Hidden Jewels of the Ouachitas
One thing's for sure — there is no shortage of outdoor opportunities awaiting in the Ouachitas. Although there are destinations abundant practically right in our back yards, I have happened upon a few locations throughout the years that I consider special.
These spots are not necessarily the most popular choices throughout our neck of the woods. It's not that they're lacking. I suspect the main reason these little jewels aren't deluged by the masses is a result of being situated in somewhat out-of-the-way, or hard to access locations. That in mind, I'll share information pertaining to a couple of my all-time favorites.
Those who follow my outdoor destination articles in The Sentinel-Record are likely aware that I'm a huge fan of the Flatside Wilderness Area. Consisting of 9,507 acres, the entire designated area has plenty to offer.
But my favorite section rests in the northwest corner, and for good reason. This section of the national forest is bountiful with creeks and small streams. Include rugged terrain, and you have a recipe for waterfalls.
The section I am referring to is easily accessible. From Hot Springs, travel north on Arkansas Highway 7. Turn right onto Trail 86 (beside the Hollis Fire Department) just south of the Hollis community. Travel just over 6 miles and turn right onto Forest Road 793. Stay on 793 until the road stops at a gate.
From the gate, one can simply continue along the road afoot about half a mile to the base of the hill and make a right at an intersection to reach an impressive waterfall. But my favorites are a little deeper in the forest.
In lieu of giving exact directions, I will suggest taking a dim road to the right of the gate and trekking up and crossing the creek at a small waterfall. Once crossing the drainage, continue upstream and cross a smaller creek.
Continue straight ahead, and turn right on a dim road just past a large boulder pile. Continue along the road to the first creek crossing.
Follow this creek to the left and be prepared to find the first two or three of the most-impressive falls throughout the entire Ouachitas. To get to the third, and my favorite waterfall, simply return and continue to the left of the dim road. Reaching the next creek, head upstream one more time to where the water pours over a sheer rock formation.
Although bushwhacking can prove somewhat of a chore and one is certain to get their feet wet, this journey is well worth the effort. Just be sure and remember to watch for snakes and don't take any unnecessary risks, as one is not likely to see many others kicking around in this section of the forest.
My second favorite location is a rarity in the Ouachitas, and can be accessed via SUV. Located a few miles off of Arkansas Highway 298, Richardson Bottoms is a 100-acre swamp produced by the handiwork of beavers.
This specific habitat plays host to a very interesting ecosystem. Huge stands of cattails thrive in the water. And what areas are hosting these water-loving plants is blanketed with aquatic vegetation.
During the spring season, those who arrive just as the sun peeks over the horizon are in for a real treat as the influx of natural light cues the flowers of acres of lily-pads to suddenly open during their blooming period.
Last spring, I noticed a couple of small colonies of Blue Flags blooming along the water's edge as well. Although the number of plant species taking root within a few feet in in the swamp is impressive, I am partial to a colony of shooting stars making an annual showing on the small knoll overlooking the bottoms.
And as for critters, it doesn't get much better. Of course reptiles and amphibians thrive in this type of habitat. a plethora of insects call Richardson Bottoms home, including worlds of dragonflies.
Beavers obviously use the swamp, but many other mammals frequent the area. I have seen wild turkeys, coyotes, bobcats and deer on several occasions. And those with a passion for bird-watching should certainly consider Richardson Bottoms as a destination.
The 2.8-mile dirt road leading to the swamp is equally as bountiful with plants and animals. In fact, the road's edge will be painted with an array of wildflower species during the weeks to come.
Although somewhat off of the beaten path, Richardson Bottoms is not hard to find. The turn-off leading to the destination is located on Arkansas Highway 298, 5 miles east of Story.
Both of these locations are certainly worth exploring. And who knows, we might even cross paths while enjoying these two jewels of the Ouachitas.
Several waterfalls lurk in the northwestern portion of the Flatside Wilderness Area.
Above: Consisting of a 100-acre swamp built by beavers, Richardson Bottoms is a rarity in the Ouachitas. Below: Those traipsing upstream along the creeks lurking in the northwestern portion of the Flatside Wilderness Area are in for some spectacular spots that are not visited by the masses.