The Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) National Recreation Trail is a beautiful 223-mile thru-hike that winds through the vast and spectacular terrain of the Ouachita National Forest with the entire trail running from Oklahoma to Alabama.
There are some amazing trails, like the Ouachita Trail, in the United States that don’t get the love or attention they should, many are very well known within their locality but as you get further away you hear less and less until it is forgotten.
What makes this trail unique is that it is one of the few East to West trails overall, and it offers anyone who chooses to explore it an amazing experience traveling through the Ouachita National Forest.
The Ouachita Mountains offer spectacular scenery and a wilderness experience, with much of the route following ridges and crest lines. The trek follows solid blue blazes while avoiding settlements and heavily traveled routes, which might be inconvenient for resupply but provide a genuine sense of isolation.
The Ouachita Trail at a Glance
- Length: 223 miles
- Elevation Gain: ~34,000 feet
- Expected Completion Time: (10-15 days, averaging 16-25 miles a day)
- Location: Eastern Oklahoma to Central Arkansas
- Best season(s) to hike: Early spring is good for mild temperatures, no crowds, and no bugs, but fall would provide more foliage and probably more water. Summertime if you want to swim in the rivers and if you’re carrying loads of permethrin.
- Trail Type: point-to-point (Talimena State Park in Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas)
- Scenery: Unbroken pine forests, pine-oak woodlands, lots of rocky outcroppings, beautiful water
- Difficulty: Moderate, with no huge elevation gains, but lots of uneven trail due to rocks and roots
- Navigation: You can find the map on FarOut (formerly known as Guthook). Old school topo maps are also available on the Friends of the Ouachita Trail website. The blazes are blue and the trail is remarkably well-maintained and fairly easy to follow in almost every section.
Ouachita Trail Backpacking Thru-Hiking Guide
From Talimena State Park in Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock, Arkansas, the 223-mile National Recreational Trail passes through the Ouachita Mountains.
There are no permits or registration required to hike any part of the OT, so this trail is open to all when ready to begin without waiting for any paperwork.
When to Hike the Ouachita Trail
For most the best option to hike will be when you have plenty of water and milder temperatures. This allows you to enjoy the trail and the scenery and not stress over as much of the issues you may otherwise face.
For a large portion of the hiking population, the best time to hike the Ouachita Trail would be shoulder seasons like spring and fall. Spring is post-winter and water is consistently available, Fall offers the changing of leaves and a drop in temp from Summer but can be shorter of water access.
Now you could choose summer and some serious heat and short water circumstances with enough caching and preparation, similar to winter there can be hard and fast incoming storms with massive snow and freezing or just even just heavy rain making both very dangerous for those not fully geared and prepared.
Finding Your Way – Trail Markers and Navigation
The Ouachita Trail uses blue blazes for its trail markers. These are typically big and easy to see. They will be on trees, posts, or rocks every so often along the trail. Their spacing can vary but they are always supposed to be in view from the previous marker.
This trail is very similar to some of the longer trails with some solid pointless ups and downs (PUDs) which can be exhausting for those not used to the consistent climb and descent approach, look at you Texas!
The start from the West from Talimena heading towards Queen Wilhelmina Lodge is pretty solidly rocky and it can be very easy to roll an ankle by stepping onto unstable footing when trying to move fast down the trail.
If you start from the East at Pinnacle you will have fewer PUDs while you build yourself up into the mountains and the end after Queen Wilhelmina Lodge will be much easier on legs and feet that are more tuned from the previous 150miles prior.
Hiking Eastbound vs Westbound
As with most trails you can choose to hike the Ouachita Trail in either direction, East to West or West to East. The trail is marked mileage-wise counting up from West to East so note if you like to follow the trail marking numbers you will want to hike Eastbound.
The overall consensus is that the easier way ease yourself into the hike would be to start in the East on Pinnacle Mountain as more flat and less rocky.
East Bound from Talimena State Park
If you are coming from out of town or state then it is good to know it is around a two and a half-hour drive from Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma to Talimena State Park.
Eastbound you start from Talimena State Park, going under a nice new entrance sign welcoming you to the Ouachita Trail, this start is nice taking you by a creek and then you begin climbing and the rocks.
The rocks continue throughout but they are worst on these first few sections through to Queen Wilhelmina Lodge then they begin to lighten and many find their speeds increase and mileage goes much higher per day.
West Bound from Pinnacle State Park
If from out of state to reach the eastern terminus in Pinnacle Mountain State Park requires about 25 minutes from Little Rock, Arkansas from Clinton National Airport.
If you start Westbound from Pinnacle you can hike some serious miles before hitting the much more rocky west side allowing your legs to get better under you.
In addition, this direction has much more of a flat start so you can work your way to a peak instead of heading right out and uphill.
Planning Your Resupply – Key Towns and Stops Along the Trail
The trail doesn’t run parallel to many trail towns so you need to look into ways to resupply and have a solid plan to get resources along the trail as there is no simple walk into town directly.
Heaverner at Mile 30
Located a ways off the trail when it crosses highway 259 you can get a ride into town to get food and access restaurants but as with most resupply locations along this trail, you will have to travel to reach them.
Queen Wilhelmina Lodge at Mile 51.5
The lodge is located on Rich Mountain at the high point of the trail at 2610 feet and unlike the other points on the list the lodge is not full of stores to resupply from but a place for a meal or three, amazing bedrooms, and views.
They are good to send a resupply box to for pickup(always call ahead to check on this though) and not a full resupply area. The big benefit is being available directly on the trail and a place to get a zero in and recover from the rocky terrain.
Mena, Arkansas at Mile 68
Mena is a place many will get a hitch to or set up a ride prior as it is south of the trail on Highway 59 so it is not what most would term a “walking distance” from the trail but it is the biggest town in the area with full accommodations, restaurants, and shops including a Walmart for better variety and needs.
Bluebell Cafe in Story, Arkansas at Mile 122
You can schedule a pickup with Lori, the owner of Bluebell Cafe on a large range of the trail but since they are a smaller store please make sure to buy a solid meal or two and some goods to keep them in business.
Bluebell will also accept resupply drops so if you have special dietary needs they are a nice place to have a drop to pick up along the trail after the Lodge or Mena to top-up for the end.
Important: There is no cell phone service at the Highway 2771 trailhead, nor is there Verizon service in Story. Lori recommends hikers call from the Suck Mountain Shelter (mile 109) to pre-arrange rides.(1)
As I find good resources I will continue to update the section below as I have enjoyed my 2 overnights on this trail and have a plan to thru-hike this trail by next year.
Alltrails – If you are looking for good map sections the Alltrails app and if you have or sign up for Pro can print out maps to carry with you.
This is the book I picked up to learn more about the trail and he has done a very good job in helping prepare someone for the trail, for anyone seriously looking to hike this is a way to help be fully prepared and understand the trail in greater depth than any post could cover alone!
Trail Maps and GPX Data
If you want to download and use your mapping software or print then check out the following quick links:
- Farout (Formerly Guthooks) – Preferred by many hikers but relies on having a powered mobile device. Can download maps for offline use and if online people can comment in real time to provide helpful details to other hikers.
- OuachitaMaps.com (Direct files to download and print)
- Forest Service
- FoOT Water Source Details
Friends of the Ouachita Trail
FoOT is shorthand for Friends of the Ouachita Trail, they are a non-profit organization (IRS 501c3) created by trail users to maintain the Ouachita National Recreation Trail as a healthy and enjoyable outdoor recreational asset.
Ouachita Trail Ends
There are two termini on the Ouachita Trail from the West Terminus at Talimena to the East Terminus at Pinnacle State Park, both offer a unique experience, and if you can I recommend starting from both ends!
Ouachita Trail Western Terminus: Talimena State Park, Oklahoma(Talimena Drive)
The western terminus is found at the Talimena State Park in Oklahoma, it is a very scenic drive with great views and many places to camp along the way as you travel.
This is where most people will start their journey as it offers the easiest access to most people coming from around the United States.
Ouachita Trail Eastern Terminus: Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Arkansas
The eastern terminus is located at Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas, this end has much more of an urban feel to it being so close to Little Rock. There are still many great places to camp and hike in the area, Pinnacle Mountain being one of them.
It is worth noting that if you are coming from the East it may be easier to start your journey at this end as opposed to the West.
Finding Shelter – Location of Trail Shelters
There are shelters at around 8-mile increments along the entire length of the OT and this can provide you a nice place to take a break or to get a good night’s rest without setting up your shelter.
Note that these are very AT-style shelters but there is no privy and many are not in the vicinity of water sources, so you may need to carry in water and scout out a privy location.
Below each is listed along with the GPS coordinates to help you plot their location as necessary if you use a GPS locator it can be helpful for friends and family notifications and expectations.
Oklahoma State Shelters
|GPS Coordinates||Mile Marker||Shelter Name|
|34.7719, -94.8541||9.3||Rock Garden|
|34.7467, -94.7684||16.8||Holson Valley|
|34.7092, -94.6774||25.2||Winding Stair|
|34.6928, -94.4522||46.5||State Line|
Arkansas State Shelters
|GPS Coordinates||Mile Marker||Shelter Name|
|34.6907, -94.3103||57.8||Black Fork Mountain|
|34.6865, -94.1744||69.0||Foran Gap|
|34.6763, -94.0119||79.8||Turner Gap|
|34.6687, -93.8566||90.4||Brushy Mountain|
|34.6918, -93.7223||100.9||Fiddler Creek|
|34.7242, -93.6286||108.6||Suck Mountain|
|34.7266, -93.5405||116.7||Story Creek|
|34.7520, -93.4846||122.6||John Archer|
|34.7435, -93.4277||127.6||Bill Potter|
|34.7348, -93.3561||133.9||Big Branch|
|34.7164, -93.2895||143.2||Blue Mountain|
|34.7250, -93.1892||150.6||Big Bear|
|34.8197, -93.0331||167.4||Oak Mountain|
|34.8742, -92.8688||182.4||Brown Creek|
|34.8522, -92.7955||189.5||Nancy Mountain|
Final Thoughts on the Ouachita Trail
Overall, the Ouachita Trail is a moderate difficulty point-to-point hike that offers anyone who chooses to explore it an amazing experience and some of the best hiking in Arkansas and surrounding areas. The Ouachita national forest provides spectacular scenery along with isolation, with the Ouachita mountains being one of the few east to west trails overall.
Now that you have a little more information about the Ouachita Trail, what are your thoughts? Is this something you’d be interested in doing? If so, I highly recommend checking out our gear-related content to make your trek as enjoyable as possible.
As always, feel free to leave us a comment below and let us know what you think! I am still learning and prepping for this hike and reading and watching everything I can consume to get ready!