OZARK HIGHLANDS TRAIL, ARKANSAS

The Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the United States. This cross-country route in northwest Arkansas stretches 165 miles from Lake Fort Smith State Park, across the Ozark National Forest, to the Buffalo National River. The trail passes through some of the most remote and scenic portions of the Ozark Mountains, like the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area. It also visits White Rock Mountain (best sunset in the Arkansas!), Hare Mountain, the Marinoni Scenic Area, and countless other breathtaking spots. And one of the nicest things about the OHT, is the fact that it is still relatively undiscovered – even on a prime spring weekend you will seldom see other hikers.

The OHT crosses more than 60 named creeks, streams and rivers, and passes hundreds of seasonal waterfalls, lots of sandstone bluffs, giant boulders and scenic vistas. Springtime, with flowering dogwoods, redbuds, and a profusion of wildflowers, makes for a photographers paradise. And the lush upland hardwood forests create one of the most wonderful splashes of fall color that you can find anywhere in the country. Winter too is great for hiking, with lots of ice formations and the best views of the year along the entire route. And there are plenty of unique swimming holes during the hot summer months.

The trail is great for dayhikes, weekend adventures and extended backpacking trips. It is accessible at more than 50 forest road and highway crossings, plus nine public campgrounds and numerous other trailheads. All that you have to do is decide how far you want to hike, and you will find many stretches between access points that will meet your needs. Camping is allowed anywhere along the trail. No permits or fees are required to hike the trail, build fires or camp (except in the campgrounds). It is open and is great hiking all year. Cabins are available at White Rock Mountain (479-369-4128) and Lake Ft. Smith State Park 479-369-2469).

A brief description of the Ozark Highlands Trail: It has wonderful vistas, terrific streamside walks, lots of deep green pools to swim in, bluffs and rocks and boulders galore, forests that go on forever, and hundreds of waterfalls. It is currently 165 miles from end to end, with 27 additional miles of connecting spurs and loops, so it makes for a great long-distance backpacking trail. The trail passes through 18 campgrounds and other trailheads, and crosses more than 50 forest roads and highways, providing plenty of access for dayhikes of all lengths.

The OHT begins at Lake Ft. Smith State Park near Mountainburg on Hwy. 71. It is well blazed, and has mile markers every mile. It runs along Lake Ft. Smith, up Jacks Creek and over to Hurricane Creek, then climbs up to White Rock Mountain, one of the best views in the country. A loop trail runs around the rim there, and another loop goes down to Shores Lake. The OHT crosses Salt Fork, goes up and over Potato Knob Mountain, down to Spirits Creek, up and over Black Mountain, along a historical railroad route, across Fane Creek, up Whiting Mountain, and crosses the Pig Trail National Scenic Byway (Hwy. 23) at Cherry Bend.

It heads on over to Hare Mountain, the highest point on the trail at 2360′, passes the Redding/Spy Rock Loop Trail, drops down to Herrods Creek and Indian Creek, goes through the Marinoni Scenic Area, across Lick Branch, the Little Mulberry River, Lynn Hollow, Waterfall Hollow, the Mulberry River Wild And Scenic River, and crosses Ozark Highlands National Scenic Byway (Hwy. 21) at Ozone Campground. From there it crosses Little Piney Creek, Lick Creek, Cedar Creek Scenic Area, Gee Creek, and crosses Hwy. 123 at Haw Creek Campground.

It passes over Big Piney Wild and Scenic River and enters the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area, an impressive chunk of wild country. It crosses Hwy. 7 National Scenic Byway at Fairview Campground, crosses Richland Creek , skirts the Richland Creek Wilderness Area, crosses Falling Water Creek, and comes out at the Richland Creek Campground. It crosses Richland Creek again, works its way up to near Stack Rock, down into the Dry Creek drainage, across the Buffalo Wildlife Management Area, enters Buffalo National River near The ‘Nars, and comes alongside the Buffalo River at Woolum. A connecting trail heads downstream from that point, crossing Richland Creek, passes a number of spectacularviews of the river from high bluffs above, goes through the Tyler Bend Recreation Area, and currently ends at Hwy. 65 just beyond (this last stretch from Woolum is part of the Buffalo River Trail, and adds 15 miles to the end of the OHT).

Construction of the OHT continues downstream with volunteer labor. It will be built downstream from Tyler Bend to the Lower Buffalo Wilderness Area, go across another section of the Ozark National Forest (this new 31.6 mile section was just completed – click here for the details), run the full length of Lake Norfork, connect with the Ozark Trail in Missouri, and run all the way to St. Louis – a trail system of nearly 1000 miles! Your help is needed – join the Ozark Highlands Trail Association.

The Ozark Highlands Trail Guide: Fifth Edition is the hikers bible for the OHT. This 136-page guide has information on scenic spots, historical features, campgrounds, shuttle services, a complete history of the trail and a monthly weather guide. It has eight maps, eight elevation profiles and nine mileage logs (which are keyed to milepoints along the trail), plus GPS coordinates for all of the road and creek crossings, and trailheads. Now includes maps and complete descriptions of five connecting trails too, PLUS a description and map of the brand new 31.6-mile Sylamore Section of the OHT! The guidebook was written by outdoor photojournalist Tim Ernst, who has been involved with the development and management of the OHT from the beginning, and is the founder and President of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, the volunteer group that built and maintains much of the trail. Additional maps are unnecessary if you have this guidebook. It contains everything that you need to know for an enjoyable hike on the OHT. ORDER DIRECT from Tim Ernst by clicking here.

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