On March 11 I started a hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) in northwest Arkansas that was supposed to go from Woolum to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS), a total of 164 miles. I was using it as a “shakedown” hike for my upcoming hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). In other words, test out gear, systems, etc. to figure out what worked and what didn’t and allow time to make needed changes prior to starting the CDT. Due to a blister that kept getting worse on my right heel I called it quits at Ozone, 79 miles in. This blog is a day by day account of the trip, with some overall thoughts at the end. Mile markers are approximate.
Day 1: Woolum to Dry Creek (MM 164-153)
Day 1 started with my alarm going off at 4:30 A.M. I got stuff packed up and put in the car and hit the road to LFS around 5:15 A.M. I arrived at the park around 8:15 A.M., used the restroom in the visitor center, transferred my stuff to my parents’ car, and then we hit the road to Woolum. I realized about 20-30 minutes after leaving my car that I had left my sunglasses in my car, but at that point I didn’t want to take the time to turn around and get them. As we were going through Harrison we noticed the Walmart, so we stopped there so my parents could fill up with gas, and I went in and found some sunglasses to use on the trip. We got to Woolum at 11:30 A.M. I ate lunch, said goodbye to my parents, and hit the trail at noon.
Right off the bat I had to cross the Buffalo River. I had seen a post on Facebook just a few days prior of a couple guys swimming across the river at the end of their hike. I really didn’t want to swim across and get completely soaked right off the bat. When doing some research on this crossing I had come across a blog post that said it was apparently possible to cross without swimming by going upstream just a bit. I took several minutes trying to figure out where the most ideal crossing appeared to be. The image above shows approximately where I finally decided to cross (red line). It was impossible to tell how deep the river was all the way across, so I just took my best guess and thankfully I got lucky and it didn’t involve any swimming and I didn’t fall in. At its deepest it was just over my knees. (I’m 5’9” and the St. Joe gauge was at just over 5 feet at the time.)
After getting across I stopped to get the gravel out of my shoes and then continued on. It started out with a dirt road walk for about the first 4 miles and then took off on a trail. The trail was a bit difficult to follow due to being covered in leaves, but it was well blazed so that helped. It rained lightly for a little bit around 2:30 P.M. I got into my rain jacket, but it never ended up raining hard enough to really need it. Overall the weather was really nice for the hike. After 11 miles I got to Dry Creek at around 5:00 P.M. and decided to stop for dinner. I had an Idahoan potatoes mix for the first time and wasn’t a fan of it. Thankfully I had put some jerky sticks in it which helped. It was a lot of food as well. I was wishing I had split it into two servings. It was good to find out I’m not a big fan of those though.
After I finished eating it started to drizzle, so I hurried as best I could with a new tent to get camp set up. My tent requires trekking poles to set up, and as I was setting it up I realized one of my trekking pole tips was caked in mud. I went to the creek to wash it off and had a heck of a time washing it off. I’m not sure if it was mud or some sort of animal feces or what, but it was a pain to get off. I finally got camp set up, brushed my teeth, and did some planning for the next day. I could already tell my heels were starting to get sore and possibly blister, so that worried me. I typed up my notes for the day, listened to a podcast for a bit, and then called it a day.
Day 2: Dry Creek to Falling Water Creek (MM 153-138.5)
My alarm went off at 6:00 A.M. and I was up shortly after that. I had a decent amount of condensation on the inside of the tent. It had rained a bit overnight so the outside of the tent was wet as well. I packed my backpack inside the tent and dried off the tent as best I could before taking it down and putting it into my backpack. I hit the trail around 7:15 A.M. It was much longer than I would have liked between getting up and hitting the trail. It would have been faster had I not spent time drying the tent and eating breakfast. I was in fog for the first couple hours of the hike. The hike up and out of Dry Creek was really cool. There were likely some good views I missed out on because of the fog, but the fog was really cool as well. The picture above was taken that morning. I also found out the fog was handy for making it easy to see spider web strings going across the trail.
I got a little bit confused when I hit the Stack Rock trailhead as the blazes ended for a bit and Guthook didn’t show a short section of the road. I finally figured it out and continued on. It looked like they had recently completed a controlled burn in the area. The morning hike was difficult with lots of boggy/marshy and rocky areas. Definitely not good for feet that already seemed to be getting blisters. I ended up running into Benjamin right before Richland Creek and we stopped and chatted for a bit. He had driven down from Minnesota and was going from LFS to Woolum. It was nice to visit with someone else on the trail. I actually forgot to ask his name, but there was a trail register just down the trail that I was able to get it from.
I got to Richland Creek at around 11:45 A.M. It had been beautiful hiking weather all morning. I ate lunch next to the creek. There was a couple car camping not too far away. It was a cool spot. I hit the trail again around 12:45 P.M. It was a pretty steep climb out followed by a pretty steep descent. The trail was a little easier on the feet. My shoulders and heels were killing me though. I played around with some adjustments on my pack to try and help the shoulder pain. I knew if I didn’t figure something out I wasn’t making it the 164 miles. By the time I reached camp at 2:45 P.M. I hadn’t made a whole lot of progress in helping the shoulder pain. I was really glad to finally get to camp. I soaked my feet in the creek for a bit and then set up camp. As I was setting up camp I realized I was short a tent stake. I figured I must have left it at my camp spot that morning. With the new tent I was using I didn’t have to pull the tent stakes out of the ground to put up the tent, so I must have forgot to pull one out of the ground when I was packing up. Ironically I had considered putting in a couple spare stakes prior to the trip but decided not to. I ended up using some cord that came with the tent and wrapping that around a rock which worked fine.
Shortly after getting camp set up it started to rain lightly. I hopped in my tent and went over the plan for the next day. After that I laid down until around 5:00 P.M., at which point I got out and cooked dinner. Thankfully there was a break in the rain long enough for me to get to have dinner outside of the tent. After dinner I got into the tent and listened to a podcast for a bit. While I was doing that it started to rain again. I was hoping it would stop raining so I could get out of the tent to brush my teeth, but I finally gave up on that and brushed my teeth inside the tent. I ended up spitting into the bottle I used for for drink mixes (rinsed it out the next morning). Not ideal, but it worked. Haha. After that I called it a day.
Day 3: Falling Water Creek to Buck Brn (MM 138.5-122)
I got up about 6:15 A.M. on day 3. My tent was wet again in the morning due to the rain. I noticed when I was packing up that my sleeping pad had got wet and soaked through. It wasn’t sopping wet, but it was definitely damp. That was a bummer. I ended up hitting the trail around 7:30 A.M. I stopped just down the trail for some photos. As I was finishing that up it started to rain. I put on my rain gear and actually needed it this time. Before long it was raining fairly hard. Having to do a tough uphill climb out of Falling Water Creek in my rain gear with it raining fairly hard wasn’t very pleasant. Even though I wasn’t getting soaked by the rain, I was pretty sure I was getting somewhat wet from my sweat. Haha. I was really glad to reach the top of that climb. It rained pretty steady for the first 4 miles or so, and then on and off after that. Although it wasn’t particularly pleasant, it was good practice as I haven’t done much hiking in the rain. I learned that I need to tuck my shirt into my rain pants, otherwise the bottom of it will get soaked.
When I reached the Ben Hur trailhead I stopped and signed the trail register. I took off my pack while doing so. After that I had a lightbulb moment with my pack. I ended up putting it on a little bit higher than I had been, and messed with a couple other adjustments, and that ended up helping a lot. After that the shoulder pain wasn’t much of an issue. There were still a few instances where they would get sore, but nothing like they had been up to that point. I was really thankful I finally got the pack figured out. Except for the initial climb in the morning and the descent to Richland Creek, most of the morning was fairly easy walking. There wasn’t a whole lot of rocky sections, which was nice. The area around Richland Creek was really neat. I should have taken it slower through that area, but I was frustrated with being wet and figured it was a good time to make some miles since I didn’t want to get my big camera out. I had to get my feet wet crossing Richland Creek.
I stopped at around 11:30 A.M. to have lunch next to a creek between MM 130 and 131. Just as I started to take off my rain gear it started to rain lightly. I ended up having lunch in a light rain/drizzle, which was frustrating. I got back on trail around noon. I was finally able to take off my rain coat around MM 128. Shortly after that I ran into Boy Scouts Troop 397 doing a short section hike from Fairview to the Moore CCC camp. I chatted with a couple of their leaders for a few minutes. They gave me a heads up that storms were in the forecast for Sunday night. I was already aware of that possibility when I started the hike, but it was nice to get an update and confirm that was still in the forecast.
I got to Fairview Campground around 3:00 P.M. I took my rain pants off and took a break for a bit. I had a snack and used the restroom while I was there. I got back on the trail around 3:30 P.M. There were two miles left until camp, all downhill and fairly steep at times. Between Fairview and camp I ran into a group of 7 people doing a section hike from Ozone to Fairview. They let me know the Hurricane Creek crossings were doable, although one of them was difficult. That was good info to have.
I got to camp around 4:30 P.M and got camp set up. The rest of the evening was my normal routine with dinner, typing up notes, and planning out the next day. Between the rain and creek crossings, my feet were wet pretty much the whole day. I was definitely tired of wearing wet shoes and socks by the end of the day. I went to bed knowing that the next day would likely be a rough day.
Day 4: Buck Brn to Haw Creek Campground (MM 122-102.5)
On day 4 I was up at 7:00 A.M. It was still pretty dark when I got up, and it threw me off for a couple seconds when I saw 7:00 on my phone, but then I realized it was due to the time change. It had rained yet again overnight, so this was another morning with time spent drying the tent as best I could with my towel. I hit the trail at 7:45 A.M. I knew it was likely to be a long day. There was a camp spot around 16 miles in, which was ideal distance wise, but it was up on a ridge and it didn’t look like there was water anywhere near. Between the lack of water and thunderstorms in the forecast, I wasn’t too keen on that spot. Anything shorter would have put me a bit behind schedule, so I decided to try to make it to Haw Creek Campground, which was just under 20 miles. In addition, I wanted to get across the second crossing of Hurricane Creek, which was about 13 miles in, before the storms came through. So in addition to be a long distance day, I needed to hike it pretty hard to try and beat the storms. Ideally I would beat the storms to the campground, but at a minimum I needed to beat them to the second creek crossing. Thus why I wasn’t too thrilled about the day. Haha.
The first four miles didn’t get off to a good start for making good time. It was really rocky and it was a really cool stretch of trail. If I had to pick a favorite spot during this trip I would pick the Bloyd Ridge area. I took a little bit of time and snapped some photos but I would have loved to spent some more time going through that area. The trail got better for making time and miles once I got down to the Hurricane Creek area. Not too long after getting close to Hurricane Creek there were a couple light blue blazes intermingled with the white blazes. That threw me off a little bit. After that the blazes were few and far between for most of the day, especially compared with the rest of the trail up to that point. As I was hiking along I texted my dad through my inReach and asked him about the storm timing. He said storm chances started at 1:00 P.M. and peaked from 3:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. I felt comfortable that if the storms were later in the afternoon I would likely be ok with getting across the second creek crossing, but if they were as early at 1:00 P.M. I might be in trouble.
I made it to the first crossing of Hurricane Creek at 11:15 A.M. It was a fairly wide crossing, but it never got above my knees, and wasn’t too swift. After I got to the other side I took a break for a few minutes to eat some trail mix and then hit the trail again. This stretch between the first and second crossing was where I had the most trouble following the trail my whole trip. It wasn’t bad by any means, but there were a couple areas where I actually lost the trail and it took me a minute or two to get back on it. I believe both times I missed a turn in the trail. I made it to the second crossing a little after 1:00 P.M. This one definitely looked more difficult than the first one. I took a couple minutes scouting out different crossing options, and where I finally decided to cross it looked like there was a short part that was fairly deep and swift. It ended up being a little over my knees in a couple spots, fairly swift, and was a little bit slick. I would say it was the second hardest crossing of the whole trip behind the Buffalo River. Thankfully I made it across without going in though. It may have been a wild ride if I had slipped and gone in.
When I got to the other side I took a longer break than I had originally planned. For a few seconds I thought I had left an insole on the opposite side, but then realized I had left it in my shoe instead of taking it out prior to crossing. That was a relief. I ate some food and drank an electrolyte mix. While I was there I noticed the tape was coming off my right foot. I pulled it off and noticed the blister was fairly large and had opened up. I wasn’t too thrilled about that. I went ahead and took the tape off my left foot as well. I hung out for a bit to let them air out some before taping them back up. I ended up taping up the right foot again and leaving the left foot without tape. It was starting to look stormy so I put on my rain pants shortly before leaving, and then finally hit the trail around 1:45 P.M., thankful to have made it across before the storms came through.
The next goal was to get up and over the ridge before the storms came through. It started to rain lightly around 3:15 P.M. when I was walking across the top of the ridge. It rained lightly on and off for the rest of the afternoon, which was really annoying with trying to decide what to do with my rain gear. There were at least 2 or 3 iterations of putting my jacket on, hiking a bit, and then taking it back off again, which required a stop each time taking it off or putting it on. I finally made it to camp around 4:30 P.M. I was so worn out. My feet had had it for the day. The campground was nearly empty. There were several tents set up in a spot, but nobody to be found. It was kind of odd. I found the fee station and looked at the info. According to one of the signs, the campground didn’t open “until the Friday prior to the third weekend in March,” which would mean the campground was closed. There was also a sign warning of a flash flood risk, which didn’t make me feel real comfortable. Haha. There was a $10/night fee, but all I had with me were a couple $20 bills. I thought about going farther, but I was so worn out I decided to stay. I didn’t pay at that moment and figured I would see if I could get some more info on if the campground was actually open and/or if I could find somebody with change for a $20.
I picked one of the camp spots near the entrance to the campground and got my tent set up. I believe a little after 5 was when I started to hear thunder. I got everything put into my tent, and not too long after that it started to rain pretty hard. Shortly after it started raining the group of people that the tents belonged to showed up. Shortly after getting into the tent I started making dinner, and while I was doing that a stake come loose on my tent. I had to get out in the rain to put the stake back in so one side of my tent wouldn’t fall in. I also had a little bit of an issue with water splashing in to my tent when it was raining hard, and I believe there was some water coming through one of the seams in a corner. So a little bit of a frustrating stretch. I finished up dinner, typed up notes for the day, charged my phone and inReach, and made plans for the next day. I made a run to the bathroom shortly before going to bed while there was a little bit of a lull in the rain, and brushed my teeth in my tent once again. It was a long day, but I was so glad to have won the race against the storms.
Day 5: Haw Creek Campground to Little Piney Creek (MM 102.5 – 88)
On day 5 I was up around 7:15 A.M. It was a rough night. I’m a side sleeper, but it was uncomfortable to sleep on my sides due to sore hips. It also was uncomfortable to lay on my back because of the blisters on my heels. Haha. Since it was going to be a shorter day (“only” 13 miles) I took my time getting out of camp in the morning. Due to all the rain my tent and the tent footprint were a mess. I dried off the tent as best I could. I ended up taking the footprint to the nearby creek and got most of the mud washed off of it. After I got nearly everything packed up I went over to the creek and got some pictures (see picture at top of post). It was a really cool area. Unfortunately, due to all the rain, the water had turned from the beautiful blue color to brown. That was a bummer. Just as I was about to leave I ran into who I assumed was the campground host (he was cleaning the bathrooms). There were also a couple other spots at the campground that had been taken after the rain started. At that point I figured the campground was actually open. I asked the host if he had change for a $20, and he was able to give me change. That was awesome. After chatting with him for a bit I hit the trail just before 9:00 A.M. and paid my fee on the way out. The trail provides!
Right after leaving camp I had to cross the creek. Thankfully it was an easy crossing. There were a couple good photo ops right after I started. That seemed to be a theme of the trip. There ended up being several creek crossings in the first 4 miles that required getting my feet wet. I took my socks off and removed my insoles for the first couple, and then just decided to walk through the rest of them. There were lots of marshy/boggy areas and small creeks running down the trail as well. The descent down to Cedar Creek was a neat area, but I ended up slipping on a rock and falling on my way down. My left side took the brunt of the impact. I scraped up my elbow pretty good, but that seemed to be the worst of it. It could have been a lot worse. It was probably overdue. I was actually quite amazed I hadn’t slipped and fallen on a wet rock up to that point. I had come close a few times, but never fully fell.
I made it to Cedar Creek around noon. That was a really cool area. I stopped at a camp site and had lunch, and while doing so had some of my stuff laying out to dry out. It was nice to get some stuff dried out. The morning had started out foggy, but it burned off pretty fast and turned into a beautiful day with blue skies. I was so thankful to see the sun. I realized when I started to get stuff out for lunch that I had put a pretty good dent in the bottom of my water bottle when I fell. Thankfully I hadn’t punctured it, although I had a couple bladders I could have used if needed.
I got back onto the trail around 12:30 P.M. and finally put the sunglasses to use for the first time. The trail on the climb out of Cedar Creek was a bit crowded. There was lots of brush close to the trail that made it hard to use my trekking poles. Still easy to follow the trail though. It got somewhat windy on the ridges in the afternoon. There hadn’t been much wind the whole trip up until that point. It still wasn’t bad though. Bear Skull Falls was another really cool spot. Unfortunately the light wasn’t great for pictures. There were lots of downed trees on the climb out of Lick Creek. It kind of felt like a tree graveyard. It had happened a while back and all the trees that fell across the trail were cleared. I had originally planned to stay at a camp spot near MM 89.5, but I got there fairly early and wasn’t a huge fan of the spot, so I decided to go to another spot a mile down the trail. I got to that spot around 4:00 P.M.
I got camp set up and in the process realized I must have left another tent stake at Haw Creek Campground, since I was now down to four. That was really frustrating. Thus I ended up having to use a couple rocks this time. You would think I would learn my lesson after the first time. After camp was set up I washed my hiking clothes off in the creek, and then took a sponge bath myself. While I was doing this I was in my underwear and somebody happened to drive by on a nearby road. Thankfully they didn’t look my way, otherwise I’m sure they would have been pretty surprised. I put on my sleeping clothes and hung my hiking clothes to dry. I was hoping they would dry out before the sun went down, otherwise it was going to be a cold start to the next morning. I tried not to move around camp much since it meant putting on my wet shoes. I eventually decided just to walk around camp barefoot, which probably wasn’t the best idea. Thankfully I never stepped on anything sharp. I made dinner, looked at plans for the next day, ate a snack, and then got everything put in my tent. Thankfully my hiking clothes dried out for the most part. For some reason my phone went through 75% of its battery during the day, so I go that charged up during the evening. I’m not sure if I left video mode on for a while at some point or what.
As I was about to call it a day, I pulled the tape off my foot and noticed how large the blister was getting. I knew at that point I should probably call it quits. I may have been able to make it to the end, but my right heel probably would have been quite ugly by the end. I texted my parents through my inReach and they said they could pick me up at Ozone the next morning. That was great. After that I hit the sack.
Day 6: Little Piney Creek to Ozone Campground (MM 88-85)
For day 6 I was up at 7:15 A.M. There was a little condensation inside my tent, but not as bad as it had been, likely due to the fact that I was finally able to leave my rain fly open overnight. Even better, I finally had a morning where the outside of my tent was dry. It was so nice not to have to mess with drying off the tent. The hike to Ozone was only 3 miles. I decided to leave tape off of my foot for the hike. I had told my parents I would be there around 9:30 or 10:00 A.M. I hit the trail a little after 8 and had to cross Little Piney Creek right away. I struggled with this crossing. Haha. It looked fairly deep where the trail crossed. Just upstream from the trail there were a couple logs that went across the creek, but one of them was several feet above the creek, and there was nothing to use for balance. I didn’t feel like sitting and scooting across, and I didn’t trust that I could keep my balance all the way across. I went back and forth a few times in my debate on how to cross, and eventually decided to cross where the trail crossed. That almost went bad in a hurry. The bank where the trail meets the creek is quite steep. As I started to go in, the bank gave way a little bit and I started to slide in. I was able to catch myself, mainly due to my trekking poles, but I noticed that it was likely at least thigh deep, if not deeper. I was able to get out and went upstream just a bit and crossed where it was much shallower. I should have done that all along. Haha.
The second crossing of Little Piney Creek wasn’t a big deal. The climb up to Ozone was fairly tough. I was glad I did it in the morning when it was cool. I reached Ozone around 9:45 A.M., and my parents showed up about 5 minutes later. I got my stuff put in their car and it was off to LFS.
Although it was a bummer to quit early, there was still lots of great lessons/feedback learned in the time I was on the trail, and I had roughly doubled the mileage I had done on any previous single trip. It might actually be kind of nice to make a few tweaks and try those out on the second half of the trail. I’ll cover most of this in my gear blog. The biggest takeaway for me was footwear. This seems like an obvious choice due to the blisters, but it has just as much to do with the wet feet as it does with the blisters. I don’t remember the first couple days being too bad with wet feet, but from day 3 on it was rare for my shoes to be even remotely dry due to rain or small creeks running down the trail or large creek crossings. I’ll get into the footwear discussion more in my gear blog. It will probably be a somewhat lengthy part of that post.
In my opinion most of the trail wasn’t that particularly beautiful, but there were definitely some really cool/beautiful spots and sections. I think it would be more beautiful once the vegetation starts to green up. However, at that point it’s likely warmer weather and you’ll have to deal with more ticks, so definitely some trade offs. I never spotted a tick on me, which blew my mind. The blue color of the water (as long as there hasn’t been a recent heavy rain) is amazing. Although the trail was a little bit difficult to follow in spots due to the leaves, it was really well blazed for the most part. Thank you to everyone who has put the blazes along the trail. Those were really helpful. They are so frequent in some spots that you go a couple minutes without seeing one and you start to wonder if you’re off trail. Haha. Also thanks to everyone who does trail maintenance. There were thorny bushes all over the place along the trail, which I’m sure makes trail maintenance difficult and sometimes painful. Between the rocky sections, the potential for constant wet feet, and not so level trail in some spots, the trail can be pretty rough on your feet. I would definitely say it is maintained trail, but not “groomed” trail.
The leaves were a whole new experience. Like I already mentioned, they made it difficult to follow the trail in some spots. It was also really annoying not being able to see some smaller rocks underneath the leaves. You never knew when you were going to take a step and land on a rock you couldn’t see. I can’t even imagine doing this trail in the fall after the new leaves have fallen. It was also pretty annoying to have the leaves get stuck to my trekking poles. However, I’m sure I would have been walking through a lot of mud if it wasn’t for the leaves, so I was thankful for that aspect of them.
Finally, a huge thanks to my parents who put in around 800 miles shuttling me around. I’m very thankful to have parents who are willing and able to do that for me.
Hopefully there will be a part two coming soon, but we’ll see how things to over the next couple weeks.