Ozark Highlands Trail – Hare Mountain to Lick Branch

The Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) runs 165 miles through the Ozark National Forest in northwest Arkansas – between Lake Ft Smith State Park and the Buffalo National River at Wollum.  I completed a four day 16 mile hike across most of section 3 with three other local Sierra Clubbers.  It was my first time on the OHT.

Yep, this is the right place

We started Thursday at the Hare Mountain (aka Morgan Fields) trail head after leaving another vehicle at our eastern terminus – the Lick Branch trail head.  We hiked about 2 miles north (640 foot ascent) to the top of Hare Mountain and camped there.  This is the highest point on the OHT at about 2360 feet.

Looking south-ish from near the top.

Our camp for night #1. There was some nice stone furniture around the fire ring. The picnic table was a nice touch but I wonder how the heck it got up there.

Sunrise. There is a lake near the horizon just right of center and I could see the fog rolling off into the valley below.

There was a homestead up here but all that’s left is part of the chimney and a hand-dug well (that was dry, naturally).

Friday morning we hiked back down the mountain and east into the Herrods Creek valley (5.1 miles, 1440 foot descent), where we expected to find water.  This area has been in a drought for a long time and the usually-scenic waterfalls we passed were all dry.

Yet another dry waterfall

“Walking sticks” were numerous. I probably saw more this weekend than in my entire life previously. I watched these two for awhile to see if they would burst into flame from rubbing together. They didn’t – at least not before I got bored.

One hill had a lot more “autumn color” than the others.

This rock has an interesting texture. I can’t imagine what would cause it to erode like this.

As  feared, there wasn’t much left of Herrods Creek.  Less than 100 yards south of the camping areas we found this puddle that seemed to have a bit of water seeping into it – enough to keep a couple dozen minnows alive – so we refilled our water bottles and camped for the night.

The trusty MSR MiniWorks is poised for action

Saturday morning we climbed Harrian Mountain and then descended to Indian Creek (3.6 miles, 490 feet up, 530 down).  It was also mostly dry but just north of the trail crossing was a good-sized puddle that was pretty clear and probably at least a foot deep with some 4-5 inch fish.  We stopped for lunch and topped-off our water bottles.

Afterward we started what seemed like an endless climb to the Briar Branch camp.  It was actually only 440 feet over 2.5 miles but we were all carrying a lot of water and the forest didn’t give us much shade for much of that distance so the hot afternoon sun had its way with us.  Next to the Briar Branch camp were many puddles and some had water trickling so this would have been a good source – if we hadn’t already stocked-up at Indian Creek.

In the spirit of leaving things better than I found them, I fixed some of the furniture here, leveling the seats and shimming the tables to keep them from rocking.

Sunday we climbed about 120 feet through the Marinoni Scenic Area.  It certainly is a very scenic area even without all the waterfalls.  Canyons, caves, natural bridges, huge boulders, it’s all here.  Unfortunately, the morning chill sapped the charge from my camera battery so I didn’t get many pictures here.

We then descended about 400 feet to the Lick Branch trail head – 2.75 miles for the day.  After retrieving the other vehicle from the Hare Mountain trail head we headed to Fayetteville for lunch at Denny’s, and then the long drive home.

This is the first outing where I didn’t get rained-on at least one night so I came home with a pretty dry tent.  I’m glad that streak ended.  This was also the first outing for my new Western Mountaineering “Caribou” sleeping bag – a 35 degree down bag.  It weighs less than 1.5 lbs so it cut about 2.5 lbs from my pack and compresses to 6″x6″ so it uses about 25% of the space compared to my old bag.  It’s a great bag for these moderate temperatures.

Tim Ernst calls this “one of the most rugged and remote areas in the state” and he should know.  We found it to be chock-full of solitude – we saw 2 hikers Friday afternoon at Harrods Creek and a couple ATV’s Saturday at Indian Creek but otherwise seemed to have the place all to ourselves.

There are still another 150+ miles of the OHT I haven’t seen, and of course the Ouachita Trail beckons too…

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About Michael R

I enjoy hiking, landscaping with native plants, nature photography, dark chocolate, fine dining, good movies, and old jazz.
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