Traveling through the Ouachita Mountains from eastern Oklahoma through Arkansas, the Ouachita National Recreational Trail is one of the country's least used trails, but one of the most challenging and beautiful. While at times it is an easy walk through shady forestland along streams, it also features steep inclines to the east-west ridgelines of the mountains, many with sandstone caps providing furbulous views of distant lakes and rivers as well as other storied mountaintops. Much of the trail is littered with jutting, half-buried rocks that test your footing, and a portion known as "Boulder Boulevard" requires some scrambling.
The good news about this trail is that, although it travels through several wilderness areas with primitive conditions, it also features over 20 well-made shelters along the way, and tent or hammock camping sites just off the path that are equipped with sitting rocks and fire rings. There are also dozens of access points along its 223 miles for day hikes, and except in summer, plentiful water for you and your pup (filter before drinking it.) Waterfalls, creeks and streams abound, and the trail crosses the Maumelle River via an old trestle bridge. It may be a good idea to bring water shoes for the 7 times the trail crosses the Kimichi River, especially in the spring when it reaches your ankles or higher.
The Lake Maumelle Reservoir in the Arkansas section of the Ouachita Trail can be a refreshing respite for you and your pup during your trek. Surrounded by dense forest, its location is remote, and quiet and the solitude of the trail is even deeper here. You may spot waterfowl along its shore, along with eagles and mammals, and beaver at a pond off to one side. Some long and steep downhill sections alternate with the rolling and steep climbs, including one at Brown's Creek, where you'll also find a shelter and a swath of wide, level woodland pawrfect for pitching a tent.
Backpacking, camping, multi-day hikes and shorter day hikes make this a gem amid the mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas, so grab your pup and get out there!
This trail is isolated and seldom used, and you can't count on passers-by to help if you run into problems, so caution is recommended. Hazardous wildlife that lives here include black bears, poisonous snakes, biting spiders and ticks. Give them all a wide berth. Poison oak, ivy and sumac are bountiful in Arkansas as well, so learn to recognize and avoid them. Hiking poles are handy for moving undergrowth and testing the trail ahead of you without risking insect or snake bites.