Thru-Hiking the Ouachita Trail

Last year at this time, I was finishing my first ever thru-hike: The Ouachita Trail (pronounced wash-it-ah). My friend and I backpacked eastbound, 223 miles from Oklahoma to Arkansas. 

Why Hike the Ouachita Trail?

Why did I choose the Ouachita as my first thru-hike? Three main reasons. 

  1. 223 miles is short for a thru-hike. I wanted to choose something that seemed manageable. I wanted to make sure I could succeed. 
  2. My dad lives in Arkansas, so I had an easy way out. If either of us got injured or if I realized that backpacking wasn’t actually my thing, my dad was there to save us.
  3. My original thru-hike dream was the Appalachian Trail. From what I had read, the OT was somewhat similar to the AT in views/scenery as well as challenging terrain that mimicked the AT. If I enjoyed the OT, the AT would be an easy decision for my next challenge. 

Reading in between the lines, I really needed to build my confidence. I needed to know that I could do it and that I wanted to do it.

Prepwork makes the hike work

So, my friend and I began the Ouachita Trail on November 30, 2021. However, prior to the start of the hike, lots of preparations had to be made. For those hoping to one day hike the OT, here’s a list of pre-hike prep that we did to make our hike successful!

  1. Download the trail on Far Out (this app was absolute GOLD when looking for water, camping locations, and when we ran into a hiccup later on in our adventure)
  2. Join the Facebook groups for the Ouachita Trail. We met a handful of people on the hike, and many of them were part of the group. It was a great place to ask questions! 
  3. Food. This was probably the most challenging. The OT doesn’t go through towns, so we had to carry food for 5-6 days at a time. The trail goes directly by Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, but the small grocery section at the lodge is not adequate for re-supply. We arrived to the lodge a week after we started our hike. Two week after the beginning of our hike, we met up with an AMAZING trail angel, named Lori, who picked us up and brought us to her Blue Bonnet Cafe. These two locations were places where we mailed boxes to ourselves. Lori has a good amount of options for re-supply at her cafe, but we were happy to have our boxes to compliment our purchases from her store. 

223 Miles to go

After these preparations, on November 30, my dad drove us to Oklahoma, and we were off. Our first night was camping in our tents, but our second night we had a shelter! One of the huge benefits of hiking the OT is that there are a plethora of shelters along the trail! Another benefit is the mile markers along the trail. Every mile, you know if you’re on track or not: if there’s no mile marker, something went wrong. 

The mileage varied day by day. We averaged around 10 miles per day, with our longest day being 16.4 miles and our shortest day being only 5 miles. 223 miles took us 20 days to complete. We stayed at Queen Wilhelmina Lodge on our fifth night and Lori from Blue Bell Cafe had a cabin we rented out for our 11th night. The shock of living in the middle of the woods to having a bed, running water, and warm food that I didn’t to prepare was a challenge for me. It’s so easy to embrace comfort. Getting back into the woods was surprisingly hard, but after a few miles of complaining about the ease of civilization, I gladly accepted the challenge of the woods. 

When thru-hiking the OT eastbound, the hike ends at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Right at the end, there’s a road walk. It was strange to walk through the woods and see practically no civilization – then, walk on a road that brought us to such a popular state park. We saw more people on that final day than we saw on the entire trail put together! 

Reflections on the trail

As I’m here, reflecting on this journey exactly one year to the date that I finished this hike, I’m grateful. I learned so much from that trail. I wrote earlier that there were three reasons why I chose the OT as my first thru-hike. As I’ve reflected on the trail and after the trail, here’s what I’ve decided:

  1. Completing a short thru-hike was extremely beneficial. It was challenging, but doable. It was a great introduction! We encountered windy days as well as sunny days. One of our final days on the trail was constant rain. We had to ford rivers and creeks, and we survived walking in drenched shoes. I met my first trail angel, and I ate entirely too much ramen. I’m officially a thru-hiker. 
  2. I’m glad my dad was there. We were about four days away from finishing, and we were nearly out of food. I remember sitting in one of the shelters and taking account for the food we had left. If we scrounged, we could make it to the end with what we had. We would most likely be miserable, but we would make it. I checked to see if I had cell phone reception. Barely… but enough. I suggested that we call my dad and set up a meeting spot for the next day – somewhere close to Hot Springs, Arkansas. After talking with my dad, and establishing a plan for emergency resupply, we had a feast! I’m still so grateful for the way my dad saved us at the end of our hike!
  3. I hiked this trail in particular, because I had read that it was similar to the AT. While I enjoyed this thru-hike, the views weren’t spectacular. It was a lot of trees and leaves. After I got home from the OT, I did more research on the AT. Based on my experience on the OT and what I’ve read about the “green tunnel” on the AT, I decided to save the AT as an alternative for another day. Because of my experience on the OT, I decided to start looking into the PCT and other options. This is what led me to deciding on the Te Araroa! Speaking of which, I head to New Zealand in just over a month! Let the countdown begin!!

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Comments 2

  • Clevis : Dec 20th

    Sam!!! I flippin live like an hour or so south of the Ouachita mountains/trail!!!
    Merry Christmas bud


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