Ozark Highlands Trail: Ozone to Lake Ft. Smith – Trip Report

Back in mid-March I had intended to hike Woolum to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS) all in one go. Due to blisters on my heels I decided to call it quits at Ozone (after 79 of 164 miles). You can read the full trip report here. After calling it quits I was hoping I could get the blisters healed up enough by Easter weekend (when I had a couple days off work) so I could finish up the Ozone to LFS section. One of the blisters wasn’t healed up quite as much as I would have liked, but I felt it was good enough to go ahead and give it a shot, so on the morning of March 31 I set out to finish the Ozone to LFS section. This blog will dive into the day by day details, with some overall thoughts at the end. Mile markers (MM) are approximate. 

Day 1: Ozone to Lewis Prong (MM 85-72)
Third crossing of Lewis Prong.

My alarm went off at 4:30 A.M. and I was on the road to LFS around 5:15 A.M. My parents were meeting me there and would shuttle me to Ozone. I got to LFS around 8:15 A.M., made a quick trip to the restroom, transferred my stuff to my parents’ car, and then we hit the road. I remembered my sunglasses this time. We arrived at Ozone around 10:00 A.M. It was quite chilly. I put on my rain jacket before I started to help keep me warm. Just after hitting the trail it started to sleet, and then a few minutes later it started to snow. It snowed for a few minutes, pretty heavily for about a minute or so. It was pretty crazy. I had expected some rain, but wasn’t expecting any snow. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad omen. 

I was a little nervous about crossing the Mulberry River, simply due to having “river” in the name. Some of the creek crossings had been a little difficult, and the only other river crossing (Buffalo River) had been quite difficult. When I reached Mulberry River I was relieved. Many of the creeks I had crossed were larger than the Mulberry. Haha. I ended up taking my shoes and socks off and crossing in my sandals. It looked like it would be quite a while until the next major crossing so I decided to keep my trail runners and socks dry. I wanted to try and do as much as I could this time to prevent blisters. Shortly after crossing the Mulberry I stopped to take off my rain jacket. I eventually got to Boomer Branch around noon. I stopped and had lunch at the creek. 

I hit the trail again around 12:20 P.M. It got fairly windy at the top of the ridge between Hignite Creek and Waterfall Hollow. I stopped for a break in the Waterfall Hollow Falls area. I was a little bit worried about my feet. They hadn’t blistered, but they felt like they might. I ended up deciding not to tape them up. I took a break for a few minutes and then switched my outer socks for dry ones. (I was wearing liner socks and outer socks.) After that I continued on. The Waterfall Hollow Falls area was a cool area. It was slow going through there with my break and time spent taking pictures and video. 

There were several different creek crossings around the first crossing of Lewis Prong. I was able to do all of them in my trail runners and only got my toes wet. At the second crossing of Lewis Prong I didn’t see any way to get across without getting my feet wet, and I decided to do it in my trail runners since I was fairly close to camp. When I got to the third crossing of Lewis Prong I decided there was no way I was crossing where the trail crossed. It looked way too deep with a strong current. I ended up going downstream a bit and was able to cross only getting my toes wet. That crossing was another really cool spot. I spent lots of time taking pictures and video there. I reached my planned camp spot just on the other side around 5:00 P.M. I thought about going another 3 miles to the next marked camp spot on the map, but decided against it.

I was a little bit rusty getting camp set up. Haha. After camp was set up I started making dinner. Around 5:45 P.M., in the middle of making dinner, Chris and Adriene showed up. They asked where the next camp spot was, and I told them about a mile down the trail. They decided to call it a day and camp at the same spot. I was happy to have some company to spend the evening with. They were from Michigan and were hiking the trail from Dockery Gap to Richland Creek. I believe at one point I mentioned getting ready for the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and they said they plan on doing the Appalachian Trail (AT) next year. It was fun to get to talk about those plans. 

I realized shortly before bed time that I had forgot to mention a camp spot just down the trail across the creek. Kind of felt bad about that. I had really bad gas the entire evening, so they may have wanted to be at a different site. Hopefully they don’t hold it against me. Haha. We all hit the sack around 8:00 P.M. I listened to a podcast for a while before trying to get to sleep. 

Day 2: Lewis Prong to Lick Branch (MM 72-55)
Frost on my tent when I got up the second day.

On my second day I was up at 6:45 A.M. It was quite chilly. I had frost on/inside my tent. I was on trail around 8. It had been great to share a camp spot with Adriene and Chris. As was the norm for camping next to a creek, there was a big climb right away. The Arbaugh trailhead was at the top of the climb. The trail then descended down into Lynn Hollow. That was a really cool area. That was an area I likely would have enjoyed spending some more time exploring. After climbing out of there and crossing CR 6220 I came to a camp spot and took a snack break. After eating a snack, resting my feet, and snapping a few pictures, it was back on the trail. Between my start for the day and MM 65 there were a lot of waterfalls. Probably one of the better stretches of trail for a large number of waterfalls. After mile 65 there was another pretty good climb. 

At this point it was getting close to lunch time and my water was starting to get a little low. The map didn’t show any streams until MM 59. I wasn’t going to make it that far before lunch. Just before noon I ended up coming to a small stream near MM 63 that had just enough water going over a waterfall that it allowed me to fill up my bottle. I stopped there and had lunch. It was a little bit of a scramble to get to where I could fill up my bottle, but I was glad to have some more water. As I was eating lunch a woman walked by with her dog. It appeared they were out for a day hike as the woman had a small pack. I swapped socks before hitting the trail again at 12:30 P.M. 

Overlook between MM 60 and 61.

There ended up being several small streams after that which weren’t marked on the map. The stretch of trail between MM 61 and 60 was really neat. That stretch had some of the best overlook views of the whole trail. Most of the overlook views are hindered by trees, but this stretch had some more open overlook views. When I reached a camp spot near MM 59 around 2:30 P.M. I decided to take a snack break. That was a cool camp spot. It was a little bit of a walk to water, but if you have a way to bring some extra water back to camp, it’s a great spot. The last three miles to camp were pretty rough. It was a big descent followed by a stretch that was really rocky, with lots of loose rocks. Definitely tough on the feet. I reached the lone wet foot creek crossing of the day right before camp. I switched into my sandals to cross. I got to camp around 4:00 P.M. This ended up being my least favorite camp spot I stayed at along the whole trail. It’s right at the Lick Branch trailhead and next to a road. It had been a long day already, and I wasn’t sure if there were any other spots just down the trail, so I decided to stay. 

After getting to camp I dried out my tent footprint and the bottom of my tent. Once those were dry I got camp set up. After that I soaked my feet in the creek for a bit, made dinner, and then typed up notes for the day. This day was a nice change from the “normal” OHT day. Instead of several climbs, descents, and creek crossings, it was one big climb at the start, a 10 mile stretch of relatively little elevation change, and then a big descent at the end, with only one wet feet creek crossing. It was a nice change of pace. Despite being at a trailhead and next to a road, I didn’t see anybody that evening. 

Day 3: Lick Branch to Hare Mtn. (MM 55-41.5)
Waterfall in Marinoni Scenic Area.

On day 3 I was up at 7:00 A.M. There was a truck that drove by shortly before I got up. Once again I had some frost on/inside my tent. I was on the trail around 8:00 A.M. There was a climb up to Briar Gap before descending a bit to the Marinoni Scenic Area. That was one of my favorite areas along the whole trail. I spent some time at one of the waterfalls getting some video and pictures. I could have spent a lot more time in that area exploring, taking pictures, etc. After Marinoni there was about a mile stretch of walking in lots of pine stands above a drainage before descending down to Indian Creek. The stretch between Lick Branch and Indian Creek was probably my favorite stretch of trail.

I reached Indian Creek around 10:15 A.M. I stopped at the camp area before the creek and took a snack break. After the break I put my shoes back on knowing I might have to take them right back off. I didn’t want to walk to the creek in my sandals in case it was really rocky. I got to the creek after a short walk and determined the shoes would be coming off and I would be crossing in my sandals. Haha. One of my favorite waterfalls of the trip was around MM 47. It wasn’t the largest by any means, but the colors and the rock formations were really cool. I kind of regret not getting any pictures, but there were trees in the way and I didn’t feel like scrambling around to try and find a good picture spot.

I made it to Herrod’s Creek around 12:30 P.M. There were 4-5 stream crossings one right after the other. I crossed them all in my sandals. After the last crossing there was a campsite I stopped at for lunch. While I was eating I had a couple other backpackers go by, and then right as I was leaving a couple deer went by. I hit the trail again around 1:00 P.M. with 5 miles of uphill ahead of me before my camp spot. I wasn’t looking forward to that. It ended up not being too bad, but the last little bit of the climb was pretty tough. The views at the top were great though. At the top of the climb was Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT. There is a huge camping area at the top. There aren’t any creeks nearby, but thankfully there is a water well at the top. I was very thankful for having the Guthook app that made me aware of the well, otherwise I would have had to haul extra water there or camp somewhere else. 

Water well on Hare Mountain.

After getting to camp I got my tent footprint and bottom of tent dried. I then filled up my bottle and a bladder with water from the well. The bucket at the well leaked really bad, so it was a little bit of a circus trying to fill up the bottle/bladder before all the water leaked out. Haha. After that I got camp set up. Since I was on top of a mountain and had some spare time I figured I would try to post an update on social media. I ended up having service, but not quite good enough to post, so instead I typed up notes for the day. As I was doing that I noticed someone else setting up camp at another spot. I decided to walk down to the overlook area just outside the camping area and on the way stopped and chatted with the other backpacker (Clay). After chatting with him for a bit I went down to the overlook area, got some better cell service, and posted an update on social media. 

After that it was dinner time. Near where Clay had set up camp there was a random picnic table. I would like to know the story behind getting that up to the camp spot (there are no roads that go up there). I grabbed my stuff for dinner and joined Clay at the picnic table. As we were eating dinner another backpacker showed up. It turned out to be Rob, the creator of the OHT Facebook group. After I finished eating I took my stuff back to my camp and had to take a poop. I mention this because someone had left a shovel at the camp spot, and I immensely thank whoever did this. I hate digging cat holes with my little backpacking trowel. The roots and rocks in the soil along the OHT made it fairly difficult. The shovel made it so much easier. Haha. After that I rejoined Clay and Rob at the picnic table and we chatted for a bit. The wind made it quite chilly, and we all had to bundle up. At sunset Rob and I went down to the overlook area and passed Angie and Karey as they came into the camping area. After staying at the overlook area for a few minutes we came back to camp and I decided to call it a day. 

Day 4: Hare Mtn. – Spirit Creek (MM 41.5 – 23)
Leaving Hare Mountain.

On day 4 I was up at 6:45 A.M. There was no frost and I had very little condensation inside the tent. That was nice. I packed up a bit and then took some video and pictures of the sunrise. I finished packing up and then joined Clay and Rob at the picnic table to eat my breakfast. A little while after I got there Angie and Karey got out of their tents. It was great starting out the day at the picnic table with the four of them. I was the first one to leave camp at around 8:00 A.M. It was nice to have a downhill to start the day for once. 

There were great views just down the trail from the camping area. I spent a little while getting some pictures and video. It was quite chilly with the wind. The prior evening both Clay and Rob had mentioned something about running into a guy on the trail who had hurt his knee. He had decided to quit his hike and his partner had kept going. Right about mile 39 I ran into a guy walking towards me wearing a hoodie, sweatpants, and smoking a cigarette. I knew right away this was the same guy Clay and Rob had talked about since they mentioned the sweatpants. He asked me if I had just crossed a road, which I confirmed. He then turned around and walked a little ways back to where he had apparently made camp, with me following. He had apparently got some sort of directions from someone before his cell phone died. He told me thanks for confirming the road. It was quite odd. It definitely seemed like he was out of place. I would have liked to helped some more, but I wasn’t really sure if it was a good situation to be getting myself into, so I kept going once he turned off to go to his camp. 

As I started to get closer to highway 23 it sounded like there was some sort of rally car race happening on the highway. Once again, quite odd. Haha. Once I got to the highway I finally figured out it was large groups of ATVs on the highway. Shortly after crossing the highway I made it to the Rock House. That thing was pretty cool. I took a snack break there and then took some pictures and video. There were a whole lot of ATVs that went by on the highway while I was taking my break there. Shortly before reaching Fane Creek I ran into a couple people hiking back out who had camped there. I got to Fane Creek around 12:45 P.M. I was hungry and pretty worn out. I used my sandals to cross the creek and stopped for lunch on the other side. While I was eating lunch several ATVs went by on the road across the creek. They seemed to be everywhere on this day. 

The Rock House near Cherry Bend.

I got back on trail around 1:20 P.M. and a short while later ran into a couple guys who were camping at Fane Creek. There was a difficult climb out of Fane Creek, but there were several miles afterwards that were good for making miles, with the exception of several mud pits. I stopped at a little creek shortly before the Ragtown trailhead for a snack break and to fill up water. After that there was a difficult climb up to the trailhead. As I got close to the trailhead I started to smell smoke, but it wasn’t really smoky so I wasn’t sure what the deal was. Shortly before reaching the trailhead I ran into a guy going the opposite way who warned me I was coming up on a prescribed burn area, but he said I could go through it. Sure enough, after crossing the road at the trailhead, the trail went into an area that had just been burned. It was pretty eerie walking through an area with logs still smoldering. 

There was a camp spot right where the trail met Spirit Creek. Rob had actually recommended this spot since there were a couple cool waterfalls right there, but it was in the area they had burned. The wind was also blowing smoke up from the south. Thus, I decided to continue on to a camp spot further to the south hoping that it would have less smoke and be out of the burned area. I was able to rock hop across the creek where the trail crossed. There were several really cool waterfalls along the creek. It was a neat stretch of trail. I got to the camp spot at around 4:15 P.M. Thankfully it was outside of the burn area, but the area just across the creek was still in the burn area, so it still smelled like smoke. I wasn’t sure if there would be any other options relatively close if I continued on, so I decided to set up camp there.

After getting camp set up I soaked my feet in the creek for a bit, typed up notes, washed a pair of socks, and then made dinner. Shortly after finishing dinner a group of four other backpackers went by the opposite direction. It turned out they were all from Oklahoma City. It was cool running into a group from OKC. I listened to a podcast before trying to get to sleep. After it got dark I could look back up the trail and see a little bit of fire in the burn area. That was pretty crazy. 

Day 5: Spirit Creek to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS) (MM 23-0)
Patch of Mayapple (or an umbrella plant town, as I referred to them).

On day 5 I was up at 7:00 A.M. I didn’t have any condensation on the inside of my tent. That was awesome. My plan starting the day was to make it to Hurricane Creek (MM 10). Since it would be a shorter day I thought about going back up trail a bit to check out the waterfalls I had skipped the day before, but decided against it. I hit the trail around 8:00 A.M. There was a hard climb up and out of Spirit Creek followed by a descent to Salt Fork Creek. Just before reaching Salt Fork I met a couple from Florida hiking the opposite direction doing LFS to Woolum. I got to Salt Fork at 9:40 A.M. It looked like I could rock hop across. Just before getting all the way across my left foot slipped off one of the rocks and went into the creek. That was frustrating. Had it not been for that I would have made it across with getting my feet minimally wet. There were a couple guys on the opposite side of the creek who said they were doing the Shores Lake Loop. After looking at my map that evening I believe they had missed a turn, so hopefully they didn’t go too much farther before figuring that out. There was another tough climb after that up to White Rock. I made it to the trail register around 10:30 A.M. and stopped at the campsite there for a break. 

The two climbs that morning had worn me out. I wrote in the trail register something along the lines of “All downhill the rest of the day” and took a long snack break there. I hit the trail again around 11:00 A.M. It looked really smoky. I was hoping I didn’t have to go through any more prescribed burn areas. About 30 minutes after leaving White Rock I stopped at a small creek to fill up with water. Based on the map it didn’t look promising for water along the trail to Hurricane creek, so I filled up my bottle and most of one of my 2L bladders. As I kept walking, I started to realize the trail wasn’t going downhill, and came to the conclusion I should have written “generally downhill” in the trail register. Around MM 16 I passed three really small kids with (I’m assuming) their mom and grandma. Major kudos to the mom and grandma as it appeared they were carrying everything for the kids. They each had a fairly large backpack on.

After crossing FR-1003 the trail got fairly rough. It was on the side of a steep mountain in an area that had somewhat recently had a controlled burn done. There was very little shade. I finally found a spot at MM 14 to stop and have lunch around 12:30 P.M. There was a tree large enough to block enough of the sun to give me a shady spot to sit and have lunch. Definitely not ideal but it worked. I was really glad I had filled up the bladder with water since it allowed me to mix up an electrolyte drink and have some water to spare for the rest of the hike. I got back to hiking around 12:50 P.M. A little while after that it finally dawned on me that there was a relatively flat stretch of trail for several miles after White Rock and that it wasn’t all, or even generally, downhill the rest of the day. Only the last couple miles down to Hurricane Creek were downhill. I had seen that when looking at the map the day before, but for some reason I had thought it was all downhill when I reached White Rock. Haha. 

I didn’t run into another decent creek until shortly before Hurricane Creek. This made me really glad I had stopped at that creek shortly after White Rock to fill up. If you’re hiking between Hurricane Creek and Salt Fork Creek in a drier time, you’ll likely want to pack extra water in that stretch. I’m not sure if the creek I stopped at dries up when it gets warmer and drier. I believe you can go into White Rock proper and fill up if you need to, but that’s some extra hiking. 

About a mile before getting to camp my body decided it needed to take a poop. I ended up pushing through to camp. I crossed Hurricane Creek in my trail runners and immediately went to dig a cat hole after getting to camp. By the time I was finished digging the cat hole the urge had mainly gone away. I left the cat hole and walked back to camp. While walking back to camp I realized it was only 2:30 P.M. I walked around a bit to try to get the urge to come back, and finally got the poop out a few minutes later. After that I decided to go ahead and try to get to LFS before dark. I’m not sure what made me all gung ho all of a sudden to knock out 10 more miles. I dried my shoes out as best I could, switched socks, and got some food out to eat along the way since I likely wouldn’t be stopping for dinner. By the time I got back on trail it was 3:00 P.M. I figured if I was able to make 2 m.p.h. like I had been most of the trip I would get to LFS by 8:00 P.M., which would be just about the time it would be getting too dark to see without a headlamp. I figured I could make better time than that though, especially with not stopping for dinner. 

I had one last big uphill climb to do right off the bat that took me to Dockery’s Gap. After Dockery’s Gap it was all generally downhill or flat. I knew this for sure. Haha. As I was going down the other side towards Jack Creek I ran into a group of 3 day hikers going the opposite direction and then down at Jack Creek I ran into a group of 3 backpackers going the opposite direction. I believe it was around mile 6 I ran into a group of three people who had set up camp for the day. I was excited when I finally saw the lake, but that was short lived as I realized I had to hike a ways around the lake. Haha. The last major creek crossing was Frog Bayou. Clay and Adriene from my first night had started their hike at Dockery’s Gap since the water level at Frog Bayou was apparently too high. It had been a few days since any significant precipitation so I figured the water level should be pretty low, but there was still a little bit of uneasiness about what I would find when I got there. 

I made it to Frog Bayou around 5:15 P.M. It wasn’t a bad crossing at all. Most of it was about ankle deep, with a short stretch that was a little deeper. When I got to the other side I found a couple tent stakes on the ground, which was pretty ironic since I had lost two tent stakes on my OHT hike a couple weeks earlier. I picked them up and put them in my pocket. (In another ironic twist, I apparently left these at my camp spot at LFS as I can’t seem to find them now.) Just after MM 2 I ran into a family who had decided to do the Shepherd Springs Loop and had underestimated how long it was. They asked me if I had a map or knew how to get back to the campground. I told them to keep following the trail and it was about a mile and a half to the campground. I think that surprised them a bit. Haha. They’ll have a good adventure story to tell. 

I made it to the trailhead at LFS at 6:45 P.M., much earlier than I thought I would make it there. I got a selfie by the sign and then went to find a camp spot in the campground. After getting a camp spot I made dinner, got camp set up, and then typed up notes for the day. I ended up covering about 23 miles in about 11 hours, with roughly 1.5 hours of break time. I was really happy with that. I was really sore laying in bed that night though. 

Overall Thoughts

This west half of the trail seemed to have fewer “wet feet crossings” than the eastern half, and it seemed to get drier as I went west, although the stretch from Dockery’s Gap to LFS had quite a few smaller creek crossings. That was definitely nice for keeping the feet dry, but I often found the creeks to be the more scenic sections of the trail. 

There were lots more people out during this trip, which I’m sure had a lot to do with the better weather and holiday weekend. I enjoyed getting to spend a couple nights camping with other people.

On Friday and Saturday there were lots of ATVs out. I never actually crossed paths with any, but I could see them and hear them. Not really a big deal, but definitely wasn’t super peaceful hiking. 

A couple rock recliners at the camp spot I stayed at next to Spirit Creek.

Although they sound really uncomfortable, the rock recliners at many of the campsites were awesome after a long day of hiking. I loved getting to a campsite that had those. 

I thought the trail got quite a bit less interesting the last couple days. In particular the stretch after getting down from Hare Mountain to Dockery Gap. There were some scenic spots, but overall I found those last two days to be the most “boring” days. 

I saw very little wildlife while I was out hiking. The only large wildlife I saw in the 164 miles were a few deer. Not a big deal for me, but if you’re looking for wildlife, this may not be the trail to choose.

I highly recommend taking trekking poles. There were countless times they saved me from completely falling when I tripped on a rock, root, branch, etc. They were also really helpful for the creek crossings. I would hate to try and do the hike without them. 

Between all the entry points, this is a great trail for all sorts of different hikes. Day hikes, short sections hikes, or a thru hike. If you’re itching to get some hiking in outside of the normal summer “big mountain” hiking season, I think this is a great option. 

Although it would have been great to do it all in one go, I’m actually really glad it worked out the way it did. It was a great experience and I definitely think it helped to get me prepared for my CDT hike.

Favorite Spots Between Woolum and LFS (in no particular order)
  • Bloyd Ridge
  • Cedar Creek
  • Marinoni Scenic Area
  • Hare Mountain
  • Lynn Hollow

One thought on “Ozark Highlands Trail: Ozone to Lake Ft. Smith – Trip Report”

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