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Ozark National Forest Camping: 10 Best Tips and More

From waterfalls to wildlife. Unforgettable views to incredible hiking. Ozark National Forest is massive, majestic, and awaiting your arrival!

You’ll never experience a dull moment while exploring this stunning piece of Arkansas wilderness. And to help you get started on your epic trip planning, we’ve created this handy guide with our ten essential tips for your Ozark National Forest camping trip!

ozark national forest camping

What to Expect on your Ozark National Forest Camping Trip

With options ranging from dispersed camping to developed campgrounds and cabin rentals, Ozark National Forest is made for campers of all experience levels. Whether you’re planning on driving scenic routes, hiking, swimming, or hunting, this forest has almost any activity you can imagine!


Fees vary by recreation area within Ozark National Forest. Typical overnight costs are $5 to $15 per site.

History of Ozark National Forest

The Ozark National Forest

The Ozark National Forest is 1,200,000 acres located in the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas. Created in 1908 by the proclamation of President Roosevelt, this forest boasts over 500 species of trees and contains five designated wilderness preservation areas—areas left generally undisturbed and untouched.

Ozark-St. Francis National Forests

Ozark National Forest is one of two forests that make up the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. The second forest, the St. Francis National Forest, is much smaller than Ozark at just under 23,000 acres.

The two national forests are now recognized together, though their biology and ecology differ. The majority of the St. Francis National Forest is situated on Crowley’s Ridge—an elevated geological formation—and then extends to the flatlands along the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers.

10 Tips for your Ozark National Forest Camping Trip

The Ozark National Forest has a plethora of activities to keep you very busy on your Ozark National Forest camping trip! To help get you organized, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten tips for your visit to the forest!

1. Plan your stay with the Ozark Recreation Conditions Report

With over twenty developed campgrounds across 1.2 million acres, planning a Ozark National Forest camping trip may seem a little intimidating.

Thankfully, the Forest Service has made looking up recreation areas and conditions super easy with their handy recreation conditions report tool! Before you head out on your Ozark National Forest camping trip, check out the interactive report for a quick snapshot of each area’s conditions, fees, and reservation requirements.

ozark national forest camping

Still not sure where to go? Don’t worry, here is a list of some of our favorite campgrounds to kick off your search:

2. Consider a Dispersed Camping Adventure

The Ozark National Forest is an amazing place to experience dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is when you camp outside of a designated campground and is loved by campers for its peacefulness and solitude.

Dispersed camping in Ozark National Forest will have you fully engulfed in the beauty of the woods and is a great way to completely disconnect from the outside world. If you’re not sure where to start when looking for a place to pitch your tent, call up the local ranger in the forest district you’re looking to camp in and they’ll certainly be able to help you find a site!

Dispersed camping in Ozark National Forest has no fee or permit requirements for up to 30 days. After the 30-day mark, you have to move your campsite at least five miles.

3. Check for Fire Information Beforehand

While planning your Ozark National Forest camping trip, be sure to check in on the Forest Service’s fire information. Ozark is conducting prescribed burns over the next several months, so double-check the posted information for any updates. These burns are to re-establish fire’s natural role in the rejuvenation of the forest’s ecosystem.

Ozark National Forest Activities

4. Snag Maps and Guides Before You Go

Ozark National Forest offers incredible maps and guides for campers. Before heading out on your Ozark National Forest camping trip, check out all of the resources they have to offer.

From the recreational area directory (which has an amazing diagram to show which activities are available and where) to the forest visitor maps accessible through the GAIA GPS app, definitely download the publications available from the Forest Service website!

5. Plan Your Activities With the Discover Activities Function

There is so much to do on an Ozark National Forest camping trip that we can’t possibly dive into it all here, but just to give you a summary of what’s possible, the forest offers all of these activities and more:

ozark national forest camping
  • Biking
  • Boating
  • Climbing
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horseback riding
  • Hunting
  • Off-highway vehicle riding
  • Picnicking
  • Swimming

A great tip for you campers planning your trip is to use the discover an area by activity drop-down on the park’s website! The drop-down lets you filter the park areas by activity and helps you find where to go and what to do with absolute ease.

6. Find the Best Hiking Ozark National Forest has to Offer

Ozark National Forest camping is absolutely wonderful for day hikes and overnight backpacking. Use the discover an area by activity tool on the forest’s website to help you find a recreation area and pick a trail, but to make things easier for you, we’ve compiled a few of our favorites right here for you!

Easy Trails

  • White Rock Rim Trail (1.8 miles): An easy loop with a full panoramic view of the entire forest! Absolutely one of the best spots to catch the sunrise and sunset.
  • King River Falls Trail (1.8 miles): An out-and-back trail with views of cascading waterfalls along the banks of the Kings River.

Moderate Trails

  • Glory Hole Falls Trail (1.8 miles): Hike to a waterfall that pours through an overhanging rock. You’ll have a steeper climb at the end of the there-and-back trail to get down beneath the waterfall, but the magnificence of this incredibly unique waterfall is well worth the hike!
  • Pedestal Rocks Loop Trail (2.2 miles) & King’s Bluff Loop Trail (1.9 miles): Accessible from the Pedestal Rocks & Kings Bluff Trailhead, this trail will loop you through beautiful rock formations and caves. Be sure to leave extra time so you can explore these geological wonders!
  • Devils Canyon Scenic Area Trail & Bushwhack (4.6 miles): This trail is a hidden gem loved by hikers for its scenic canyon views and waterfalls. The trailhead can be accessed from the southwest side of the forest.
ozark national forest camping

Strenuous Trails

  • Ozark Highlands Trail (157 miles): the Ozark Highlands trail is a 157-mile point-to-point route that will have you hiking the Ozark National Forest from end to end. Whether you just do portions of this trail or the entire thing, if you’re up for a challenge on your Ozark National Park camping trip this trail is for you!

7. Hunt and Fish in Ozark National Forest

If you’re a hunter or an angler, you’re in luck! Hunting and fishing are permitted in the Ozark National Forest unless the area has been closed by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

A free wildlife management area general-use permit is required to hunt in Ozark National Forest. The permit can be acquired through Arkansas’s online licensing system. All other regular hunting and fishing permits, regulations, and fees also apply in the forest.

8. Take an Epic Picture at Hawksbill Crag

The Whitaker Point trail (2.9 miles) will lead you to one of the forest’s most epic photo locations: Hawksbill Crag!

Located along the northern edge of the Ozark National Forest, Hawksbill Crag is a massive rock formation that juts out over beautiful forest scenery. Tourists and locals alike get out onto the trails just to take a picture of this breathtaking spot.

ozark national forest camping

So if you feel up to the moderate hike (and aren’t scared of heights), definitely don’t miss this stunning opportunity. For an even more breathtaking view from the crag, take to this trail in the fall when the leaves are changing colors!

Wildlife and Plant Life at Ozark National Forest

9. Best Areas for Spotting Wildlife

Ozark National Forest is home to five officially designated wilderness areas. These wilderness areas are generally undisturbed and minimally altered. Due to their preserved natural state, they’re an amazing place to try to catch a glimpse of the forest’s wildlife! The five wilderness areas are:

  • East Fork Wilderness
  • Hurricane Creek Wilderness
  • Leatherwood Wilderness
  • Richland Creek Wilderness
  • Upper Buffalo Wilderness

The Richland Creek area of Ozark National Forest is particularly known for its abundance of wildlife and various wildlife sightings. This area is nearly 12,000 acres and is home to black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and many other species!

10. Explore Ozark National Forest Plant Life

With an incredible diversity of forest plants and trees, Ozark National Forest is an amazing place to be on the lookout for unique plant life. While today’s forest is mostly made up of white oak and shortleaf pine, if you look close enough, you’ll notice over 500 species of trees!

ozark national forest camping

Spend time strolling along creeks and rivers to spot sycamores, cottonwoods, or river birch. Or take a trip to the forest in the spring for the redbud and dogwood bloom!

Experience the Arkansas Wilderness with a Ozark National Forest Camping Trip

Time to take these ten essential tips and get to adventuring on your Ozark National Forest camping trip! The forest is calling!

Looking for more amazing Arkansas camping trip destinations? Read our list of the 20 best places to go camping in Arkansas!