It is located in northwest Arkansas. It begins at the new Lake Fort Smith State Park at the Visitors Center.
The Ozark Highlands Trail Association publishes excellent and up to date full feature maps (go to the Trail Maps and Store tabs on this website) of the OHT from Lake Fort Smith to Woolum (165 miles), and it provides access to maps of the Sylamore Section as well as a Lower Buffalo Wilderness OHT GPS Route guide book.
Most hikers use the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst for the Lake Fort Smith to Woolum, and Spring Creek Trailhead to Matney Trail Head sections (“http://www.timernst.com/Products/AHT.html”>Arkansas Hiking Trails). Because of trail re-routes, etc., this book’s references to specific mile markers are only approximate. This guidebook is also available at many retailers, and it is a great all around reference for the OHT.
The Arkansas Atlas & Gazetteer by DeLorme also shows the approximate route of the first 165 miles. The Forest Service sells a three map set, somewhat outdated, for the first 165 miles, but no descriptive text. The Sylamore Ranger District, Mountain View, has a free Recreation Opportunity Guide (contour map, mileage from Spring Creek TH) for the 32 mile Spring Creek TH to Matney TH section. (See Trail Map tab). No map covers the 13 mile Norfork Lake section (Contact the Corps of Engineers, Lake Norfork Project, Mountain Home, AR)
Yes! The hiker’s guide “Ozark Highland Trail, Lower Buffalo Wilderness Route” is available for $10 from the OHTA, P.O. Box 10979, Fayetteville, AR 72703 (all proceeds go to the OHTA for trail purposes). This guide contains USGS based field grade maps with route line, GPS waypoints and descriptions as well as some photographs. The route is 15 miles, 12 of which are grown over old roads. There is no tread, marking or maintenance or convenient access on this scenic section, so scout before planning to hike thru.
The best hiking season begins in October and runs into early June. Winter is especially great for hiking, as is the early spring, spring, and early summer. The summer months of July, August, and into September are the least favorite times to hike, although the forest is much cooler than temps you will find listed for Arkansas cities. Water levels can get quite low in the summer.
The trail is not maintained from late spring until early fall, so summer hikers can expect to encounter heat, humidity, dense vegetation, wildlife including poisonous snakes and insects. Maintenance begins in mid September, continues into late fall, and OHTA Maintainers respond to storm damage into late spring. Most hikers opt for leaf-off for hiking in Arkansas.
No. The OHT is for foot traffic only and vehicles of any kind are not allowed.
No. The OHT is for foot traffic only and pack stock of any kind are not allowed.
No. The OHT is for foot traffic only and vehicles of any kind are not allowed.
Yes. Campfire RINGS are not allowed, at least not any new one. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not necessary to build a campfire ring in order to build a campfire, and in fact these rings – normally made out of stones – actually create a fire hazard by containing glowing embers that can escape and start a forest fire long after the hiker has left the campsite. HIKERS WHO START FOREST FIRES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH PUTTING OUT THE FIRE! Make sure any campfire is DEAD OUT! Using rocks to construct campfire rings also leaves behind ugly blackened rocks that will last for generations. It is OK to use an existing firering, just don’t construct a new one.
Yes. You are allowed to camp anywhere along the trail as long as you are at least 200 feet and out of sight from the trail and any water source. There are no official campsites along the trail – other than in established public campgrounds. However, many unofficial sites have been established over the years in the normal expected areas.
Yes. Public campgrounds are located at Lake Ft. Smith State Park, White Rock Mountain, Shores Lake (via spur trail), Redding (via spur trail), Ozone, Haw Creek Falls, Fairview, Richland Creek, and Woolum (you have to wade the Buffalo River to get to it). Most of these campgrounds are open all year long and do charge a fee.
No permits are required to hike or camp along the OHT. There are registration boxes located along the trail, and it is advised that you sign in at EVERY register that you pass. This helps the forest service know how many hikers are using the trail in order to justify its existence. It also helps track your movements in the case of an emergency – it will be easier to find you. There is no need to put any detailed personal information on the registration cards, like address, phone number, etc.
Yes, the trail is open all year. However, some short sections of the trail may be closed for short periods of time due to a controlled burn in the area, or for regeneration work being done to control red oak borer which has killed many tree
The trail is not maintained from late spring until early fall, so summer hikers can expect to encounter heat, humidity, dense vegetation, wildlife including poisonous snakes and insects. Maintenance begins in mid September, continues into late fall, and responds to storm damage into late spring. Most hikers opt for leaf-off for hiking in Arkansas.
Yes, there are currently two loop trails along the OHT. The Shores Lake to White Rock Loop Trail (13.4 miles) and the Redding to Spy Rock Loop Trail (8.8 miles). There are maps and detailed descriptions of both these loop trails included in the guidebook. The only way to make a longer loop hike utilizing the OHT would be to loop back around via roads or bushwhack on your own. We do hope to construct additional loop trails in the future.
All of the trail is great hiking, and there are many sections that are short enough for a weekend trip – consult the guidebook for access points and mileages.
ALL of the OHT is the best section! This trail was designed and constructed by HIKERS who wanted a great trail to hike – there are no bad sections of the OHT.
ALL of the OHT is scenic! Tim Ernst lists hundreds of Special Scenic Spots (SSS) locations in the guidebook, and you will find them listed all along the trail, plus there are many hundreds more waiting for you to discover on your own. Here are some highlights along the trail: White Rock Mountain, Spirits Creek, the old railroad grade, the rockhouse, Hare Mountain, Marinoni Scenic Area, Eldridge Hollow Waterfall Area, Lynn Hollow, Slot Rock, Cedar Creek Pool, Haw Creek Falls, Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area, and on and on and on…
Not at all! The trail is used by hikers throughout the year so the numbers of hikers are spread out. You will seldom see other hikers along the trail at any time of the year. At most you may pass a dozen or two hikers throughout the day, but you will often not see another soul during your entire hike.
You are just as safe hiking alone as you would be walking through any mall in the country, and probably even a lot safer. There is no inherent safety problem with hiking alone, and many folks prefer to hike that way. It really has to do with your own comfort level. And there really is no difference if you are a man or woman – i.e. there normally aren’t any folks lurking on the trail just waiting to attack lone female hikers! Solo hiking can be a wonderful experience, but that is not to say something terrible would never happen – LIFE HAPPENS no matter who you are or where you are!
Yes, there are several shuttle services that can shuttle hikers for a fee. These are listed in the OHT guidebook
Yes, at White Rock Mountain. Lake Fort Smith State Park has campsites by reservation with excellent hot showers. There are other rental cabins in the Cass Mulberry River and near highway crossings, but these are not right on the trail.
There are currently no grocery stores located within a reasonable hiking distance from the trail. There are small post offices located at Ozone and Pelsor where you can have resupply packages mailed to you (both within two miles of the trail).
That depends on YOU. All hikers are different, and there are so many variables like your personal condition and experience, weight of your pack, how good your boots are, how early you get up and start hiking and how late you hike in the day, etc. etc. Many hikers, especially those new to the sport, tend to try to hike too many miles in a single day. The result is very sore feet, muscles and bones, and an unpleasant hiking experience. It is best to start off with fewer miles per day and work up to longer miles as you gain experience.
That depends on each individual hiker, the hours of daylight, etc. Trail varies from constructed trail to GPS bushwhack route in the Lower Buffalo Wilderness. A complete thru hike is difficult but possible with careful attention to all details, but hiking the longer segments is not unusual. It may take 10 to 14 days for 165 miles, for example. Continuous built trail is in place from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Hwy 65 at Tyler Bend, Buffalo National River or 180 miles.
Your vehicle is as safe at any trailhead as it is parked in your front yard or in any shopping center parking lot in the country. There are no guarantees in life, and your vehicle can be broken into at anyplace, anytime. There is no particular history of vandalism at OHT trailhead parking lots, although none of them are supervised in any way. Obviously, remove any valuables, or at the very least keep them out of sight.
During most of the year you will cross water many times during the day along the OHT. Consult the guidebook for the exact locations. In the drier months (July – September) the water can be hard to find, but not impossible. If you are planning an end-to-end hike of the OHT during these months it is a good idea to stash some water along the route, just in case. Generally speaking the water along the OHT is clean and relatively pollution free. However, it is advisable to treat ALL water that you consume from any unknown water source – most folks use water filters, but boiling is OK too, just more of a pain.
Yes. The parts of the OHT that pass through the Ozark National Forest and Buffalo National River lands (most of the trail) are open to hunting during all regular hunting seasons. Hunters are very good stewards of the land and are not to be feared. Check with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission for seasons.
Are you going to be shot just because you are hiking during hunting season? Certainly not. You are as safe out on the trail during hunting season as you are walking down the street in your front neighborhood, or indeed walking in any town in the world. Can a stray bullet strike you? Of course, but you have a much better chance of hitting the lottery. During hunting seasons you might hear gunshots and see hunters, so it is always best to be aware of when the hunting seasons are. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association always schedules outings during even the most busy hunting seasons. There has never been a reported injury of any kind associated with hikers and hunters along the OHT. This does not meant that it won’t ever happen, just that it is not really an issue. IF you are hiking during the regular gun deer seasons, it is best if you wear some sort of blaze orange cloth on your person and/or backpack. Check with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission for seasons
There is a lot of wildlife that lives in the forest along the OHT including white-tailed deer, black bear, elk (on the Buffalo River end), coyotes, bobcats, wild turkey, grouse (rare), squirrels, armadillos, chipmunks, and a large variety of birds and other wildlife. Most hikers make way too much noise when they hike and don’t see all that much wildlife. Also most wildlife is nocturnal and you won’t generally see them out in the middle of the day. The best way to see wildlife is to get up early in the morning, and find a place where you can see far out into the forest, then sit there quietly and motionless for a good long while – you will be surprised at all the critters you can spot!
Yes, there is an expanding population of black bears in the forests along the trail. Are they dangerous – not really. Most of the black bears are quite small – less than a hundred pounds – and are afraid of humans. Some of them are much larger though, and have lost their fear of man. Bears do not hibernate in Arkansas, but rather dig themselves back into rock formations and even down into large hollow trees, and spend the winter months sleeping. In the late spring and early summer they come out looking for food. If you have food stored inside your tent at night, you just might come face to face with a hungry bear – NEVER keep any food or other sweet items (like toothpaste) inside your tent at night. The best method is to “bear bag” your food, or carry a bear proof container. We probably receive a dozen or so reports of bear sightings on the trail per year – they are vary rare, and if you see a bear, chances are it will only be a quick glimpse of his hind end as he runs away from you. The two most populated sections of the trail with bears are the White Rock Mountain area and the Horn Mountain Area (east end of the trail). There are no grizzly bears in the wild in Arkansas.
We have an abundant supply of snakes in the forest, including rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins. Generally speaking, unless you are playing with a snake, or happen to sit down right on top of one, you will never have any problems with snakes. There has never been a reported incident of a hiker getting snake bit on the OHT, although certainly folks do get bit from time to time. Most snakes are good snakes, although it is a good idea to avoid all snakes all the time – they are wildlife just like everything else.
Some of the streams along the trail have small blue gill and even a rock bass or small mouth bass or two, but it really is not worth bringing your fishing rod, and you certainly cannot plan to eat fish during your hike. There are no trout in the streams along the OHT.
Generally speaking you want to carry lightweight food that is quick and easy to prepare with a limited amount of mess. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of good trail cookbooks on the market. Avoid foods that are packaged in cans or glass bottles, or that need refrigeration if you are hiking in the summertime. Just use common sense, keep the weight down, and you can often eat the same foods that you do at home. Look through some of the trail cookbooks at your local outdoor store for ideas.
There is very little cell phone service along the trail, despite what the salesperson told you! However, as more and more cell towers are constructed around the country, there will be more spots along the trail where you might be able to pick up a signal. The best places to try are on the highest ridgetops, but the signal will be dismal at best. There are currently no pay phones along the trail (there will be on at Lake Ft. Smith when it opens in 2006).
Not really. You may find some overhangs and other eroded caverns, but nothing of significance. All caves on Federal land are currently closed to entry to protect bats from a deadly spreading disease.
There are many sandstone bluffs located along the trail, and some of them might make for good rock climbing, however there are no specific locations at this time that are official great rock climbing spots.
Yes. There is an eight color cloth patch of the trail available for sale for $4. Send to OHTA, P.O. Box 4065, Fayetteville, AR 72702-4065.
The OHT is maintained by volunteers from the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. To date these volunteers have contributed more than 350,000 hours of free labor to the trail over the past 23 years. The trail is divided up into 50+ sections that are adopted by volunteers just like the highway trash cleanup program. These volunteers maintain their section a couple of times a year. Their main job is to take care of downed limbs and small trees across the trail, and to keep the corridor lopped out to a six-foot width. When they encounter larger trees across the trail that require chainsaw work, this is reported and a different crew is required to come in and cut them out. WEEDS are not a priority of our maintainers – it would be difficult to keep the weeds cut back along the trail, and they do get grown up in the late summertime, especially now with the red oak borer killing many of the larger trees (allows more sunlight to the ground which weeds thrive on). If you happen to see a volunteer working on the trail, be sure to THANK them for all of their work! And if you find a section of trail that is not quite up to snuff, the best thing that YOU can do is to this is the text that will be used as the linkVOLUNTEER yourself to help out!
If you come across problems along the trail such as large downed trees blocking the trail or washouts, please note the location of the problem (GPS UTM/UPS grid coordinates are best) and put the details on a registration card at a trail register, and or send as much info as you can to the Maintenance Manager OHTA@ozarkhighlandstrail.com
Join the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, and bring some friends out hiking with you. As you hike along you can help out a great deal by simply kicking off downed limbs and loose rocks on the trail. If you come across larger trees or limbs across the trail and can do so, please take the time to stop and pull them off the trail. If a tree is left across the trail and hikers have to go around it, soon a new trail will develop around the tree, in a bad location, and that new path will eventually have to be covered up by volunteers.
We continue to work for the extension of the OHT across Arkansas to connect to the
Ozark Trail in Missouri (where over 300 miles are built and growing) to complete the Trans-Ozark Trail from Lake Fort Smith to St. Louis as planned and agreed to since the late 1970s by the OHTA, other hiking groups and multiple government agencies. This TOT would the longest hiking trail in the central United States, nearly 1,000 miles. Shorter term, there are plans for additional connector loop trails.
Yes, dogs are allowed on the trail except for miles within the Buffalo National River and other areas as may be posted. For the protection of your dog and wildlife as well as courtesy to other users, use a leash.
It is growing! As of 2017 the OHT has several sections with a combined length of constructed trail of over 240 miles, plus 15 miles of bushwhack through the Lower Buffalo Wilderness. The oldest section is 165 miles from Lake Fort Smith to Woolum. Then there are 15 miles built to Hwy 65, then 28 miles to Hwy 14. At Hwy 14 the trail begins 15 miles of Lower Buffalo Wilderness (trail-less) bushwhack to Spring Creek Trailhead, then 32 miles of built trail to Matney Trailhead at Hwy 341 near Norfork, AR. (After Matney TH there is a road gap of about 8 miles to Norfork Dam, then 13 miles of built trail along Lake Norfork’s west shore to Tracy Arm). An additional section northbound from Robinson Point on Lake Norfork is under construction and in use to Red Bank Recreation area. To “Hike the whole trail” your hike includes all of the above, but for bragging rights consider it done if you hike from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Woolum or Hwy 65.