“Progressive Dinner” in the Ozarks – Hare Mt. Hike-In


The Hare Mountain campfire felt good this year.

This fall’s first predicted freeze didn’t discourage hikers from gathering on Hare Mountain for the annual potluck meal and campfire fellowship that dates back to the 1980s. We were joined by fifteen hikers with a youth group from Oklahoma, so Hare Mountain’s population was up from zero to approximately fifty.


Youth group from Oklahoma

I noticed the Oklahoma leaders discussing a cracked water jug and took pleasure in sharing extra water I’d carried in. I thought back to Joe who camped next to us on the John Muir Trail and gave me his Sawyer filter pouch when mine failed. It’s fun to play a small role in making trail magic happen for someone else. I enjoyed telling the Oklahoma leader that this jug contained Alma City water which won the Arkansas taste test in recent years.


progressive dinner

The weather was beautiful for this year’s hike-in, and we were without last year’s forest fire down below the mountain. As food warmed on the fire, a “progressive dinner” ensued as more hikers (and food) made the trek up the mountain. 

It was a great time atop Hare Mountain this year!

Hare Mountain Annual Ritual


View to the west from Hare Mountain

What causes folks of all ages and locations to climb a hill and eat a meal together for over 30 years running? This was my thought as I drove the 46-miles to the Morgan Fields Traihead next to Hare Mountain, with my to-do list for the next week weighing on my mind. This was probably my tenth Hare Mountain Hike-In. I couldn’t be sure.

I’d hiked Shepherd Springs Loop at Lake Fort Smith that morning so Hiker-dog wouldn’t be upset at being left behind for the Hare Mountain hike. The early morning clouded sky played with the light and made this a delightful hike so she seemed willing to rest when I left for Hare Mt. in the early afternoon.

Shepherd Springs Loop photos from our morning hike. 

As I stepped off the gravel road at Morgan Fields Trailhead and felt the cushioned surface beneath my feet in a quiet pine grove, my shoulders began to relax. The weight of my pack felt like a close friend’s hand on my back. The slight climb felt good, and my heart began to tap a stronger rhythm as cares dropped away like dust from the soles of my shoes.

Pretty quickly it became evident that a fire was burning to the west of the mountain this year. The woods were dry, so I was thankful that there wasn’t any wind.


Smoke rising from the valley to the west.


Rock wall next to the trail

Continuing past rock walls above the trail, I began to think of Hare Mountain Hike-Ins-past. I thought of Wildman, well into his 80s, and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he talked of the long trails he’d hiked or watched the energy of children playing around the campfire. I thought of others who, like Wildman, were no longer with us. I wondered what memories and feelings of nostalgia might follow those who’ve hiked this path for twenty or thirty years.


Wildman enjoyed visiting with youngsters on Hare Mountain

When it looked as if the Hare Mountain Hike-In tradition might be discontinued a couple of years ago, Bob and Dana Cable stepped forward to continue scheduling the “Hike-In” as in the past.


Dana and Bob

While sitting around the campfire, Bob announced that Grey Owl and his wife Lenna hiked up earlier in the day for a quick visit with other early arrivers and then walked back down the mountain to avoid driving back to Oklahoma in the dark. I was sorry to miss them but thankful that they made the hike in this year. Bob’s imitation coonskin hat was a gift from Grey Owl several years ago and he always wears it on Hare Mountain.

The fire burning below the mountain made a memory for this year’s hike-in. After the potluck feast, Steve and I took a few photos of the red glow below in the darkness. It was an unusual and beautiful scene, especially since we had word that the fire was contained.


Ritual is the word that came to mind while walking away from the top of Hare Mountain. Doing this hike each year could be considered a “ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” It’s also fun, which I don’t think disqualifies the word “ritual.”


Grey Owl’s quick hike up earlier that day confirmed my thoughts. The Hare Mountain Hike-In rises to the level of ritual for many of us. Maybe it’s the simple desire for fellowship with trail friends, or it’s a fitness check as you compare this year’s hike with those in the past. Maybe it’s a chance to share our collective memories and relive stories from the trails we’ve hiked. Whatever the reasons we choose to make this trek, my hope is that it will continue to be a tradition (or ritual) for years to come.

Diverse group on a 20-mile stretch of the OHT


How often do you plan a trip for five 10th-graders, one college student, four older adults, and a dog? Two of the youngsters had never been backpacking while several of the group had done many nights in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado as well as Arkansas. A diverse team for sure!

I was a little hesitant about our itinerary, especially the long first day from Cherry Bend Trailhead to Harrod’s Creek, but everyone was packed and ready to go on Saturday morning. The boys spent Friday night in the Rock House just west of Cherry Bend Trailhead, so they began the trip with an experience few others their age have had.


The group minus Bob’s wife, Dana who joined in at Fly Gap Trailhead.


Pausing to take in the view from Hare Mountain

While hiking over Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT, we wondered how anyone could eke out a living on such a rocky terrain. A rock wall, fireplace, and still usable well are the only remnants from the early settlers.



Creeks were flowing, so water options were plentiful.


Crossing Harrod’s Creek after an 11-mile day.


Cedar grove campground at Harrod’s Creek

Several of us packed our bear canisters in preparation for a future trip. We enjoyed the convenience of keeping all food enclosed in a secure container rather than suspending food from tree limbs. I had my traditional tater soup with a few slices of dehydrated sweet potatoes added.

Day 2

Hiking toward Indian Creek brought us alongside a beautiful stream with water features and cascades. I’d passed this small waterfall in the past, but since day two was a shorter mileage day, I took time to scramble down for a few photos.



The group enjoyed an early lunch after crossing Indian Creek.

The trail holds beauty with every step. In places, the moss-covered trail surface glistened green in the distance despite foot traffic.


The younger hikers in our group showed no indication of discomfort. They kept on trucking down the trail.



Bob at the Marinoni Scenic Area campground next to Briar Branch

We enjoyed referring to the new OHT map during our trip to see the lay of the land and forest roads surrounding the trail. Bob scrambled up above the area for a look at the top of the natural bridge.


Briar Branch has clear water most of the year. I enjoyed exploring upstream during the lazy afternoon.


Hiker-dog ate something that didn’t agree with her system and took an extended siesta. I was a little worried about her, but she bounced back to her hyper self the next morning.


Day 3 


Coffee is best next to an early morning fire.

Hiking through the Marinoni is always a treat! The modest Briar Branch flows next to massive boulders brought down by years of erosion. Within a week or so, the place will be alive with wild iris and many other floral displays.



Natural Bridge in the morning sun.


Bob and Dana passing through a rocky maze about one mile from Lick Branch

After arriving at Lick Branch, we drove away with hamburgers on our minds. As we approached Oark, we slowed down while sharing the road with horses. They stopped in at the Oark General Store, and we had a full house for lunch.



Nick heading in for lunch.


Good food and fellowship.

By the end of the trip, I couldn’t tell you which two of our younger hikers had never done a backpacking trip. There was no whining, and they handled themselves like veteran backpackers. I enjoyed seeing their energy and enthusiasm, and I’m sure they enjoyed the comic relief we older hikers provided during our three days on the trail.

If you want to learn more or get driving directions to the Marinoni Scenic Area, go to Making Time for Marinoni.

Here’s a link to the Rock House where the boys spent their first night on the OHT.

Just another day on the trail…

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Part of the fun of hiking is driving to the trailhead. I just had to stop when this abandoned house caught my eye.


I was looking forward to hiking with Mike LeMaster.  He is a “heavy hitter” when it comes to trail maintenance, but today he hiked without his chainsaw.  We had a good visit while on the trail.  He is shown here with his famous Toyota go-anywhere truck.  This little truck has slid into a couple of ditches and a barbed wire fence, but just keeps going and going.


We decided to avoid running a shuttle and did the Redding Loop.  We passed this “would be” waterfall.  I thought about a kayaker who often said, “If there were water, we could float this.”   I thought to myself, “If there were water, this would be a waterfall,” but it was just a trickle today.  The little valley was a pleasure to see as the trail followed around its edge.

Spy Rock

Spy Rock

We didn’t make the spur to Spy Rock but enjoyed seeing it from a distance.  Below is a picture taken from the bluff a couple of months ago.  Sean is cutting up (carefully) on the edge of Spy Rock.


After completing Redding Loop, Mike headed back to Fayetteville to catch a football game.  Hiker-dog and I had one more hike in mind.  We drove up to Morgan Fields Trailhead with the idea of doing an out-and-back to Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT.

Trail entrance from Morgan Fields Trailhead

Trail entrance from Morgan Fields Trailhead


This out-and-back hike was on the Ozark Highlands Trail, passing mile marker 43, and 44.  I’m always pleased to see these little trail signs at road crossings.  I must associate them with good experiences on the trail.


The trail passes a rock wall.  I wish these walls could tell stories of the people who built them.  Below is a picture of a small portion of rockwork that forms the base of a section of historic roadbed.  The trail follows this road for a short distance.   Over the years, some of the stone retaining wall has been torn up by falling trees but much of it has stood the test of time.  I can’t imagine how much physical labor went into building this little section of road.

Rock base of historic roadbed

Rock base of historic roadbed


The trail climbs steadily and cuts through a couple of rocky crags.  It’s December 6, and I’m hiking in a t-shirt.  I was chilly but avoided breaking a sweat on the climb.


Hickory nuts were plentiful on top of Hare Mountain.  I picked one up and tossed it for Hiker to chase.  To my surprise, she began to crack it with her teeth.  Half fell out on the ground, and she chewed up the other half.  I dug out some of the nut and tried it.  Pretty good but a lot of work.

The hickory nut Hiker cracked for me.

The hickory nut Hiker cracked for me.

Hiker chewing a hickory nut.

Hiker chewing a hickory nut.


Hiker inspected the homestead chimney and well.  I’m always impressed with the mantel stone on this fireplace.  It appears that some mortar may have been used, but there are no firebricks.   I would like to know the date of construction.

Hare Mountain Well

Hare Mountain Well

I peeked under the well lid to check the water level.  It was about two feet from the top and pretty cloudy as usual.  Rain water had collected in the bucket.


Even on foggy days, the view from Hare Mountain is a joy to see.  A quick hike down the mountain and we called it a day, another very good day on the trail!

If you’d like to see more of the Ozark Highlands Trail, here’s a slideshow from my thru-hike last winter.