Ozark-St. Francis National Forests Overview
|Ozark-St. Francis National Forests (Dennis Flaherty/Photographer's Choice/Getty)|
Arkansas's northwestern corner is composed of a sea of lush green plateaus, interspersed with occasional faults and cracks, and the erosional scars of swift-flowing rivers. Here, in the Ozark portion of Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, the Boston Mountains present sheer-sided slopes and vertical bluffs of sandstone. Oak-hickory and scattered pine cover brushy undergrowth. In springtime, dogwoods and redbuds explode in a beautiful, lacy display of color.
The mighty Mississippi displays its grandeur in the St. Francis unit of the forest perhaps more than in any other forest in the United States. From the river's low, flat banks, the forest rises deep into central Arkansas's Crowley's Ridge. Anglers come from far and wide to enjoy great fishing or just bask in the peace of the southern woodland.
Before leaving the Ozark-St. Francis, make sure to check out its five wilderness areas, comprised of the Upper Buffalo, Hurricane Creek, Richland Creek, East Fork, and Leatherwood. Just south of the forest is Arkansas' Ouachita National Forest. Two closeby wildlife refuges are Holla Bend and Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuges. Mark Twain National Forest is north of the forest in Missouri. Some parts of the forest are as little as two hours away from Little Rock.
Backpack the Ozark Highlands
Renowned as one of the most scenic trails east of the Rockies, the 165-mile Ozark Highlands Trail is a backpacking trip worth taking. The trail weaves its way from Lake Fort Smith State Park all the way to the Buffalo National River. Travel through pine past ridges, forest scenery, and high vistas. Don't miss the highlights, which include wilderness areas, state parks, mountain streams, campgrounds, and recreation areas.
Bike Mill Creek
Located in the Boston Mountain Ranger District, the 27-mile Mill Creek Trail offers terrific mountain biking through a thriving hardwood forest. Mountainous terrain, unusual rock formations, and pristine streams give the trail a rustic quality and adventurous feel. If all that pedaling didn't tire you out, then try the additional 15 miles of interior loops and shortcut trails that stem off of the main trail.
Fish the White River
Experience the White River's amazing trout fishing. This clear, cold river floats through the Sylamore Ranger District. Both wild and stocked supplies of rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout as well as smallmouth and largemouth bass roam the river and the dark pools within its banks.
Paddle Richland Creek
Streams in this area run cool, clear, and fast, thanks to the underlying limestone that acts as an oversized water purifier. Richland Creek in the Buffalo Ranger District offers 16.5 miles of Class II, III, and IV rapids on this federally designated Wild and Scenic River. You'll careen through waterfalls, past Big Devil's Fork, and Bobtail Creek. Richland Creek Campground provides a great respite for the weary paddler. Also nearby is the Richland Creek Wilderness Area, where you can take a hike through the serene woodland. Other great paddling destinations in the forest include the Big Piney River, the Mulberry River, and the Illinois Bayou.
Drive the Scenic 7 Byway
Scenic 7 Byway is renowned as one of America's most scenic drives. It begins by crossing the Piedmont land of northern Arkansas and continues through the Ouachita Mountains until it drops to the Arkansas River Valley. It eventually climbs to the Ozark Highlands. Make sure you check out Mystic Caverns, Cove Natural Bridge, Buffalo National River, the Arkansas Grand Canyon, and the many hiking trails along the way.
Camp Beside Shores Lake
Fabulous April dogwoods give Shores Lake Campground a special charm. Situated among hardwood and pine within the Boston Mountain Ranger District, this historic campground is a particularly scenic destination for anyone in search of lakeside camping in a mountain setting. Nearby hiking includes Shores Lake Trail, which leads to White Rock Loop rail and the top of White Rock Mountain.
Move on to the U.S. National Forest Campground Guide
Ride Moccasin Gap
Four loop trails converge into one creating the Moccasin Gap Horse Trail in the Bayou Ranger District. Hardwoods, pine, streams, and small waterfalls decorate this path, which has been rated as one of the best horseback riding trails in the state. The trail is often used as a site for competitive rides.
Explore Blanchard Springs
Blanchard Springs Caverns is located in the Sylamore Ranger District. Here, underground paved trails lead to rooms of glistening stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones. You can explore the caves on the Dripstone Trail or the Discovery Trail Tour, or you can plan your own wild adventure in the cool, mysterious settings of the caverns.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication