Arkansas has several long-distance trails, with the longest ones being the Ouachita Trail and the Ozark Highlands Trail. But if you cannot take two to three weeks off from work or simply don’t have the energy to thru-hike, there are many lovely trailheads along the way. They make it easy to section hike these trails.
The segment of the Ouachita Trail between Highway 298 and Highway 7, is an especially beautiful section. Highway 298 and Highway are located about an hour north of Hot Springs, Ark., around the town of Jessieville. The Ouachita National Forest Service guide can be viewed by clicking here.
If you use the Ouachita Trail guide provided by the forest service, this is section nine. The trailhead on Highway 298 and a little ways down the trail is actually part of section eight on the forest service’s trail guide, but for most part the trail is in section nine.
If you go by the Tim Ernst Ouachita Trail Guide book this is section seven.
Basics of Section Nine on the Ouachita Trail
I hiked this section last fall with my dog, Caddie. Because I went solo and did not have the option of shuttling, I had my parents pick me up at the end of my hike. Cell phone service is sketchy throughout the area, so I gave them a pre-determined time.
I hiked it east to west, beginning at the trailhead on Highway 298. From there I hiked to the trailhead on Highway 7, where my parent’s picked me up. I planned for them to meet me at Iron Springs Recreation Area, a mile south from the Ouachita Trail Highway 7 trailhead, which I could hike to via the Hunt’s Loop Trail. However, I was so exhausted I scrapped that idea.
I fortunately had enough cell phone service at the top of the mountain, to call my parents and tell them I would be at the trailhead in an hour.
The Ouachita Trail is marked with blue blazes and is generally well marked. Also, there are mile post markers for each mile. Some of them I missed, so keep an eye out.
The total distance between the two trailheads is 21.6 miles, so I knew I wasn’t going to have much wiggle room on time. And of course I got a late start. I didn’t get on the trail until about 11 a.m., and the sun set about 5:30 p.m.
Also I’m not sure about the east to west hike, but I hiked it west to east and I felt like I never stopped going up. It wasn’t a steep climb, but a constant one.
Highway 298 to mile post 150
Going east on the Ouachita Trail from Highway 298 is one of the most beautiful parts of the area. The trail follows North Fork of the Ouachita River along the top of a steep valley. The views of the creek below are rocky and lovely. The woods are open pines with Spanish moss-like vegetation hanging down from the trees.
The trail quickly curves and drops down to a dirt road. From there you cross over a drainage ditch on the dirt road and the trail picks back up on the other side. It climbs a little ways and then opens up to an old road and is nice and wide.
But it then drops back down and intersects with another old road. Here it’s a little hard to see the trail blazes, but you go to the left along the old road. You quickly come to a washed out culvert on the road, and the trail dips down to the right of the road around the washout and back up another hill.
Here the trail is back on a single-track surface, and there are switch-backs as you climb. Once you get on the ridge, there are great views through the trees to the north.
A little further on you can start to see some vistas and Lake Ouachita to the south.
I passed some hunters who asked me if I had seen any bears, and I was kind of glad I hadn’t.
It really felt like I had a steady climb the whole time, even though I was on top of ridge. There were a few parts where the trail went though some thinner forest with more grass and rocks, and I really like that.
After a ways the trail gives way to an old road again and it is nice, wide, and easy to hike.
As you continue to climb along the ridge, there is a spur trail to the right that takes you to an amazing overlook. It is marked with a white blaze, which is different from the blue blazes of the Ouachita Trail.
From the overlook, you can also see the top of Ouachita Pinnacle. (It’s not the highest point in the Ouachita’s. I don’t know why they call it that.)
Back on the trail, you gradually climb toward Ouachita Pinnacle. But as you get close the Ouachita Trail leaves the old road and drops down along the side of the ridge. I’m not really sure why it does this, because after a short ways the trail takes you back to and across the old road and you kind of circle around to the pinnacle. There is a another spur trail to the top with the antennas, which also is amazing views. This spot used to house a fire tower.
From there the trail drops down into the valley and crosses Forest Service Road 170. If you just wanted a long day hike, the distance between this road and Highway 298 is roughly eight and a half miles. Or from Highway 298 to Ouachita Pinnacle (the end of Forest Service Road 170) is 8.2. Because I was hiking and not driving, I’m not completely sure, but it looked like the road ended where the trail crosses it.
From the forest service road, you follow an old road, that might be accessible with a Jeep, for about a mile. And you continue to hike down into the valley.
Beginning to worry
By this point I was running out of water. I was afraid if I didn’t find a water source I might have to call for a ride. As I passed dry mountain streams I really began to worry. Tim Ernst advises around mile post 148 there is a creek and might be the only source of water until Highway 7. Well by the time I realized I was out of water, I was about a mile east of there. I just hoped I would cross another creek.
I had Zach in the back of my mind giving advice to never assume a stream is running. As I continued to hike down into the valley, I thought, “The climb out of this is going to be awful if I can’t find water and have to call for a ride home.”
The trail passes along the side of the mountain and has amazing views to the south and of the mountain you just climbed down. I was there when the sun was low and it was really pretty.
I continued to snake around into the valley and then saw a glimmer of hope. Light was reflecting on a stream and there was water in it.
Tim Ernst advises this stream can be dry during the dry months, but there was plenty of water when I was there.
Super exhausted, and out of water, I decided to pitch my tent there for the night. I hiked more than 11 miles that day. I camped right at mile post 150, so I knew I could text my parents and let them know where I was in case anything bad happened.
Mile post 150 to Highway 7
The next morning, I woke up to rain. There was a zero percent chance when I checked the weather. The weather man was wrong. I didn’t pack rain gear, so I just had to get wet.
I broke camp and started on my way. The trail climbs up a a hill right after it crosses the creek. It then levels out and follows an old road along the side of the ridge. After that it drops down into another valley. Here is Big Bear Shelter, and it is really nice. I wanted to camp there, but I just didn’t have it in me to go that extra mile. There’s a fire pit and picnic table, as well as the shelter.
From there the trail climbs steeply up, still making use of the old road. It then follows the along the side of the ridge.
It snakes around the side of the mountains but does have some uphill climbs. One area was really nice. It went through a boulder garden that had a lot of moss. I really enjoyed it there. You can also see across the narrow valley to the other side of the mountain.
It was still raining on me, but the peace and stillness was extremely nice.
When you begin to descend it is fairly steep. I used my trekking poles a few times to keep my balance on the slick rocks. On the descent, you have views of the valleys to the north.
The trail crosses several washes, and you have to hike down and across and back up again. But it’s not too bad. Along this section, I saw about an eight-point buck deer. But because it was raining, I didn’t have my camera out.
At about mile post 157, the trail crosses Forest Service Road 122. This is another place you can access the trail to make it into a day trip.
From the forest service road, the trail climbs steeply up one last time. It then levels out. From here, I texted my parents to come and pick me up.
After it levels out, there is another spur trail to the left to go to the Moonshine Shelter. Around this point, I saw a flock of wild turkeys. But again, the rain, I didn’t have my camera out.
From the Moonshine Shelter it is one mile to where the Hunt’s Loop Trail meets up with the Ouachita Trail. I have hiked Hunt’s Loops several times, and by this time I was sore, tired, and so ready to be home. I pretty much ran the last mile.