Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas
The dogwood buds decorating the branches around my campsite are like kernels of corn ready to pop. They surround a panorama of blue: Lake Ouachita, Arkansas’s largest body of water. I watch as the sun peeks over Hickory Nut Mountain, setting the lake on fire. A loon calls from somewhere, and I spot it bobbing 100 yards away near a wooded island. I’ve found a rare piece of backcountry solitude in this part of the state, one that I owe to the 40-mile Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, a relatively new path that snakes around the southern shore of its namesake. Like its name suggests, the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail offers near-constant water views—and if you want to see it all, you’d better arrive before the dogwood flowers do.
From the Watchable Wildlife trailhead
1) Follow the Watchable Wildlife Trail boardwalk .2 mile west through a swamp where hundreds of wintering birds like coots, loons, and bald eagles reside.
2) Veer north to take paved Trails End Lane .4 mile to the western terminus of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail.
3) Follow the Vista Trail to a junction near mile 6.9.
4) Turn north onto the Eagle Vista spur—a 1.6-mile lollipop-loop—and follow the “stick” of the lollipop .6 mile.
5) At the junction of the loop, head .2 mile east to camp.
6) Next day, close the loop counterclockwise and retrace your steps back to the Vista Trail at mile 8.5.
7) Continue 8 miles east through budding hardwoods to emerge at the Hickory Nut Mountain trailhead at mile 16.5.
Eagle Peninsula (mile 7.7)
Make camp in a site with water views on the peninsula’s eastern edge, backed up to the oaks, loblolly pines, and dogwoods. Set an alarm for sunrise to watch color seep over the Ouachita foothills on the lake’s east edge. (There are no designated sites here, so if this one’s claimed, keep hiking counterclockwise to find another site.)
This itinerary ticks off just the westernmost piece of the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. Completed in 2014, the whole thing stretches 40 miles across the winding southern shore of 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita from the Watchable Wildlife Area at Denby Bay to Avery Recreation Area, just below Blakely Dam. Tack another night or two to complete it.
DO IT Shuttle car 34.5619, -93.4227; 10 miles west of Crystal Springs on FS Rd. 7426 Trailhead 34.5435, -93.4728; 18 minutes west of the shuttle car on Trails End Ln. Commercial option Ouachita Rides & Guides ($30) Season Year-round Permit None Custom map ($15) Contact
Distance 16.5 miles (point to point)
Time 2 days
Difficulty 2 out of 5