Ozark Highlands Trail

OHT Trail Description: Morgan Mountain to Ozone (Maps 5-8)
March 25-28, 2011

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Ozone to Morgan Mountain: Although the title of this page is Morgan Mt to Ozone, the trail description is actually in reverse. The narrative begins at Ozone at about mile 85 and tracks west for 41 miles to Morgan Mt, mile 45.

The Forest: This trip is through your typical Ozark woodland of oak and hickory. In late March, though the first spring colors were just starting to appear, the forest was still cloaked in the grays and browns of winter. Some of the other trees you will see are:

  • Shortleaf pine. Generally found on the top of the flat-topped mountains it is easily identifiable by the brown platy bark and the 3 to 4 inch needles in groups of two and three. It is also probably the only pine you will see. The pines will be abundant at the Ozone trailhead and on top of Moonhull Mountain, your first climb.
  • Beech. Typically found in the hollows, especially Boomer Branch and Briar Creek, these deciduous trees have a smooth grey bark. In leaf-off, the smaller ones can be recognized by their light brown, leathery looking leaves, long (4-6 inches) with a pointed elliptical shape. The large trees can keep their dead leaves in the winter, too, but once they grow big enough to become part of the upper canopy, the elements strip them off. (Note: pictures from a different trip).
  • Redbud. This understory tree, along with the serviceberry, is one of the first to blossom (generally before the dogwoods). The redbuds are scarce in this part of the forest but they can't be missed this time of year with their purplish-pink blossoms. Before the blossoms come out, look for the thin grey bark and the legumes hanging like dark brown pea pods. In late spring through fall, look for the heart shaped leaf.
  • Sweetgum. The bark of the sweetgum is furrowed like an oak so the best way to identify them is to look for the mace-like devil balls on the ground. If you see them, look for them in the trees. In the summer, the 5 pointed star shaped leaf is the give away. I am used to the small sweetgums found in residential Tulsa and was really surprised to see a 100 tree in Indian Creek valley.
  • Dogwood. The dogwood is another obvious tree. Around mid-April the white bloom with four broad petals is the give away. While most are understory trees, there are some big ones that can be identified by the square-plated bark. (Note: pictures from a different trip).
  • Maple. The most likely maple you will see is the red maple. They are easily identified by the shape of the leaf. The bark is a medium texture; smoother than an oak and rougher than beech. The red maple is the vibrant red and orange of the Ozark forest in the fall.

The ground cover was still the winter carpet of dead leave but even during the four days on the trail the new spring foliage was emerging. The earliest of the phlox were out with their blue blossoms. We also saw pussy toes, spring beauty and bloodroot. Popping out of the forest litter like a tiny green bumbershoot with a yellow bell cap were the mayapples. Though some were already open, their number had noticeably increased by our last day. By the time April comes, they can cover large swaths of forest floor.

Ozone to Moonhull Mt (OHT Map 8): The hike begins at the Ozone Recreation Area on Highway 21, 16.8 mile north of Clarksville AR (OHT-27, OHT mile 85.6, trip mile 0.0). There is a well marked entrance to the trailhead parking lot on the left (northwest) side of the road. If you are shuttling from Morgan Mountain, use AR 215. It is paved from Highway 23 to Catalpa and is good gravel road to Highway 21 (FR 1003/Co 5440 where gravel). Saves a few minutes by taking the Co 5440 cut-off from the Mulberry valley to Highway 21.

The trail heads due north from the parking lot on a blue-blazed spur (the picture is looking south towards the parking lot). After reaching the junction with the OHT in about 100 feet, turn left and begin your trip down hill to the Mulberry River. Turning right will take you to Fairview. The OHT is blazed with white markers.

In a quarter mile you will step over a small creek. After 1.3 miles and a 500 foot descent, you will cross the FR 1003/Co 5440 ((OHT-26, OHT mile 84.3, trip mile 1.3). Cross the road and follow the road bed heading north to the Mulberry River. The Mulberry crossing (video) can be a dry boulder hop or a risky wet crossing, depending on recent rains. For us it was Friday morning, hours before the deluge, and an easy crossing once we found the right spot up stream.

The trail heads switch backs up the most flank of Moonhull Mountain for about 600 feet. Once you pass OHT mile marker 84, you are just about there. The next 1.6 miles is fairly level as you cross the top of Moonhull. As typical of the Boston Mountain province of the Ozarks, Moonhull has a flat top held up by the Pennsylvanian Atoka sandstone. The flatness is because although we call them the Ozark Mountains, they are really a dissected plateau and lack the mountain building episodes responsible for mountain ranges such as the Rockies, Appalachians and even the Ouachitas.

Next is an easy descent into Boomer Branch (OHT-25, OHT mile 81.8, trip mile 3.8). At the bottom, the trail comes right down to the creek and crosses to a small shoal. Boomer is a small scenic creek (video) with pools and a small bluff that forms a terrace on the west side. On top of the terrace is a small campsite.

The trail leaves the terrace and climbs about 160 feet up the nose of an extension of Brushy Ridge. Then is stays on a bench as it follows the contour of the ridge north past mile marker 81 and west past mile marker 80. It crosses the top of the ridge at trip mile 5.7 (OHT mile 79.9). The north-south section provide some good views of Boomer Branch. The last part of the hike up Brushy Ridge was as advertized, brushy.

Another 1.6 miles takes you to the top of Moonhull Mountain. First it is down almost 400 feet to Hignite Hollow (video) where you will find a creek-side campsite complete with a fire ring and furniture. Then it is up 400 feet past mile marker 79 and another brushy section of trail to Forest Road 1418 (OHT-24, OHT mile 78.3, trip mile 7.3).

Moonhull Mt to Hignite Gap (OHT Map 7):From FR 1418, the trail leads down to Waterfall Hollow (video), aptly named because of the three pour-offs that rim the east end of the valley. The trail down to mile marker 78 is good but soon after that is get sketchy. There is a lot of blow-down, or maybe it was damage from the ice storm of 2009. Whatever caused it, many of the trees that supported the trail are lying on their side with the rootstock forming minor obstacles. Also, the waterfalls have quite a bit of downed timber blocking their view.

After leaving the head of the hollow the trail begins to descend and soon crosses a forest road. The descent continues until the trail gets on a rocky bench passing several sandstone outcrops and some overhangs that could provide temporary shelter. The trail in this section is rocky. Although the tread was usually evident, the boulder strewn path slowed us down a bit. At about OHT mile 76.2 the forest opens up and the trail gets close enough to the creek (video) to warrant a break and time to ponder the beautiful woods around us.

Just past mile marker 76, the trail joins an old forest road (video). Time lost on the rocky terrain can now be made up as the forest boulevard meanders though level bottom land. There is a crossing at Lewis Prong at OHT mile 75.3 (trip mile 10.2) that should be no more than a boulder hop. The little escarpment on the other side is easily gained back around on the left. The next crossing is in 0.2 miles, Turner Hollow (video). It is totally different than all the other crossings in that the creek is on a bedding plane of Bloyd-Hale sandstone. This is one of the few areas of the hike where this rock unit is encountered. Moss tends to grow in this creek environment so the slab is slippery.

The next 1.1 miles stays on the road. Just as you approach Lewis Prong for the second time, the road turns rocky as it drops to the creek (OHT-23, OHT mile 74.1, trip mile 11.5). We had planned to camp at the creek that night so we began to scout the area for a site. There were no established sites on the north side and it was too sloped and rocky for a leave-no-trace (LNT) camp. Since our general strategy is to camp on the far side of a creek in case evening rains make the crossing more difficult or impossible, this was not a problem.

There was quite a bit of water in Lewis Prong (and this is before the rain) so although the crossing was a boulder hop, it was long and very tricky. The other side didn't have a real camp site, either. There was a small site literally next to the road about 100 feet up the trail but we passed on it for a nice little LNT camp between the trail and creek (video). You might be tempted by the large flat sandy area of woods a little closer to the creek. It looks inviting but the sand is due to water flow. After the flood at Albert Pike in 2010 and some of the other evidence of high water we have seen, we wanted a little higher ground.

A little of the Captain and our special backpacking version of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gray and it was time for bed. After midnight, a storm passed through and pounded us with rain for several hours. The lighting was bright even through the tent and my eyelids. Sleep was impossible so I counted the time between the lightning bolts and thunder. 15, 11, 8, 4, 3, 2, 1. When it got to a millisecond it was flash, boom, crack as we heard a tree fall in the woods.

In the morning we hiked 1.1 miles along roadbed to the next Lewis Prong crossing. As soon as you get to mile marker 73, the trail leaves the road and goes about 100 feet to the creek. The rain had done its job bringing much needed water to the new spring growth, but is also raised the level of Lewis Prong. A pantless crossing (video) was required.

It is about 2.1 from the last Lewis Prong crossing to the Arbaugh Road trailhead (OHT-22, OHT mile 70.9, trip mile 14.7). The path alternates between forest road and trail but is always up hill. One of the advantages of a heavy rain became evident in the two main drainages on the way up, little waterfalls in the pour-offs.

Arbaugh Road trailhead has room for about 4 or 5 cars (OHT-22, OHT mile 70.9, trip mile 14.7). There is also a sign in board. Cross the road and start heading down to Lynn Hollow. With all the rain the normally dry creek at the top of the mountain was at full flow. And below was a full fledged waterfall (video).

At Lynn Hollow (video) there is a blue spur trail to a swimming hole at the base of a cliff. The OHT crosses the creek, passes mile marker 70 and tracks along a bench with some views of Lynn Hollow. It leaves the bench after about a half mile and climbs gradually past mile marker 69 to two forest roads. The first road is a lesser road. The second is FR 1494 and OHT-21 (OHT mile 68.4, trip mile 17.2).

The trail enters the woods for a few hundred feet and hits another lesser forest road. To your right is a large drive-in hunter's camp. The trail takes you towards the left (east) of the camp and then peters out at the edge. Walk across the east side of the camp and you will find the trail on the other side. Once you are following the white blazes again, you will work your way around the head of Eldridge Hollow. It starts out with a small pour off and then the trail passes some car sized sandstone boulders covered with lichen and moss. Next were some bigger pour offs, culminating with a pretty hollow (video) with a water fall, overhang and plenty of water.

The OHT stays on a level bench in the vicinity of mile marker 67, works its way around another pour-off just below Hignite Gap and begins a 350 foot climb. After passing mile marker 66, there is a switch back and finally Forest Road 1474/1453 (OHT-20, OHT mile 65.7, trip mile 19.9).

Hignite Gap to Lick Branch (OHT Map 6): Map 6 begins at OHT-20 on Forest Road 1474/1453. The trail leaves the road and contours along a low outcrop at the head of Estep Creek. After dropping a little it, passes the mile marker 66 going south and then turns west, crosses forest road 1548 and heads through the forest to overlook Accord Hollow and mile marker 64. This mountain has no name that I have been able to ascertain but since I spent the next 18 hours there, I am hereby naming it Miller Mountain after the Miller Cemetery located right in the middle of it, southeast of mile marker 61.

The trail crosses Miller Mountain again, this time on a southerly course, to the edge of the Bowen Creek drainage. About a half mile after mile marker 63 the trail crosses FR 1548 again and parallels it. In another half mile, it turns northwest and leaves the edge of Bowman Creek drainage. On the left is a wildlife pond and a nice place to camp. A few steps later is a logging road, OHT-19 (OHT mile 62.1, trip mile 23.5) which, on your right, heads into a thick needle covered stand of pines and on your left, heads up a little hill into the hardwoods. Cross the road and pass mile marker 62 in about a hundred feet.

The pond is not a very good source for water. But since this location worked well for our daily mileage, we had cached a couple gallons of water on FR 1548. Since it had been cold and wet all day, we set up the tent and cooking tarp, kicked back with a little rum and made our beef stroganoff.

After packing up wet in the morning, we passed mile marker 61 and headed back to the west side of Miller Mountain and out first view of the Little Mulberry Valley (video) below. It was pretty grey so the video doesn't do it justice. A few minutes later, we passed the remnants of an old stone wall. As is typical in rocky terrain, the farmers dig up these stones while tilling, haul them to the edge of their property and stack them. The wall is usually just a secondary benefit. Here is a picture from Ireland showing it in the extreme.

The trail joins FR 1548 for a few hundred feet and the leaves it on the upside of the hill. Several hundred feet past mile marker 61 it swings to the northwest, goes down hill and crosses FR 1548 one last time.

In 0.6 miles there is a campsite on the right. It is worth stopping and checking out the bluff (video). The Atoka sandstone is fairly massive here and forms some 30 foot cliffs around a small drainage. The top is mossy and there is a small chasm where a huge section has broken away from the bedrock. There is a stream about 400 feet further down the trail that should be reliable most of the year. Across the creek, the OHT heads west along the top of a ravine and passes mile marker 60. The next 2 miles is a 600 foot descent on switch backs. My favorite part was the massive moss covered outcrop at the bottom of the mountain.

OHT-18 is where the trail intersects county road 5099 (OHT mile 58, trip mile 27.6). A note about the road numbers. They are a mess. There are forest road designations and county road designations and the numbers have changed in the last several years. I have used Google Maps, Mapquest, Ernst's book, sign posts and whatever but they don't all tell the same story. Sorry!

At OHT-18 turn left and cross the Little Mulberry River (video) on a concrete road bridge. No we feet here no matter how much rain (unless that Noah guy shows up). Stay on the road for 0.3 miles and just past the pasture on the right, turn right and follow the easement. Climbing out of the bar ditch you will see a stand of river cane. Follow the narrow easement for a little over 0.1 miles until the trail enters open forest. The forest up to mile marker 57 is hardwood on a fairly gentle but rocky hillside. Past mile 57, it becomes very rocky with bluffs to your right and boulders the size of a truck. I found this area very scenic.

The last part of this section is a boulder hop across Lick Branch. Cross county road 5051 (OHT-17, OHT mile 56.3, trip mile 29.3) and the Lick Branch trailhead is on the right.

Lick Branch to Morgan Mountain (OHT Map 5): The Lick Branch trailhead is accessed by going north from Highway 215 on Co 5099 for about 2 miles and then left on 5051. The parking lot has room for half a dozen cars. There is a big fire ring at the west end of the parking lot and a smaller campsite between the parking lot and the creek to the south. There are some social trails around the parking lot so follow the white blazes to get to the other side of the small creek.

The OHT climbs 200 feet to mile marker 56 and then follows the side of a hill heading south. After about a half mile it turns north and goes up the nose of the hill. At the top is a low bluff of dense sandstone. Some rather large parts have broken free of the bedrock and have slumped away forming a little rock maze. The trail climbs to the top of the bluff and heads westerly. For the next 0.3 mile the trail stays on top of this persistent sandstone layer until mile marker 55. Then the trail climbs a little and contours to FR 1541 (OHT-16, OHT mile 54.4, trip mile 31.2).

Some of the most scenic parts of the trip come in the next mile. This is Briar Branch and the Marinoni Scenic Area. As you descend into the hollow you'll pass huge boulders, a chimney shaped pinnacle, a small creek pool and then the Marinoni sign. But wait, there's more. The valley narrows and the sandstone bluffs get bigger. Above is 35 feet of cliff face (video) and below is a steep v-shaped valley filled with truck sized boulders and beech trees. When the valley begins to open up, the trail crosses the creek and there is a stone bench in an idyllic spot waiting for you to shed your pack and rest your feet. As the trail climbs out of the creek bed, there is a camp site below to the left. As Lloyd the shuttle driver says, this is a PPP, a pretty, pretty place!

The OHT climbs to an upper pine-covered bench and follows it past mile marker 53 for a mile. Just past mile marker 52 there is a blue trail coming up from the south on a logging road. This is the new spur 0.6 mile spur to the new Indian Creek Trailhead and canoe launch. It is a good sized parking lot on Highway 215.

It is just shy of a mile to Indian Creek on the OHT, all down hill. When the trail reaches the valley floor you will a large flat expanse of fairly open forest with lots of cedar and one really tall sweetgum. The main camp site is a little further down the trail near the creek and has an Arkansas fire pit and stone furniture. We opted for an LNT camp in a large open area next to a stand of river cane south of the trail on the east edge of the valley floor. However, with such a large flat area, you can find many other places to set up camp if need be.

We got a little more precipitation that night but we stayed dry under the cooking tarp as we had our kick back and made dinner: Cheese and asparagus soup supplemented with FD chicken and dehydrated asparagus, and a fried biscuit cake to sop it up.

After packing up wet, we headed for the creek crossing (OHT-15, OHT mile 51.1, trip mile 35.5). It looked like the Indian Creek had gone down a couple inches over night but it was still to high to boulder hop. Off with the boots (video), on with the Gore-tex sox.

There is a small camp on the west side with a small tent site on the little bluff and a big fire pit below on the creek bed. IMO the east side is a much nicer place to camp. Mile marker 51 is just past the crossing and marks the beginning of a 400 foot, 1.8 mile ascent. The climb ends at a forest road and then the trail begins the 1.8 mile descent to Herrods Creek. Just before mile marker 49 is a small trailside campsite. I marked it on the map but I don't recommend it. It is literally next to the trail and the little creek a little further down the trail seems like it would be very intermittent.

After another 0.4 miles of descent the trail comes to a small unnamed tributary of Herrods Creek. This is a beautiful little valley with waterfalls, moss covered bluffs and small water slides. Past mile marker 48 the valley opens up and crosses the tributary. The trail runs next to a forest road for a few 10ths until it crosses it and comes into the wooded bottom land of Herrods Creek (OHT-14, OHT mile 47.5, trip mile 38.1). Like Indian Creek it is level and there are lots of places to set up a tent. There are a couple established fire rings on the east side of the creek and one on the west side. In spite of the rain, we were still able to find a place to cross with dry feet. It was a little dicey, though, and a slip might have been a big problem. We took a break at the west side camp site and the sun finally came out. Figures, only an hour or so left in the hike.

The last 3 miles to the trailhead is a gradual uphill followed by a fairly level walk along the side of Morgan Mountain. Within 0.2 miles of Herrods Creek there is a blue spur trail that goes back to a waterfall. Just past mile marker 47, there is another blue spur to another water fall. And in another 0.5 miles there is a third blue spur, this one well marked indicating the trail to Spy Rock and the Redding-Spy Rock Loop. That is basically it for the up hill, now its a level hike to the trailhead spur.

The trailhead spur is marked in blue and there is a sign on the right side of the OHT at the junction. OHT- 13 is another 0.1 miles, where the trail crosses FR-1504. The official Forest Service name of the trailhead is Morgan Fields, but no one uses it. The topo calls it West Cobb and that brings nothing but questioned looks. Tim Ernst calls it the Hare Mt trailhead. The guys at Turner Bend call it Morgan Mt and since they are my ride, I do too.

It was a cold and wet four days but as always, a great trip. This section has some outstanding areas and I would recommend without hesitation.

Info: USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps: Cass, Yale, Oark, Boston, Fallsville and Ozone AR (trail not shown). Ozark-St Francis National Forest, Russellville, AR (479) 964-7200. http://www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ozark/. Pleasant Hill Ranger District, Clarksville, AR, 479-754-2864.

Logistics: We used the Turner Bend Store for a shuttle. The intrepid Lloyd took us in our vehicle from their store south of Cherry Bend on Highway 23 to Ozone, kept the car until the morning we were coming out and dropped it off at Morgan Mountain so that it was waiting for us. Cost was $125, but the car was kept secure the whole time.

Weatherproof Topographic Maps at OuachitaMaps.com - Hiking Trails of the Ouachitas and Ozarks
Featured Topographic Maps in Oklahoma and Arkansas
Ouachita Trail Loops: Billy Creek Trail - Boardstand Trail - Holson Valley Loop - Horse Thief Springs Trail - Old Military Road Trail - Talimena-Bohannon Loop
Other Ouachita Hikes: Beech Creek Trails - Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Area - Caney Creek Trail - Eagle Rock Loop
Selected Ozark Hikes: Butterfield Trail (Devils Den) - White Rock-Shores Lake Loop

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