Plan to hike the Ouachita mountains on your vacation as it has some of the best trails. These mountains have varying heights, which gives everyone a bearable option for hiking. Also, there are shelters and beautiful sceneries where you can spend some time relaxing.
However, you must encounter challenges while hiking, which is no different when in the Ouachita mountains. To have the best time, you need to prepare well and have the right hiking gear. So, are you planning to hike the Ouachitas for the first time and wondering where to go or how to prepare? We have a comprehensive guide that will make things easy for you.
Best Hiking Trails in the Ouachita Mountains
A good hiking experience starts with your choice of the hiking trail. Choose the best hiking trails which will give you a lifetime experience while here. The best trails in the Ouachita Mountains include;
Hunts Loop Trail
One of the best hiking trails you’ll enjoy going to is the Hunts Loop trail. It’s 7.08 km long and is found next to Jessieville, Arkansas. It’s a moderately challenging trail that can take approximately 2 hours and 17 minutes to complete.
The trail opens all year long, so you can fix your time according to your schedule and hike. You can also camp or go backpacking or even have your alone moments during the days when people are not crowded. This trail is around the hot springs, and it can lead you to the saline river, where you can also enjoy the waters.
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Little Missouri River Trail
You can also decide to do the little Missouri river trail to relax your mind. The trail is 1.77km, and it’s in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. It’s an easy-to-hike route which you can go to whenever you want to do slight exercises. You can spend about 28 minutes completing the trail, and it’s never crowded.
Since it’s near the river Missouri, you’ll have beautiful moments at the falls, interact with wildlife and stay in the woods. The fascinating fact about this trail is that it crosses the river Missouri 8 times. But you need to be careful when walking on the rocks at the streams and avoid them after rains.
Lake Ouachita Vista Trail
You can also spend some moments hiking on the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. The trail is between hardwood and pine forest, lake, and mountain slopes, giving you a worthy experience. You will also come across beautiful wildflowers on this about 40 miles trail during summer.
It has pits of quartz and opens all through the year. The private resort and the public campgrounds around can help you relax your mind after the hike.
If you want to hike on a long trail, go to the Ouachita trail, which is 223 miles long. Although it’s not popular, it’s worth visiting as it has a single-track trail with no motor access, meaning you’ll have little disruptions as you hike.
The trail is well marked, maintained, and beautiful from start to end. It’s the best trail for someone who wants to stay out for long as you spend about 10-14 days hiking.
The Caney Creek Trail
The Caney Creek trail is a wonderful area to hike in the woods. The trail crosses about 13 streams, which allows you to interact with water. It starts at Lake Shady Recreational Area, but you can also access it through forest service road 38.
This trail will take you to a 14,460 acres congressionally designated wilderness which is good for some me-time.
The Black Fork Mountain Trail
This 18.19km trail will give you a chance to have a spectacular view of areas like the Queen Wilhelmina State Park and the Rich Mountain Fire Tower. It also passes across historic sites where pioneers once lived in the early 90s. It’s a hiking trail that leads you to the Black Fork Mountain Wilderness, which is good for relaxing moments.
But it’s busy during spring which is one of the best seasons to visit. It’s also considered a challenging trail as you can take an average of 6 hours and 5 minutes to hike.
Buckeye and Caney Creek Loop
The 17.860km loop trail is found near Mena, Arkansas. It’s a challenging route that will see you sweating for about 6 hours and 20 minutes. Being that it’s a popular route, you’ll encounter several people hiking. But you can also have some quiet moments during some hours of the day.
The trail allows you to hike in the valley and along the ridgeline, which are worthy moments and views.
Why You’ll Love Hiking the Ouachita Trails
Not every mountain is ideal for hiking. Some are deserted, others dangerous, and some just have nothing to offer. But that’s not the same with the Ouachita Trails. You will love several things about hiking on the Ouachita trails, but the ones that stand out are;
The trails will offer you the best opportunity to see beautiful sceneries from different spots. For example, the Buckeye Mountain trail will give you a spectacular view of the whole Arkansas state. At the same time, the Lake Ouachita Vista trail will enable you to discover another beautiful mountain, the Hickory Nut Mountain.
If you go to the Little Missouri River trail, the winding stair will offer a breathtaking view of Ouachita National Forest and large novaculite rock. You will also see flowers, wildlife, and various lakes. But the outstanding picnic areas and falls around the Little Missouri River trail will give you an awesome experience. Don’t forget the quartz mines and the limestone covering lakes which are things perhaps you’ve never witnessed.
Well Maintained Trails
Something you’ll realize about the trails in the Ouachita Mountains is that they’re well maintained. The blue blazes are painted on the trees, which help you know your direction while hiking. You will also know the miles you’ve covered or are yet to cover as they’re marked on the trees and ground. The people here are clearly not sleeping on their jobs.
You will also come across clean shelters while on the Ouachita mountains trails. Every 8 or 10 miles, you will come across a shelter while hiking. Such shelters will help you find a spot to relax when you’re tired and can’t proceed hiking.
The clean shelters also give you an opportunity to hike light since you’ll not have to carry your camping kit. Another advantage of these shelters, which are never crowded, is that you’ll not spend a lot of money hiring for a place to relax after a long day.
Challenges of Ouchitas Hiking
The fact that you’ll enjoy hiking, come across beautiful sceneries, and have spectacular views doesn’t mean you’ll not have challenges. Experienced hikers knows very well that it’s not a bed of roses. Some of the major challenges you will have to encounter are;
Hiking in these mountains can be tough as the rains can pour anytime while still deep into the trail. Some places will be inaccessible or flooded after the downpour, while others will be risky to walk on.
For example, the little Missouri River has rocks in the stream that becomes risky after the rains. The high water also becomes dangerous after rainstorms, a reason why you need to be vigilant. The Caney Creek trail is also prone to flooding when it rains heavily.
You will also have difficulty ascending and descending the Ouachita trails. The trails are steep and rugged, which will slow down your pace. A rugged terrain will also make you have blisters and unplanned injuries as you find the best way to maneuver them.
Bugs and Insects
Expect to encounter bugs and insect bites while hiking the Ouachitas. Mosquitoes and other insects won’t spare you if you don’t have a repellent. Also be ware of ticks as they’re in plenty here.
Ouachita Mountains Hiking Gear List
Be ready with your gears before setting off for the Ouachita mountains for hiking. The right hiking gear to have are;
You will need a backpack while hiking the Ouachita mountains as it will help carry your essentials. Go for the right backpack, which will distribute the weight and stop you from struggling with it.
When choosing a backpack, consider the distance you’re going to cover. A short hike requires a regular backpack as it won’t be a strenuous walk. But when hiking for a long distance, go for one with padded shoulder straps, a pouch, and the right size to carry all you’ll need in the journey.
A tent will protect you from the rains or hot sun as you go about the trail. The tarp is also good for making your tent last longer, protecting it from rain and sun damage. It will also reduce condensation, making your tent favorable to stay in. You can also use a tarp as wind cover in emergency cases as it’s easy to set up.
If you are hiking for more than one day, a sleeping system should be in your backpack. It will keep you safe from the cold and make you comfortable in the wilderness. Go for a lightweight, moisture-resistant, and compressible sleeping system. Also, choose one that’s easy to maintain and takes less time to dry. A sleeping system should include a liner, hammock, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.
You will also need to pack rain gear, especially when going to Ouachita trails, where the weather is unpredictable. Go for comfortable rain gear which won’t feel sticky when rained on. It should also be lightweight and easy to pack to carry with ease. Breathable rain gear is also good for traversing these mountains.
You will love having some fresh meals while in the mountains, so pack a cooking system. The fire can also keep you warm in the cold as you pass the time. Go for a stable stove that will not spill your food before eating. An easy-to-use cooking system that can withstand wind is also a good pick.
You will need a toilet kit while on the trails to avoid messing with the environment. It will help you when going for long or short calls anywhere in the bush. A toilet kit, like a trowel, should be lightweight. But don’t forget toilet paper and hand sanitizer for hygiene purposes.
Clean water during the hike is necessary as you need to keep hydrated. So, look for water storage that will enable you to have enough supply throughout the hiking period. A stable, easy to use, and lightweight water storage is good for hiking. Let it be big enough to serve you for the days you’ll be hiking.
Trekking poles will help you concur the challenging trails with ease. It can also support your body when tired, reducing force on your knees. When choosing a trekking pole, go for an adjustable one that can also be folded. Then learn how to use your trekking pole to overcome the obstacles before setting out for the Ouachita mountains.
Wear or carry warm clothes which will not affect your health. Warm clothes will also be helpful if it rains abruptly when the weather seems fine for hiking. Have gloves and mittens, which will help you stay warm at night. A headband, neck gaiter, pullover, socks, hat, and warm trousers should be in your backpack. You can wear some of these warm clothes as you leave the house to reduce the size of the luggage you’ll carry.
Headlamps For Night Hiking
Headlamps will make your night hiking movements easy as you’ll be able to see the trail well. They are a better choice than flashlights as you’ll not hold them in your hands which can be tiring. Also, this light source will go with the rhythm of your eyes and head as you walk. Choose a headlamp with the right lumen. Something like 150-200 lumens is good for hiking.
What are the best times of the year to hike the Ouachita mountains?
The best time to hike these mountains is during fall or spring when favorable temperatures.
What is the longest hiking trail in Arkansas?
The Ouachita National Recreational Trail, which is 223 miles, is Arkansas’s longest trail. It’s best for hikers who are ready for a heavy challenge.
Is it safe to hike in the Ouchitas?
Yes. You’ll be safe hiking in the Ouachitas despite it having wild animals. However, you need to stay away from the wild animals’ food spots and follow the head signs on the trail.
You will stay fit and see beautiful scenery by hiking in the Ouachita mountains. But be ready to encounter some challenges. Also, remember to carry the right hiking gear to have a memorable experience.