things to do in the ozark national forest

9 Things to Do in the Ozark National Forest

The Ozark National Forest contains over one million acres of room to play and roam here in Arkansas. Hiking, fishing, ATVs, caves…you can do it all!

Here in Arkansas, we like being in the outdoors and since Arkansas is known as The Natural State, there is no shortage of things to do here.

The Ozark National Forest is a unique area located mostly in Northwestern Arkansas with the southern border running all the way to the Arkansas River Valley and the Ouachita Mountains.

Folks have enjoyed this area for many, many years. In fact, the Ozarks were once home to quite a few outlaw hideouts by the likes of Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd and others.

Rumors have it that Jesse James hid treasure somewhere in the hills of Calico Rock in Izard County, Arkansas. This place was possibly used as a hideout by the James/Younger gang after the Civil War.

Thankfully, the outlaws are gone and the popular activities in the Ozark Mountains are family friendly.

BEST Things to Do in the Ozark National Forest

If you’re the outdoorsy type, your going to love all the incredible things to do in the Ozarks!

1. Unbeatable Hiking

Hiking trails weave through the Ozarks like yarn in a knitted hat. There is no shortage of places to explore in our forests.

One of the most photographed areas is Whitaker Point near Ponca. A portion of the trail follows along a massive bluff line and ends at Whitaker Point otherwise known as Hawksbill Crag.

You also won’t want to miss Pam’s Grotto.

Pam's Grotto waterfall in Arkansas
Pam’s Grotto. Photo Credit: TROVE1

Pam’s Grotto is named after the wife of Tim Ernst, a wilderness photographer and author. It has also been named one of 14 INCREDIBLE Waterfalls in Arkansas.

Read more here: BEST Hikes in Arkansas

2. Beautiful Camping

Camping is a popular activity in the Ozark Mountains. There is no shortage of campgrounds whether you like primitive/dispersed camping or you want to bring your RV and crank up the a/c.

The free camping areas within the Ozark National Forest are usually more primitive. However, some of them do offer amenities such as vault toilets, picnic tables, grills and trash service.

  • Lee Creek Dispersed Campsite in Chester, AR
  • River Ridge on Ozark Lake
  • Erbie Campground near Harrison, Arkansas
  • White Rock Mountain Recreation Area

The White Rock Mountain Recreation Area has also been named one of the BEST Campgrounds in Northwest Arkansas. It’s a forest service campground that offers 9 primitive campsites (no hookups) that are open year-round. Two of these campsites can accommodate small RVs/Pop Up Campers. The rest of the campsites are tent only.

A huge perk to this campground is the General Store that is nearby! They offer snacks, firewood, cold drinks, ice cream and a few other camping essentials.

Near this camping area are the EPIC OHV trails near Cass, Arkansas.

Keep in mind that you might need a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach the White Rock Mountain Recreation Area. But, the drive is worth it!

Learn more here: [UNBELIEVABLE] Free Camping in Arkansas

Also, if you’re out there camping in the National Forest, you might need this essential information: How To Make An Old-Fashioned Toothbrush From A Black Gum Twig

3. ATV Riding for Adrenaline Junkies

Here in Arkansas, we’re proud of the many ATV trails that are offered within our National Forests.

Favorite off-road trails for many Arkansans is in the Sylamore District of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest.

There is also great camping in the area where you can stay and ride.

Another favorite ATV trail system in the Ozark National Forest is the Buckhorn OHV Trail System. It’s a 60-mile network of trails. They run through the forest like a spider web.

Keep in mind: You must follow the map and stay on the ATV trails. However, after contacting the ranger station, I was told that you are permitted to travel from one ATV trail to another on main roads.

This is an ATV friendly area. Just be sure to get back on the ATV/ORV trails as quickly as you can.

Learn more here: [BEST] ATV Trails in Arkansas

Also, don’t miss our EPIC Arkansas Bucket List of 100 AMAZING things to do in Arkansas!

4. Blanchard Springs Caverns for Underground Enthusiasts

A tour through the Blanchard Springs Caverns is an experience that you’ll never forget. I remember my first trip there like it was yesterday. It’s truly an unbelievable world down there!

And with a constant 58 degree temperature, the cavern is pleasant any time of the year.

“Located in Stone County, approximately 2 miles off Highway 14 near Mountain View, the Blanchard Springs Caverns is one of the most spectacular and carefully developed caves found anywhere. Visitors enter a “living” cave where glistening formations like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones are still changing.”source

Blanchard springs caverns near eureka springs
Blanchard Springs Caverns. Photo credit: TROVE1

There are several trails through this cavern depending on how wild you feel like getting and the Dripstone Trail is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers!

5. Test Out Your Sharp Shooter Skills

Pleasant Hill Ranger District has a Rifle Range located on Highway 21 north of Clarksville, Arkansas. This is a fun (and safe) place to practice your target shooting.

“The rifle range is 100-yards long and the pistol range is 50-yards long. The target holders may also be set for metric distances.” -source

Keep in mind that you’ll need to bring your own targets and clothespins to attach your targets to the holder. Don’t forget protection for your ears and eyes too!

Pro tip: There is a vault toilet available here but no picnic tables.

You’ll find the Pleasant Hill Shooting Range here:
Latitude : 35.5762167
Longitude : -93.4250333

Sylamore Ranger District also offers a shooting range located on Highway 5, 12 miles north of Mountain View. The added perk to this shooting range is that the firing lines are covered.

At this firing range, you can shoot rifles and pistols.

“Rifle Range has 12 shooting benches, with target stations located at 25, 50, 75, 100, and 200 yards. Targets out to 100 yards are accessible. Accessible pistol range has 8 firing lanes and one shooting bench, with target stations at 7, 15, 25, and 50 yards.” -source

Just like at the Pleasant Hill Shooting Range, you’ll need to bring your own targets and ways to secure them to the holders.

6. Cool Swimming Holes

Nothing beats a dip in a cool Arkansas creek or lake to take the edge off the summer heat. If the local pool isn’t your idea of fun, you’ll love what the Ozark National Forest has to offer!

P.S. “Arkansas swimming hole” often refers to a river, creek or lake that might be off the beaten path. Generally, we call our favorite spot a “swimming hole.”

things to do in Ozark national forest - swimming in greers ferry lake
Greers Ferry Lake is in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains

Many favorite swimming holes in this area are:
Walnut Creek
Buffalo River
Greers Ferry Lake
Big Shoal Creek
Blue Hole near Boston

Learn more here: 13 [EPIC] Arkansas Swimming Holes That You WON’T Want To Miss!

7. Excellent Fishing for Anglers

Some of the BEST fishing in Arkansas is located in the northern portion of Arkansas. In fact, this is one of my favorite things to to in the Ozark National Forest!

Trout fishing is especially popular since the Ozarks are home to the Little Red River, White River and Norfork River. All three of these rivers offer world-class trout fishing in Arkansas.

8. Swift Canoeing for the Paddlers

Canoeing enthusiasts love a good day of paddling and the Ozark National Forest always delivers!

The Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek offer whitewater canoeing when the water is high.

“The distinctive scenery of Big Piney Creek is characterized by its sandstone bluffs, waterfalls, still pools and stands of oak, hickory and pine. Principal recreation activities in the corridor include canoeing, camping, swimming and fishing. The river is very popular for canoeing, with Class I to III rapids.” -source

The Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek have also been named as unique places to swim in Arkansas.

Also, the Buffalo National River is a HUGE favorite of mine! It is America’s first National River and one of the few rivers that remains undammed.

9. Scenic Driving for the Easy-Going

I have always loved a calm drive through the countryside. I have sorted out many of life’s complications on long drives and also made many memories.

A drive like this makes some folks want to crank up the “Alabama Arkansas Song.” (No, it’s not a football fight song.)

Taking a scenic drive through the Ozarks offers many opportunities to see things you may have never seen before!

A beautiful backroad in Arkansas
A beautiful backroad in Arkansas. Photo credit: Vickie Gray

For example, the Ozarks are home to several beautiful canyons in Arkansas, the Little Golden Gate Bridge of Arkansas, a full host a towns with weird names, and even dinosaurs deep within the Ozark Mountains!

“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.” -source

While you’re out enjoying the scenic drive, be sure to stop in one of Arkansas’s BEST coffee shops!

BEST Things to Do in the Ozark National Forest

No matter which activity you choose, you love every minute of your time spent in the Ozarks.

Did you know that the Ozarks are in other states too?
Read more here: Where are the Ozarks?

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