Black Fork Mt Trail
Background. The Black Fork Mountain Wilderness is over 13,000 acres straddling the Oklahoma-Arkansas border west of Mena AR. Black Fork Mountain is built upon a thrust faulted spine of Jackfork sandstone that lies between Page OK and Eagle Gap AR. Beginning at the southeast corner and covering the east fifth of the wilderness is the Black Fork Mountain Trail.
The one way trip to the top is a 5.6 miles up hill hike. It starts at 1550 feet and climbs to 2510 by mile 3.6. Just to keep your legs limber, it drops 400 feet off the south face of the ridge and then climbs back up to peak out at 2620 feet.
The Map: This map is based on a GPS track taken April 5, 2008 using a WAAS enabled GPS. The map is true 1:24,000 scale and is available as a free download. The Black Fork Mt Trail is shown in red and the Ouachita Trail is shown in blue. Also shown are other trails, waypoints, mileage and campsites with fire rings.
The Hike: The trail begin at a trailhead parking lot on the north side of US 270, between the road up to Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Eagle Gap. The trailhead and the first 1 mile of trail is shared with the Ouachita Trail. The Black Fork Trail is blazed with white paint and the Ouachita Trail is blazed with blue. From the parking lot the trails drop immediately into a small valley formed by Big Creek. There is very good foot bridge to help you cross. From here is it is basically up hill for the next 3.5 miles.
Just above the creek are the tracks for the Kansas City Southern Railroad. This is a busy route and apparently close to a side track used for passing. We waited for forty-five minutes for a parked train to do something and finally crawled under it to get across the tracks. Good thing, too, we saw it from the top an hour or so later and it was still there. I need to point out that the regular noise from the trains can be heard at the top of the mountain…at least until the wind kicks up.
We had heard that the trail was brushy, so we took our machetes and nippers to do a little trail maintenance (April 6, 2008). Someone beat us to it and must have cleared it in the past several months because all we could do is move a few downed trees and cut back the next generation of briars. There were some obvious places where the brush and briars tend to get thick, but right now, the trail is in great shape.
The trail leaves the tracks and heads up hill though the wood. The forest for the first 2.5 miles is short leaf pine and hard wood mix. At 1.0 miles the trail intersects an old logging road. The Ouachita Trail heads off to the east and the Black Fork heads up to the west. Although the trail follows the old road for the next mile and a half, it ranges from an eroded rocky road bed to a narrow path through the pines. But all up hill.
At 2.1 miles is a pine stand with some level ground and a big fire pit. In the dry season there will be a nice flat spot that looks great for pitching a tent. Better hope it doesn’t rain because it was holding about 6 inches of water when we were there. At 2.4 miles is a sign announcing the wilderness boundary and at 2.6 miles is what Tim Ernst describes in his trail guide as a frog pond. It is and there were plenty of frogs to prove it. As far as a drinking water source, it is probably perfectly fine once filtered, but you won’t find it an attractive proposition.
The trail goes throught some piney areas bordered with outcrops of sandstone. At 3.2 miles, you will come out of the only switchback in the area and enter a slightly surreal forest of stunted oaks, lush grass and moss covered trail. Battered by the wind and weather, these trees are short, old and gnarled.
After winding around the head of a valley, the trail begins the 400 foot decent. Shortly after the decent begins, you squeeze between a tree and some rocks and pass an outstanding outcrop of near vertical Jackfork sandstone. At the bottom of the downhill, the trail joins another trail coming up from the southeast. It is a prominent trail that maybe someone has explored and would share some information about. The Black Fork joins this trail, so turn right (west) and head up hill.
At 4.4 miles we crossed a small stream. When we were there, there had been lots of rain and snow in the previous months so I don’t know how dependable this water source is. It is the Ouachitas, however, so it is probably dry once the summer dry season arrives. Once you get to past the creek you should be able to see the rock glaciers piled up in the basin. This much rock is pretty rare in this part of the country and would be worth a visit.
Back to the up hill. After about a mile, and just before reaching the top, is a great vista where you see the valley where US 270 runs and Queen Wilhelmina Lodge on top of Rich Mountain. A few hundred feet further is a saddle covered with stunted oaks and grass, a big fire ring and an excellent place to camp. Another hundred feet and there is a cairn marking a side trail to what Ernst called a spring fed pond. It is spring fed, but when we were there, it had so much bloom and so many frogs, it was a toss up as to which pond had the best water. With all the rain, the spring was active and there was a nice pool of clear sweet water in the short creek connecting the seep and the pond. If the spring is dry, you might be able to take water below the exit side of the pond. We hear it running that night but it was too dark to see what it looked like.
About 0.1 miles past the saddle is a chimney. It is poorly build with large holes between the rocks and no sign of mortar or dirt caulk. It must have been a lot of work to build it but it doesn’t look like the other chimneys found in the Ouachitas and Ozarks.
The trail narrows as it reaches the peak at the terminus. The view is excellent. We bushwhacked a little further west to the true peak and found and even better vista and a 360 degree view. But it was an effort. The oaks are only about 4 to 6 feet tall, it is extremely rocky and the ground it covered with the mesh of briars.
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