November 9, 2010

Ouachita National Scenic Trail, Rich Mountain, Arkansas

The Ouachita National Scenic Trail is a 136-mile route that crosses from eastern Oklahoma to Central Arkansas and ends at Pinnacle Mountain just outside of Little Rock. Since it runs through Queen Wilhelmina State Park, we decided to hike a section of it to check it out. We decided to hike 3 miles along the trail until we reached the U.S. Forest Service lookout tower.

I was going to write this one up on the Hikemaster's Trail Description Site. Especially since I was excited about the 360 degree panoramic views that were supposedly present from the lookout tower. I checked the internet and it said the tower was open to the public from Memorial Day to Veterans Day. But, I decided to post it here, for reasons I'll explain below.

Beautiful maples just below Lover's Leap
The trail starts out as the Lover's Leap Trail at the state park lodge. The trail heads into the oak-hickory forest with some scattered views through the trees. The trail is rocky, as the substrate of the mountain is mostly talus with little in the way of soil. After a 1/3rd of a mile, you come up to the rocky slope above and see the platform of Lover's Leap with the views on top.

Not long afterwards, you arrive at a stone marker and the sign for the Ouachita Trail. We headed out in that direction and the trail begins to descend to a saddle below. You are essentially following the Scenic Road, but it remains above you and out of sight and you can only slightly hear the traffic.

A view opens up in the canopy
The trail is pretty rocky with lots of loose talus. I was glad I had my hiking sticks with Hilina on my back. She hiked down to the saddle, but went on my back once we started back uphill. There are views between the trees of the valley below. After reaching the bottom of the saddle, it begins to climb to the next summit. Then, it goes along the side of the ridge to yet another summit.

Taking a rest after climbing a section
Eventually, after 2.5 miles of relatively difficult hiking (mostly because of the substrate), you come out onto the road. The elevation loss and gain isn't really that much and either is the distance. Mostly it is just keeping your balance with 40 lbs on your back, with large loose rocks below your feet. Here at the road, the Ouachita Trail crosses the road and heads down the slope of the otherside of the mountain on its way to the bottom of the valley and then back up onto Black Fork Mountain (the next parallel ridge).

So, at this point, you just start walking down the road toward the fire lookout tower, which is obvious on the next summit down about 1/2 mile away. The shoulder is quite wide, as they mow it as a fire break. So, you are not having to deal with the traffic.

As you arrive at the access road to the tower, there is a sign that says that tower is open to the public from Noon to 4pm on weekends. Well, we checked our watch and it was 12:05pm and it was a Saturday. So, we were really excited to get that panoramic view. The views to the north were always obscured by trees, so this was our chance. Well, when we got there it was all locked up and they DO NOT want anyone going up there as it is surrounded by a tall fence with razor wire on the top.

We waited a while thinking maybe the attendants were just running late. But, one hour later, they still never showed up. Car after car drove up, people looked in confusion, and then continued on their way. Finally, we gave up and hiked back without getting that wonderful view. When I asked at the lodge about it upon our return, they didn't know what happened. They said it is normally open on weekends. So, without those panoramic views, I decided I wouldn't post it at

Black Fork Mountain across the valley
Oh well, if you ever end up on Talimena Scenic Byway and get to the fire lookout for the scenic views, maybe you can take some pictures for us. But, we can't complain. It was a nice hike, with wonderful weather, some nice views, and an interesting chance to just taste of flavor of the Ouachita National Scenic Trail.

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