Overlanding Ouachita National Forest
After the holiday season and spending the first few weeks of 2019 in Peru visiting Rocio’s family and meeting our new nephew, we were back to Texas for Rocio’s work.
This time, however, we had a plan to get out and find some more adventure. Rocio was working 6 days a week, but come March she would have Sunday and Monday off so we decided we’d try to get out every weekend and go exploring.
With our new-to-us Lexus GX460 (aka a Toyota Land Cruiser 150 everywhere else in the world), we were excited to try our hand at some overlanding, so I set about researching some places that might make good weekend destinations for some off-roading + camping.
National Forests are great places not only for dispersed camping, but also to get a little mud on the tires, whether it be tamer forest service roads or more difficult OHV trails.
With Ouachita (and btw, it’s pronounced WASH-eh-taw!! I kept saying Wah-shee-tuh) being the closest National Forest to the DFW area, it looked like that was going to be our best bet.
It also happens that the closest National Park to DFW is in the same area, so we were thinking two birds with one stone… knock out another National Park and then head out into the woods.
Hot Springs, Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park is definitely an interesting place and Rocio and I both want to go back (sans dog) to really give it a fair shake. As it was with Espresso along for the adventure, we didn’t want to leave him in the car solo while we checked out the historic sites (where of course there are no pets allowed). So, after a quick pitstop at the gift shop so Rocio could pick up a magnet and the NP Passport, we headed off in search of some dirt.
Ouachita National Forest did not disappoint for our first overlanding trip. While we primarily stuck to forest service roads, we did test out 4Lo on a few trails and got to see some of what the GX is capable of.
It was an absolute blast.
We did hit a few snags, however… blocked roads, re-routes and nighttime temperatures below 19˙F.
Watch the video from Day 1
The original basis for our trip was a route file shared in the Texas Overlanding Facebook group called Razorback Loop. It originated in the general vicinity of the DFW metroplex and appeared to hit a decent chunk of the Ouachita National Forest.
Since we had decided to first hit Hot Springs National Park, I devised a route that would attempt to cover as much ground as possible off-road while navigating from Hot Springs to the Blue Hole, an abandoned bauxite mine turned swimming hole, before connecting back up with the Razorback Loop.
The original plan was to scope out Blue Hole for some possible sunrise photography possibilities and possibly camp in nearby.
The Blue Hole is actually on private property, but the owner apparently allows the public to come and check out the area, swim, and camp (all at your own risk of course). If you’re going to camp, it’s $10 a night. Since we didn’t have any cash on us, we continued on down the road to check out the nearby area to see if we could find a good camp spot in the National Forest.
While we did come across a couple potential spots, we ended up deciding to push on to the camping spot marked on the Razorback Loop.
This is where things started to go sideways from a route perspective. The road we were expecting to use to connect from the Blue Hole back to the Razorback Loop ended up being closed. We re-routed back to the southeast but ended up hitting some private property where it was unclear if we’d be trespassing or not and we opted to play it safe. At this point, we were running out of daylight and the mission became to find a decent campsite before dark.
After checking a few forest service road offshoots, we found a spot where we felt comfortable.
For day two, we continued our detour hitting a couple more closed roads that forced us to backtrack much further than we would have preferred (and on pavement). We ended up in the town Glennwood and opted to grab some breakfast and fuel there before deciding to continue on to where we were finally able to connect back up with the Razorback Loop.
This section of our route was BEAUTIFUL! It was a scenic drive along the Little Missouri River and it appeared there were quite a few campsites in the area that would have been amazing. After a quick stopover at Little Missouri Falls, from this point on we followed the Razorback Loop through Wolf Pen Gap.
After making through Wolf Pen Gap with just a few new scratches and some white knuckles, we hit the pavement and made our way back to Dallas.
Wolf Pen Gap
Unbeknownst to us at the time, Wolf Pen Gap is one of the approved OHV areas of Ouachita National Forest. It features 42 miles of trails ranging from easy to very difficult.
We definitely should have researched this fully ahead of time and had an idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
Luckily, the route we were following was relatively mild and we were rolling through on a Monday so traffic was light. We only passed two other parties and they were both on side-by-sides. The look on their faces when they saw a Lexus rolling down the trail past them was pretty hilarious.
Overall, I would say Wolf Pen Gap is a great place for newbie off-roaders to get a little experience on some trails that keep it interesting but aren’t too ambitious for a solo adventure.B
Video from Day 2
We didn’t have any preconceived notions about Ouachita National Forest and ended up really enjoying our trip, even with the cold. If you’re new to overlanding and/or off-roading and are within a 3-4 hour drive of this area of the country, I’d highly recommend you add Ouachita to your list of destinations.
Stay tuned for our write up on exploring the Oklahoma side of Ouachita NF near Broken Bow Lake.
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