An Ode to Ouachita National Recreation Trail

What comes to mind when you think about Oklahoma? Football? Farms? The oil industry? Nothing?

Me, too. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the Ouachita (pr. wosh-i-taw) National Recreation Trail tucked away in the beautiful, tree-studded, rolling hills of the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma.

I know what you’re thinking: Oklahoma has beautiful rolling hills? Did the sun rise in the east? Did Trump lose the presidency?

Yes, no and sadly, no.

The Ouachita Mountains are sprinkled throughout southeastern Oklahoma and west central Arkansas, and belong to a greater mountainous region known as the U.S. Interior Highlands. This region is one of the few mountainous regions between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains and it is home to the more popular Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

Interestingly, the Ouachita Mountains were originally part of the Appalachian Mountains during the Pennsylvanian period, over 300 million years ago.

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So here’s the 4-1-1 on the OT:

  • It’s 223 miles of well-maintained trail from Talimena State Park in Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas (shout out to Friends of the Ouachita Trail)
  • There are 15 shelters along the trail, with 5 more in construction as of 2012
  • The best times to hike the trail are early spring and late autumn due to limited water access in the summer months
  • The highest point on the trail is 2,610 ft. on Rich Mountain, which straddles the Oklahoma-Arkansas border
  • There are abundant streams, rivers, and lakes for which to get water, but be sure to use a filter. Use smart judgment; pack out ample water in case of a particularly dry season.

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After spending a weekend hiking and camping along the trail, I would highly recommend camping at Winding Stair Campground, or at least stopping through for a picnic lunch. The views from the look-out were breathtaking.

The OT is perfect for Weekend Warriors, shakedowns, or even a week-long trek. Backpacker ranked the OT third among long trails for solitude. We only came across three people the entire time we were hiking along the OT; we were mostly accompanied by soaring hawks and curious white-tailed deer on our mini-trek.

Where is it?

Talimena State Park, the eastern trailhead, is only a three hour drive from Dallas, Texas and a three hour drive from Oklahoma City, OK.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park, the trailhead in the west, is two hours from Memphis, TN and a 5.5 hour drive from St. Louis, MO.

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Thanks for reading and happy trails!

 

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Comments 4

  • Tori Garrett : Mar 11th

    Jessica!

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to this fantastic trail. I live in Little Rock and hit the OT almost every week. It’s beautiful, accessible, quiet, and a great “roots and rocks” training trail for the AT.

    Happy hiking!

    Reply
  • Gary Stell : Mar 11th

    Thanks for the nice mentions about my native state! I’ve been all over that area on my motorcycle, (For the newbies to Ouchita Mtns, it’s one of if not the favorite rides in our state). I had planned to do so miles on the OT before I set out on the AT in about a month, and I may still be able to do so. Happy Trails and thanks again for giving props to one of the least hiked Trails in America!

    Reply
  • Zach : Mar 14th

    Great writeup, Jessica!

    Reply
  • Mark : Mar 14th

    Beautiful forests and trails – I grew up hiking all over the Ouachitas (along with the Ozarks), and absolutely love the area. The alternating bands of pines and hardwood forest as you hike along the trail adds some interesting variety.

    I do find it slightly amusing that you introduce it as an Oklahoma trail when most of it is in Arkansas, and you describe the Eastern terminus at Pinnacle relative to Memphis and St Louis but don’t mention that it is just outside of Little Rock. Nice write up on a lovely area, never-the-less 🙂

    One multi-day backpacking trip near the OK-AR border happened during walking-stick mating season (or so we assumed although I’ve learned since that there is not really a mating season) – the hardwood forest sections were absolutely overloaded with them – falling from the trees on to your pack and hat and sounding like rain on the forest floor. Creepy but cool.

    Reply

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