The Ozark NF is more than just a scenic destination. For many decades, off-roaders have traveled on the many unpaved roads and trails of this rugged forest and camped alongside the many rivers and spring-fed creeks. During Spring and early Summer, the Buffalo National River is a favorite destination for canoers and kayakers. In the northern section is a famous small mountain with bluffs on all sides called Sam͛s Throne, where technical rock climbers top rope 30 to 40 ft. routes of varying difficulties. A friend of mine wrote the climber͛s guidebook back in the 1980͛s.
Growing up just north of the Arkansas/Missouri border, I frequented this area as a college student back when I drove a 1974 Dodge Power Wagon 4x4. The famous Ozark Highlands Trail is a backpacker͛s delight. I backpacked portions of the scenic trail and fondly remember coming across civil war era remnants. I long to return to the area and explore more of the trail.
Wildlife is plentiful in this region as well. Back in 1993, my girlfriend at the time (she͛s now my wife) and I had finished a day of rock climbing at Sam͛s Throne and were driving down the switchback dirt road. As we rounded one of the corners, I hit the brakes just before hitting a black bear standing in the road. On another trip, we saw the largest rattlesnake I͛ve ever seen—24 years later, I have not found one as big.
In October of this year, I joined a group of Arkansas residents for an expedition through the Ozark National Forest. Our destination objective was to arrive at the first annual Rendezvous in the Ozarks: a small overland-themed expo (see event story in this issue). Thankfully, the Arkansas wildlife did not disappoint. On our first morning, we spotted a large Elk bull far across a field near a creek. It was a beautiful sight through binoculars. On our 2nd night of camping, we observed an eagle glide over the river, such a peaceful ending to the last twilight.
Over the next 3 days, we came across a maintained historic homestead, a maintained historic school, old cemeteries, and many waterfalls. Arkansas has so many waterfalls that someone wrote a guidebook. What I learned on this trip was the best camping spots are the most difficult to access, which is a good thing. Not only did we have these areas to ourselves, we had fun getting to them. Our leader, Dave Lay, drove his 60-series Land Cruiser through the narrow natural canopies, the many water crossings and mud holes, and tight tree situations with ease. He grew up in the area and started exploring these trails back when he became old enough to drive. I won͛t reveal his age, but it was long before digital GPS handhelds existed.
Pat Bowen in his well-equipped AEV Jeep pulled his military box trailer and carried the rear. I͛ve experienced quite a few trips with Pat and knew I would enjoy this area and these tight access routes. My 4x8 Hiker Trailer was the right width for the few natural forest canals we traveled as a wider trailer would not have fit. At times I felt like I was in a forest right out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most of the trails and roads we traveled in the Ozark NF were accessible for larger rigs and trailer, but Dave and Pat purposely chose the secret scenic campsites, so I could see them and partake in the challenging access trails.
The Fall colors of orange and yellow were starting to show, with some trees already displaying dark reds. The rivers were low, making for easy water crossings. We were greeted by multiple old bridges standing strong over small river branches, and larger one-lane trestle bridges over larger water expanses.
In addition to primitive camping, there are several NF designated campgrounds with limited services. Traveling on the curvy and hilly paved roads guarantee an encounter with old fashioned restaurants, stores, and gas stations. We dined at one such place in Oark, AR called the Oark Café and General Store, established in 1890. We feasted on delicious burgers followed by wonderful homemade pie.
Trust me, it͛s possible to find excellent Overland adventure through the Ozark National Forest. Consider adding this beautiful area to your ͚must see͛ lis
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