Sunday, August 9, 2015

1997 Backpacking Arkansas' Ozark Highlands Trail

Backpacker magazine's readers rated the Ozark Highlands National Scenic Trail as their number one trail in the September, 1993 issue. This trail extends 165 miles from its western terminus in Arkansas' Lake Fort Smith State Park to the Buffalo River, and is basically the result of the dedication and passion of one man -- Tim Ernst -- whose efforts created the OHT Association, which over the last decade and a half has recruited 3000 volunteers who have built, maintained, and extended the trail, volunteering over 300,000 hours in the process. Quite a grassroots feat! And plans are afoot to extend it into Missouri, eventually reaching St. Louis, a distance of nearly 1000 miles.

The one million acre Ozark National Forest, created by proclamation of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, is home to over 500 species of trees and woody plants. Hardwoods comprise the majority of the forest, with oak and hickory predominating. Five wilderness areas are included within the forest, totaling nearly 66,000 acres, but only the Hurricane Creek Wilderness is traversed by the OHT, although the trail does pass around the edge of a second wilderness, the Richland Creek Wilderness. Be careful during hunting seasons when the following species are fair game: white-tailed deer, black bear, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, cottontail rabbit, wild turkey, mourning dove, bobwhite quail, and waterfowl.

The trail guide for this trail is the BEST I've ever used, period! It is listed below.

The hint of incipient springtime is apparent in the early pink flowers and the green budding on the tree. Spring backpacking is rife with contrasts with summer backpacking. Disadvantages include the possibility of extremely variable weather conditions, a dearth of greenery, early onset of darkness, fewer hours of daylight, and reduced opportunity to observe wildlife. However, there are also distinct advantages, including few or nonexistent bugs, fewer people which translates into more solitude, and minimal foliage to impair one's views of vistas and wildlife.

This is Slot Rock (so named by Tim Ernest) on Lick Creek, where the creek constricts and cascades down to the pool in the photo below. This is a wonderful spot to rest or, as I did, have a lunch break. I did soak my feet momentarily in the cold water, and in warmer weather, this would provide a good wading area to cool off.

The area below slot rock (barely visible just right of the tree in middle of photo) provides a tempting spot to wade in warm weather. Please DO NOT camp nearby this fragile area, although its beauty and serenity are a very tempting draw and a great location to take a well-deserved break or nap.

Haw Creek Falls (National Forest) Campground offers a magnificent campground with picturesque sites, picnic tables, toilets, and a delicious opportunity to explore and play in the water. In the warmer months, a reasonable daily fee is charged.

Little Piney Creek parallels the trail for several miles of easy, level hiking. The only people I saw during three days on the trail were a pair of horsemen on this section of trail. I found the trail well-marked for the most part, except for a few low, marshy spots. With the aid of the well-written, highly detailed trail guide, following the trail is very easy, despite its propensity to jump from trail to old jeep road to trail again.

Ozark Highlands Trail Association

Ozark National Forest

Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst; Thomson-Shore, Dexter, MI; 1994, 136 pages.

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