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

Ozark Highlands Trail – Woolum to Ozone: Trip Report

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.

Red line indicates approximate crossing location of Buffalo River.

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)
Climbing out of dry creek drainage.

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. 

Richland Creek

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)
Damp sleeping pad in the morning.

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. 

Came across these near the Moore CCC camp. Exactly how I felt after hiking in the rain most of the morning.

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. 

Rock in the Bloyd Ridge area.

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!

Waterfall shortly after leaving Haw Creek Campground.

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. 

Overall Thoughts

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. 

It seemed like leaves were almost always stuck to my trekking poles.

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. 

Trip Report: Eagle Rock Loop

My Eagle Rock Loop route by day. Keep in mind water crossings will vary by person and based on water levels. There were many other crossings I was able to do without sandals. Topo map from MyTopo and trail based on this Forest Service document.

When I first heard about Eagle Rock Loop a couple years back, I was really excited to give it a try for a weekend backpacking trip. It would be nice to have a backpacking trip that was relatively close. This past weekend I finally got around to giving it a try. I started at the Little Missouri Trailhead on the NW side of the loop (where the Athens Big Fork Trail and Little Missouri Trail meet) and did the loop counter-clockwise. I’ll give an outline of each day below and then some overall thoughts at the bottom, along with some pictures, of course 🙂

Thursday

Camp spot Thursday night just above Little Missouri River.

I left OKC around 1:30 P.M. on Thursday, and got to the trailhead around 6:00 P.M. About the last 9 miles of the road are gravel. It’s in good shape with the exception of a few potholes. I was the only car at the trailhead when I got there. I was going to camp next to the parking lot, but there was a no camping sign posted, so I ate dinner and then got my stuff and crossed the river. Someone already had the established camp spot right across the river, so I started up the hill and found a (non-established) spot a couple minutes up the hill. While I was setting up camp, I noticed a tick crawling on my stuff. I was already nervous about ticks to begin with, so it didn’t help seeing one that quickly. Haha. After I got camp set up I went back down the hill and did some reading next to the river. While I was reading Rebecca came over and we chatted for a little while. Rebecca was the person at the established camp spot. She is from New Orleans and out of a job right now due to Covid-19, so she is doing a bunch of hiking around the area. She was at the end of her first day hiking the loop. After chatting for a bit we went back to our camps. I got ready for bed, finished reading the chapter, and then went to bed.

Friday

View from Eagle Rock Vista.

Friday morning I ate breakfast, got camp packed up, and hit the trail at 8:00 A.M. I took the side trail at the top of the first ridge (Hurricane Knob ridge), which provided a great view. After that it was down into the valley with Straight Creek, and then up to the top of the ridge of McKinley Mountain. Then it was down into the valley with Long Creek. I used my sandals to cross Long Creek. Of all the camp spots I saw along the Athens Big Fork (ABF) trail, the camp spots next to Long Creek were my favorite. After that it was up and over the ridge for the Brier Creek Mountains, and then down to Brier Creek. That was followed by the ridge for Leader Mountain, and then down to Blaylock Creek. I used my sandals to cross Blaylock Creek and then took a break for a few minutes. The crossing for Blaylock creek was a really neat spot. The trek down to Blaylock Creek, and then the trek back out, were the most difficult of all the valleys though. The next ridge was the ridge next to Brush Heap Mountain. I took the side trail that headed toward the top of Brush Heap Mountain. Part way up the trail, I realized I should have left my backpack at the bottom of the trail. I guess I thought the trail would be a little shorter. I turned around before I reached the top, but there were still some great views. I’ll have to go to the top next time I do the loop. After that it was down to East Saline Creek, and then up to Eagle Rock Vista.

I reached Eagle Rock Vista at 1:00 P.M. My plan was to camp at Eagle Rock Vista, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to kill that much time there. It was fairly windy there as well. I thought about continuing down to Viles Branch, but eventually decided to go ahead and camp at Eagle Rock Vista. I was completely worn out by the time I got there. I was really glad that was the last hill for the day. According to data from Charlie Williams’ website, it had been a combined elevation gain of ~2,150 ft. and elevation loss of ~2,000 ft. over seven miles for the day.

There were three camping spots that I saw along Eagle Rock Vista. I grabbed the middle one. I ate some trail mix and then got camp set up. I expected to have a lot of people come through during the afternoon, but actually had very few. I typed up some notes from the day, laid down for a while, and then did some reading. I noticed Rebecca walk by at one point, so a little while later I went and chatted with her for a bit. While we were chatting she mentioned she had cell service. I checked, and sure enough I had it as well. I resisted the urge to check anything since the point of doing the trip was to get away, so I turned my phone back to airplane mode. Haha. After chatting with her for a while I came back to my camp spot and worked on getting some pictures with my good camera.

I had quite a few people come through during the late afternoon and evening. Both of the other camp spots got occupied. I was hoping the wind would die down once the sun went down, but it stayed windy most of the night. I knew it would be a tough day, and it definitely was. I would put it right up there with the harder days I have had on trips in the “big mountains” (aka Rockies). It was fun seeing the different ridges and valleys, and Eagle Rock Vista was a nice reward at the end.

Saturday

I have to admit that I did take advantage of the cell service on Saturday morning before I left Eagle Rock Vista to check the weather and make sure there still was no rain in the forecast. Thankfully that was still the case. I hit the trail at 7:40 and headed down to Viles Branch. I ran into Rebecca one last time at her camp spot shortly after getting on Viles Branch. We chatted for a minute and then I continued on. There were a bunch of stream crossings along Viles Branch, but thankfully I was able to cross all of them without having to change into my sandals. I really liked the hike along Viles Branch. That was my favorite stretch of the loop.

Shortly before reaching the Little Missouri River I caught up Nick, another person backpacking the loop. We chatted as we hiked along the trail. He was also from Louisiana, and had hiked the loop several years back. We got to the river around 9:45, and that was a definite sandal crossing. As I was going to tie my boots onto my backpack, I noticed that Nick had clipped them onto his backpack with caribeners. I had some spare caribeners, and had one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments. So thank you to Nick for helping me out with that. It was definitely handy the rest of the trip. Once we got across the river I knew we were supposed to start going upstream, but Nick started walking downstream. Since he had done the trail before I figured he knew where he was going, but after a minute I asked him if we should be going upstream. Then he mentioned he was going fishing, so I turned around and went to find the trail. While going back to the trail, I managed to get a stick between my trekking poles and my legs, which ended up tripping me and I fell. Thankfully I didn’t hurt anything. I’m sure I made a great first impression with Nick though. Haha. I took a break for a few minutes before hitting the trail again.

After that I was on the struggle bus for a while. I knew I was supposed to cross the river again, and got to a point where I couldn’t see an obvious spot where the trail kept going straight, and it looked like a good spot to cross the river, so I crossed the river. I found out pretty quick that was not the right choice, so I had to go back and cross back over. Once I kept going straight I found where the trail was. Had I actually put myself in the right spot on the map, I would have known that was the wrong spot, but I didn’t have myself in the right spot, so that was mostly my fault. Shortly after that I went through the Winding Stairs area and crossed the river at the appropriate spot. The Winding Stairs area was a little anti-climcatic for me, so that had me confused as well. The stress/frustration about trying to follow the trail probably didn’t help. There were a ton of people there, which made me think I was closer to Albert Pike than I was, which also got me really confused. I found out after I got home there is a parking lot fairly close to Winding Stairs, thus why there were so many people. But that got me really confused as I was hiking through there. A while after that I came to a stream crossing that had blue markings and double diagonal white markings. The trail markings up to that point had been a single white rectangle. That got me really confused. After I crossed the stream there was a sign for a parking lot. Once again, I had no idea about the parking lot near Winding Stairs, so that again made me think I was close to Albert Pike, but a sign said it was still 2 miles to Albert Pike. So between the first river crossing and Albert Pike, I was all sorts of confused. Once I actually got close to Albert Pike and was next to the road, I finally realized where I was on the map. I got to Albert Pike at 1:00 P.M., and it was time for a much needed break and a reset. I was already fairly worn out, but knew I wanted to get farther down the trail that day.

I took about a 30 minute break at Albert Pike, during which I let my feet sit in the river for a few minutes, ate some trail mix, drank some water, and looked at the upcoming trail on the map. Then it was back to the trail again. There were a couple creek crossings shortly after that where I had to put on my sandals to cross. At the next river crossing I met Rainey and Gary from Dallas. I spent a few minutes there chatting with them. They had been on the trail the whole week and were on their way out. Gary recommended I check out the Ozark Highland Trail, so I’ll have to check that out at some point. Just before I left they pulled a couple packets of applesauce out of the river, which I thought was a pretty genius idea. I’ll have to keep that in mind for future trips. I was a little nervous to cross the river with them watching after what happened earlier with Nick, but I made it across fine. Haha.

While I was talking with Gary and Rainey, they mentioned they would likely camp near the double crossing down the trail. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it ended up being the next crossing. It was a creek crossing followed by crossing the river. I didn’t realize it was the double crossing though, so I put my boots back on after crossing the creek, and then headed down a social trail that went who knows where. After a short walk, I figured it wasn’t the correct trail, and then went back and realized I was supposed to cross the river at that spot, so I had to put my sandals right back on. I made it across there and kept on hiking. I found a decent camp spot shortly after 5:00 P.M. and decided to call it a day. I was really worn out again. I got camp set up and then took a dip in the river to rinse off. I’m usually not one to hop in a river, lake, etc. since I’m really not a fan of cold water, but I knew it was going to be a warm evening/night, and I felt gross, so I wanted to get cleaned off. It was definitely cold, but I felt a whole lot better once I got dried off and warmed back up.

After that I went and talked to Nick and Nicole. They were camped in a spot just up the hill from me, and had got there right after I arrived. They had driven up all the way from Houston. They hadn’t planned on doing the whole loop, but someone talked them into it after they started hiking. They didn’t bring any sandals with them, so they had done all the river/creek crossings barefoot. These are not nice, soft dirt bottom river crossings. These are rocky, slick, really hurt your feet river crossings. I’m sure I would have called it quits after the first couple crossings, but they had powered through, so kudos to them. I chatted with them for a few minutes then went and ate dinner. After dinner I got my good camera out to try and get some pictures since I hadn’t had it out since Eagle Rock Vista that morning. After that I read and then went to bed.

I knew Saturday night was going to be warm, so when I set up camp I unzipped my sleeping bag and had it available to use as a blanket, and slept straight on my sleeping pad. It actually worked out really well. I should have done that the prior night. Made me glad I got a sleeping bag that can unzip all the way.

All the river/creek crossings throughout the day that required sandals were a huge pain. I would estimate it easily added an hour to the hike. I will admit that the cold water always felt good on the feet though. Haha. It ended up being a 15 mile day, which I’m pretty sure is the longest I have ever hiked in a day. The only other day I can think of that comes close is a day in Utah that I believe was in the 13-14 mile range.

Sunday

Little Missouri Falls

I hit the trail at 7:45 Sunday morning. About a 1/4 mile or so up the trail I reached Little Missouri Falls. I figured I was close, but I didn’t realize I was that close. That was definitely one of my favorite spots along the loop. Farther down the trail I saw some sort of large cat looking animal run off. If I had to take a guess I would say it was a bobcat, but I didn’t get a great look at it. It didn’t appear to be a mountain lion. I passed three different pairs of people between the falls and the trailhead, two of which I knew I had seen previously on the trail. One pair had camped up at Eagle Rock Vista the same night I did, and the other pair I had passed in Viles Branch. It was fun to see them again. I got lucky and met one of the pairs at what appeared to be a spot where I had to cross the river, but they let me know I could stay on the side I was on. Sure enough, I hiked about 20-30 yards and ran into the trail again. It looked like flooding had washed the trail out at some point. Huge thanks to them for the tip. I got to the trailhead at 9:40 A.M., which was the only place I had to use sandals for a stream crossing that day. I cleaned myself off a bit, changed into some clean clothes, ate a Clif bar, got gear loaded into the car, and then hit the road. I got into Mena, AR just after 11, so I stopped at Wendy’s and got a BBQ cheeseburger for lunch. That and the sweet tea tasted wonderful. Haha. After that it was back to OKC.

Overall Thoughts

For not being a “big mountain” hike, I was actually quite impressed. You don’t get the grand views of the granite peaks, cirques, and alpine lakes, but it is a different kind of beauty. There are some pretty cool views from the ridges along the ABF, but other than that you are in pretty dense forest most of the time. The creeks and Little Missouri River have some really pretty spots. It was also really cool to cross the “little” Little Missouri River and the “big” Little Missouri River, and see it change from big to little along the hike. And for not being a “big mountain” hike, I was actually quite surprised with how difficult it was. If you don’t do ABF, it really wouldn’t be too bad, but the ABF adds a lot of difficulty to it.

If you do this hike when the weather is nice hiking weather, don’t expect to get away from people, although if you do it during the workweek the crowds would likely be smaller. Outside of the Winding Stairs and Albert Pike areas, the traffic really wasn’t too bad though.

Speaking of weather, be sure to be aware of what the weather has done recently, and what the forecast is. Heavy rains can cause the creeks and river to rise very quickly, and make crossings dangerous or impossible. Back in 2010 a flash flood of the Little Missouri River in the Albert Pike area killed 20 people. Charlie Williams has some good advice in the “Water Crossings” section on his page.

The trail is fairly easy to follow most of the time. There are definitely some confusing spots at stream/river crossings and where there are a bunch of social trails though. I never felt like I was completely lost, but I was definitely frustrated at times that it wasn’t marked better in spots. Be ready to go around, over, or under trees. There were lots of downed trees across the trail. Some appeared recent, but most of them looked like they had been there a while. Trekking poles were a tremendous help for the stream crossings. I probably would have used sandals at several more crossings if I didn’t have my trekking poles to help with balance while crossing on rocks, so I would highly recommend those. Also, bring sandals or some sort of shoes for water crossings. I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole trail in sandals, and I doubt many people will want to hike in wet boots. I talked to several people who saw at least one snake. Thankfully I never saw any. I never found any ticks on me, much to my surprise. I didn’t wear sunscreen at all. Between having pants, a long sleeve, a hat, and the trail being in the shade most of the time, I didn’t need it. That would probably be a different story if I did the hike in winter when the trees didn’t have leaves. I’m not going to be surprised if I start breaking out in a rash from poison ivy, oak, etc. I think I may already be starting to get a rash in a couple spots. Big question is probably how bad is it going to be. Haha.

There were definitely lessons learned on this trip that will hopefully make any future trips much smoother. I’m not sure if I would do it the same way next time or not. With all the different trailheads, there are many, many different ways to do the loop. I may try starting at Little Missouri Falls next time, go clockwise, camp in Viles Branch the first night and camp at Long Creek on ABF the second night. That would split up the ridges over a couple days, and spread the mileage out a little more evenly. Not really sure there is a best way to do it. The vast majority of people I talked to started at Albert Pike. With all the different trailheads, you can easily split the loop up into different day hikes if you’re not a fan of backpacking.

Finally, I hope I got everybody’s names correct. If not, I’m sorry. I tried to jot them down in my notes as soon as I could. Haha. Thank you to those who chatted with me for a bit and kept me company on the trail, even if it was just for a few minutes. I always enjoy getting to know fellow backpackers along the trail, especially when I’m hiking by myself. If you have any questions about the hike, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll do my best to try and answer. Also, just do a google search for “Eagle Rock Loop Arkansas” and you’ll be able to find plenty of other great write ups on the loop. I have placed some links to other write ups below.

I will likely get pictures posted from my good camera early next week. I’ll post on my Facebook page when they are up.

Forest Service Info

Ouachitamaps.com (Charlie Williams)

The Outbound Collective

Fayetteville Flyer