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Places We Protect

Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Oklahoma

Three large bison grazing in green grass, with a baby bison in the background.
American Bison A small group of these charasmatic creatures grazing at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. © Morgan Heim

This preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth.

The Visitor Center remains closed until further notice. 

Overview

Description

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 worked to restore 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, hiking along designated trails and stopping to take in the views at various scenic turnouts.

Access

Limited Access

Hunting, fishing, camping, dogs & off-roading are not permitted.

Hours

Open during daylight hours, seven days a week. Hiking trails are for foot traffic only.

Highlights

Hiking trails, bison, birdwatching, scenic turnouts, 15 mile bison loop

Size

39,650 acres

Explore our work in Oklahoma

Photos from the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Discover the wildlife and diversity in this expansive sea of grasses.

American burrying beetle close-up.
Male prairie chicken doing a mating dance.
Sunset illuminates a field of coneflowers.
Eastern blue bird in mid-flight
Bison calf standing in tallgrass.
Monarch butterly on liatris.
A burn boss lights a controlled burn on the preserve.
Close up of a painted bunting.
Bobcat spotted among the trees.
Lone male bison in a meadow.

Visit

  • Preserve Guidelines

    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.
    • Let us know  (or call +1 918-287-4803) 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 (or call +1 918-287-4803) 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.
  • Hiking Trails

    There are three self-guided nature trails at the preserve that can be accessed individually or as a loop: 

    • The Nature Trail: Consists of three interconnected loops which pass through all of the major habitat types found on the preserve. The trail is mowed and graveled, with benches and boulders scattered along the route to serve as resting spots for hikers. It is a self-guided trail with numbered markers that coincide with information in this trail brochure. Take your time–smell the fresh air, listen and watch for wildlife, feel the buzz of life around you. 
    • Bottomland Trail: This short trail is only about half a mile long and is an easy hike. It loops around the Sand Creek bottomland, staying on level terrain.
    • Study Trail: The second loop is approximately 1 mile long and is a fairly easy hike. It can be walked in about one hour at a leisurely pace with stops along the way. However, there are some loose rocks and uneven ground so appropriate footwear is necessary. Some spots may be muddy during wet weather.
    • Prairie Earth Trail: This loop is approximately 2 miles long and covers rough terrain with steep hills. This loop is recommended for those who want a vigorous hike and seclusion; allow at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Muddy spots are present on this trail during wet weather.

    Download a trail guide.

  • What To See

    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 and public restrooms. Go slow, enjoy the view and see how many different species you can find.

    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.
  • Mathews Cabin

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

    Watch this video to see inside the cabin and listen 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.

  • Virtual Tour

    Take a virtual tour and experience breathtaking 360° panoramas of Oklahoma’s native and diverse landscapes. Great for classrooms and living rooms alike to learn about the unique Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in eastern Oklahoma and all its plants, animals, and special ecology through this engaging multi-media.

    Take a Tour

  • 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.
Two men standing next to a fence.
FORD DRUMMOND Ford Drummond, right, and his son on their Oklahoma ranch. © Steve Rasmussen

Celebrating 30 Years at 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.

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.

Watch the video to see the transformation of the tallgrass prairie as we celebrate 30 years of conservation.

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Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

See the Complete Map

Support Prairie Conservation in Oklahoma

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