Recreation Areas in Polk County Arkansas

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission
The Ouachita National Forest

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Iron Mountain Hiking Trail

Description:  Iron Mountain Natural Area is located just south of Mena in the Ouachita Mountains. The natural area is bisected by Paul Branch, a small stream that defines the valley between the northern and southern ridges. This natural area preserves a typical example of the upland pine-hardwood forests of the Ouachitas.

Access:  From Mena, travel approximately 7.1 miles southwest on U.S. Highway 71 through and beyond Potter Junction. Turn right on County Road 168 and travel 0.2 miles to fork. Turn right on County Road 169 and travel 0.3 miles to parking area on right.

Trail Information:  The trail at Iron Mountain Natural Area is a 1.5 mile long loop that follows Paul Branch. Some steep slopes make this trail moderately difficult. The first part of the trail runs through a cut-over forest. Once past this area, the trail progresses downhill along Paul Branch. Spring is a good time to visit this natural area, as Paul Branch will be flowing. The trail crosses Paul Branch, and several other small creeks. This is another trail where you will get your feet wet, so wear good waterproof boots.

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Fernwood Seep Natural Area

Description:  Fernwood Seep Natural Area consists of a complex of Ouachita Mountain wooded acid seeps, with a spring-fed stream and upland pine-oak/hickory forests. Wooded acid seeps are rapidly disappearing from the southeastern Ouachita Mountains and this site is the only example protected by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.  It contains 9.59 acres.  Hunting is prohibited on this natural area.  It contains 9.59 Acres of land.

Access:  From Wickes travel north on U.S. Highway 71 approximately 3 miles to County Road 14. Turn left (west) on County Road 14 and travel 1 mile. The natural area is north of the road.

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Cossatot River State Park - Natural Area

Description:  The Cossatot River is an outstanding example of an upland river in the Ouachita Mountains. As the river flows southward, it cuts through a series of east-west oriented ridges, producing magnificent rapids and waterfalls. This area supports at least two fish species endemic to the Little River system and numerous special plant species including Browne’s waterleaf. It is managed cooperatively with Arkansas State Parks (ASP). Portions of the area have been developed to enhance public visitation and environmental education opportunities. These developments include a canoe launching area, solar restrooms, picnic areas, primitive camp sites, a hiking/nature trail, and a barrier-free pedestrian river walkway. A new visitor information center has recently opened on the site. NHC worked with ASP in the overall interpretive theme for the center and funding for some exhibits.  This area contains 4,470.20 acres of land.  Hunting is prohibited in this natural area.

Access:  This area is located in Polk and Howard Counties.  For more information click below on Cossatot River State Park.

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Cossatot River State Park ►►


Big Fork Creek Natural Area

Description:  Big Fork Creek Natural Area, located in the Ouachita Mountains, is a small mesophytic tract containing an abundance of wildflowers and ferns, a free-flowing spring, and a small section of Big Fork Creek. The bluff and terrace near the spring support an excellent and very fragile plant community.  This natural area contains 13.58 acres of land.  Hunting is prohibited on this natural area.

Access:  Take State Highway 8 East at Big Fork, then turn right on Polk County Road 67. Go 0.3 mile and bear left at the fork. Park on the north side of the county road.

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Gap Creek Natural Area - Montgomery County Arkansas

Description:  Gap Creek is a small upland tributary of the Caddo River located in the Ouachita Mountains. The creek is spring fed and runs year-round. The natural area is surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest. These lands have not been significantly altered in more than half a century, a factor that contributes to the high water quality of Gap Creek. Plant communities within the natural area include upland pine-hardwood forest and riparian forest along Gap Creek. Fee title is held by a private landowner.  It has 10.07 acres of land.  Hunting is prohibited on this natural area.

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The Ouachita National Forest

The Ouachita National Forest is the oldest and largest National Forest (NF) in the South. It comprises 1.76 million acres in Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. The Forest contains 4,000 miles of streams and 1,600 acres of lakes and ponds (not counting the adjacent Lake Ouachita and Broken Bow Reservoir, both Army Corps of Engineer facilities and only includes National Forest portions of lakes in multiple ownerships). The Forest's fisheries program is one of State and Federal coordination, fisheries protection and fish habitat improvement. The Forest has been co-sponsoring Kid's Fishing Derbies for over 10 years.

The lake acreages include, 400 acres of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Lake Hinkle, Watershed District flood control lakes on the Forest (approximately 11) and FS recreation/fishing lakes and ponds totalling approximately 700 acres. The remaining acreage is in one acre or smaller wildlife ponds and the ponds and reservoirs on the Red Slough waterfowl area in SW Oklahoma.

Headquartered in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the forest is managed for multiple uses, including timber and wood production, watershed protection and improvement, habitat for wildlife and fish species (including threatened and endangered ones), wilderness area management, minerals leasing, and outdoor recreation.

Black Fork Mountain Wilderness

Location: 6 miles north of Mena on U.S. 71; then 6 miles west on U.S. 270; then 4 miles north on Forest Road 516; also accessible from the Ouachita Trailhead on U.S. 270, 6 miles from U.S. 71.

Description: 7,568 acres featuring rugged terrain, rock glaciers, fantastic views and a forest of dwarf oak. A six-mile trail offers easy hiking access into a portion of the wilderness. Much of this is on an old road which is quite steep in places.

For Information: Mena Ranger District, 1603 U.S. 71 North, Mena, AR, 71953, (479) 394-2382 www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ouachita.htm


Shady Lake

Mena/Oden Ranger District 

Setting:  Take Arkansas Hwy. 84 west of Glenwood, AR; turn northwest on Arkansas Hwy. 246 at Athens, AR; turn right (north) at sign, drive 3 miles on Forest Service Road 38.  Group picnic shelter, swimming, fishing, hiking, interpretive trail, amphitheater, playground. Only electric motors allowed on lake.

Directions:  FS Road 38 is a gravel road. FS Road 38 is gravel, the road is paved within the campground.

Total Campsites:  69  Hookups:  18

Max Vehicle Length:  Can accommodate RV's and trailers up to 40 feet

Max Length of Stay:  14 Days  Max Group Size:  6 Persons Per Site

Water:  Well  Restrooms:  Accessible flush toilets and warm showers

Fee:  $10.00 for Camping; $15.00 site A-7 with electric and water hookups; $17.00 site C-22 with electric, water,and sewer; $16.00 Double site, no utilities; Day Use $3.00

Reservations:  Group Picnic Shelter and C-22 (full hook-ups) reserve at Mena Ranger District Office

Season of Use:  Loops A, D, & C-22 March 1 - November 30 (Loop A Bathhouse opens May 15th). Loops B & C May 15 - October 31.

Site Manager:  Forest Service


Albert Pike

Caddo Ranger District    

Setting:  Located on the Little Missouri River, a popular stream for fishing, floating, and water play. Segments of this stream are designated both wild and scenic.  Good fishing for small mouth bass and early-spring released trout. Excellent hiking, mountain bike, and equestrian opportunities on Little Missouri, Athens-Big Fork, and Viles Branch trails. A special challenge for backpackers and long-distance hikers is provided by the Eagle Rock Loop.

Directions:  Take Arkansas Hwy. 84 west of Glenwood, AR; turn north on Arkansas Hwy. 369 at Langley, AR for 6 miles.  Albert Pike can be accessed from the south by Arkansas Highway 369. All roads to the north and west are gravel.

Total Campsites:  54 units  Hookups:  8 with water/electricity

Max Vehicle Length:  Most accommodate small RV's and short trailers. 8 sites accommodate full size RVs.

Max Length of Stay:  14 Days  Max Group Size:  6 Persons Per Site

Water:  Well  Restrooms:  Accessible flush toilets and warm showers

Fee:  $10.00/$16.00 with utilities.  Reservations:  None

Season of Use:  Year-Round  Site Manager:  Forest Service


Bard Springs

Caddo Ranger District 

Setting:  Small campground with Adirondack-type shelters in a remote mountain setting.  Provides a good site for a base camp for hikers in the Caney Creek Wilderness.

Directions:  Take Arkansas Hwy. 84 west of Glenwood, AR; turn northwest on Arkansas Hwy. 246 at Athens, AR; turn right (north) on Forest Service Road 38 for 7 miles; turn right (east) on Forest Service Road 106 for 1/2 mile.  FS Roads 38 and 106 are gravel

Total Campsites:  17 units  Hookups:  None

Max Vehicle Length:  No RVs or trailers

Max Length of Stay:  14 Days  Max Group Size:  6 Persons Per Site

Water:  None  Restrooms:  Accessible vault toilet

Fee:  Camping $8.00  Reservations:  None

Season of Use:  Year-Round  Site Manager:  Forest Service


Caney Creek Wilderness Trails

Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas & Oklahoma

Trail Highlights: Caney Creek Trail generally follows the Caney Creek drainage. The trail crosses Blaylock Creek, Caney Creek, Katy Creek and the Cossatot River for a total of 13 stream crossings which are subject to flash flooding during heavy rain. Vegetation types, which occur along the creek, include beech tree stands, large pines and bottom land hardwoods Buckeye Trail generally follows a ridge offering many vistas before winding down to the Caney Creek Trail. Tall Peak Trail is a steep rugged trail once you leave the Saline River. It begins in Shady Lake Recreation Area but can also be accessed from Forest Service Road 38. Look for large granite rocks about 1.8 miles north of Shady Lake Recreation Area entrance. These trails lead into a 14,460 acre congressionally designated wilderness - a place for solitude and primitive recreation.

Other Opportunities: Caney Creek Wilderness, Valuable Forest Trail, Athens Big Fork Trail, Shady Lake Recreation Area

Length: 17.5 miles; Travel time one way - 14 to 18 hours.

Trail Information: The trails in the wilderness are not marked or signed. You need a map and compass to enjoy the trail and explore the wilderness. Rock cairns are at the Buckeye Trail intersection. Keep them on your right going uphill. Several trails have been closed for revegetation. Please respect these closures.

Access: West Caney Creek Trailhead - From State Hwy. 71 at Vandervoort take State Hwy. 246 east 11 miles to Forest Service Road 31. On Forest Service Road 31 travel 10 miles to the trailhead. East Caney Creek and Buckeye Trailhead - Continue an additional 14 miles on State Hwy. 246 to Forest Service Road 38. Travel Forest Service Road 38 for 7 miles north to the Caney Creek Trailhead or 8 miles north to the Buckeye Trailhead.

Water: Non-potable.

History: In 1935, 8,300 acres of what is now Caney Creek Wilderness was designated as a Game Refuge. On January 3, 1975, Caney Creek Wilderness became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Requirements: Although not prohibited, stock (pack animals) users will find these trails are not designed or maintained for stock use. Buckeye and Tall Peak Trails are not recommended for use with stock. Mountain bikes and motorized equipment are prohibited.


Black Fork Mountain Wilderness

[Picture]: Map of the Black Fork Mountain Wilderness Area

This unique wilderness located in the Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma is made up of one mountain. Black Fork Mountain, at an elevation of 2,403 feet, is the main feature of this 13,579-acre area. Rock screes or flows are dominant features along the east-west ridge formed by the geologic uplift.

Slopes range from five percent at the base to almost vertical near the top. This area offers diverse shrub and tree species and special scenic values due to variation in topography.

The Ouachita Trail runs along the the east side with a spur to the top. The special part is after the trail ends. You can bushwhack along the top all the way into Oklahoma. There is no developed trail in the Oklahoma portion of the wilderness but a parking area is provided 2 miles north of Page on County Road 1040.


Dry Creek Wilderness

[Picture]: Map of the Dry Creek Wilderness Area

Numerous ridges and high bluffs rise above an intermittent stream in this rugged scenic 6,310-acre area. Surrounded by roads, the area is located south of the Arkansas River Valley in the Ouachita Mountain Region. There are no trails or directional signs in the Dry Creek Wilderness. A unique feature, Chimney Rock, is a large rock formation which has broken away from a vertical wall of rock and stands apart in the shape of a chimney. Bluff rims, ridgetops, rock out-crops and steep slopes form natural vistas for enjoying the diverse topography and pine-hardwood clad mountains.

Directions: From the junction of State Hwy. 10 and 23, go east for 17 miles on State Hwy.10, turn right (south) on county road 309 for 5 miles, continue (south) on Forest Road 18 for 3.9 miles, turn right (west) on Forest Road 3 for 4 miles to wilderness boundary.

Notes and Precautions:

  1. You are in bear country. Keep your camp clean and food at least 100 feet from camp and suspended out of "bear" reach.
  2. Carry a compass and topographic map and know how to use them.
  3. Hike with a partner and tell someone where you are going.
  4. Carry and treat all drinking water.

USGS topographic maps for this wilderness are Sugar Grove (A10), Blue Mountain Dam (A11), Freedom Mountain (B10), and Gravelly (B11).


Flatside Wilderness

[Picture]: Map of the Flatside Wilderness Area

This 9,507-acre wilderness area, 30 miles west of Little Rock, Arkansas, derives its name from Flatside Pinnacle, a 1,550-foot high rock outcrop outside the north-east boundary. Dominating the skyline of this wilderness is White Oak Mountain, the highest point at 1,650 feet above sea level, and Forked Mountain at 1,350 feet. From outside vistas, rough terrain and the mixed pine-hardwood forest canopy appear inviting for enjoying the solitude of the area. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail traverses this area 10 miles east to west from Flatside Pinnacle to White Oak Mountain, crossing one perennial stream (Crystal Prong of Cedar Creek).

The closeness to Little Rock gives Flatside the potential of overuse. Management of the area is through the Limits of Acceptable Change process, a system of monitoring conditions and implementing management actions to keep changes to natural and recreational resources within acceptable ranges.

There are numerous entry points. The most popular is where the Ouachita Trail enters the wilderness at Flatside Pinnacle but parking is limited. Access is better off of Winona Forest Drive on the south side. There are numerous old logging roads. Wildlife include deer, turkey, bear, coyotes and other small animals. The edges are frequented by hunters during the spring turkey and fall deer hunting seasons.

Directions: From the junction of State Hwy. 9 and 60 at Perryville, go south 13.6 miles on State Hwy. 9, then right (west) on Forest Road 132 for 8.3 miles, turn right (north) on Forest Road 94 for 3 miles to Flatside Pinnacle.

Notes and Precautions:

  1. Users should avoid camping where the Ouachita Trail crosses Crystal Prong.
  2. There are plenty of impact resistant sites a quarter of a mile or more above and below the crossing.

Maps include: Paron Southwest & Aplin

The area is used heavily during hunting seasons in April and from September to January. Wearing blaze orange is recommended.

USGS topographic maps for this wilderness are Aplin (B17), Nimrod SE (C16), Paron SW (C17).


Poteau Mountain Wilderness

[Picture]: Map of the Poteau Mountain Wilderness Area

Comprised of two separate land bases, totaling 11,299 acres, this wilderness is on Poteau Mountain, a subrange of the Ouachitas. Although erosion has played its part, extensive folding and faulting have produced the steep east-west mountain ridges which range from 750 to 2,406 feet above sea level. Dense pine and hardwood stands occupy the areas. There are no trails within either portion of the Poteau Mountain Wilderness.

Directions: From junction of State Hwy. 80 and U.S. 71, go north on U.S. 71 for 5.6 miles, turn left (west) on Forest Road 158 for 2 miles to the southern boundary.

Notes and Precautions:

  1. Carry a compass and topographic map and know how to use them.
  2. Hike with a partner and tell someone where you are going.
  3. Carry and treat all drinking water.

USGS topographic maps for this wilderness are Huntington (A6), Abbott (A7), Cauthorn (B6), and Hon (B7).


Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness

[Picture]: Map of the Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness Area

Located on the south slope of Rich Mountain, this 10,819-acre area features heavily forested, steeply sloped ridges. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail passes through the area and the Talimena Scenic Byway runs along the north border at the crest of Rich Mountain.

Directions: Travel 1 mile north of Big Cedar, Ok, on Highway 259, turn right on Forest Road 6032 for 3 miles to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail trailhead.


Trails in the Ouachita National Forest ►►

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