One of my favorite day hikes around Hot Springs is the Hunt’s Loop Trail in the Ouachita National Forest. The 4.3-mile-hike takes you straight up Short Mountain to a gorgeous vista and then through some of the most beautiful woods along the ridge of the mountain before returning to the narrow valley of the Middle Fork of the Saline River.
Hunt’s Loop Trail is located off of Highway 7 just north of Jessieville in southwest Arkansas. It is rated easy to difficult, but really the only difficult part is at first when you make the climb up to Short Mountain. A map of the trail and the forest service description of the trail can be viewed by clicking here.
Although Hunt’s Loop is a circle, you can access the trail from two trailheads on Highway 7 that are located about a mile and a half apart. There is a trailhead at Iron Springs Recreation Area as well as at the Ouachita Trail’s Highway 7 trailhead. On my last trek around the loop, I went with Zach, Lagena, and my sister, Leah, who was on a tighter schedule than the rest of us. Leah left her car at the OT trailhead to save time, and left when we reached that point.
I have hiked Hunt’s Loop numerous times, and usually begin my hike at the Iron Springs Recreation Area. The area is open to picnicking with tables and vault toilets. It is a very nice area, even if you are just looking for a picnic and do not hike the trail. The Middle Fork of the the Saline River is dammed, which makes for a lovely swimming hole in the summer.
The trailhead is not hard to find. Simply follow the large and gorgeous bridge over the river. Now the Middle Fork of the Saline River does have a closer resemblance to a creek, however believe me, further south, out of the mountains, and with all forks combined, it looks more like a river.
Once you cross the bridge, you have the option to follow the river to the right toward the Ouachita Trail Highway 7 trailhead or go to the left and up Short Mountain, which is what I do in order to knock the steep climb out of the way quickly. For a more steady climb, go to the right to make the loop.
If you go to the left, the Hunt’s Loop Trail is hard to spot. You actually have to kind of walk around the rail of the bridge and over the iron spring. And of course the trail blends into the landscape making it very hard to spot, but if you look hard enough you can see it. There is also a sign that can point you in the right direction.
The trail is steep but built well with switchbacks, and once you get to the Short Mountain Vista, it is all downhill from there. There are a few places later on that are short climbs, but nothing terribly bad. If you pay close attention to the trees in the Ouachita Mountains, you notice that along ridge lines they tend to be shorter. So when making climbs like this one, when the trees began to shrink in size, you can tell when you are getting close to the top.
I love the hike to the top of the mountain, especially in the leaf-off season. Because of the narrow valley, the mountains on the other side are very close and you can see how rugged the area is.
At the Short Mountain Vista, there is a plaque giving you information about the area. The view, which looks to the south, is amazing, and is better in the leaf-off season.
From the vista, the Hunt’s Loop Trail follows the ridge of Short Mountain, an elevation of 1,372 feet. I love this portion of the trail because you feel as if you are walking along the spine of a dinosaur from the rocky terrain.
Once I went when the weather was gloomy and gray. The higher I hiked the more foggy it got. The thick fog on this section of the trail was magical and more than worth the climb to see it.
The trail turns back north and heads towards the OT. Before meeting up with the OT, Hunt’s Loop takes you through a stand of Pines and on a dry, windy day the evergreens sing to you as you hike.
Hunt’s Loop Trail is marked with white blazes and the trail, except for the beginning, is easy to follow. The OT is marked with blue blazes and the 1.1-mile shared section of the trail is marked with both colors.
This shared section with the OT was the first time I had hiked on any part of the OT. One day I will hike the whole thing.
The trail intersection is clearly marked with a sign, and Hunt’s Loop portion goes to the right back toward Highway 7.
In this section there is an old pond of some sort that at one time someone stalked with koi, large ornamental gold fish, I guess as a joke. The koi have died or been taken elsewhere, but if you are quiet you might see frogs or turtles on the bank. I am not the most quiet, and have not seen them, but have heard them jump into the water as I walk up.
Once you get to the Highway 7 trailhead of the OT, Hunt’s Loop Trail and the OT continue to head south together near the highway before the OT split off and crosses the highway. From there Hunt’s Loop Trail follows Highway 7 back to Iron Springs Recreation Area.
One thing I don’t like is how close you are to the highway and can hear the cars go by, but the scenery of the stream makes up for it.
I love this trail for many reasons, but one thing that I find exceptional is how different the sections are. You start off in the steep assent to Short Mountain, and then through open woods, and then along the mountain stream. I like each section equally, and it would be tough to pick a favorite.
This is a great day hike, and as long as you take the hike up to Short Mountain slowly, it’s not that difficult of a trail.