The Ouachita National Forest is located in west central Arkansas and extends into southeast Oklahoma. It encompasses over 1.8 million acres of aged mountains, rivers, lakes and wonderful scenic views. The forest offers many recreational opportunities for all ages to enjoy.
Shady Lake is a 25-acre lake and recreational area that offers over 90 campsites, hiking trails, lake access, picnic tables and shelters, a playground and swimming beach. Fishing is a great reason for families to come to Shady Lake if you are looking for bass, catfish or sunfish.
There are some limits and seemingly over strict rules in this recreational area that take the fun out of being on the lake in my opinion.
1)The daily limit is one bass fifteen inches or longer.
2)The daily limit is five catfish.
3)Boat motors are limited to electric only.
4)Only rod and reel fishing is allowed.
There are a few trails worth mentioning that are quite nice and very scenic.
The Eagle Rock Loop is the longest loop trail in the state of Arkansas. It travels through the southwest part of the Ouachita National Forest covering a wide variety of terrain so this is not an easy trail. It crosses water nine times and goes over nine mountains. I would rate this trail as difficult and long. Take water, a snack and very comfortable shoes. The best seasons to enjoy this trail would be spring and fall for maximum effect of spring blossoms and fall color.
Lake Ouachita Vista Trail is open for hikers and bikers alike. Old quartz pits and the remains of moonshiners’ still are noticeable on the trail giving a hint of the history of the area. In the spring and summer wildflowers add to the beauty of the landscape. This trail has several switch backs up and down the slopes of the mountains and is 19.5 miles long one way. I would rate this trail as moderate but best for someone in really good shape. Wear suitable shoes, bring water, lunch, snacks and take a camera. Several lake views are worthy of a picture. The average time to walk this trail is 12-14 hours.
Ouachita National Recreation Trail is the longest trail in the National Forest its one hundred ninety two miles long. It starts at the Talimena State Park near Talihina, Oklahoma and extends to Pinnacle Mountain State Park fifteen miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas. The trail is heavily used spring through the fall. It changes in elevation from 2600 ft. to 600 ft. There are numerous access points that provide opportunity to limit the distance you want to hike. Drinking water, tent camping, picnic tables, toilets and parking areas are available. It is open to both hikers and mountain bikers. I would rate this trail as the friendliest to all abilities from easy to difficult because you can tailor the hiking experience to fit your fitness level.
Also located in the Ouachita National Forest is the Cossatot River State Park that runs for eleven miles along the Cossatot River. The river is wild and runs through a rugged rocky canyon that creates Class V rapids which are perfect for expert kayakers. Only those who are very experienced floaters should attempt to canoe or kayak this river. The river is only floatable during significant rainfall periods.
The Crystal Mountain range of the Ouachita have several quartz mines that are still in operation and allow patrons to dig and keep what they find for a small fee. If you are a rock hound this would be a great but dirty experience. Other minerals and rocks you might find are “Cat’s Eye” or wavellite and pink dolomite. They are both common minerals in Arkansas. It could definitely be interesting to see what you could find so happy hunting.
As you can see there is much to do in the Ouachita Mountain National Forest and surrounding areas. There are both pros and cons to all of the activities so use your best judgment to see what works best for you and your family.