Places We Protect

J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve

Oklahoma

A misty sunrise over the Illinois River in Oklahoma.
J.T. Nickel Family Preserve The J.T. Nickel Preserve comprises 17,000 acres of exceptional beauty and environmental value. © David Jennings

The J.T. Nickel Preserve comprises 17,000 acres of exceptional beauty and unique environmental value.

The Bathtub Rocks area at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve and headquarters building are closed until further notice. However, the Savanna, Pine Ridge and Wetland Trails are still open. Please continue to use social distancing while enjoying nature.

Overview

Description

The J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve is the largest privately protected conservation area in the Ozarks thanks to a land gift from the John Nickel Family in 2000. This 17,000-acre landscape rests in eastern Oklahoma's rolling Cookson Hills and overlooks the Illinois River. Spring-fed creeks meander amid a rugged topography of steep slopes and narrow valleys harboring a mosaic of oak-hickory forest, lofty pine woodland, and a diverse mix of savanna, shrubland and prairie.

Conservation In Action

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is working to restore and maintain the natural plant and animal communities of this former cattle ranch. Bermuda and fescue grass fields are being replaced with tallgrass prairie and woodland to re-create an intact native landscape. 

Additionally, TNC is using prescribed burns to restore the open woodlands ecosystem which has produced an astounding increase in wildlife and plant diversity. Because of these conservation efforts the preserve provides ideal habitat for a suite of uncommon and migratory birds. Speaking of wildlife, in 2005, TNC re-introduced a herd of elk which had been absent from this area for more than 150 years. 

The restoration of native plants and habitat impacts more than the wildlife. It also improves the quality of creeks and streams. Bathtub Rocks is a popular local spot where Cedar Creek has carved indentations in the smooth rock. This area provides a unique environment for many fish and insect species that live in the Illinois River. And you can help us protect it.

Watch

The Nature Connects Us webinar series explores the Bathtub Rocks area and why it's so important. Great for classrooms and watch-parties with families and friends, see the recordings of these in-depth webinars straight from Oklahoma's prairies and forests.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Hours

Visitors may drive through the preserve via county road access, as well as hike the three designated hiking trails.

The trails are open during daylight hours, seven days a week to foot traffic only.

There are no facilities.

Hunting, fishing, camping, dogs, and off-roading are not allowed on the preserve.

Highlights

Birdwatching, hiking and other nature-based activities.

The bathtub rocks area is open to the public daily from sun up to sun down. Visitor guidelines apply.

Explore our work in this region

The Bathtub Rocks area at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve and headquarters building are closed until further notice. However, the Savanna, Pine Ridge and Wetland Trails are still open. Please continue to use social distancing while enjoying nature.

When visiting the preserve, please do: 

  • Take a hike and stay on the trail. Leave plants, insects or other species, soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers right where you found them. Download a trail guide.
  • Enjoy viewing the birds and other wildlife. Remember, elk and black bears are dangerous with an incredible amount of power and very sharp claws. When not on a designated trail, stay in your car to ensure your safety as well as theirs.
  • Let us know if you’re bringing a large group — 10 or more people.
  • Report to us any problems you observe like campsites, plant removal, hunting, off-road vehicles or wildlife harm.

Please don’t: 

  • Bring your dog. The preserve is home to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
  • Ride your bicycle or motorized vehicle off the county road.
  • Hunt, camp or make campfires.
  • Leave trash. Take out what you brought in and please consider taking an extra piece of litter with you.

What to Look For and When

Sprawling forests and a diverse array of plant and animal species are just some of the numerous natural attractions at the J.T. Nickel Preserve. All those trees mean breathtaking fall foliage. While you’re drooling over the oranges, reds and yellows remember to look for birds. The preserve is a prime destination for bird enthusiasts both in the winter and the spring seasons.

A herd of free-ranging elk also calls the preserve home. The herd is typically fairly elusive, though they may be visible at any given moment. Elk are often more active in autumn months which is their mating season. Elk aren’t the only large wildlife that live on the preserve. There are black bears. Like elk, these bears are mostly elusive but can be attracted to areas with human activity for the easy access to food. Don’t give them a reason to come looking for you.

Bathtub Rocks

The bathtub rocks area is open to the public daily from sun up to sun down. Visitor guidelines apply, see above. Learn more about this special place and why need your help to protect it.

Hiking Trails

There are three self-guided nature trails at the preserve: 

  • Savanna Trail: Begins at the headquarters building, 1.5 miles in length, good for seeing wildlife, butterflies, and wildflowers.
  • Pine Ridge Trail: Begins at the headquarters building, 1.5 miles in length, good for seeing wildlife, butterflies, prescribed fire effects, effects that topography has on plant communities, and wildflowers.
  • Wetland Trail: Begins on the county road that bisects the preserve, .5 miles in length, good for seeing amphibians, butterflies, native warm season grass species, wildflowers and the occasional elk. Short hike with minimal topography change.
Download a trail guide.
 

Accessibility

Visitors may drive through the preserve via county road access, as well as hike the three designated hiking trails. The trails are open during daylight hours, seven days a week to foot traffic only. There are no facilities. Hunting, fishing, camping, dogs, and off-roading are not allowed on the preserve.

Click here for directions and map.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations address the use of wheelchairs and Other Power Driven Mobility Devices (OPDMDs) by persons with mobility disabilities. These rules apply to public accommodations which include TNC properties that are open to the public. The regulations provide that with regard to public accommodations persons with mobility disabilities are entitled to:

  1. Use wheelchairs and manually powered mobility aids (canes, walkers, etc) in areas that are open to pedestrian use.  A wheelchair includes a manually operated device or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor or both indoor or outdoor locomotion. 
  2. Use OPDMDs if the landowner can make “reasonable modifications to its practices to accommodate them.” An assessment has been done for the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve in accordance with the ADA regulations.

Take a Virtual Tour with OK360

Take a virtual tour and experience breathtaking 360° panoramas of Oklahoma’s native and diverse landscapes. Take a trek through the expansive Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and learn about Oklahoma’s plants, animals, and ecology via engaging multi-media.

Click here to Take a Virtual Tour of the J.T Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve

Bull elk standing in the tallgrasses of the J.T. Nickel Preserve.
Bull elk Bull elk in the rain at J.T. Nickel Preserve in Oklahoma. © © Mike Fuhr/The Nature Conservancy
Map of Oklahoma where virtual tours of preserves are available.
OK360 Take a virtual field trip to Oklahoma's 5 flagship preserves. © TNC

Support Forest Conservation in Oklahoma

Show your Okie pride by sporting a speciality bison or monarch license plate on your car or make a donation to continue conservation efforts across the Ozarks.