Beech Creek Trails, Ouachita Mts, Oklahoma
WARNING: Some of the trails in this areas get very little use and can be overgrown and difficult to follow. In particular, the Blue Bouncer is was reported to be a nightmare of briars (Feb 2014) and totally impassable. Please consider your navigational skills, conditioning, tolerance to pain and level of patience before embarking on a trip here. But beyond that, I think you'll love it!
This 33 mile trail complex is in the Beech Creek National Scenic and Botanical Areas of the Ouachita National Forest in Oklahoma. It is located in Oklahoma south of Talimena Drive and just west of the Arkansas border. The two main trail heads give access to several loop options that follow Beech Creek or climb Blue Bouncer or Walnut Mountains. This is a hidden treasure full of old beech trees that no one seems to know about.
The Map: The map is FREE to download. It is 1:24,000 scale based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps. Alternatively, the map is available on 11x17 Rite in the Rain weatherproof stock for $5/sheet plus S&H. Email Charlie@OuachitaMaps.com. All trails were mapped with a WAAS enabled GPS and are color coded. Forest roads are in black. Other features include trailheads, segment mileage, general directions, waypoints and waypoint coordinates.
Tracks of the Beech Creek Trails: This link is to a Google Earth KML file for all the trails on the map. You should be able to right click the file and save it on your computer. Then open it with Google Earth to see the entire trail system in interactive 3-D. Once in Google Earth you can access individual tracks. If you have the right software you can select the tracks you want and load them on your GPS.
General Area: The Beech Creek National Scenic and Botanical Areas was established in 1988 by act of Congress to protect the areas “unique plant species and unique plant communities.” Specifically, this is the western edge of the American beech forest and this legislation protects them from harvest. The American beech can be identified by the long (4 inch) bladed leaves, which in the winter tend turn light brown and stay on the tree, and the smooth, silver-gray bark. Important because it is the edge of its range, the beech is a minor player in a forest dominated by oak, hickory, sugar maple sweetgum, hornbeam, basswood and short leaf pines. Minor but highly visible species are holly in the winter and dogwood and red bud in the spring.
The Turkey Snout Loop Hike: This trail begins and ends at the forest road K68A parking lot (WP-01 on the map), which is the main parking lot for the Beech Creek Trails. At 4.3 miles and little relief change, it makes an easy dayhike. However, there is some nice level spots for camping on this trail so if you only have a night and are looking for a quiet getaway, bring your pack and enjoy.
We will go counterclockwise, so start heading south from the parking lot along the old road for about 100 feet and turn right on the trail. It has a new sign and is well blazed in white like all the trails in the Beech Creek area. First mile follows a SSW direction along the general course of an unnamed tributary of Beech Creek. There are a couple of minor creek crossings and a few intersections with some old logging roads, but nothing tricky. FYI, there is private property to the east of this section of trail so watch your bearings if you start exploring down the old roads.
After about a mile the trail turns towards the east and crosses a tributary. In about another half mile it will cross Beech Creek proper. This can be a wet crossing (video) but unless the water is really high, a little boulder hopping should suffice. When you cross you’ll be on an old road trace. Pay attention because the trail leaves it once you cross the creek. The road looks like a natural path but will sucker you into some nasty briars (been there, done that). Just watch for the white blazes departing to the left.
At 1.8 miles you’ll come junction with the Beech Creek Trail (WP-06 on the map). Turn left. I suppose technically you will be on the Beech Trail for the next 0.9 miles. The trail will meander through the woods for 0.3 miles until you reach the old parking lot (WP-05). For some reason, people used to use this a as dump (isolated road on public land? Gee, must be a land fill), so the Forest Service cleaned it up and put up a berm near the new parking lot. The trail follows the abandoned road for 0.2 miles to the northeast junction of the Walnut Mountain Trail (WP-04) and crosses Beech Creek. The road used to bridge the creek with three 6-foot culverts. In early 2009, it was completely washed out leaving the culverts down stream and a vertical 10 foot cut in the road bed. Another 0.4 miles on the road brings you to Turkey Snout Creek and the junction with the east section of the Turkey Snout Trail (WP-03). If for some reason you have to abandon your trip, or need to shorten your hike, the Beech Creek Trail (i.e the road) takes you back to the K68A parking lot in 0.4 miles. The bridge has washed out on this creek, too, but it has been a while and the slopes have eroded enough to that it is an easy crossing.
The Turkey Snout Trail is on top of the rise just before the creek, on the north side of the road. It is marked, but since the trail gets so little use and needs maintenance, it is a little hard to find. In fact, when I was there in February 2007, the first eighth of mile had several tricky areas. After that, the trail is in good shape and easy to follow. About a half mile up the trail you will climb a small rise and at 0.8 miles cross Turkey Snout Creek. About 1.1 miles into this section, there is an outcrop and the forest flattens out and opens up. The next 0.2 to 0.3 miles looks ripe for camping, though if dry you might have to go back to the Turkey Snout Creek crossing for water (for hikes like this, each of our team carries a 6 liter platypus so that we are not restricted to creek side camps). This northern section of the Turkey Snout Loop is 1.6 miles long and finishes at the K68A parking lot.
The Walnut Mountain Loop Hike: The Walnut Mountain Loop is made up of the Walnut Mountain Trail and the a connector section of the Beech Creek Trail. To get there either you can either 1) start at the K68A trailhead (WP-01) and take the Beech Creek Trail/road, 2) start at the K68A TH and use the west branch of the Turkey Snout Loop or 3) start at the FR 6025 Trailhead (WP-02) and make a big loop with a walk along FR 6025 (see Mega Loop below). This narrative will skip over the first 1.3 miles from WP-01 to WP-06, start at the intersection of the Turkey Snout Trail and Beech Creek Trail (WP-06) and go counter clockwise.
It is 1.3 miles along the Beech Creek Trail from section from WP-06 to the southwest junction of the Walnut Mountain Trail (WP-07). The trail is well marked and in good shape with minor changes in relief. As the trail drops down toward creek level after a section along the side of a small bluff, the Walnut Creek Trail intersects from the south (left). There is a primitive camp (video) site and fire ring a little further down the Beech Creek Trail, north of the trail. The intersection is marked with new signs. If you miss it you will end up at creek level and cross a minor tributary. Backtrack back up the hill.
The Walnut Mountain Trail is 6.6 miles from the southwest junction of the Beech Creek Trail (WP-07) to the northeast junction (WP-04). The first 1.2 miles is a steady climb of 400 feet on good trail to near the top of Walnut Mountain (1800 above mean sea level or AMSL). The trail is well blazed (white) and easy to follow, but there are several large downed tree and briar patches. One of the advantages of the entire Beech Creek area is its isolation and lack of use. That, of course, means it doesn’t get any maintenance.
The next 3 miles climbs another 300 feet to 2200 feet AMSL generally following the contour of the mountain. As you near the high point you’ll pass the standing rock. There can be a little water up on top where the trail crosses a draw at 4.3 miles. There are some flat areas just before it and I was tempted to look for a good camp site. But I didn’t so if anyone finds a good site, please let me know.
The last section takes you down hill along the broad back of Polecat Peak to WP-04. There are some nice beech forests (video) in this area. There are also some flat areas suitable for camping about 0.3 to 0.4 miles from the junction (there is a small spring but I can't vouch for the regularity of flow). The map shows the last 0.15 miles along the creek to be flat, too, but while you might find a place to set up a tent, it is rocky and overgrown. There is a nice spot with a small fire ring just north of Beech Creek off the Beech Creek Trail: turn right at WP-04, cross the creek, go up the hill and around the bend, look to the right/south of the road where it is hidden in the woods (there has to be a grandmothers house somewhere in this sentence).
The Blue Bouncer Loop Hike: The Blue Bouncer Loop is 9.9 miles and begins at the FR 6025 trailhead (WP-02) (it can also be accessed by FR 6025A). It starts with a 0.9 mile decent of 340 feet to where the loop, proper, begins (WP-14). We will be going counterclockwise so turn right at the junction. The trail contours along the side of Blue Bouncer Mountain for 1.0 mile at about 1900 feet AMSL and then begins a gradual climb to 2200 (2.7 total miles). The trail continues with a sight downward contour until mile 3.6 where it intersects FR 6025A (WP-12). The next 0.9 miles follows the road. The road is rarely used and unimproved and feels more like a walk on a wide path rather than a forest road like 6025. At 4.5 miles (total) the trail leaves the road to the left (south) (WP-11) and heads down hill.
IMPORTANT UPDATE, November 15, 2008: The first switch back from WP-11, heading west is a briar patch. The rest of the trail to WP-10 is blazed but difficult to follow.
At 5.1 miles, the trails comes off a steep down hill, levels off and turns to the left (east) (WP-10). On the right (south) is the junction and end of the Beech Creek Trail (the beginning being at K68A). The intersection is overgrown and difficult to see, but it is there and once you get on the trail it is easy to follow. Look for the pine trees on the crest of the ridge below you oriented in a SSW direction.
The Blue Bouncer trail continues to the east along the 1700 foot contour for about 0.7 miles. The first part of this section is blazed but the path is nonexistent, the blazes difficult to see, the terrain rocky and did I mention the briars. It is passable and doable and not to too far until the trail becomes more evident. If you can’t find the blazes, stay on the bench.
At 5.7 miles, the trail will pass by a nice resting log in the pines and the begins a 400 foot decent into a drainage. Leaving the drainage the trails climbs over a nose and then follow the 1500 and 1400 foot contours until 7.5 miles where you will pass a tributary of Beech Creek (video). This looks like a pretty reliable water source. There are some old logging roads in this area so watch the blazes, not the width of the path. The trail heads up stream for about a 10th of a mile, crosses the tributary and heads south following the creek down stream along a road trace. You’ll hit the intersection of the Beech Creek Spur Trail (WP-13) at 7.8 miles after a sight climb into a piney area. The spur will take you south to the across Beech Creek and link up with the Beech Creek Trail (see below).
At WP-13, the Blue Bouncer continues 1.2 miles to WP-14 where the loop meets with the trail to the FR 6025 trailhead. It is fairly piney, crosses a small drainage and climbs about 300 feet up a long nose. At the WP-14 junction, turn right and head uphill to the trailhead.
Beech Creek Trail Hike: I define the Beech Creek Trail as the 8.4 miles stretch beginning at the K68A trailhead (WP-01) and 1) tracing the road to the old parking lot (WP-0 5); 2) following the course of Beech Creek past the junctions with west Turkey Snout Trail (WP-06), the west Walnut Mountain Trail (WP-07) and Beech Creek Spur (WP-08); ascending the west end of Walnut Mountain; descending to Beech Creek and intersecting the Blue Bouncer Loop at WP-10.
To summarize information presented above, the first 1.0 mile is on the old access road and it passes junctions with the Turkey Snout Loop (WP-03) and the northeast leg of the Walnut Creek Trail (WP-04). The trail heads off into the woods at the southwest corner of the old parking lot (WP-05) lot and meanders 0.3 miles to the junction of the west Turkey Snout Trail (WP-06). In another 1.3 miles (2.6 total) you will reach the southwest junction of the Walnut Mountain Trail (WP-07).
Continue west and downhill at the junction, noting a small campsite to the right in the woods. Continue over a small tributary and follow the bottom lands for about a half mile. The trail will follow the base of a hill overlooking Beech Creek for the next 0.7 miles until it drops into a shallow gully and past a 4x4 post marking the spur trail to the Cascades (video1, video2) of Beech Creek (3.9 mile). The trail leaves the gully, works its way up through the woods and comes out on an old road trace. This area was teeming with wildlife (video) on one of my trips . Going this direction the blazes are easy to follow. Coming the other way, however, the only blaze you can see from the road trace is a white blotch on a big tree that looks natural. If you are going east and miss the junction, the road keeps climbing and starts to wrap back to the south above the Cascade gully. Gone too far.
The trail intersects the Beech Creek Spur Trail at 4.2 miles (WP-08) and stays on the side of the hill overlooking Beech Creek for another quarter mile passing a creek sliding down the dip slope (video) of sandstone. Then it’s a 600 foot slog up to the top of Walnut Mountain (5.7 miles). The crest of the mountain is pretty level for about 0.8 miles and then it turns north and begins a 600 foot decent to Beech Creek. We found a nice campsite up on the first bench above the creek just south of the creek crossing. The crossing was a boulder hop but it could be wet if the water is up.
IMPORTANT UPDATE, November 15, 2008: We hiked from the Beech Creek Trail from WP-08 to WP-09 (up the west side of Walnut Mt) on the 15th. I would call it a bushwhack with blazes (video). The trail was rough, rocky and overgrown. Though the blazes were usually evident, the trail connecting them was not and there were many stretches where only patience and careful scouting would lead us to the next blaze. The good thing about this section was that there were few briars. Our greatest difficulty was on the flanks. The trail along the crest was more evident, but you need to watch for where it heads back down hill heading towards WP-09. You will be on an old track when the trail heads off to the northwest. There are blazes, but they are not as apparent as the track. As with this entire section, if you go too long without blaze, you are probably off the trail.
The last mile of the Beech Trail takes you across FR 6033 (7.4 miles) and then up about 600 feet to WP-10 and the west end of the Blue Bouncer Loop. Whereas it was hard to find this end of the trail starting at Blue Bouncer (see Blue Bouncer narrative), you should not have any problems going this direction.
IMPORTANT UPDATE, November 15, 2008: On the same trip mentioned above, we found the trail from WP-09 to WP-10 better than the section up Walnut Mt (WP-08 to WP-09). However, the trail is still hard to find in many areas. The blazes are sometimes difficult to find and the path non existant
Beech Creek Spur Trail: This is a 1.4 mile trail that connects the Blue Bouncer Loop and the Beech Creek Trail. It begins on the Blue Bouncer Loop at WP-13 on the southern section of the loop, 2.1 miles from the FR 6025 trailhead (WP-02). Coming from the trail head, you’ll be on a right curving road trace in a piney area and the trail will take off to the left (south). The first section runs through the pines down to a tributary of Beech Creek. Then it goes up a hill and follows the creek from above and finally drops down it the bottom land. Its rocky here but the trail is well blazed…until you get near the road (FR 6033). The trail is marked but sometimes hard to find. If you lose it, head due south to Beech Creek. If you haven’t picked it back up again by the time you get to the creek, turn left (east) and head up stream. But first, stick your head through the under bush on the creek’s edge and you’ll see the bedding plane of the Jackfork Sandstone dipping steeply (video) to the north.
There is not much of a path as you head east along the creek, but you should be able to pick up the blazes. They will take you to the creek crossing and up a steep but short scramble to the Beech Creek Trail.
Beech Creek Mega Loop: Ok, I made this up but it is my version of how you can knit together all the trails and have a 3 or 4 day hike. If you have one car, drop your pack at the FR 6025 trailhead (WP-02), drive back to the K68A trailhead (WP-01) and walk the 2.2 miles back to your pack. Since the rest of the trip is 22.2 miles with a pack, this shouldn’t be much more than a nuisance. The following narrative, picks up the highlights from the individual trail descriptions, so refer to them for more information.
Start with a 0.9 mile decent of 340 feet to where the Blue Bouncer Loop, proper, begins (WP-14). Turn right and hike along the sloping south face of Blue Bouncer Mountain for 2.7 miles. At mile 3.6, the trail intersects FR 6025A (WP-12). Turn left and follow the forest road for 0.9 miles. At mile 4.5 the trail leaves the road to the left and descends. At mile 5.1 turn right leaving the Blue Bouncer Loop and picking up the Beech Creek Trail. Descend a mile down a nose through the pines and cross a forest road (WP-09, 8.8 miles), and then Beech Creek. Look for a camp site on the bench south of the creek.
Next is a mile of switch backs and a 500 foot climb to the shoulder of Walnut Mt. Then enjoy the gradual ridge walk climb of 200 feet to the top (10.5 miles). The next 1.5 miles descends the north slope of Walnut Mt. 700 feet to Beech Creek. At mile 12.3 enter a small hollow and take a quick side trip to the Beech Creek Cascades. Back on the trail again, go another 1.3 miles to the junction of the Walnut Mountain Trail (WP-07, 13.6 miles).
Turn right and begin a steady climb of 400 feet over the next 1.2 miles. Next climb another 300 feet over the next 3 miles, generally following the contour of the mountain. Look for the standing rock to signal you are near the top. The next 2.6 miles is downhill, edging along the south face of Polecat Peak and then down its nose. At mile 20.2, intersect the Beech Creek Trail (old access road, WP-04) and turn right. Follow the road trace for 0.4 miles and turn right on the Turkey Snout Trail just before the washout at Turkey Snout Creek (WP-03).
The trail is a little hard to find at first but soon it is easy hiking, crossing the upper sections of Turkey Snout Creek and then heading south through a level open forest filled with beech trees. At 22.2 miles you will be at the K68A trailhead (WP-01).
Info: The Blue Bouncer Loop was featured in Waypoints, Backpacker Magazine, October 2007, Midwest Edition. The Mega Loop (see above) was featured in Wild Weekends, Backpacker Magazine, October 2007, Midwest Edition. USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps: Zafra and Lynn Mt. (trails not shown). Contact the Ouachita National Forest, Choctaw Unit, Hodgen OK, at (918) 653-2991. An 8.5” x 11” sketch map of the trail system is available through the forest service.
Directions: Take US Hwy 59 south from Poteau OK to US 259. Go south to OK Hwy 63. Turn east, go 6 miles and turn south on Pigeon Creek Rd following Forest Service sign to Beech Creek National Scenic and Botanical Area.
To Buy Map: This map is available at Backwoods in Tulsa ($5) and by emailing Charlie@OuachitaMaps.com ($5 plus S&H).
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