The Ozark National Forest in Arkansas protects some of the South’s most rugged, historic, and scenic country. The national forest covers 1.2mn acres and is where you’ll find a wide array of points of interest, ecotourism opportunities, and historic sites. From multiple points across a large part of the northern half of Arkansas, you can access lakes, picnic areas, campgrounds, hiking trails, waterfalls, and mountain scenery, as well as other historic and natural features.
For prehistoric Native Americans, the mountains were one of the main hunting grounds, with traces of these hunters visible from various points within the forest. For example, they once used the rock shelters and unique caves at the Pedestal Rock Scenic Area. Cave paintings were, at one time, commonly seen in the Ozarks but unfortunately, many have since been vandalised, with the majority of those that survived protected and generally not accessible. Once France claimed the region, French hunters explored the mountains and a number of the names they applied are still used today. For example, “Ozark” is believed to have come from “aux arc”, a French term that was used to refer to the long curve in the Arkansas River.
Settlers moving in
By the time the Civil War came around, the Ozark mountains welcomed settlers who were building homes and carving out farms. These were anything from fairly prosperous farms to rocky gardens and mountain cabins. During the war, the people suffered immensely, as guerrilla bands and armies were moving around the region destroying or burning anything seemed of value. They took the civilians’ last scraps of food or even killed them. The stories from that time are still told today. The road that is now referred to as Pig Trail Scenic Byway was a major road during the Civil War years, utilised by both Union and Confederate fires. A number of low-key skirmishes took place in the national forest, with traces of homes from the Civil War era existing in the mountains and woods.
Of course, the forest is a fantastic place for those who enjoy delving into natural history or who have an interest in ecotourism. Blanchard Springs Caverns, which is among the more popular attractions, provides visitors with an opportunity to travel below the forest and watch a view of one of its few publicly-accessible cave systems. Areas of interest both bordering and within the forest include Lake Weddington, Pedestal Rocks, Alum Cove Natural Bridge, multiple Wildlife Management Areas, and five Wilderness Areas. Key trails include the Ozark Highlands Trail, the Huckleberry Mountain Horse Trail, and the Sylamore Trail. A number of Arkansas State Scenic Byways cut through the forest including the Sylamore Scenic Byway, the Pig Trail, the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop, and Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway.
The Ozark National Forest is one of the most popular places for tourists in the spring when the redbuds and dogwood are in bloom, as well as in the fall when the Forest turns into a fine display of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds.