Friday, December 12, 2014

A feel for the Ozark Highlands Trail

The Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail (OHT) extends 218 miles through northwestern Arkansas through much of the Ozark National Forest.  I’ve had my eye on this trail for several years because it can be hiked in winter and because of its remote character.
Rocky outcrops and gorgeous streams on the Ozark Highlands Trail.
On my drive between Georgia and Colorado over Thanksgiving, I stopped by the OHT for a short hike and stayed the night at the campground at the trailhead.  I wanted to get a feel for the trail and area to find out if it might be worth a return visit for a thru hike. 

The view from the trailhead at the Fairview Campground provided a highly favorable first impression.  Rolling hills expanded in waves, and forested land had fewer signs of development than you’d think.  These weren’t high rugged mountains like you’d find out West.  These ancient mountains worn down by erosion into gentle curves had a special beauty.
I headed west on the OHT, descending past rocky outcrops and rock-hopping over a small stream until I reached a hollow and the tumbling waters of Hurricane Creek.  Water is one feature that makes this trail special. 
Unbelievably blue water of Hurricane Creek.
The thing that won me over though was something more subtle- the character of the trail.  Trails aren’t just about the scenery they pass through.  There is the element of how they get you from point A to point B.   Trails can highlight the special features by detouring over to an outcrop or routing you through a grove of witchhazel.  Hiking this trail, I got the impression that the trail builders really loved this area and wanted to provide a special experience for us hikers.

 Some parts of the trail were rugged and overgrown.  More like following a deer trail than following a well-beaten path.  It took a bit longer because I had to be careful about watching my footing with all the rocks and leaves.  But I love the feel of narrow trail because it make me feel like I’m on a bushwhacking adventure.

When the trail eventually joined an old road, there was lovely old stone bridge over the creek that made me think that I’d been brought to that place for a reason- so I could get a taste of the history of this region.
Old stone bridge.
Finally, I got to a deep blue swimming hole just as the light was beginning to fade.  It was too cold, even for me, to take a swim, but I hope that someday I’ll be able to return and be able to dip more than just my toes.
Dipping my toes along the Ozark Highlands Trail.
It was a very cold night back at the campground.  I would have preferred backpacking in a few miles and choosing a more sheltered campsite away from the road, but I was reluctant to leave my car overnight.  It was packed with boxes and boxes of my stuff that I’d picked up from storage, and my computer.  Still, I had an awesome view of the sunset from high on the ridge.  And fell asleep dreaming of future hikes along this wonderful trail.
Blazing sunset makes my hammock glow.
For more information
Ozark Highlands Trail Association  

Trail description and maps for the Ozone to Fairview section

GPS tracks download for the OHT


  1. Great intro, especially like the thoughts of trail builder special considerations, and the light on your hamock, special!

    1. Thanks, Jan! Yeah, that was an incredible glow.

  2. At the rate you're going you'll have hiked in every state on your travels.

    1. Yes, I wanted to check out trails in several different states along the way. Unfortunately, I missed out a few places (Texas and Oklahoma) due to high winds. Got to the campsite and the winds were kicking- one place I'd found was near wind farms- I had enough of that on the PCT to know I did not want to say there. Oh well.

    2. When you're ready to hike a TX trail, check out the Lone Star Trail (
      Although flat with few views except the open forest, it's probably the best trail in TX except
      Big Bend NP. Many snowbound hikers head here for a winter hike.

    3. Thanks so much for the suggestion of the Lone Star Trail, Marty! Just looked over that website and I was impressed with all the information and the descriptions. Always looking for trails to do in winter, so I really appreciate learning about this one. I just put it on my list. :)