Sunday, October 14, 2012

Trail Review: Ouachita National Recreation Trail

Labor Day weekend my brother and I set out on a little mancation. Hot Springs, AR is almost precisely half way between where he and I live so we wanted to do some backpacking there. It turned out to be a great choice- here are some of my thoughts on the trail.

Our Skill Level
Neither of us are hardcore backpackers- we grew up in an outdoorsy family and we're both in great shape so backpacking is something we both enjoy.

The Route
Ouachita National Recreation Trail

The Plan
Our initial plan was to hike from the trailhead at mile marker 138.8 hike to Blue Mountain Shelter, spend the night and hike the next day to Moonshine Shelter and hike out to the trailhead at mile 160.4. This covers map segments 08, 09, and 10. The USDA maps are not detailed and it made for finding the trailheads very difficult. Also, don't expect road signs to help you out- in retrospect I wish we would have gotten the GPS coordinates for both trailheads for others to use but I forgot.

What Actually Happened
No more than 30 minutes after we started off, the heavens opened up an unleashed a huge thunderstorm. We were prepared for rain, so we whipped out the ponchos and pressed on. About 45 minutes later the weather let up and cleared up the skies for the rest of the weekend. We were counting on that downpour to provide for some of our water needs later on down the trail but that wasn't to be. After a near constant climb to the first shelter none of the water sources listed in the USDA information about the trail were anywhere to be found.

The shelters marked on the map were really nice- they offered solid platform to sleep on with a roof overhead, a picnic table and fire pit. Don't expect them to be at the mile markers indicated on the map. Those appeared to be poor guesses by whoever made the signage.

With 15 miles to go the next day in temperatures reaching the upper 90's we made the decision to head back to our starting point the next morning. We then drove around to our intended ending point and hiked to the shelter we planed at staying in that night. As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I are both fit people- but these sections of trail were challenging. Wear boots or hiking shoes that have been well broken in and take care of your feet. The "2 miles" from the trailhead to the shelter is more like 2.5 or 2.75 and you'll feel it on the climb from the trailhead. Again, there was a great shelter there that was identical to the one the night before.

The scenery was beautiful on the trail and all the roads around it. Surprisingly, we were the only ones we ever saw on the trail aside from a flock of wild turkeys and a few deer. It made for a great escape for the extended weekend and I would definitely go back. Be sure to pack plenty of water if you plan on going too far from the trailheads as we never found water on the trail that we could use- even with a heavy rain at the beginning of our trip.

If you're within driving distance of Hot Springs, AR add this to your to do list- you won't regret it.

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