Camping Near Ouachita National Forest Find A Free Campsite
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County Road 122 Dispersed Camping
GPS: 34.836070, -91.548856
About the Campsite: This dispersed free camping area is along a county road in the Mike Freeze Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area near Hazen, Arkansas.
County Road 122 camping is primarily used as a hunting area. It has many well-marked campsites. However, there are no hookups or amenities here.
Reported Cell Service: Cell signal has been reported as decent on all major cell phone carriers.
Arkansas Free Camping Vibes: 7/10. This is a good site for an overnight stop, and nearby Little Rock provides excellent options for supplies.
What Is Unique About The Ouachita Mountains
Ouachita National Forest isnt the only national park to straddle state lines. But because it covers so many different counties, it has 12 separate districts more than any other national forest.
Another unique claim to fame is something that makes it popular with rockhounds. Were talking quartz crystals, and, in fact, you can even mine them yourself in the southern part of the forest. Specifically, a town called Mount Ida is the epicenter of this activity. You can dig for crystals at various mines or purchase them at area shops.
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Ozark National Forest Rules And Regulations:
Usually, there is no fee or permit required, meaning you can camp for FREE the entire time, unless you’re in a campground or recreation area!
All campsites are first come, first serve. You can not reserve these remote sites.
Rules are posted online. And you can sometimes find signs with rules and updates upon entering the area youre visiting. You may even notice signs along the road that communicate what is and isn’t allowed on certain portions of the road, in day use areas, or in recreation areas.
Here are a few rules
- Stay on existing roads, whether paved or unpaved.
- Check fire conditions and for burn bans before starting a fire. On that same note, drown your fire before going to bed and before leaving the campsite.
- Check for alerts and notices before traveling to the National Forest.
- Always camp at least 200 feet away from any type of water source, such as rivers, creeks, tributaries, lakes, and wetlands. Flash flooding can and does occur.
- Leave no trace. Always pack in what you pack out. And dont harm any vegetation or feed any wildlife.
- All caves and mines in the Ozark National Forest are closed to prevent and slow the spread of White Nose Syndrome in our bat population.
Where Should I Stay For My Ouachita National Forest Weekend Getaway
There are many cozy cabins to choose from, but I HIGHLY suggest booking a Glamping Tent through Ouachita Wilde. She will set up your tent at a location of your choice and they are SO cute. Complete with air-conditioning, a comfy bed, a grill and cooking dishes, games, indoor and outdoor chairs, and cozy decoryou will not be disappointed! ANDDDD its dog-friendly!
Ouachita Wilde set up our tent at Mountain Shadow Campground just south of Mena. It had clean bathrooms, a peaceful pond, and a swimming pool on-site! It would definitely be perfect to set up on a lake though! So be sure to reach out to Ouachita Wilde for the best sites and recommendations!
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Going To The Bathroom In The Woods:
Dispersed camping means no bathrooms and no outhouses. That means extra care has to be taken in disposing of human waste. To dispose of feces, dig a hole six inches deep at least 100 feet away from any water source. When you are done, fill the hole with the dirt you dug up and take your toilet paper with you to dispose of in a proper waste container. Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground. It could easily get into the local water source and contaminate it.
Get The Most Out Of Ouachita National Forest
Established in 1907 as the Arkansas National Forest, this is the oldest national forest in the southern United States. It was first explored by Hernando de Soto and his party of Spaniard explorers in 1541. The French came afterward, who named many of the places within the region. The name was changed from Arkansas to Ouachita in 1926, after the French spelling of the Native-American name Washinta. Translated, this means good hunting grounds. The forest almost became a national park in the 1920s, but that effort was vetoed by President Calvin Coolidge.
Originally established over an area of 590,000 acres, the Ouachita currently encompasses nearly 1.8 million acres. Within this area are six designated wilderness areas, as well as the Ouachita Mountains, one of the few east-west-trending ranges in the U.S. These mountains are the source of several major watersheds, including the Arkansas and Ouachita rivers. In addition to its many recreational benefits, the forest also serves as a habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife, including some threatened and endangered species.
Image from The Dyrt camper Nicki M.
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Take A Hike In The Ouachita National Forest
- Lovers Leap : Located near Mena, AR this 1.1-mile hike will give you great views of Rich Mountain. Its rated as moderate with a 242 ft. elevation gain. Dogs are able to join you and its a great short hike to watch the suns set or rise!
- Fall Branch Falls : A perfect short hike to a refreshing waterfall! This is a popular hike and state park, so be prepared to have other hikers on the trail with you. Its a total of 1.7 miles , with just over 200 ft elevation gain.
- Caddo Bend Trail : This was my favorite hike of the trip ! During this 4 mile loop, you are met with BEAUTIFUL views of Lake Ouachita and mountain views. There are also several spots where you can take a detour down to the lake for a refreshing swim!
- Hot Springs National Park Hiking: There are several hikes located within the National Park. We did not do any of these , BUT you can check them out HERE, and read all the reviews of others who have hiked them!
Tip! Even though these are short hikes, be sure to bring your hydration pack as it was EXTREMELY hot. You always want to make sure you have MORE than enough water!
Westerman To Introduce Bill For New Campground Near Site Of Fatal Flood In Ouachita National Forest
Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman said he’ll introduce legislation to create a campground in or near the Albert Pike Recreation Area, where 20 people died in a flash flood in 2010.
The U.S. Forest Service announced on Dec. 16 that overnight camping won’t resume at Albert Pike, which is located on the Little Missouri River in a remote and rugged section of the Ouachita National Forest, about 50 miles west of Hot Springs.
The recreation area will remain open for day use only.
Westerman said he was disappointed with the decision.
“While I understand the overly cautious nature of federal agencies, and I’m pleased USFS at least plans to implement the easiest and most risk-averse option which is day use, I’m very disappointed in their decision to announce permanent closure of the Albert Pike Recreation Area for overnight camping,” Westerman said in a text message.
“The tragic events due to the flash flooding in 2010 were horrific, and we empathize with those who lost loved ones,” he said. “However, I have heard an overwhelming response from constituents who want to redevelop the site in a way that allows safe overnight camping well above the highest flood plain levels, which is certainly possible with the topography in the area.”
Westerman said he “voiced these desires” to Forest Service representatives and visited the recreation area with them to discuss the issues.
Since 2010, camping hasn’t been allowed at the Albert Pike Recreation Area.
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Is A Ouachita National Forest Road Trip Worth It
If youre a nature lover, theres no question you should explore Ouachita National Forest. These dramatic peaks, lush woodlands, and fresh mountain breezes might help you see Arkansas in a whole new light. A visit to Ouachita National Forest is an opportunity to dig deeper and discover this unique areas breathtaking natural beauty. We certainly feel its worth it!
Dispersed Camping Near Hot Springs National Park
The hands-down best place for dispersed camping near Hot Springs National Park is in Ouachita National Forest. This incredible wilderness area encompasses 1.8 million acres and includes Arkansas largest lake, Lake Ouachita.
The Forest Service offers this advice about camping in Ouachita National Forest:
rimitive camping is allowed almost anywhere in the Ouachita National Forest unless there is a sign stating otherwise, or it is a wildlife food plot. Located throughout the Forests are areas that have been campsites for many years. These are located along roadsides, trails, mountain tops, or near streams.
For easy access to Hot Springs National Park, camp in the southeastern part of Ouachita National Forest. The Jessieville-Winona-Fourche Ranger District and Caddo/Womble Ranger District are both good options. If you are feeling adventurous, head towards Ouachita via US-270W or AR-298W, and choose a series of dirt roads to follow to seek out a camp spot once inside the forest.
Those looking for a little more guidance can check out the recommendations on this website.
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Primitive And Dispersed Camping In The Ozark
The Ozark-St. Francis National Forests offer a variety of camping opportunities. You can pitch a tent, park the RV, pop-up trailer or pick-up truck, or roll out the sleeping bag. Whatever your method of camping, it will be a truly natural experience in the Ozark Mountains or along Crowleys Ridge. -source
If primitive camping is your thing, you can do so almost anywhere in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests unless there is a sign stating otherwise. You also cannot camp on a wildlife food plot.
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How Do I Get To The Ouachita National Forest
We drove to the Ouachitas from Dallas, BUT there is an airport in Hot Springs that would be the perfect starting point to this weekend getaway! Because I love a good road trip, there is of course driving time between the stops I always try to see as much of a new location in the time given!
Below is a map of the stops we made throughout the weekend.
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- Distance to Hot Springs AR from Dallas, TX: 296 miles
- Distance to Hot Springs, AR from Oklahoma City, OK: 310 miles
- Distance to Hot Springs, AR from Memphis, TN: 192 miles
- Distance to Hot Springs, AR from Little Rock, AR: 56 miles
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Where Is The Ozark National Forest
The Ozark National Forest is located mostly in Northwest Arkansas, but part of it extends along the Arkansas River Valley to meet the Ouachita Mountains in the south.
It covers more than one million acres and was established in March of 1908.
This forest is home to a handful of National Scenic Byways, as well as wilderness areas, lakes, streams, and trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, etc.
Ouachita National Forest Dispersed Camping Tips
Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damage or killing plants and grass.Do NOT camp within 100 feet of any water source, plants near water are especially fragile.Do not camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow try to make your campsite less visible so that other visitors will see a wild settingDo not try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite. Pick a tent site that is already level with good drainage.
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Mill Creek Family Camp
Image from The Dyrt camper Stephanie D.
Located on the west side of Ouachita National Forest, 26 miles northeast of Mena, Mill Creek Family Camp will give you plenty of space to enjoy outdoor games, picnics, campfires, and group fun. This small, parklike campground offers 27 primitive sites surrounded by pine and hardwood forests on the banks of pretty Mill Creek. Site facilities include flush toilets and drinking water. Campers have access to several interpretive and hiking trails nearbygreat for wildlife spottingand swimming in a natural pool on the creek. Theres also a number of equestrian, mountain biking and ORV trails in the area. Seasonal campsites are first-come, first-serve.
Great site for group camping. Flat open fields for yards games. Nice creek running by.The Dyrt camper Stephanie D.
Whether youre out to hit the trails, cast a line, or just kick back under shady trees, theres a place to play, and stay, in Ouachita National Forest.
Jump In A Swimming Holes In The Ouachita National Forest
- Cossotot River State Park: A quiet state park located down a 6-mile dirt roadjust think of it as a scenic drive through the Arkansas forest :). Once you arrive, there is plenty of parking close by the river . Once here, its just a short walk to the falls, where you can find a private spot to cool off!
- Little Missouri Falls: An even more remote swimming area than Cossotot. Little Missouri Falls are located 31 miles southwest of Mena. From the parking lot, you will see a picnic area and a trail. The trail will take you to the falls. For detailed directions,
- Fall branch Trail: Just 17 miles from Hot Springs National Park, you will find a perfect small swimming hole along the Fall Branch Trail in Lake Catherine State Park. Lake Catherine is also a perfect spot to jump in a cool off!
Tip! Make sure to pack your Keens as you will want to be able to walk in the creeks/swimming holes/ and lakes to cool off.
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Dispersed Guide To Ozark National Forest Camping
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A dispersed camper’s guide to Ozark National Forest camping in Arkansas. Where to find free camping, things to do, places to see, and more!
It’s really no secret that my family and I love to get away to a quiet camping spot away from all civilization and people and noise. Sometimes we go farther away, and sometimes we stick closer to home here in the Natural State.
For the longest time we didn’t really know where to go camping in Arkansas. We were stuck in a rut when it came to finding good campsites that weren’t in a campground.
However, we put some of our free camping skills to the test as we started digging for more info. And let me tell you, there are plenty of places to choose from, including one of our favorites, the Ozark National Forest.
Now you may be looking for a campground. And if you are, The Dyrt has all the dirt on where to find good campgrounds in the Ozark National Forest.
But we’re going to focus more on dispersed camping, where to find campsites, getting the most out of your rugged camp experience, what National Forests offer, and what all you can do when visiting this magical, beautiful area of our home state.