.meersstore.com), established in 1901, claims to be home of the “best burger in Oklahoma.” Meers’ homemade cobblers are the perfect complement to a nice fall day. Be prepared for long lines during peak hours, and bring plenty of cash since credit cards aren’t accepted.
A trip to Lawton isn’t complete without a stop in the charming town of Medicine Park. Established in 1908, it was a summer resort destination promoting health spas and medicinal healing from the water of Medicine Creek. The town suffered financially during the Great Depression but was restored in the early 1980s as iconic cobblestone buildings were made new, businesses began to open and the population grew. Medicine Park Aquarium and Natural Sciences Center (1 Aquarium Dr, Medicine Park, 580-529-3601, mpmns.org, tickets $5-10, kids under 3 free) is a new attraction where kids can feed turtles or watch an electric eel show. Lastly, a walk along Medicine Creek near Lake Lawtonka will leave your family with stunning waterside views all against the backdrop of the Wichita Mountains.