For a very long time, road trips have become a therapeutic way of bonding with nature and running away from rigid daily schedules. However, the most interesting road trips happen in less discovered areas where there are a lot of amazing things to come by.
One of the lesser popular regions in Ouachita that has outstanding scenery worth exploring is the Ouachita National Forest. Traversing this area by road will enable you to have a memorable experience away from the overcrowded tourist destinations around Ouachita.
So, are you planning a road trip around this area and don’t know the best scenic drives and how to get to the forest? This guide is for you as it will help you understand all these.
A Brief History of the Ouachita National Forest
Ouachita National Forest is part of the Ouachita Mountains, with its headquarters being in Hot Springs in west-central Arkansas. It sits on 1.8 million acres of land, making it the largest National Forest in Ouachita. The forest was established in 1907 by the government, and it hosts various wild animals in designated areas. Timber production and fishing are also some of the main activities in the forest.
Visitors can also hike, bike on the trails within the forest or do any water activities on the moving waters. However, the smooth roads and scenic views make it a good area for road trips.
Related: Why Visit the Ouachita Mountains
How to Get to Ouachita National Forest
Ouachita National Forest is accessible through road or air transport. So, if you’re coming from outside Ouachita National Forest, you can connect through the airport in Hot Springs. Then connect by road. But if you’re from Dallas to Hot Springs is 296 miles. The stretch from Oklahoma City to Hot Springs is 310 miles, while from Memphis, TN is 192 miles. AR will cover about 56 miles by road if you’re coming from Little Rock.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Ouachita National Forest?
Even though you can visit Ouachita National Forest any time of the year, there is a time when the temperatures are favorable. The best time to come for road trips is between June and August when the temperatures are 90-60 degrees.
Alternatively, you can come to this forest in spring between March and May when the temperatures vary between 72/49. You can also make your road trips from March to May when the sun is not so strong or when it’s not too cold.
Best Scenic Drives
The following are some of the best scenic drives you will encounter while on your road trip around Ouachita National Forest;
Buffalo Gap Trail
One of the best routes you’ll enjoy driving through is the Buffalo Gap Trail. It’s in the remote part of the Ouachita National Forest but with beautiful scenery, which will make your drive worthy. It’s a 9 miles stretch that hikers and bikers also frequent.
The trail begins at the AR scenic highway 7 which is some meters away from the Winona scenic drive. When driving through, it’s best to have a map as the loop intersections can lead you in the wrong direction.
Across the trail, you’ll see Buffalo Gap Mountain and various wildlife. If you come for a road trip to the Ouachita National Forest in October, you’ll be amazed by the fall colors, which are so relaxing. You will be able to see the flourishing green forest during spring in early April.
You can rest at the nearby hotels or restaurants as you plan on your next adventure around the forest. The best thing about this trail is that it’s not crowded, giving you a better opportunity to maximize your time.
Scenic 7 Byway
Another best route to take while making a road trip is on the Scenic 7 Byway along the Arkansas river valley. This is the most scenic drive you’ll come across in America, and it’s the first state-designated scenic byway. Scenic 7 byway runs from the south end around the west Gulf coastal plain to Arkadelphia.
If you come here around fall, you’ll be fascinated with the bright changing colors of foliage. You will cover about 60 miles deep in the forest while riding through this route. It has spectacular views of the mountains like the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.
There are also several stops along the way where you can relax. The campsites, picnic grounds and waters along your path will enable you to take some time off the wheel.
This drive stands out because it connects to two other scenic byways where you can extend your road trip. The West-Northwest Scenic Byway or the Ozark highlands scenic byway will give you a memorable day outdoors.
Talimena National Scenic Byway
If you want to have a breathtaking road trip, go to this 54-mile route in southeast Oklahoma. This scenic byway was built to enhance the beauty of the foliage, and it stretches around one of the highest mountain ranges between the Rockies and Appalachians.
This area has beautiful foliage during the fall season, which you can see as you drive through. The red and golden forest slopes make this drive have eye-catching views. The many viewpoints along the Talimena National Scenic Byway will offer you a good chance to take some breaks.
Another best time you’ll enjoy riding through this drive is in spring, when the forests around turn green after winter. You can also stop at the Talimena State Park or Ouachita National Forest to relax. The Cedar Lake Recreation area will also allow you to engage in outdoor activities like horseback riding.
Lake Silvia Recreational Area
Lake Sylvia Recreational Area is also another driving route to use while on a family trip around Ouachita National Forest. It’s in northeast Ouachita Forest and surrounded by 18 acres of lake, making it an ideal drive out along the waters. You will also have an opportunity to make a trip to the woods as the area is covered by scenic oak and pine mountains.
You can make your road trip to this area from Little Rock Pass through Arkansas 10 and then to Arkansas 9. The last stretch on the left (Arkansas 324) will lead you to Lake Sylvia, where you can swim before proceeding with your trip. Note that you’ve got to pay for the access fee if you drive to the swim area.
Since the area is well marked, and Arkansas State Park maintains the trail roads, you’ll not have major challenges. You can also extend your days by the lake fishing or camping on the shores of the freshwater body.
Jessieville Winona Fourche Ranger District
The 406 thousand acres area will give you a thrilling experience on the road. It runs from the northeast ends of Ouachita National Forest to the northern shore of Lake Ouachita. You will also discover other lakes while driving through this stretch, like Winona Lake.
As you traverse the Jessieville Winona Fourche Ranger District, you’ll encounter the Forked Mountain Falls, Irons Fork Scenic Area and Flatside wilderness. These are areas you can take time to visit to relax and interact with nature.
Drive through the Winona Auto Tour Scenic drive on the southern part of the Flatside wilderness. Alternatively, you can go through the buffalo gap auto tour scenic drive, which starts from the Winona scenic drive.
If you set out for a road trip to Ouachita National Forest, you’ve got to be smart enough to avoid spending much. The following tips will help you enjoy your drive through any of the scenic drives;
Eat Enough Food Before Setting Out
If you want to have a nice time driving through any of the routes, eat to your full. You’ll not struggle looking for a restaurant if you eat before leaving. Eating well will also prevent you from the disappointments of many hotels that might not have your favorite dish or make it below your standards. But don’t forget to carry snacks and enough water with you.
Choose the right car and Inspect it beforehand
When you have the right type of car, you’ll easily move around the Ouachita National Forest. Research the scenic drive you’re going for the road trip to help you choose the vehicle. If you don’t have a good car, consider hiring one or swapping with your friend. But don’t forget to ensure your vehicle.
You also need to inspect your car to ensure everything is okay. Take it to any national chain auto repair shops for full inspection. Ensure the fluids are topped off, tires balanced and all the moving parts in good shape before setting off for your journey.
When your car is in good shape, you’ll be able to cover several miles in the Ouachita National Forest without any problem. You will also not spend much money doing repairs while on the go.
Set Your Mileage Limit
Set a limit on the distance you’ll cover per day. Also, know the average kilometers you’ll do to estimate when to take a break. Setting the limit per day will help you plan where to spend the night and what to carry.
You can also participate in other activities after reaching your set mileage goal. For example, you can swim or hike on the Ouachita mountain trails.
Carry Enough Essentials
Anything can happen when you’re in Ouachita National Forest so prepare well. Have extra clothes, carry trekking poles and enough jackets. Also have some kitchen essentials like stove, plates and knives.
Also, have a map of the Ouachita National Forest. You can request one from the management or use google maps. But don’t solely rely on google maps as you can reach an area with no cellular network leaving you stranded.
It’s fun driving with someone by your side on a long trip. Also, having someone by you will act as a safety measure. Look for a friend and plan for your day when they’re comfortable going out. You can also plan for a family trip to keep safe and enjoy each other’s company away from home.
But nothing will make the road trip more enjoyable than having your favorite music play in the background. So have a USB drive or download the songs through your phone and set the right mood on the road.
Sleep Well and Plan for Emergencies
You need to sleep well before going to the Ouachita National Forest. Enough sleep will allow you to be active throughout the journey and see the beautiful scenery. You will also not cause accidents when riding on rough roads deep in the forest. On a long road trip, ensure you retire to bed in good time and set off early. Look for a nearby hotel or camping ground so that you don’t take a lot of time on the road to rest.
While enjoying your road trip, you must also encounter some challenges which require an emergency solution. So have backup plans so that you’re set to go in case of anything. Have extra money with you, and carry your first aid kits and medicines. Also, be ready to camp at any campsites or in the bushes if your car gets problems. Knowing some car repair basics will also sort you out if there are incidental damages.
Can You Drive Through Ouachita National Forest?
Yes. You will have beautiful scenic views as you drive through any scenic drives in the Ouachita National Forest. Plus, the trees are an excellent way to interact with nature.
Is it Open?
The National Forest trails and roads are open for use by the public. However, there are rules you must abide by while here.
How old is it?
The Ouachita National Forest was established on December 18 1907. The forest has a great history behind it making it one of the best places to visit in the Ouachita Mountains/
A road trip around the Ouachita National Forest is fun to stay outdoors without engaging in strenuous activities. There are many scenic drives in this place and you can never go wrong with the choices mentioned above. Before setting out for this journey, identify the best scenic drives, prepare well and be ready for any challenge. Enjoy your road trip.
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