Recently, there were two seperate incidents of hikers getting lost in the same month in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Personally, I've hiked throughout the refuge and have hardly ran into an occasion where I could not find my way out.

That being said, many hikers like to veer from the marked trails, relying on their own memory, navigational skills and whatever tools they have available to get them back. If all a hiker has are the basic necessities, how easy is it to get lost in the Wichita Mountains?

In total, the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge spans over 59,000 acres, according to In the refuge, most popular hiking trails are marked and relatively easy yo travel through. Debatebly, the most difficult trails are the Eagle Mountain, Elk Mountain and Charon's Garden Wilderness trail.

What makes a trail difficult? According to, the most difficult trails "involve steep and dangerous terrain and require upwards and downwards climbing using your hands and feet." They will not be clearly marked and could pose a risk for serious injuries like falls, twisted or broken limbs from slipping or mistepping.


Charon's Garden Wilderness trail, which loops around Elk Mountain, may not be long, but it is still considered "expert level hiking" by Travel OK's standards. According to, "While the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Trail isn’t long, it is considered a very technical trail that demands a certain degree of fitness, strength and stamina."

Another difficulty to consider is that, if you aren't careful, is the uniform look throughout the refuge as a whole. Two completely seperate trails can look identical, making it difficult to truly understand where you are or your way back if you aren't looking for specific markers or using a map.

Danielle Carson
Danielle Carson

Lastly, if you're an inexperienced hiker, you may be tempted to head on the trails using an app, or thinking that you can simply call for help if you do get lost. Unfortunately, the Wichita Mountains are typically out of range of any internet or phone service; calling for help wouldn't work if you're deep enough in the hardest spots.

The best ways to avoid getting lost in the Wichitas are:

  • Start with plenty of daylight available (the refuge is technically closed after sunset)
  • Carry an old school compass and pay attention to markers
  • Always familiarize yourself with a map beforehand, bring it along with you

Some safety tips for general hiking:

Last, but not least, if you do believe you're lost, stop and think. If people are searching for you, it's best to wait for them to find you versus wandering, especially at night.If you prepare ahead of time for a difficult, you should be in great hands. Or, take the easiest routes and your worries will dissepate.

If you have any information regarding Kieth Carlson or the other missing hiker, please speak with local law enforcement as soon as possible.

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