Snow on the Ouachita Trail: Highway 7 Trailhead to Lundsford Crossing
3 days (+ 1 zero day)
This is a continuation of my Ouachita Trail trip log. Read the rest my Ouachita Trail notes here.
Starting Point Hwy 7 Trailhead (MM 160.8)
Day 13: Hiked 13 miles to Forest Service Road 132 (MM 173.7)
My dad dropped us while it was still dark. Rain and snow were coming in so we decided to hike just for the morning and then head to North Little Rock to spend the night at home, plus we would be picking up a third hiker for the last section…Taido.
The morning started out clear though. We could see the little sliver of the moon and even Venus as we drove to the trailhead. We hiked for a little while with headlamps, but soon the light came over the hills and turned everything golden.
This 13 miles was some of the prettiest I remember from the whole trail. In fact, it would be a great day hike if you live in Central Arkansas. There is excellent parking available at the Highway 7 Trailhead, and you could easily plant a second car somewhere along Forest Service Road 132, which has several access points. Or you could just do an in and out hike from Highway 7. The trail is lovely in both directions from there.
Hiking east from Highway 7, we criss-crossed over gorgeous cascading streams around MM 164.
There are also lovely views of Fork Mountain from the ridges, especially with the leaves off of the trees. Dad had told us that Fork Mountain is the only technical climb in Arkansas. (Of course he’s climbed it.)
We were still in the Ouachita Mountains, getting closer to the Flatside Wilderness.
I was still spotting sparkling crystal in the rocks as we walked.
Dad met us with hot coffee about halfway through the morning since the trail crosses Forest Service Road 132 several times. I was grateful for warm cups as the air was cold this day.
We hiked mostly on our own, Kandace up in front and me following along behind. We made it through this 13 mile day with ease compared to the previous day in the rain.
Since we started so early, we finished before noon and then drove back to my parents’ house in North Little Rock.
It was surreal to be back at home but also not quite done with our hike. We enjoyed soup and bread at home and an evening by the fireplace inside. I took a long bath and then iced my ankle while sitting by the fire.
It was raining in Little Rock, but back on the trail snow was falling. We took a zero day to wait for Taido to arrive and join us the next day on the trail.
Day 14: Hiked 15.8 miles to Nancy Mountain Shelter (MM 189.5)
We left home super early to drive back to the trail.
We were so surprised when we drove up into the hills to see that there was snow everywhere!
Dad dropped us on the Forest Service road where we had left off and then planted us a pack full of supplies at Nancy Mountain Shelter, where we planned to spend the night.
We were only carrying water and lunch, but we had a lot of miles to cover. We really threw Taido into the fire starting him out with a 16 mile day in the snow. Kandace and I had been building up our legs for the previous couple of weeks, but Taido had been sitting grading papers for those same two weeks.
It was beautiful though.
The snow was really just a dusting, and we knew it would melt later, so we enjoyed the morning of hiking in the winter wonderland.
The snowy trails meant that Kandace and I had managed to hike in every possible kind of weather during our time on the Ouachita Trail. We’d been freezing cold, soaking wet and we’d had a few afternoons of stripping down to sit in the sunshine.
You just can’t predict what kind of weather you’re going to get in Arkansas in December.
As the snow melted, the trail became muddy and wet.
Our boots soaked through as we hiked and by lunch, I could tell that my socks were wet all the way to my feet.
When we reached Flatside Pinnacle Wilderness, we hiked up the spur to the viewpoint.
It only adds a little bit to the OT, but we couldn’t see much from the top.
A fog had come in and covered everything below.
The wind was blowing enough that the air was moving a lot and we caught a few peekaboo views through the fog, but it was also super cold when you stopped walking, so we carried on pretty quickly.
Once we hiked down from Flatside, we reached an area where the snow was gone. Now it was just cold and muddy.
We stopped for lunch at Browns Creek Shelter (MM 182.5).
Again, we started to get cold quickly, so we ate up our tuna and pringles and pushed on.
The afternoon brought a little welcome sunshine to our faces.
I was grateful for every bit of sunshine we got on the OT!
We stopped near Lake Sylvia to get water, knowing we would be up too high for water later in the day.
After filling up, it was a pretty steady climb up to Nancy Mountain.
It was cold enough though that I didn’t shed layers, even going uphill.
By the time we reached Nancy Mountain Shelter at 3:30pm, the cold air was soaking through to my bones. My feet were freezing, so we quickly got a fire going and tried to get our boots and socks dry.
I was exhausted from the long day.
I took these photos lying down on the ground, watching the sunlight fade.
This was going to be our last night sleeping on the trail. We were both excited that Taido had joined us. We were all tired from the day, so it was good to have new blood on the team.
We ate our last rehydrated meals (veggie curry and rice) and drank up everything we had brought…wishing we had more.
After trying to get warm by the fire for too long, we finally crawled into our sleeping bags for real warmth.
It was a new moon so the stars were shining bright as we fell asleep.
Hiked 23 miles to Lunsford Crossing (MM 212.5)
We woke up early, drank our coffee, ate our oatmeal and got moving.
It was so cold, so we were anxious to get warm by walking.
But even with over twenty miles of walking, I never felt like I could get warm this day.
We had a car planted about 2 miles into our hike (at the Highway 9 Trailhead) so that we could drop our gear for our longest mileage day. My parents were going to come pick this car up later and meet us at the end of this day.
This section crosses private land so you aren’t allowed to camp. That means you either have to make an extra long day of hiking or stealth camp illegally. We were opting for the long hike. The elevation is lower through this section but it is deceptive to think of it as flat. There is still plenty of up and down through here, even if it’s not quite as steep as other sections of the trail.
We also ran into more water crossings. And with the snow melted from the day before, some of them were deeper than we had anticipated.
Since we were already so cold, we were not excited to have wet feet again. I got wet on the second crossing. I pushed on through the miles and tried not to think about it.
When we reached the 200 mile marker, I couldn’t believe we had made it that far. But also I felt like I was going to collapse knowing we still had 10 more miles to go.
I sent out an SOS to my parents since I knew they were coming out to shuttle the cars around and asked them for dry socks and hot tea. So they graciously met us when we still had 6-8 miles left and we were able to get warm again.
This section follows the north shore of Lake Maumelle, which I enjoyed seeing. The lake kind of helped orient me. The lower sections of the trail were super wet and muddy along the lake.
We were powering through so quickly that I didn’t feel like I stopped to enjoy the views at all. I told myself I would need to come back and walk along this lake shore again to enjoy it, only I would like to come back when it’s sunny and warm!
We did spot a few places that folks have turned into camping spots even though it’s not technically permitted.
We had to get wet a couple more times for crossings. Kandace actually fell down in this crossing, so I walked on through with my boots on and said a sad goodbye to my dry socks.
The last 4 miles seemed to stretch out forever. There was cloud cover all day so I kept thinking it was about to get dark, even when the sunset was still far out. I think I had started the day worried that we wouldn’t finish by dark, and somehow that stuck with me all day. But we did make it to Lunsford Crossing before dark.
That last section was just a march to get the miles done, which I kind of regretted. I felt like we had really taken our time to enjoy the trail up until this day and I didn’t want to end by just pushing to get the distance behind me. I spent way too much of this day wishing I had broken the long day up and just added an extra day. But of course there was no way to change it at this point and by the time we finished I was grateful we only had 10 miles left to do.
We were all sort of hobbling by the end!
There are not any markings at Lunsford Crossing, so Dad had a bit of trouble finding it, but he managed and we were so glad to see him when we came off the trail!
It had been a crazy, long day. We went home and had a big pasta dinner.
Our families were going to be joining us for the big finale, an easy 10 miles!
We were meeting the next morning at 9am. We could even sleep in a little the next day!
The 31-mile section of the Ouachita Trail from Highway 7 to Highway 9 would be a fun + beautiful weekend backpacking trip with a long Saturday hike and shorter sections for Friday and Sunday. You can stay in shelters both nights so you don’t need to carry a tent.
Friday: Drop a car at Highway 9 Trailhead and drive back in a second car to Highway 7 (MM 160.8). Hike 6.6 miles (east) to Oak Mountain Shelter at Mile Marker 167.4. Spend the night.
Saturday: Walk 15 miles east from Oak Mountain Shelter (167.4) to Browns Creek Shelter (MM 182,4). Spend the night.
Sunday: Enjoy a slow Sunday morning by the fire. Hike 9.4 miles east to your car at Highway 9 (MM 191.8). Drive back and pick up your car at the other trailhead and head home.
You can find more info about the Ouachita Trail on the Friends of the OT website. I used the Far Out (formerly Guthook) mapping app to hike the Ouachita Trail and it’s wonderful for tracking water crossings and supplies.