The Ouachita Trail is a blue blazed trek through the Ouahita Mountains in Western Arkansas. The trail attempts to follow the highest possible route through the mountains and is well blazed throughout. The trail runs mostly through a dense forest, but there is the occasional view that makes it all worth it.
Distance: 223 miles
Time: It took my partner and I ten days to make it through this trail with a fairly relaxed itinerary. The thing that may cause the most delay is the high hills full of briers and brambles. Our legs were torn up by the end of this hike.
Start/Finish: The trail begins in the Talimena State Park in Oklahoma, unfortunately, and ends in Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas.
Time to Hike: It is commonly agreed up on that this trial is best hiked during the Fall. There is little water throughout the entire trial and hiking in the summer sounds miserable. In the fall there is usually a bit more water, hardly, but the temperature is less aggressive and manageable. We hiked in mid-late November and it was glorious.
Overview: I had the pleasure of hiking this trail with my partner and was able to celebrate my 25th birthday our first day on trail. Getting to the trial was a bit of a hassle in that we missed our bus and had to hitch 60 miles to get to the trail head. I have always had a sore spot for Oklahoma and was not too optimistic that someone would scoop us up, but within three hours we got four different rides and found ourselves at the beginning of the OT. Oklahoma began to slowly work its way into my heart. The trail began smoothly and rolled up and down without too much strain. It was amazing getting to hike in the fall and falling asleep with the sound of oak leaves falling from trees by the movements of the wind. Almost every night we were able to see stars through the scattered, leafless branches above our heads. Our moon was growing full and would remain bright almost every night while we were on trail.
The trail remained consistent for most of our tens days out. While we were down low in elevation we would skirt around dry river bends and rollercoaster up and down small hills that were covered in the skeletons of oak trees. The trail had its fair share of rocky sections, but would then go through nice padded pine forests to give your feet a rest.
Water was a consistent threat and fear because we had no reliable way of knowing if the next water source would be dry or not. We carried a lot of water most of the time, until we got further east, and even had to go miles of trail at times in search of secret mystery springs that existed in random fields of ferns and invasive grasses. Even at the bottom of valleys there would be dry river beds with maybe a stagnant puddle somewhere down the river beds. We often had to search for water, but most of the time were able to find something to work with.
A few days in the trail passes through Queen Wilhemina State Park which offers a dinner and breakfast buffet and of course we enjoyed both. Nights were often very cold getting down to the thirties a few times. One of the best things about this trail is the millions of stick bugs you encounter along the way. My partner was not too stoked about this, but I enjoyed watching them and finding them on almost every branch in the higher elevations.
Once the trail did make climbs to the tops of “mountains” we would often find ourselves walking through millions of brambles and ripped our legs to shreds trying to find our way through the dense stabby stabby plants. We would also hear tons of gunshots throughout this trail and had to wear orange and make noises every now and then in hopes to not be mistaken for deer. There were a few shots that were too close for comfort and made us both uneasy. Orange is definitely a necessity on this trial.
We made fires almost every night and enjoyed warm dinners and the luxury of cowboy camping without anyone around. A few nights we were woken up by coyotes howling around us, but never had any close encounters. The shelters on this trail were well maintained. We stayed in two of them, but took breaks in most of the others.
One of the best side trails on this hike was the Flatside Pinnacle towards the end that takes you up to the most amazing view you will get on this trail. We met a few day hikers up there and spent some time watching the sun go down before we hiked a few more miles to spend our last night in the Ouachita’s.
The last few miles of the OT are unmarked and hard to navigate, but beautiful. It runs along the Maumelle River with massive Cypress Trees in the water and long mosses and lichens hanging off branches. The last ten miles are low in elevation and feel extremely swampy and made me curious about the Florida Trail and what it would be like to hike 800 miles through dense swamp. Hiking was quick and easy and finally we found ourselves at the Eastern Terminus in the early afternoon and took an Uber to Little Rock to take a train home to Texas.
This trail was a lot of fun with a few good climbs and views, but the main appeal is the dense oak forest in the midst of fall with barren trees and a thick layer of leaves covering the forest floor. Everything seemed brown and silent in stillness. When we stopped to listen it seemed like there wasn’t life around for hundreds of miles, until we heard gun shots.