A couple of weeks ago after spending time with family in Texas I decided to indulge myself in a window of opportunity and take a little impromptu photo detour on the way home. My hope was to swing up through Tennessee and hit Great Smoky Mountain National Park; and if I was lucky and the weather forecast held up perhaps I’d time my arrival to synch up with a fresh dusting of snow in picturesque Cades Cove.
But that didn’t happen…
I made it as far as Lafayette, Louisiana before an ice storm closed down all the highways and halted my progress completely. After two nights stranded there in bayou country, I saw that window of opportunity closing fast and realized it was time to resort to Plan B. I regrouped and turned my attention (and my car) north and made a beeline for Arkansas. The decision didn’t come with too much hesitation, as there were also some places there I’ve long wanted to see.
The Ozark Highlands Trail has been on my radar for a couple of years now. Some of you who have been following this blog might even remember that I had planned to go down and do a section hike there some time back. Those plans fell through, however, and ever since it’s been one of those close but no cigar deals when it came to venturing to that neck of the woods and checking things out.
In light of that little Louisiana delay my time was still limited and I only had an afternoon to spend on the trail, but I couldn’t have been given a better day. As friends back home in Iowa were coping with -40 degree wind chills I rolled into the Ozark Mountains under sunny blue skies and with my windows down to enjoy the sixty degree air.
I’ve never been to the area but I did have a trail guide with me and conducted a quick study. From that I found what sounded like an opportunity for a pleasant little out and back hike. Navigating a somewhat daunting forest service road (the road was actually pretty well maintained, but still a challenge in my small car. It’s great on fuel mileage, but meant to be kept on friendlier surfaced routes…) I made my way into the hills and parked at a really nice trailhead (at OHT Mile 99.5, FR 1003.)
From this point, for the most part, I think it’s best to just let the following pictures do the talking. I ended up hiking about a mile and a half from the trailhead to a gorgeous turquoise pool fed by a small waterfall on Cedar Creek. The trail was immaculate; well maintained and very scenic. I met one other solo hiker out on a multi-day stretch and a trio of guys doing an overnight; with both parties seeming pretty well enamored with their experience along the Ozark Highlands Trail. As was I. They’ve got a real gem of a hike nestled there in those hills.
After exploring for a couple of hours at a leisurely pace, I returned to the car and made the bumpy drive back to the highway; but before leaving the forest completely I stopped to have a look at one more site. There is a scenic little waterfall near a campground on Haw Creek that I passed on my way out, and even though the campground was closed I parked at the gate and walked down to see it. The OHT also swings around to pass this site, and it appears to be just one of many scenic water features that the trail passes on its current 218 mile route. Again, very, very beautiful.
I wish I’d had more time to spend hiking (especially considering the weather waiting for me the next day when I got home) but just the same it ended up being a real blessing to have gotten this opportunity to finally give the Ozark Highlands Trail a look. I’m convinced that this is a truly under recognized treasure in our nations collection of amazing hiking trails, and I have every intention of getting back just as soon as I can.
To learn more about the Ozark Highlands Trail, visit the OHTA website by clicking HERE or checkout their Facebook page HERE. Really great resources, and a dedicated, friendly and helpful group of trail enthusiasts.