Backcountry Camping in Oklahoma

When you're ready to ditch the traditional campground scene and break out on your own, make the trek to these remote camping options in Oklahoma.

The Charon's Garden area of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton features fascinating rock formations and secluded scenic spots for hikers and boulder hoppers to enjoy.
Photo Credit: Ruth Wanser

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There’s no better way to reconnect with nature than with a peaceful excursion into the wilderness. Those looking for relaxation and solitude will find it with this list of backcountry camping opportunities in each region of Oklahoma. As an added bonus, camping in many of these locations is completely free!

Southwest Oklahoma:

Camping within the 5,000-acre Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is not for the faint of heart. Like the name implies, the area is a wildlife refuge, which means that there are animals moving about freely in the area - including bison and longhorns. Located near Lawton, this camping area is open by permit only, so be sure to make your reservations in advance. Each permit is good for a three-day period, either Friday through Sunday or Monday through Wednesday. If you’re looking for serenity, this is the hike-in camping spot for you. Since no more than 10 people are issued a permit for any three-day span, the odds are good that you won’t see another group the entire length of your stay. Click here to read more about the Charon’s Garden Backcountry Camping Regulations.

Northeast Oklahoma:

Grab your pack and get ready to explore the 18-mile Ankle Express Trail at Greenleaf State Park in Braggs. Not only does this looping trail include a fun swinging bridge, but camping at the Mary’s Cove Campground and North Primitive Campground is completely free. The trail is essentially a large loop that connects in the middle, like a rough figure eight, and contains some uneven terrain with steep grades that are most suited for experienced hikers. Those planning on hiking or camping on the Ankle Express Trail will need a parking pass and, as an extra precaution, are asked to register at the trailhead kiosk with their time of departure and return, cell phone number and emergency contact number. Click here to read more about Greenleaf State Park’s Ankle Express Trail.

Southeast Oklahoma:

Open to wilderness camping, hiking, fishing and hunting, the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in Broken Bow offers 203,180 acres of recreation. This peaceful area is marked by loblolly pines plantations, thick hardwood forests, small ponds and most notably the gorgeous Glover River, which is one of the last free-flowing streams in the state. Primitive camping is allowed anywhere within the area, so bring your tent and set up camp right next to the river.

Another option is the Honobia Creek Wildlife Management Area, which spans 101,620 acres in Pushmataha, Leflore and McCurtain counties. No designated camping areas exist, but pack-in camping is allowed. Both Wildlife Management Areas require a Land Access Permit for Oklahoma residents and non-residents between the ages of 18-63. For Oklahoma residents, a three-day pass is $10 or an annual pass is $40. An annual pass is also available for non-residents, and the pass is good for both wildlife management areas. Purchase your land access pass online through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

If you’re looking for a hike-in camp that has a bit more in the amenity department, like tent pads, picnic tables, fire rings, lantern poles and a pit toilet, check out the Winding Stair Campground located within the lush Ouachita National Forest. This backpacker’s camp is located approximately 300 feet west of the main campground, and it’s open all year unlike the nearby main camp that closes during the winter. As an added bonus, campsites are just $3 per night.

The McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area, located on the northeast corner of McGee Creek State Park in Atoka, is a hidden gem for backpack camping. This pristine, 8,900 acre area has been called “some of Oklahoma’s least traveled territory” by Backpacker Magazine and offers over 25 miles of trails with plenty of camping opportunities along the way. Head to the McGee Creek State Park office to pick up a free permit or call in advance, as the number of permits are limited. There are two campground areas - Box Spring Campground and Whiskey Flats Campground - but campers can set up anywhere along the trails. Facilities include bathrooms and showers at the ranger’s house.

South-central Oklahoma:

Located near Tishomingo in south-central Oklahoma, the Blue River Public Hunting and Fishing Area is mainly known for its namesake river that runs through it. Campers headed to this quiet area will find six campgrounds throughout the rustic landscape. Although camping is free, campers are required to have an annual fishing or hunting license or a Blue River Passport. The best places for remote camping are Areas 3, 4 and 5. Area 3 is accessible by walk-in only and has four campsites and a primitive restroom. Area 4, which is located in a remote area, is even smaller with just two campsites and no restroom facilities. Area 5 also has just two campsites and sits on a bluff overlooking a beautiful waterfall area.

Another great private camping option is the Love Valley Wildlife Management Area, located along the Oklahoma-Texas border just east of I-35. While this 7,746 acre area is known for its plentiful hunting opportunities, it also offers several undesignated primitive camping areas perfect for those wanting to get away from it all. Campers may even be lucky enough to spot bald eagles nesting on the grounds in the winter and Least Interior Terns on the sandbars of the Red River each summer.

Western Oklahoma:

Head west for endless skies and rugged terrain where you’ll enjoy free camping at the Black Kettle National Grasslands. This 31,000 acre area spans western Oklahoma and into the Texas panhandle and offers a myriad of camping opportunities. Located roughly 30 miles north of I-40 near Cheyenne, this remote region welcomes visitors who love hiking, fishing, boating, picnicking and camping. Within this broad area, there are three different campgrounds from which to choose. Both the Skipout and Black Kettle Campgrounds boast 12 campsites and have an area for boat launching, while Spring Creek is perfect for those looking for an even more private experience. Located approximately seven miles west of Roll, this little-known recreation area has just five dispersed campsites as well as a dirt area for boat access.

Explore all Oklahoma camping opportunities on our comprehensive Camping page.

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