The Ouachita National Recreation Trail stretches 192 miles from Talihina, OK, to Perryville, AR, and traverses the east-to-west oriented Ouachita Mountains. With elevation ranges from 600 feet to 2600 feet, it is a nice challenge for any hiker. The trail runs through beautiful forests, across clear streams, and offers many breathtaking views. With it’s many spur trails it can keep a hiker busy for years.
The Ouachita Trail starts in Talimena Sate Park in Talihina, OK. It is a three and a half hour drive from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area but rush hour traffic will add an hour to your time. If you arrive after dark there are campsites available at the state park for $14 or there is a motel in town, a short drive to the trailhead. We opted to stay at the Rockin’ H Motel in town on Friday night. The motel had clean rooms and was $60 for a queen bed. The water was hot but intermittent, making showering a little bit like playing a game of hokey pokey.
We ate the next morning at The Hateful Hussy Diner in downtown Talihina. Skip the breakfast buffet, as it consisted mainly of reheated frozen food. Order from the menu instead and you’ll get fresh food at a great price.
Talimena State Park charges $5 per day to park at the trailhead. If you want to skip the parking fees there is an abandon restaurant about a half mile further up 271 where you can pull your car off the road. You can then hike back to the state park and the trailhead.
There are also shuttle services to various points on the trail. The Friends of the Ouachita Trail website has a list of them.
A map of the trail is available on the forest service website. It is a bit misleading in where it marks creeks. For instance Bohannon creek is listed as a point 7.3 miles in on the trail. The map makes it sound as though the trail actually crosses Bohannon Creek but in reality you have to take spur to it. To get to the water of the creek you have to take a half mile hike down the mountain and then back up to return to the trail.
The trail is very well marked with blue blazes on trees and rocks on regular intervals. The convergences with other trails are usually marked by nice wooden signs. There are also mile markers every few miles.
The trail starts off at the bottom of a mountain and the first few miles are at a pretty good incline. We set off at eight in the morning on November 19th and reached a vista at the top of the mountain around eleven thirty. The change in elevation definitely slows your pace so plan out your route accordingly. I wouldn’t count on going more than a mile or two per hour.
The terrain is also pretty rough. There are sections of smooth dirt but at least half of the trail is covered by rough rocks and boulders. The rocks are the perfect size for twisting ankles. Throw in some recently fallen leaves to camouflage the rocks, and the trail is almost perfect for causing sprained ankles. Hiking boots rather than hiking shoes are a must. If you have hiking poles you will be thankful for them on this trip. If not, grab a handy stick, especially for the declines.
Points of Interest
After less than a half hour of hiking the trail, we came to a small stream with a bridge across it. I doubt this stream normally has water but it had rained a couple days before and it was flowing. If you are arriving during the wet season and have an hour of light left this would make a great first night camping area.
Forty-five minutes into our hike, the trail was crossed by the Indian Nations Trail (aka Choctaw Nations Trail). This trail is 43 miles and connects Holson Valley with the Kiamichi Valley. More information can be found here.
We reached the spur to Potato Hills Vista, 2.4 miles into our hike at 9:15a.m. Making our pace a measly a 1.9 miles per hour. The spur to the Potato Hill’s vista is only .1 miles making it a quick detour if you don’t mind the steep incline the trail took. This is also a convenient access point if you want to skip the first 2.4 miles of ascending trail.
Two hours of hiking in we came upon another potential camping area. This one had plenty of flat ground for a tent, a nice fire ring, and even some stone chairs. It was situated next to a creek bed but the creek was dry while we were there. During a wet spring the creek would probably be running, making this an excellent campground. It would also be only about an hour hike if your parked at Potato Hills Vista.
After three hours of hiking, we came to a beautiful panoramic vista. We sat down right on the trail to have a snack and enjoy the view. We could see for miles and the fall colors were spectacular.
Shortly after the vista we crossed Forest Road 6010. It is easily accessible from Highway 1 making it an easy place to cache water or start the trail.
Four hours, and 7.3 miles, into our hike we reached the convergence of the trail with the Bohannon Creek Trail. There was a sign there that pointed downwards to Bohannon Creek and also listed Hale Scout Camp in the same direction. To get to parts of the creek that held water we had to hike about a half mile down the mountain we had just climbed up. The trail was not marked but was wide and with the exception of an area with downed trees was easy to discern.
Finding a Campsite
We could have stopped when we first reached the creek but there was no clear camping area and we would have had to make our own. With the sign’s promise of a camp ahead we decided to see if we could find it. We ended up hiking the rest of the way down the mountain to where the trail met an ATV trail but didn’t find the camp. A later google search told us the camp was a formal summer camp for scouts and not just a campsite. It was also located along Lake Bohannon, which was probably a further half mile hike.
We ate lunch along the ATV trail near the creek. Then we decided to hike back up to where we saw a small fire ring on the trail next to the creek. We ended up pitching our tent right on the trail, as there was no other area free of brush to set up. Despite the tight quarters it ended up being a comfortable camp site. The fire ring was built right next to a log which made a convenient seat. Our Kelty Salida 2 tent fit along the trail fine with plenty of room to walk next to it. The creek had a nice pool of water there also, making it a picturesque place to camp.
In fact it was such a nice place that coyotes had made it their home also. We woke in the middle of the night to a coyote howling party about fifty feet from our tent. It sounded like a very large group of more than ten coyotes. After they finished howling we heard them padding through the leaves beside our tent. Thankfully coyotes rarely bother humans and that held true for us as well.
Bears however, would love to share in your camp meals. We ran into a couple of local hunters while hiking and they told us the year had just seen a bear. There is only black bears in these mountains and they are unlikely to attack humans but will steal your food. We made sure we hung our food high and away from our camp. Bringing bear mace along for your hike would be a smart precaution
The Hike Back
The next morning we decided to take the Bohannon Creek Trail passed the Ouachita Trail in the hopes it would take us to the road quicker. We had hiked in hiking shoes instead of boots and our ankles had taken a beating on the rough ground. In addition, the soles of Patrick’s shoes were ungluing and he was afraid he would be hiking in flip flops before the day was over.
The creek trail had an even steeper incline than the Ouachita trail and our legs were about ready to give out before we reached FR 6010. As the Ouachita Trail met the Forest Road in the same place, we probably would have been better off just taking that back to 6010.
The trails meets 6010 just feet from Highway 1. We walked highway 1 back to Highway 271, which took us back to the state park. While there were still plenty of inclines and declines the smooth surface of the road was much easier on our ankles and our shoes. A road was not as interesting to walk as a trail, but as far as roads go this one had some spectacular views.
We left our campsite around nine that morning and reached our car by one in the afternoon. After hiking 16 miles over mountainous terrain in two days we were happy to take off our shoes and sit down for the drive back.
- Lunch: Marion’s Thai Green Curry Patrick carried in this boxed curry meal. With it’s liquid ingredients it was heavier than our typical dried meals but it was a welcome treat. We added dehydrated chicken and green beans to it.
- Dinner: Chicken and Dumplings