Never the Same Trail Twice


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Frog Bayou

Hiking buddy, Nick, said he needed some time on the trail and wondered what section we might try. Hiker-dog had never done the few miles from Dockery Gap to White Rock Mountain, so we decided to do Lake Fort Smith State Park to Fane Creek, just over 30 miles.

This route included new miles for Nick and Hiker-dog but repeats for me. As we walked this familiar path, I remembered once again that we never walk the same trail twice.


Nick checking out the fire bricks inside the remnants of one homesite along the trail.

IMG_6532rr Water was plentiful. This was my first filterless backpacking trip using only water treatment drops, so I enjoyed “selecting” my water from any number of small streams we passed.


Little Hurricane Creek

IMG_6569rrWe met a family camped at mile 10. While visiting with the father, Luke, I was impressed with his two young daughters’ ability to run without pain barefoot through the woods.

The next day we met two backpackers, Nick and Foster, from Kansas who’d camped in the area and were continuing on the OHT the next day. As we approached White Rock Mountain, a young man with a group called out, “Is that Hiker-dog?” She’s such a celebrity. Turns out, Chris had picked up a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and met Hiker-dog at the Hare Mountain Hike-In. We expected a social hike due to the time of year and enjoyed meeting good folks on the trail.


For the first evening meal I boiled red potato slices a few minutes then added a Knorr side dish that cooked quickly. Good stuff!

On the second night at Salt Fork Creek, I used instant potatoes combined with a slice of Spam. Quick, easy, and light.


Hiker-dog enjoyed a nap early in our second evening as a soft rain began to fall. Stronger storms and a beautiful lightning show followed later during the night, although not enough to raise the level of Salt Fork or Spirits Creek by more than an inch. 


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Spirits Creek

As Nick crossed Spirits Creek, I thought back to my thru-hike with Bob a few years ago. A heavy rain raised the creek level enough to cause us to pay careful attention while crossing. Never the same trail twice…

Below is another example of how different the same trail can be depending on conditions. Early in our hike, the Shepherd Springs Waterfall was a trickle in bright sunshine. On a previous visit during a wet springtime day, I got one of my favorite photos of this same waterfall. Part of the pleasure of the OHT is repeated visits during varied conditions and seasons. In the Ozarks, just when you think you know a trail, you realize it has something new to reveal.

Word of thanks to Ozark Highlands Trail Association volunteers: The photo below right shows the obvious work of trail maintenance volunteers who hike in with chainsaws and cut out obstacles. The photo on the left shows a full day’s work by several volunteers although it would be easy to walk by without notice. At one time, water flowed across the trail continually washing it out and making this a difficult spot. Volunteers trenched an alternative route for the water, directing it away from the trail and toward a culvert that channels water under the adjacent road. They’d be proud of how well this erosion fix is working.

A Familiar Trail in Unfamiliar Conditions

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

Shepherd Spring Waterfall from the trail

I wanted to avoid flooded roads so Hiker-dog and I headed to Lake Fort Smith this morning. We hiked the Shepherd Spring Loop Trail and enjoyed hanging out at the waterfall and Shepherd Spring for a while.

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

Shepherd Spring Waterfall

This waterfall is about seven feet tall and rarely runs this strong. The water has a beautiful flow because of the stair step shapes in the rock.


I’d like to know the story behind this chimney located next to the trail and a short distance from Lake Fort Smith. Another chimney and Shepherd Spring are located along this section of trail.


This is a normally dry drainage that crosses the trail as it flows to the lake.

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring

Shepherd Spring always has water, but today it was flowing more heavily. The water storage tank no longer holds water so the water runs out at the base of the concrete wall.


Portions of Lake Fort Smith were covered in debris from a fast moving and flood level Frog Bayou. Fort Smith broke precipitation records in May dating back to the 1940s.

Frog Bayou

Frog Bayou

I got a view of Frog Bayou from the trail high above. There’s no crossing in this area. It’s difficult to appreciate the water levels and volume of flow off in the distance, but you couldn’t pay me to cross that creek at these levels. As high as the water is now, you can see areas down below the trail that were covered by rushing water recently.

Small drainage

Small drainage

I had a closer look at this small drain that runs along the trail where it intersects back onto the OHT close to the waterfall.

Had to laugh on my return trip when I noticed the waterfall sign. Seems unnecessary now but it serves a purpose during the dry season when you have to imagine what it might look like with water.

It was a great day to hike a familiar trail clothed in springtime wet season conditions.


Hiker was glad to get on the trail after several rainy days.

Hiker was glad to get on the trail after several rainy days.