The fact that many folks have never heard of this 192-mile trail, much less know how to find it, is one reason why the Ouachita (wa-she-ta) Trail ranked third among the long trails for solitude. The fact that it straddles the Arkansas-Oklahoma border (not exactly a backpacking epicenter) is another.
The trail's remote surroundings have a history of harboring outlaws and horse traders on the lam. Says guidebook writer Tim Ernst, "Two years ago, when I hiked the entire trail, I saw a total of four people."
While the heartland of America is usually dismissed as coffee-table flat, rather than coffee-table-book pretty, the Ouachita Mountains, which form the spine of this east-west trail and undulate from 600 to 2,600 feet in elevation, deny the stereotype. The rolling mountains and valleys, smothered with oak, hickory, maple, and pine, are carved by cobbled creeks and capped with the occasional sandstone rooster comb. This is a place that will win you over with its subtle beauty, not with its grandeur.
For best information:
Ouachita National Forest, (501) 321-5202; www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ouachita.htm.
Ouachita Trail Guide, by Tim Ernst (Cloudland.Net, 870-861-5536; $16.95).
"A Trail of True Grit," Backpacker, December 1998.