3 large bison grazing in green grass, with a baby bison in the background.
American Bison grazing at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. © Morgan Heim

Places We Protect

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Oklahoma

The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth.

The Visitor Center will remain closed until further notice. However, the Preserve is open for visitors to experience its beauty including the 15-mile bison loop and hiking trails. 

LIVE Webinar: Register here to see the Bison Roundup at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve with Harvey Payne.

The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve at 39,650 acres is the largest protected piece of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left this once expansive landscape, originally spanning across 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, at less than 4% of its original size.

Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma has proven successful at restoring this fully functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of 2,500 free-ranging bison and a "patch-burn" model approach to prescribed burning.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve offers excellent wildlife watching opportunities and exceptional views of a variety of natural habitats. Over 700 plants, 300 birds and 80 mammals make this prairie home. Visitors can experience the wide-open prairie and the patches of crosstimbers forest by circling the 15-mile bison driving loop and hiking along designated trails. Remember to stop in the Visitor Center and Gift Shop to meet our volunteer Docents to learn an in-depth history of the preserve and of course, get that special souvenir.

Conservation In Action

With over 180 publications in scientific journals and dozens of active research initiatives, The Nature Conservancy and its partners are learning more than ever about the unique qualities of the tallgrass prairie as well as, the threats and solutions to ensure its protection for future generations.

See below to discover the science behind the tallgrass prairie and climate change, how prairie mole crickets are influencing hearing-aid technology, and the importance of prescribed fire on the landscape.

The Visitor Center will remain closed until further notice. However, the Preserve is open for visitors to experience its beauty including the 15-mile bison loop and hiking trails. 

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 bison and other wildlife. Remember, bison are dangerous with an incredible amount of power and very pointy horns. Stay in your car to ensure your safety as well as theirs.
  •  Make a stop at the Visitor Center. The gift shop and Visitor Center is open from March 1 through December 15 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. It is operated by volunteer Docents and is typically open every day. Check to see whether the Visitor Center is open during your visit.
  • Let us know if you’re bringing a large group. We can help with logistics and work with Docents to ensure a guide is available for your group.
  • 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 prairie is home to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
  • 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

The preserve is open every day from dawn to dusk with no charge for admittance and can be accessed via county roads. There are scenic turnouts, hiking trails, picnic tables, visitor center with gift shop, and public restrooms.

Spring and Summer:

  • Late March through early May, prairie chickens sing, also known as ‘booming’ at sunrise.
  • In April, signature grasses such as big bluestem and switchgrass are thriving.
  • By mid-May, 600-700 bison calves are frolicking across the prairie.
  • Mid‑May through mid‑June, wildflowers cover the fields with blankets of color. Though wildflowers bloom throughout the warm months, they peak in spring, with another fine showing in late summer.
  • During the warmer months, migrating neotropical species, such as the Dickcissel and Scissor‑tailed flycatcher, can be seen frequently.

Fall and Winter:

  • By September the big bluestem and switchgrass reach heights of 6 to 8 feet with a few patches stretching to 10 feet tall. Good rule of thumb, when trees turn to their rich autumn colors, so do the grasses.
  • Rough‑legged and Red‑tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Bald and Golden Eagles are common sights during the fall and winter. You also may see deer, coyotes, or bobcats roaming the prairie.

Accessibility

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 Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in accordance with the ADA regulations.

Resources

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 Tallgrass Prairie

Sunset over the prairie illuminates a field of coneflowers.
Wildflowers Sunset over the prairie illuminates a field of coneflowers. © Harvey Payne
Map of Oklahoma where virtual tours of preserves are available.
OK360 Take a virtual field trip to Oklahoma's 5 flagship preserves. © TNC

See the Cabin and Take a Tour

Tours of the historic Mathews cabin are open during scheduled events at the preserve. 

See inside the cabin and watch as storytellers Harvey Payne and Patricia Webster give us an inside look at John Joseph Mathews and his historic cabin. When you're ready for more, head on over to read the full story: An Osage Historian on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

See Inside Storytellers Harvey Payne and Patricia Webster give us an inside look at John Joseph Mathews and his historic cabin.

Celebrating 30 Years of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

More than a quarter century ago, the dream of so many to see a significant piece of the iconic tallgrass prairie permanently conserved finally became a concrete reality. A fledgling chapter of The Nature Conservancy took a gigantic leap of faith that it could make a difference.

Hear from preserve founder Frederick Drummond, Community Relations Coordinator, Harvey Payne and others about the creation of The Nature Conservancy's first large-scale land protection project.

Celebrating 30 Years of the Tallgrass Prairie See the transformation of this expansive and special landscape.

Support Prairie Conservation in Oklahoma

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