“A delicate rambling river, a scree of boulder-sized rock, a mythic spring on a mountain top, and an ancient oak forest.”
— il coyote
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Wildflowers · Wildlife
If you are a retired solitary gunslinger on the run from a vengeance seeking cattle rancher who murdered your horse and is trying to fence in your land, this is your trail. Runners will be faced with a river crossing, a railroad crossing, abandoned campsites, a mythic mountain top spring, a mountain lookout, and an ancient dwarf oak forest. Black Fork Mountain not only has a name apropos for adventure, it also plays host to one of the best shelters on the Ouachita Trail, and an unprecedented Ouachita views.
Need to Know
Rich Mountain and Eagleton appear as town names on the map. The closest civilization for supplies or food or emergency is in Mena.
Ouachita Trail sports blue blazes; Black Fork sports one lonely white. You may choose to park at the trailhead on 270 or atop Rich Mountain just past the Fire Tower.
Don't let other write ups on this trail fool you. Black Fork Mountain Trail
is no longer the remote uninhabited trail used by locals and through hikers once in a blue moon. There is of evidence of frequent camps made by outdoor enthusiasts with primitive camping experience; there is a lean-to shelter that rivals weaving sculptures currently on display at the Met. Although it's not as human- free as it once was, this should by no means hinder your decision to explore the mountain.
For this featured run, you start on the infamous Rich Mountain, just below the fire tower peak where the Ouachita Trail meets up with the newer Rich Mountain Trail
. This gives the runner some perspective allowing sight line view of beginning and end destinations prior to getting too deep into the trail. The descent on the north side of the mountain trail is steep and requires quick footing, but is still 100% run-worthy.
The trail swings close to private property just before it crosses HWY 270, so best not to venture off trail lest you want to encounter inquisitive folk who are sensitive about backyard intruders. Pass over the highway and hop directly onto the trail, note the historical marker prior to crossing the Ouachita River.
Cross over the Kansas City Southern Railway and wave at the conductor (as is custom in town) if you receive a toot of acknowledgment from the engine's horn, consider this a blessing of good fortune for your outing. If you only receive a wave, then proceed with caution. If the conductor stares you down suspiciously and shakes his head, you may want to reconsider your trip to the peak, and you best try to warm your feet on an easier trail closer to civilization.
Run up into the forest from the tracks following the singular white triangular blaze. This may be the last one you see on the trail, but no worries, as the trail is adequately tracked even up and over many glacial boulders that cut through the mountain. Note: there are a few "branches" that cross the trail during the spring and fall season, however, none should be considered reliable for year round water source. It is best advised to pack water in and out.
After a few indiscriminate switchbacks the trail gets serious in its pursuit to the top of Black Fork. As you make your way westward up the mountain, note again the many overturned rocks and boulders that once lay on the trail but are now overturned and rolled downhill. Bear in mind, black bears love grubs this time of year, and they spend their time excavating rocks for delicate treats. The holes left on trail in their wake can be devastating for ankles so keep your eyes wide.
Prior to the peak there is an old post which once held a sign; to the immediate left is an outcropping of boulders where the runner gets a fantastic treetop view of Rich Mountain Fire Tower and The Queen Lodge. Don't stop here. Continue on to see the mountain spring and copious amounts of bull frogs. Proceed to the peak as you enter the ancient dwarf oak forest, think of Frodo and Gandalf and ponder other quests made to tops of mountains. The Black Fork Mountain was made for escape. Enjoy.
The Black Fork Mountain is best enjoyed with a hint of fire toasted barrel small batch and basket of ripe huckleberries.
Flora & Fauna
Dwarf oak, lichen, moss, frogs, bear. Currently there is no indication of North American Yeti. Poison ivy and ticks.
History & Background
1984 the Black Fork wilderness was established thanks to an act of Congress and a beloved Arkansas senator who believed in protecting the wilderness of his home state. Thank you Senator Bumpers.