Trips & Trails: High Water Mark Trail

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The Rocky Mountains get all of the credit thanks to their grandiose peaks. However, most overlanders don’t even know of the Ozark Mountains that stretch from in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and into a bit of Kansas.

The Ozarks are a gentle range of mountains made up of the two smaller ranges: the Boston Mountains in Arkansas and the St. Francois Mountains in Missouri.

The High Water Mark Trail runs through the Ozarks. It is a moderate trail consisting of mostly forest service roads and very little pavement between the town of Cass, Arkansas and St. Joe, Arkansas on the Buffalo River.

The High Water Mark Trail consists of Forest Service roads pieced together through some of the most beautiful hill-country in the South. Arkansas is well-known for its dramatic waterfalls that run most of the year- many are along this route.

The route can be traversed in either direction, but most prefer to start in St. Joe near the Buffalo National River. The deepest crossing is at Woolum, near St. Joe and if your rig is able to cross here, the rest should not be an issue.

This route has a considerable amount of elevation change, considering the rest of the region is relatively flat. Along most of the backroads that make up this route, adventurers can find cafes, general stores, and some of the most down-to-earth locals that you will find. 

Although four-wheel-drive is needed for a handful of steep and rutted sections, the majority of the High Water Mark Trail is manageable with two-wheel-drive and good all-terrain tires. Like most areas in the south, trails can get wet and stay wet for a very long time.

Walking and scouting water crossings and mud holes is always highly recommended, especially during the rainy season from March to June. If rain has fallen recently, bring recovery gear including a winch, tow ropes, and traction boards.

A chainsaw or axe may also be helpful if the trail has seen little travel recently as limbs and trees like to fall on the trail at times. Make sure that your differential breathers are high enough to support the water crossings along this route. No one wants to fill their diff with creek water. 


Time: 2 – 3 days

Distance: 140 miles

Fuel: Fuel is readily available in nearly every town on the route and even the thirstiest vehicle should have plenty of opportunities to refuel.

Water: Plan on bringing one gallon of water per person per day. There are plenty of freshwater sources available along this route, even in the driest of seasons. 

Permits: No permits are required.

Other considerations:

  • Overland Trail Guides Map

  • The High Water Mark Trail comes by its name honestly as the trail consists of over twenty water crossings. When recent rains bulge the banks of rivers and seasonal streams, water crossings can be impossible or at least require a winch or tow rope. 

  • Extreme heat and humidity make traveling this route uncomfortable and potentially more dangerous June – August as temperatures can climb to near 100°F with humidity levels between 60 and 70 percent. 

  • Cell service is non-existent along much of this route and medical services could be several hours away at best in some locations. 

Header image: Zach Elseman |@okienomads

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Photo by Brett Willhelm


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