Spring and fall are great for getting out to enjoy the outdoors in Arkansas. However, for me, the dead of winter is the time to explore The Natural State, no bugs, no snakes, and best of all no leaves to block the beautiful views.
On a recent January day, when the weather person’s rainy forecast missed its mark and after a bright sun burned off the last lingering clouds, some friends and I decided to take advantage of this winter gift. We laced up our hiking boots, loaded into our vehicles, to head for the mountains.
The hike had been an impulse decision, and the day was already half over, so we were not looking for an epic demanding hike. We just wanted to get out in the woods and not spend a lot of time on the drive.
Living in the River Valley, we had so many options. Should we travel north to the rugged Ozark Plateau or drop southward to the pine-forested Ouachitas?
We knew we couldn’t go wrong with either choice, but I had the perfect area in mind, and we set a course northward.
On a beautiful drive up the scenic Pig Trail, we stopped off at Turner Bend Store along the way to pick up a selection of their thick delicious homemade sandwiches for lunch on the trail. We then dropped a shuttle vehicle at the Indian Creek Trailhead as we drove along Highway 215 on our way to Lick Branch Trailhead.
Full daypacks on our backs, dogs off leash, and hiking sticks in hand, we began trekking up the gentle grade heading west on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).
As we continued the ascent up the hillside the views to our east opened up more with each step. With no leaves blocking the view the bluff line bordering the mountainside across the hollow was totally exposed. We could follow the deep cracks in the wall of rock, and also spot large house-sized boulders scattered across the hillside. You don’t witness the true character of the mountains hiking during any other season.
As we continued up the hillside, the path led us head-on into a ten-foot-tall solid rock wall, before ducking through a crevice between huge boulders that formed a path which climbed to the top of the bluff line.
I had always thought how pleased Tim Ernst and his volunteers must have been when they discovered this natural path down the bluff when they were building the OHT. It would have meant constructing a long reroute to the end of the bluff line to find a way down without that path.
After topping the ridge then crossing a little-used logging road, we had reached the highlight of our hike, Marinoni Scenic Area.
The trail dropped down into a small canyon, following a cascading brook bordered on each side by high bluffs and huge beech trees. It also passed several small waterfalls trickling over bluff ledges of feeder streams.
We scrambled up a hillside on the eastern bank of a stream then climbed a short rock face to reach a little known natural arch. Only the most observant hikers will spot the small arch without knowing its location. Many who have passed through here have yet to view it.
Further down the canyon, we passed a well-frequented campsite before beginning our hike up the opposite hillside. Soon we reach the Indian Creek Spur Trail and knew only a short .7 mile downhill hike remained to reach the trailhead where we had left our shuttle vehicle.
Just before crossing Highway 215 to end our hike we paused to visit a memorial for my late wife, Dawna Robinson, the leaf imprints on the rock slab blending in so beautifully with the hillside.
Upon reaching the car we then perched on a large boulder on the bank of a swiftly flowing Mulberry River and treated ourselves to an adult beverage to celebrate another OHT Adventure!
Pick up a copy of Tim Ernst’s, Ozark Highlands Trail Guide (#6 edition), and plan your own OHT Adventure.