Backpacking The Ouachita Trail
Join BCO on a great backpacking adventure on the Ouachita Trail in Oklahoma and Arkansas. We will spend 4 days on the trail hiking from Queen Wilhemina State Park to the Winding Stair Campground. The fall colors should be great at this time of year. This is a scenic part of the trail. There should be plenty of water on this part of the trail.
We will carpool from Houston to the Winding Stair campground and take a shuttle to Queen Wilhemina State Park where we will spend the night. The following morning we will head out onto the trail and spend the next 3 days hiking back to our cars. On the last day, we will finish up our hike and drive on home.
This trip is not for beginners. We will be hiking 22 miles in 2-1/2 days.
General Area: The Ouachita National Forest in this area is a hardwood pine mix. Dominating the deciduous trees are oaks, followed by hickory, sugar maple, sweetgum, hornbeam and basswood. The dominate pine is the short leaf. Before the Ouachitas were settled, the forest eco-system was defined by short-leaf pine and blue stem grass. The long term goal of the Ouachita National Forest is to return the range to its pre settlement condition by using controlled burns to simulate the natural fire cycle.
The Queen Wilhelmina Hike. Begin at Queen Wilhelmina Lodge (view looking southwest) and head west across the parking lot to the trailhead (OT-22 view looking north) on Talimena Scenic Drive (AR 88 and OK 1). The trail stays high on the ridge of Rich Mountain for 5.2 miles until it cross the state line. Like Black Fork Mountain to the north, Kiamichi Mountain to the south and Winding Stair Mountain to the west, Rich Mountain is formed from near vertical beds of Jackfork sandstone, thrusted and faulted into place during the Ouachita Orogeny 300 million years ago. The Jackfork is a deepwater turbidite, meaning that it was formed by sediments sloughing off the continental slope like an underwater landslide. For this to make a little more sense, picture what this area looked like back then. As denoted by shallow water sediments and coal deposits such as you might find in the Mississippi Delta, the land to the north was continental margin. To the south was a deep abyssal plane slowly being rolled up by the encroachment of a proto-South America. As South America got closer, the earthquakes cause massive amounts of sediment to cascade down into the closing trough. By the time the continental collision was done, the unconsolidated turbitic sand was lithified and thrusted over its self. Add a few hundred million years of erosion and you can build a trail.
The first couple miles of the trail is a broad promenade through the woods. However, once you pass Pioneer Cemetery with its primitive native rock headstones, the trail narrows to a single track footpath. While there are few places where you can glimpse Kiamichi Mountain to the south, the best views are during leaf-off. If the leaves are still on, you’ll recognize the mockernut hickories by their 12 inch leaves shaped like a broad spear blade.
The Kiamichi Hike: At the state line (an alternate trailhead, OT-21) the trail begins a 1,200 feet decent over 3 miles to the Kiamichi River (OT-20). Once in the valley, the trail crosses the river 8 times in 2.3 miles (marked as a red X on the map). The crossings are usually a dry boulder hop, but there was plenty of evidence that after a very heavy rain, the river can be un-fordable.
Much of this section of the trail follows a long abandoned road bed so except for some of the rocky areas, the hike is a cruise through the oak, hickory, maple and shortleaf pine forest of the Fourche Mountain eco-system. Being a wilderness area, no vehicles are allowed in this section, including mountain bikes, hang gliders, ATVs or motorcycles. There are several primitive riverside sites along this section providing several options for camping, including one at OT-20 (8.2 miles) and at the last crossing near OT-19 (11.1 miles). The last campsite on the river is 12.5 miles into the hike, where the Kiamichi turns to the east and ends its dance with the trail (OT-18/19, view looking southwest). Although Kiamichi access road is only 0.3 miles down the trail ( OT-18), if you are going to complete the entire hike, you better top off your water bottle.
The Pashubbe Hike: At mile 12.8 (OT-18, Kiamichi Map) begin an 1,100 foot ascent of Wilton Mt. At the top is a great campsite (OT-17), but you have to be willing to haul your water up 2.5 miles (been there, done that and well worth it). Now its down 1,100 feet over 2.3 miles to Pashubbe Creek, another trailhead (OT-16). The creek crossing its self is multi channeled with lots of boulders and as such may appear dry from the trail. Often times pools and running water can be found up stream. The last 3.8 miles to US 259 hops over some ridge and crosses some surprisingly dependable creeks. Plenty of places to camp if you can stretch one more day.
Ouachita Trail-Winding Stair Recreation Area to US Highway 259: We will actually hike this section east to west. Track provided by JD Blackwell. JD heads up the volunteer Ouachita Trail maintenance effort for the Green Country Outdoor Club and is a member of the Friends of the Ouachita Trail.
This map actually starts closer to Horse Thief Springs and includes the junction of the east Billy Creek Trail with the Ouachita Trail. The OT stays on the north side of Talimena Drive and travels southeast to the hiker''s parking lot west of the Winding Stair Recreation Area. The trail crosses the scenic drive to the south and goes up a forest road to the top of West Billy Peak (2451 ft). After crossing a saddle to East Billy Peak, the trail makes a steep decent using 26 switchbacks to a saddle (1780 ft) and then ascends to near the top of Rough Mt (2171 ft). Now it is a gradual down hill along a ridge to FR 6023. There is a hunters camp near the intersection and usually water in Red Spring.
The trail continues down hill, working its way down the east side of Simmons Mt until it crosses Cewdar Creek. While Cedar Creek is a dependable water source the draw back about camping on it is its proximity to the traffic on US 259. The trailhead parking lot on US259 is on the west side of the highway.