Summary, a beautiful 15-mile look through stunning Ozarks winter terrain. Five Troop 15 Scouts and three leaders, a good group that included two new backpackers.
We left OKC right at dark and didn’t get to the trailhead until around 2200. It was cold and a very clear night. Everyone got tents up quickly and we racked out. The trailhead was Shores Lake, which is about 15 miles NE of I-40 and Mulberry, AR. Note that all water to the area is shut off at the first sign of a freeze; that’s not on the Forest Service website. We found out when I called White Rock Mountain to ask about water, and the nice lady told me they had it year round, but the water at Shores was shut off the week before. So we were able to bring a jerrycan full of water from OKC. We could have pumped water from the stream there as well.
The next morning, we woke up at 0830. Yes, that’s the whole crew sleeping in a bit. Breakfast was meant to be fast and filling: two pounds of pre-cooked bacon and Little Smokies cooked in a dutch oven, followed by 18 eggs. Not a scrap was left.
In the meantime, the crew made pita pocket sandwiches from ham, turkey, and the like. I like pita pockets, but mine fell apart. I think I either need to get larger ones next time, or stick with tortillas. Everyone packed up. We hit the trail very late, at 1155.
There is a $10 fee per night to camp at Shores, which is reduced to $6 when the water is turned off. I only had a $10 bill, so that’s what it cost us. For that we got a campsite next to a pit toilet, and a couple nice picnic tables and a fire ring. We used all of them. Being that it is a National Forest, you can also camp along one of the two streams running into the campground, as long as you are out of sight of any trail or other campgrounds (that’s USFS policy, not me trying to get people to do something sketchy). If you were to get to the trailhead by around 1600, you could hike up the trail a mile or so, there are a LOT of nice places to camp that are near water. There is also a $6 per vehicle fee to park at the trailhead.
The trail is beautiful. We were in the post-leaf-drop period, which means the forest floor was covered in orange and red leaves. You could also see a long distance through the forest.
The first five+ miles of trail are a mix of gentle rise and contouring. There was plenty of water (at least two large creeks and several smaller) that the trail crossed, and in many cases, the trail is very near Salt Fork Creek (you would have to hike downhill a hundred yards or so, but there are also a multitude of nice campsites down there).
Once past the five mile point, you’ve done about 500ft+ of altitude gain, then you intersect the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT). At this point, you have a serious climb in front of you: 1200ft over less than two miles. It is tough. I was a little worried about our two new guys, but in the end, we were ALL worn out by the climb.
Once you get to the top of White Rock Mountain, you pass some cabins that look very nice, and find the campsites on the west side of the ridge. There is water, and pit toilets. Again, $10 per night to camp, and you get a picnic table and fire ring, both of which we put to use. Dinner was Mountain House spaghetti, chicken noodle soup, and hot chocolate. Pretty darn good.
A note on the campsite, there are two rows of them that run north-south. We picked the first one we came to, which was the first site (south end) of the western row. The site had some slope to it, and my tent site straddled a sort of run off; if it had rained I might have been partially in a river! The two sites to the north were flatter. That’s the risk you take when you get into camp late.
We were told at the office another Scout Troop was in one of the other camps, and the next day I went over and said hello; they were from West Fork, AR, which is the gateway to Devil’s Den State Park, another lovely area that I recently backpacked with our Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT).
It was cold up there that morning, but it warmed up quickly. Breakfast was Pop Tarts, oatmeal, hot chocolate, and snacks. We got out of camp around 1045 (an hour-ten better than yesterday) and headed to the overlook for some beautiful views of the Ozarks, including the mountain we hiked around the day before.
The hike back to Shores Lake was pretty straightforward. If you look at the hike path on the Google+ photos, there is a marker “Falls”. This was a beautiful grotto and 70ft+ waterfall (with several stairstep waterfalls above that) above White Rock Creek. After a rainfall, I would imagine that waterfall to be spectacular. This was about three miles from the Shores Lake trailhead, and there was a SPECTACULAR campsite below the fall. I think it would be a perfect location for a beginning backpacking trip, or a base camp location.
A little farther towards Shores Lake is another gorgeous waterfall that spans the entire creek, and has a six+ foot drop.
We got back to trailhead around 1530. The Scouts ran down to look at Shores Lake (in the daylight 🙂 ), then we loaded up and headed back towards Oklahoma City.
We had two beginners on this trip, but both those Scouts did just fine. I’m proud of the entire group. We only had one incident, when I let the Scouts get ahead a little bit, and they blew through a trail junction, which led us to a discussion about what to do in that situation (which is stop and wait for the group to close up). Food was good. The trail was the right length, and as I said before, just beautiful!
I hiked this area as an Explorer Scout in 1979, and the memory stuck with me. I don’t think the Shores Trail was there back then, and we bushwacked and followed roads. But the memories now will be a lot fresher.