The Ozark National Forest covers more than one million acres, located mostly in northwestern Arkansas. The southern portion of the Forest runs along the Arkansas River Valley south to the Ouachita Mountains. The Ozark Mountains are actually plateaus, uplifted as a unit, with few folds or faults. The ruggedness of these mountains is due to erosion of the plateaus by swift rivers rising in them.
"Ozark," the Anglicized version of "Aux Arcs," meaning "with bows," was the name reportedly used by the early French explorer, deTiene, to designate the Bow Indians, a tribe native to the region.
The "Ozarks" are really part of the Boston Mountains and the southern end of the Springfield Plateau. The Boston Mountains are characterized by narrow V-shaped valleys that are bordered by a combination of steep-sided slopes and vertical bluffs of sandstone and limestone soaring beside clear streams. The vegetative cover is upland hardwood of oak-hickory with scattered pine and a brushy undergrowth, dominated by such species as dogwood, maple, redbud, serviceberry and witch-hazel. This makes the Ozark National Forest one of the favorite places for visitors in the spring when the dogwood and redbuds are in bloom, and in the fall when the Forest turns into a brilliant display of oranges, reds, yellows and greens.
The St. Francis National Forest, located on the east central edge of the state, derives its name from the St. Francis River. Most of the Forest is situated on Crowley's Ridge, but some is in the low, flat lands along the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers. The St. Francis National Forest is the only place in the National Forest System where the public can experience the awesome grandeur of the "Father of Waters," the mighty Misssissippi River, from the shoreline.
The forest covers over 20,000 acres and has a variety of the finest bottom-land hardwoods in the country. The St. Francis provides ideal habitat for a large variety of wildlife including whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrel, raccoon, rabbit and waterfowl. Storm Creek and Bear Creek Lakes, along with the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers, attract large numbers of anglers to the area. Popular game fish include: striped bass, largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and bream.
Bear Creek Lake is a favorite for recreation visitors seeking outdoor activities such as fishing, swimming, boating, picnicking and camping. This 625-acre lake is rated as one of the best fishing lakes in Arkansas and has five developed recreation sites located near the shoreline.
A variety of special-use permits are in effect on the St. Francis including pasture haycutting, cultivation, grazing, and cabin sites around Bear Creek Lake.
There are many landowners within the National Forest boundary. These include Arkansas State lands, utility lands and timber producers, as well as individual landowners. Some landowners prohibit certain activities or require permission before you enter their property. Please respect the rights of these private individuals by not trespassing. Maps and information on ownership may be obtained from the Forest Service or local town offices.
The Forests' rugged scenic beauty offers a wide a variety of recreational opportunities during the four very separate and distinct seasons! Whether you are a hiker, camper, canoeist, horseback rider, hunter or fisherman, the Ozark National Forest offers you the experience you are seeking. The Forest also offers three spectacular multiple use trails for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and all terrain vehicles (ATVs). Please be courteous of other users. There are over 230 miles of hiking trails (plus another 130 miles of other trails that are open to hiking) including the 165-mile-long Ozark Highlands Trail.
Six nationally-designated scenic byways crossing both the Ozark and St. Francis National Forests offer over 160 miles of year-round driving pleasure. Summertime offers views of lush central hardwood forests in natural landscapes interspersed with scenic vistas and lush pastures on private lands within the forest boundary. Fall colors are unsurpassed west of the Mississippi River. Colors normally reach their most brilliant hues in late October or early November. The mild winters with barren trees offer views of distant cliffs and bluff lines typical of the Ozark Mountain region. An occasional touch of light snow accentuates the rugged topography. Spring flowers, featuring dogwood and redbud evidence the renewal of life to the wide variety of plants and animals which call the forest their home.
The Ozark National Forest contains five wilderness areas as well as several special interest areas. There are twenty-five developed recreation areas on the Forests with over 320 campsites and nine developed swim sites. Each campground has its own special attraction, whether it is located by one of the scenic lakes or streams, or high atop Mt. Magazine, the highest point in the state at 2,753 feet. This mountain top is the site of a new State Park in Arkansas, Mt. Magazine State Park. The St. Francis National Forest is located on the Mississippi River. This area is being developed as a new State Park in Arkansas, the Mississippi River State Park. Dispersed camping is available in many locations on the Forests at no charge.
One of the most unique recreation attractions in the National Forest system is Blanchard Springs Caverns. Located on the Sylamore Ranger District, 15 miles northwest of Mountain View, Arkansas, the caverns offer the visitor a view of the subterranean world below. Guided tours depart from the Visitor Information Center daily, and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays during the months of November through March. Blanchard Caverns is also closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Days. For current information, call the toll free number (888) 757-2246, or write USDA Forest Service, 1001 East Main Street, Mountain View, Arkansas 72560. To make tour reservations, go to www.recreation.gov and click on the "Tours" tab at the top of the page.
Hunting is a way of life in Arkansas. The Ozark National Forest naturally provides the perfect habitat for a plentiful supply of whitetail deer, turkey, squirrel and black bear. Pleasant Hill Ranger District has a Rifle Range located on Highway 21 north of Clarksville, Arkansas. This range has six benches and is open daily except Wednesday mornings. Two ranges are available, 100 yard range for rifles and 50 yard range for pistols. Sylamore Ranger District also offers a shooting range located on Highway 5, 12 miles north of Mountain View. It has a 200 yard rifle range and an accessible handgun range.
Fishing and canoeing are also some of the more popular activities on the Forest. The many mountain streams offer smallmouth bass, sunfish and trout for the avid angler. During spring when they are "up", the streams become ideal for many thousands of canoeists seeking whitewater experiences.
Six of these streams are Congressionally designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers. All offer outstanding fishing and remote recreation opportunities for the hardy outdoors person. Whitewater canoeing is particularly popular on the Mulberry River (56 miles long) and Big Piney Creek (45 miles long) when the water is "up" from late November until early June each year. Canoe rental and shuttle service is available from outfitters on both streams. Launch sites are indicated on National Forest Maps.
The Forest Service is charged by Congress to manage the National Forests for a variety of public benefits. "Multiple Use" is the key phrase here. During your visit to the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, you will encounter a "working forest" involved in a variety of activities. Besides timber harvesting to provide lumber for homes and paper products, harvesting is done to meet wildlife habitat needs. Individual trees are also harvested on a smaller scale by local craftsmen for handmade furniture and carvings.
The visitor may encounter a herd of cattle grazing on lush open pasture lands, or wildlife improvements such as food plots or waterholes. Visitors may spot a natural gas well (some are plugged, some are producing) on the Forest that is utilizing one of Arkansas' most plentiful resources. Many people derive their livelihood and pleasure from the abundant resources of the Forest.
Firewood-cutting permits, maps and brochures are available at district offices that guide visitors to areas of interest.
WORKING TOGETHER FOR BETTER NATIONAL FORESTS
The trails and facilities on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests are the result of the tradition of hard work and pride in workmanship started by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). They embodied the slogan "Caring for the Land, Serving the People." This tradition continues today. The results can be seen in the cooperation between the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests and many other partners who work together to provide quality trails and facilities, protect the natural environment, and promote the safety and enjoyment of the forest to our visitors.
Through a multitude of partnerships with other individuals, companies, agencies, and organizations, especially the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the "Take a Kid Fishing" derbies are sponsored on the Ranger Districts in observance of National Fishing Week each year in June. For a super weekend, visit the Ozark-St. Francis so you may enjoy watching the delight on your child's face when he makes a catch.