Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ouachita Trail to Boardstand Trail to Old Military Road Trail Loop

Though I would put some information up while it is still fresh in my head for those who may be interested in tackling this loop and are looking for more information on what to expect.  I've done the loop many times and it is one of my favorites.  It is the perfect distance for a very challenging day hike.  For backpackers, it could be leisurely done in a number of days.  Best of all, since it is a loop there is no back tracking and no need to worry about a ride such as when doing a point to point course.

There are many great access points for this loop depending on what is closest to you.  I usually access the Boardstand Trailhead which is off of Holsom Valley Road.  Today I started from the end of the Old Military Road Trail which is at the top of the mountain on the Talimena Drive.  You could also access the loop at the west terminal trailhead of the OT or at Bohannon Road or Deadman's Gap which are on the Talimena Drive as well.

Beginning at the Talimena Drive at the Old Military Road Trailhead, I headed South for a counter-clockwise loop.  More often I do the clockwise loop just out of habit so it was nice to be going in the other direction.  The trail was in good shape and it does a pretty sharp descent from the scenic drive for about a mile until it hooks up with the Ouachita Trail.  The West Terminal Trailhead is only about a half mile to the West from here. 

There was heavy rain at times during my run but I hoped that once I got off the ridge, the weather would improve and it did.  I was thankful for that because I thought of returning to my van more than once while I was getting soaking wet.

After the rain has fallen, can finally see the valley to the South along the OT.

Follow the OT for the next 8 or 9 miles.  The trail goes up at first and then levels off and then seems to go up again until you reach Bohannon Road.  From there it is a nice 2.3 mile descent to Deadman's Gap.  At the gap you cross the Talimena Drive and are now running on the North side of the mountain.  This is the best maintained part of the trail.  I say that of course only because it is the three mile section of the OT that I have adopted.  Honestly, it is pretty rough, though that has more to do with the rocky terrain than with the vegetation.

You will only be on the OT another half mile past Deadman's Gap before descending on Boardstand Trail down into Holson Valley.  This is a very smooth and beautiful trail.  It is about 7.5 miles to the Old Military Trail but you can make some really good time as it is downhill and pretty smooth much of the time.

This the sign on the OT.  Follow the Boardstand Trail to the left and down the mountain.

The trail will turn into a four wheel drive road for a time and then veer off into the woods again.  At one point, I came out onto a forest road and was unsure which way to go because I saw no white markings on the trees.  I back tracked until I found white markings again and then proceeded from that point.  Sure enough, I had missed a sharp right turn right before the forest road.  Watch for this tricky section and just remember, if you ever stop seeing the white markings, return to the point where you last saw them and then try picking up the trail from there.  Works every time.

The Boardstand Trail is really a beautiful trail.  There was a lot of water which made it even more picturesque.  I finally came out at the junction of the Boardstand Trail and Old Military Road trail.  The trailhead is a half a mile to a mile to your right (East).  I went left and headed back toward the van.  The 6 mile section is pretty rocky and lots of little ups and downs but more up than down as you begin heading back toward the mountain.  You will cross four forest roads before finally starting the climb up the mountain. 

The trail is in really good condition here and you can really make out the old military road because there are huge moss covered boulders that were used to build the road in the 1830s.  It is amazing the amount of work that must have been done by the U.S. Army so long ago.  Sometimes as I am hiking, I try to visualize what it must have been like in the age of Andrew Jackson to be all the way in Indian Territory working on this Military Road.

One of many informative signs at the top of the mountain.
Keep climbing and you will at last arrive back at your vehicle and will have earned a good hearty meal and a good night's rest.  It is 23 to 24 miles to do the entire loop with lots of elevation change.

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