Updated: Nov 3
When one talks about overlanding in the United States, places like Colorado, Utah, and Arizona come up often. However, if one only looks from the Rockies and westward, they're certainly missing out on the jewell of the Southwest, the Ozark mountains.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 140 miles, 2-3 days.
Season: Year round, but fall typically provides the best weather and trail conditions.
Technical Rating: Green with a few blue sections.
Typical Terrain: Dirt forest service roads, tight old logging roads, a few rutted and off camber tracks, and some pavement.
Recommended Vehicle: Truck or SUV with 4-low and all terrain tires.
Recommended Gear: A winch (water crossings + mud pits) and chainsaw. Recovery gear may also be required if trails are muddy. Bug spray is a must if you go during the warm season.
Adventure Vans: Sportmobiles and Quigleys should be able to manage the entire route without issues. Status on Sprinter 4x4s unknown, as the narrow widget of some trails may make passage extremely difficult.
Alternative Routes: n/a
Warning: This route has over a dozen water crossings, the deepest of which is at Buffalo River near St Joe. Water levels tend to be much higher during the wet season (March - June). Regardless of the season, it's recommended that you travel with recovery gear (winch).
When one talks about overlanding in the United States, places like Colorado, Utah, and Arizona come up often. However, if one only looks from the Rockies and westward, they're certainly missing out on the jewell of the Southwest, the Ozark mountains. The mountains that make up the Ozark Plateau cover an extensive area in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and a small section of Kansas. A variety of different oak grows within the Ozark National Forest, along with an abundance of Shortleaf Pine. When the crisp nights of fall begin to settle in, the foliage explodes with brilliant hues of orange, red and yellow. In fact, fall is probably the best time of year to run this track-- you get the fall colors, cooler weather (less bugs), and the rivers and creeks should be at lower levels (the wet season runs March - June).
A lot of people know about the High Water Mark Trail, but ironically, accurate information about the trail is difficult to come by online. The route gets it's name from the numerous water crossings that you'll encounter along the route. The trail is sometimes referred to as the Ozark Overland Trail, and in its original incarnation, it covered approximately 160 miles. Unfortunately, some land owners erected gates to prevent through passage, effectively making the original track obsolete. The High Water Mark Trail route posted on Overland Trail Guides has become the go to track for those running the route. Those who are new to the Ozarks come away astounded by the region's natural and unspoiled beautify, crystal clear creeks and rivers, and the abundance of cool rock features, ledges, and caves. The track passes by a number of picture perfect waterfalls that could easily be featured on a National Geographic cover. Over the course of xxx miles, the route features a reasonable amount of elevation change (for this part of the country), and a lot of water crossings. The river crossing at Woolum Ford (Buffalo River outside of St Joe) is typically the deepest. If you can make it through the first crossing, you should be good for the rest of the route. Speaking of which, the route can be run in either direction, but starting at St Joe seems to be the popular choice, as this allows you to end your trip at Byrd's Adventure Center (camping, food + drink and more). If you're looking to get off the beaten path, there are numerous side trails worth exploring, especially if you want to hit something a bit more technical. For the most part, the route travels mild forest service roads and old logging roads. There are a few steep, rocky and rutted sections, but nothing that 4-low and some decent all terrain tires can't manage. But if it's muddy, better have your winch handy. Speaking of mud, if you do encounter any mud pits, it's always best to check the depth before driving through. Some of these pits are deceptively deeper than they look. Even with the 10+ water crossings, you should be able to easily complete this route in 3 days.
We strongly encourage visitors to the Ozark National Forest to take advantage of dispersed camping, which is permitted throughout the forest. Seriously, this place is awesome and is loaded with tons of great camp spots.
Points of Interest
Six Finger Falls
The numerous historic cemeteries along the route
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (USFS 2016 layer, Gaia base layer)
Ozark National Forest paper map
Download GPX file
TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.