Camping in the Ozarks

Casey and I have been missing the trails of Oregon.  Since moving to Louisiana we have not been hiking much.  We decided we needed to make time for outdoor activities and with the July 4th holiday coming up we figured we could plan a mini adventure.  As a prelude to our 2 Day Canoe Trip, we camped one night in the Ozarks of Arkansas.

We departed on Saturday, July 1st after packing up the car that morning.  Casey had downloaded some podcasts for us to enjoy during the drive.  Our podcasts of choice for this trip were from The Art of Manliness (you should check them out!).

We stopped for a late lunch at Chipotle, after making it through Little Rock.  If you know my husband and I at all, you know that burritos are our favorite food!

After lunch we knew what area we wanted to camp in, but not exactly sure which park.  We used this WEBSITE by the U.S. Forest Service to look at our camping options in the Ozark National Forest of Arkansas.  We reviewed the parks to see how far away they were from where we planned on canoeing the next day and decided on Bayou Bluff Recreation Area and Campground. It is located about 6 miles north of Hector, AR.  This park is pet friendly, has some hiking trails, primitive camping areas, as well as some picnic areas.

We loaded the directions onto our cellphone GPS and were back on the road.  We did run into some navigational issues, as our phone coverage was a little spotty in that area.  We made it to Hector and knew that the park was located about 6 miles north, so we were able to find the park without a GPS after that. We arrived around 4:00 PM.

Bayour Bluff Campgrounds Arkansas
Map Credit: TAKAHIK

Bayou Bluff has an upper level and a lower level.  We had to drive to the lower level to pay the camping fee.  The lower level was closer to the river, but we decided to camp in the upper level because there were fewer people there.

We did a little scouting of the campsites and picked the first one on the left as you enter the upper level.  The view from our campsite was beautiful.  It over looked the hill and was lush and green!

Bayou Bluff Recreation Area Arkansas Camping

After getting the tent up, Casey noticed some ants in the campsite.  We spent some time collecting samples for him to later identify in his lab.

We noticed there were two trail heads in the upper level of the park. We decided to do some exploring after we settled into camp.  We chose to hike the southern trail to see what we could find.

Bayou Bluff Trail Arkansas Hector
Upper level southern trail head.

While hiking this trail we found a secluded campsite not too far into it.  It had an amazing overlook of the river, but unfortunately another group of campers starting setting up camp before we could think about moving our gear.

Bayour Bluff Hiking

The trail was leading down to the river as we continued to hike.  I kept running into spider webs, so I picked up a stick to clear the pathway in front of me.  Casey was behind me, stopping often to look at insects or turn over rocks to look for salamanders.

Casey Entomology Bayou Bluff
Casey was inspecting a beetle.

The woods were lush and green, the trail was narrow.  We could hear birds singing, and the sounds of the river.  We eventually came across a wooden bridge that looked in good condition.

Bayour Bluff Hiking Bridge 1

Bayou Bluff Bridge 2

Bayou Bluff Bridge 3

Casey and I had missed being outdoors.  We enjoyed the disconnect from our busy lives, and the private time to spend with each other.  We chatted while hiking the trail, but also enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature.  The trail eventually reached the water, but there was not much room to explore and we went back the way we came.

Bayou Bluff River Arkansas

Casey Bayou Bluff River

Once back on the upper level, Casey and I still had plenty of daylight.  We decided to follow the second trail head we noticed, thinking it would probably lead down close to the lower level campsites.

Bayou Bluff Stairs Hiking Trails Arkansas
Steps that lead from the lower level to the upper level.

It started with some stairs, and was a steep hike.  We came across some stone pavilions and group campsites near the bottom.  We also could access the river.  We were able to follow the river edge for a while.  Again, a gorgeous view!

Bayou Bluff Arkansas River View

We climbed over some rocks and rested on top of a large boulder while watching the clouds.  It looked like there was a storm moving in the northwest.  The sun was starting to sink in the west.  We decided to head back to the campsite before the sun set.  Fireflies were shining as we walked back up the stairs to our campsite.

Once back at camp I wanted to practice starting a fire.  Casey and I first gathered some wood from nearby.  The ground was damp, so it was hard to find completely dry wood.  We started our attempt with the tee-pee method.  We had not brought any kindling and were trying to use what we could find.  I pulled some napkins from my car to use as kindling and we had some lighters.  We were able to get a small flame going, but it wasn’t burning long enough to catch on the smaller sticks and pieces of bark.  Probably due to everything being slightly damp.

Our lighters ended up running out of fuel, so Casey brought out his metal fire starter and sparked it with a hatchet. He was able to make sparks, but it wasn’t catching anything.  I went back to the car to see if I had brought anything else that would be useful.  Then Casey was able to spark part of a napkin, enough to get a small fire going in the pit.  We continued with the tee-pee method, and fed it small amounts of the paper napkins.  We eventually had a nice size fire going.

Fire Bayou Bluff Campsite
Beginning of our fire, before we started adding larger sticks and dry branches.

Of course it was dark by the time we had our fire going, but we sat on the picnic table next to fire and each enjoyed a cold beer.  We also snacked on some scrabble (which is like trail mix that Casey made).  We were feeling very satisfied.  Eventually, we noticed small raindrops and the wind was picking up.  We knew that the rain we saw earlier was reaching us.  We put out the fire and curled up in our tent with Yavanna.

It did storm a little that night, but it was oddly relaxing.  The next morning was clear.  I loved laying in the tent, curled up in the sleeping bag, listening to the birds chirp.  The rain left the air crisp and fresh.  I loved how the forest smelled stepping out of the tent.

Our plan was to put in early on the Buffalo River that morning to canoe.  We quickly collected our things and cleaned our campsite.  As mentioned earlier, our cellphone GPS was out of service in that area.  Luckily I keep a Magellan GPS in my car for emergency purposes.  It has slightly outdated data, but were were able to figure out where we needed to go.

Driving through the hills had wonderful views, but the roads were incredibly curvy.  We drove by many cabins that overlooked the hills and rivers.  Casey and I would love to plan another trip to the Ozarks.  It was beautiful!  Hopefully next trip we could stay a little longer.


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