The Ozark Highlands Trail is in northwestern Arkansas and runs from Lake Fort Smith State Park to the junction of Richland Creek and the Buffalo River, for 164.1 miles of a gorgeous, remote wilderness experience. I hiked from point to point, then returning back to Lake Fort Smith for a total of 328.2 miles and over 62,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. This hike took me 18 days, with one zero day (zero miles hiked) and one nearo day (nearly a zero with five miles hiked).
May 2 2021 Ozark Highlands Trail eastbound mile 5.1
I was on the road early and by 10am I was looking for a place to stash my food cache at Fairview trailhead. Of course it was pouring rain. I found a suitable spot, went back to the car to eat a salami sandwich and a couple of hours later I arrived at Lake Fort Smith State Park Visitor’s Center. Of course it was pouring. I went inside to check in and give them my car info and the two women behind the counter told me that Frog Bayou, one of two major stream crossings on the OHT was “totally flooded, there’s no way you can cross right now.”
I told them I would go check it out and they looked at me with worried faces and I started to get a little worried.
I snapped a quick selfie at the trailhead and set off. 3 miles to Frog Bayou and hopefully I could cross.
I got there and I found a place to cross; it was a bit swift and just over my knees. I told myself, “remember that river in Glacier. This is way more chill than that.”
And it was.
I hiked an enjoyable 2 more miles here to Jack Creek where I pitched my tent and am relaxing with the sounds of flowing water.
May 3 2021 OHT mile 23.6 Spirit’s Creek
Aside from seeing waterfalls, wild animals, and all the little beautiful things I see hiking everyday, I love the end of the day when my hiker chores are done, dinner is in my belly, I’ve cleaned myself off and I put on my comfy sleeping clothes. Especially my cheap $2.99 Walmart leggings. I wore them everyday hiking the Ouachita; they did not let me down then and I am convinced that they can outperform leggings that cost $79 at Prana.
Today was hot, and very humid so my clothes were wet all day. No big deal, but I’m looking forward to cooler weather tomorrow and clearer skies. Maybe dry clothes? Dry shoes? One can hope.
I know that in a couple of days my legs won’t be sore anymore and the miles will come a bit easier. It’s how it always goes.
I love this trail and I still have not seen anyone since I left the Visitor’s Center.
Fine with me.
May 4 2021 OHT mile 41.3 Hare Mt.
Just as I was falling asleep last night, thunder and lightning started up and a huge storm blew in. Winds, hail, rain, the works. My Plexamid tent held up gloriously. It wasn’t even muddy this morning when I packed it up. I was hiking by 6:10am and crossed Spirits Creek right off the bat. Not too deep or fast, fortunately. That came 7 miles later at Fane Creek. I was looking at the water, thinking, that’s a bit beyond my comfort level, when I noticed a bridge upstream on the forest service road. I had to cross a thigh deep creek to get to it but it was worth it not to have to ford Fane. I love it when stuff like that works out. .10 of a mile later I was back on trail and thankful that today was cooler than yesterday.
I was thinking g about getting a few more miles in today but when I got here to the Hare Mt. campsite I knew I’d stay. It’s so pretty, and since it’s at a higher elevation the green hasn’t fully blocked the views. And I got water from an well that used to be part of a homestead many years ago.
Once again I did not see anyone.
I love this trail. It’s absolutely gorgeous and very challenging.
May 5 2021 OHT mile 63.2 Pine glade
The theme for today was gorgeous weather and blow downs. Trees across the trail. Sometimes several in one place, creating an absolute mess. I’ll report their locations to the OHTA as soon as I can get internet, which will be awhile.
I’m fed, watered, dug my cathole, and relaxing in my tent.
So happy to be here.
Again, no people today. Maybe tomorrow? Who knows? Is there even a world out there?
May 6 2021 OHT mile 84.7 Ozone campground
I woke up this morning in a stand of pines and the sky was clear. I was hiking shortly before 6am and spent a few hours traversing a ridge line with many waterfalls. So many waterfalls on this trail. It was a pleasant day just cruising down the trail; few blowdowns, great weather and still no people.
Until I got to Ozone campground, which is a very small campground with electrical outlets, trash cans, and a pit toilet. And water! I walked up to the gazebo where the outlets are and saw another hiker, Carl. He is hiking the trail westbound, whereas I am heading East. We talked briefly, I grabbed some water and went to pitch my tent. All I wanted to do was eat and go to bed. I saw another person; a local walking his dogs through the campground. His dogs came to check me out and we chatted for a moment. This older gentleman has waist long grey hair and bright pink sunglasses. He was very nice. Anyway, people surprise me all the time and when I least expect it.
Since I had service I checked my email and soon fell asleep.
May 7 2021 OHT mile 104.6 Lopper’s tent site
One hundred miles! Today was a really fun day and I have a killer campsite with a great view. Up in the pines again. The miles came easy and by the time 11am came around I had gone 12 miles. But at one point I stopped to dig a cathole and left my spade. I know pretty much exactly where I left it so when I hike back I can pick it up, hopefully. It just sucks that I have to do without it. I can use a tent stake but it’s not the same.
More waterfalls, cool giant cliffs and rock formations, creek crossings. I had dry feet for about 5 miles then I had to cross a big creek. At least I had those 5 miles. Oh well.
I stopped for a bit at Cedar Creek and saw a day hiker with his dogs. We did not talk. So that’s three people so far.
Tomorrow I’ll hit my food cache at Fairview, another primitive campground and hopefully it will be there. And I get to cross the famed Hurricane Creek. Hopefully it won’t be too high.
May 8 2021 OHT mile 123.8 Fairview Rec Area
I woke up way to early and could not get back to sleep so I cuddled down into my sleeping bag and listened to the light rain shower on my tent. Perfect way to start the day. Soon the rain stopped and by 5:45am I was hiking into a warm misty morning.
By the time I reached Hurricane Creek it was clearing and everything had that fresh rain smell. Hurricane creek is more like a river and I had no problems crossing it. Slow and steady. Trekking poles help a great deal. I smelled a campfire nearby but didn’t see anyone. I wonder how they got dry wood. I can count the number on times I’ve had a campfire on a long trail on one hand. I’m always too tired and when I’m done for the day I just want to eat and get into my tent. Each to their own.
Hurricane Creek is absolutely gorgeous and there were several times where I just stopped and stared at the water. Today it was a nice slate green/grey color with huge boulders scattered everywhere. It rivals some lavish visuals I’ve seen in places like Glacier or the Smokies.
It was warm and sunny all day with a nice cooling breeze that came up just when I needed it.
I rolled into Fairview recreation area and saw that my food cache was untouched. Yay! And the water was on. Double yay! And I have the place to myself! Wow! Even the pit toilet is well maintained and does not smell. Which is rare. So I have decided to take tomorrow off and rest. My mind is ready to go but my body needs to rest.
I almost forgot: today I saw a herd of feral pigs! I came around a bend to a somewhat open area and there were about a dozen of them, rooting around in the leaves. They saw me and bolted. Which was good. And there were babies! Really small ones, probably no more than 5 pounds. So adorable.
May 9 2021 Zero Day at Fairview
I slept in until 6:30am. So late! The thing I really like about taking a zero day in the woods instead of in a town is that I really get to relax. In town there’s always lots of walking; to the store, to the laundromat; to the post office. There’s people to talk to, social media to check. Here, I walk over to the water facet or the toilet. I don’t have a signal on my phone. I’ve been reading in my tent most of the day. I go sit on the picnic table and eat something. It’s fantastic. I still have the place all to myself.
After dinner I’ll hide the food cache again, which I will visit on my way back through here in four days. Then I’ll pick up the last six days worth of food, some clean socks and underwear, and charge my small external battery with my larger external battery. I love the whole idea of resupply with a cache. It’s made this hike unique for me; I’ve never hiked a long trail without going into a town.
I’ll have to do this again with a different trail. Or just do this hike again. I am totally in love with the OHT.
May 10 2021
OHT mile 143.1 Richland Creek campground
It’s a quiet evening here at Richland Creek. There’s a couple of other people here, but everyone keeps to themselves. That works fine for me. It has been a tiring day. It was grey and cold so I did not stop much. By 10am I had almost 11 miles behind me and rolled into camp about 2:30pm. I could have kept going but there’s not a good place to camp for some miles and this place is nice. I ran into a mountain biker/hiker today and it was nice to chat trail with someone. He makes the third person I have talked to in 8 days.
Tomorrow I’ll be half way through this hike and I am looking forward to seeing the Buffalo River and camping next to it. Maybe it will be warm enough to swim? The weather here has surprised me; I thought it would be warmer here. Last night was super cold but I was also at the trail high point. So hopefully the next couple of nights will be warmer.
I accidentally dumped my pasta in the dirt this evening. I picked up up, rinsed it off, and ate it.
This is the way.
May 11 2021 Westbound OHT mile 3.1 Crumbling old barn
I saw this barn as I was hiking the last three miles of the OHT. The last three eastbound miles. A massive thunderstorm had just rolled in and I was hiking in the pouring rain. It was starting to get cold. I kept up hope that there would be a place to camp at mile 164, the eastern terminus.
I got there and not only was there nowhere to camp, everything was flooded and muddy.
I fell in the mud.
At this point I had turned west and was heading back. I had finished the first half of my hike. Hopefully I would find a place to camp soon, but I knew there was nothing.
Did I dare camp in the old barn? I checked it out earlier and there was a flat spot for my tent. Yes, it may look like it could fall down.
But it probably won’t.
By the time I got to the barn I was shivering and the rain got heavier. More thunder. I had to stop. I needed to stop. I am camped in the barn and I’d do it again.
May 12 2021 Westbound OHT mile 21 Richland Creek campground
Here I am back again at this nice little place. I even have the same tent site. The river provides excellent background noise and today I am happy. Not that I wasn’t happy yesterday. I was tickled pink that my barn bivouac turned out to be the best idea I’ve had in the past few days. I don’t mind rain but downpours like that are hard. The sun is out, I was able to dry my stuff out, and I met another hiker today. Maid Marionberry is hiking east, and she’s going to hike some of the Buffalo River trail that is a part of the OHT but not well maintained. Then she’ll hike west. She’ll probably catch up with me since I think she does bigger miles than I do. Which would be nice. On a trail like this where there are so few people, it’s nice to talk to hikers. I miss seeing hikers on trail on a regular basis almost as much as I like being by myself all day. Weird.
It looks like I’ll be camping in the same spots as I did hiking east, which is fine. I’ve had really great spots every night out here.
May 13 2021 Westbound OHT mile 40.3 Fairview
Once again I have Fairview all to myself. Chatted with a landscape painter who pulled up to the trailhead here about Hurricane Creek. I gave him directions to go check out Cedar Creek, which is more accessible. It was nice to talk to a human and he gave me some trail magic; two tangerines. So good. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful day. This morning’s views were some of the best on the trail, and that was a good way to start the day.
My body is definitely tuned into hiking 20 mile days.
I find dead ticks in my socks that the permethrin on my clothing have killed.
I stopped to submerge my body in a jade colored creek; it was ice cold and completely divine.
May 14 2021 Westbound OHT mile 59.5 Lopper’s tentsite
Two great things about today; I met three hikers, Lynn, Johnny, and Theresa. We chatted for a bit and I had forgotten how nice it is to meet cool people on the trail. Well, maybe not forgotten, but not in the forefront of my mind. The other thing was I stopped for awhile at a really sweet swimming hole on Hurricane Creek and swam. Heavenly. The creek was lower this time around and I had an easy time with the crossings. Hopefully my luck will hold for the rest of my hike. Today was a beautiful day and I think tomorrow is going to be nice as well. I’ll be able to check the weather tomorrow when I get to Ozone campground.
Part of me is ready to finish up this hike and another part of me says, “we’re just getting started!” I have for sure hit my stride and feel great. Maybe I can get another hike in somehow before school starts back up. One can dream.
May 15 2021 Westbound OHT mile 80 Ozone Campground
I love how quiet these backcountry campgrounds are. Otherwise I’d hike on a few miles and camp. But probably not tonight because I had to charge my external battery and make sure I have enough juice for the rest of my hike. I think I may try to push as many miles as I can tomorrow; rain is coming and, well, there’s not really much I can do about that except hike in it. I had planned for 24 miles and that’s probably what I’ll end up doing. My last two days on trail will be wet but that’s ok. At least I have these few sunny days. That’s enough.
May 16 2021 Westbound OHT mile 103 Pine forest
I got maybe three hours of sleep last night; I was worried about the upcoming rains and creek crossings, even though I think they’ll be fine. The water levels on trail are super low right now so that should help.
I had a breakthrough today. I think I have learned to take and accept what the trail gives me, including weather, and go with it. Not to try to control it.
It felt liberating, and closer to the trail that I have ever felt.
Now to eat ramen and crash.
May 17 2021 Westbound OHT mile 124 Hare Mt.
I think this may be my favorite campsite on the entire trail. It’s gorgeous. And I love that the water source is an old well from a homestead that used to be here. It’s so quiet. Just the sounds of moisture falling off leaves.
I started hiking today around 5:45am. In the pouring rain. I expected it to rain most of the day but it tapered off around 10am. My only hope was to get to Hare Mt before the thunderstorms hit and that was a success. They still haven’t rolled in but I’m guessing sometime tonight.
Creek crossings were good and I am confident that I will be able to cross the upcoming creeks with no issues.
May 18 2021 Westbound OHT mile 148 White Rock Campground
Wow. Today was great. It was difficult and I struggled and at the end of the day I am in my tent with my belly full of Italian wrap and Ben & Jerry’s.
And here come the thunderstorms. Today was like hiking through a greenhouse. It’s the end of the hiking season here in Arkansas and the green is glorious. It’s amazing how much everything has grown since I was through here two weeks ago.
Tonight is my last night on trail and I feel content and happy with this hike. It seems like everything has gone according to plan in a sense, but also there have been so many unexpected joys, like this little backcountry campground with it’s great views and ice cream, that it has qualified as a great adventure.
May 19 2021 Westbound OHT mile 164.1 Lake Fort Smith Visitor’s Center
I was up early packing up a sandy, wet tent. Which was fine. So much of the trail today was overgrown, but again, that was fine. I have a feeling I’ll have some more issues with poison ivy but hey, today I finish my hike.
I rolled into the Visitor’s Center around 1pm followed by a local dog who accompanied me for the last two miles. One thing about Arkansas is that there are a lot of free range dogs, who have homes and owners, but these dogs go where they please and do what they want. Such was the case with this dog.
After reporting to the Visitor’s Center that I had returned for my car and thanking them profusely for watching over said car, I put my stuff in my trunk, took off my wet smelly shoes and socks, donned the purple Crocs, and drove off.
For about five minutes it felt weird to drive again, some remnant of a distant past when people walked or ran everywhere let me know loud and clear that this way of moving through the land was wrong. That being on my own two feet, everyday, all day, is my natural form of being.
This instinct is something to be cherished and I felt a loss when it disappeared into the familiarity of driving.
Now that I am showered, fed, and relaxing, I want to be back out there. Soon.