If you are looking for an awesome day hike within a short distance of Hot Springs National Park, it is not hard to find a trail. You can narrow it down by what you want to see, like a waterfall, the lake, beautiful woods, or a vista. The Charlton Trail, provides gorgeous wood views, is a great mid-length trail that goes from Camp Charlton on Highway 270 (just west of Crystal Springs) to Crystal Springs Recreation Area on Lake Ouachita.
The trail is 4.3 miles one way and is open to hiking and mountain biking. Shuttling on this trail is easy because there is not a lot of distance between the trailhead. That way there is a not a ton of time wasted on driving from trailhead to trailhead. But you could also hike it there and back for an 8.6-mile day hike.
The trail crosses Forest Service Road 47 about half way at what is known as Pipe Springs. If you don’t want to shuttle or hike 8.6 miles in one day, you can hike an out-and-back from one of the trailheads to Pipe Springs. The section between Pipe Springs and Crystal Springs is part of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail.
The LOViT splits from the Charlton Trail and follows Forest Service Road 47 for a little ways before splitting from it and climbing Hickory Nut Mountain. If you add parts of the LOViT, it can give you more possibilities in your hike. For more information about the LOViT, check my post on it here. Or check out the LOViT’s website.
Hiking the Charlton Trail
There are some steep spots on the Charlton Trail that will get your heart pumping, but most of the trail is easy to moderate. If you begin your hike at Charlton, the trail is fairly steep right off the bat as you climb up on a ridge. The forest service rates this portion as most difficult, but fortunately it is a a short climb.
Once you get up on the ridge, the views of the mountains through the trees (leaf-off season is best) are worth the climb. The trail is fairly level before it makes its descent down to Forest Service Road 47. A storm came through a while back and downed many trees. The forest service logged the trees, and the trail is open woods, which is beautiful.
When you get to Pipe Springs, do not drink the water unless you filter or treat it just like you would a stream. It is not potable and could make you sick.
After you cross the forest service road, the trail is level for a short ways. You then cross a small creek. I hiked the trail after rain, I had a little bit of problem getting across without getting my feet wet.
Following the creek crossing the trail climbs another steep hill before leveling out. Like the last hill, once you get on the ridge, it’s nice open woods. You slowly descend until you get to the trailhead at Crystal Springs.
The Charlton Trail is a great day hike with many ways to hike it. It’s one of my go-to hikes when we don’t have a lot time, or don’t want to travel very far.
Finding the trailheads
To find Charlton Trailhead park at the Charlton day use area and cross the low-water bridge. Or we park next to the gate at entrance in the winter when the park is closed. After you cross the low-water bridge, make a left and walk on the road next to the swimming area. When you get to the dam, the trailhead is on your right.
The trailhead at Crystal Springs Recreation Area is located at a pavilion across from the first campsite you pass as you come into the park.
The Ouachita National Forest’s brochure can be viewed by clicking here.