The authors of Oklahoma Hiking Trails, Kent F. Frates and Larry Floyd, say that the east part of the Ouachita National Forest’s Billy Creek Trail is not recommended because it is “uninteresting” and “does not meet any real hiking criteria.”
I disagree with that view. I think skipping the east branch of the trail would mean missing much of the best scenery.
The Billy Creek Trail is made up of a north loop and a south loop. The north loop crosses the Talimena Scenic Drive and overlaps with the Ouachita Trail. These directions follow the way I did it – hiking the south loop clockwise beginning near the Billy Creek campground. [My review of the north loop is here.]
To get there, get on Forest Road 6020 off of Highway 63, a few miles west of the Highway 259/Highway 63 intersection. Take 6020 north for about a mile, follow the signs, and you will come upon a large sign for the Billy Creek Trailhead.
The Trailhead has a good-sized parking area, but no trail information. From here (and on the rest of the trail), follow the yellow and white rectangular blazes.
You’ll notice that, at first, the blazes don’t go along a trail. Instead, they follow Forest Road 6020B. Stay north on FR 6020B for about .6 miles. As the blazes indicate, take a right at K27. Then you are at the Billy Creek Trail loop.
“Why in the world is the Trailhead a half-mile down the road away from the main trail loop?” you may wonder. It probably was built that way to make it easier for the equestrians doing the trail. The Trailhead appears to have been designed to be large enough for people pulling horse trailers.
Once you see the signs for the Billy Creek Trail loop, take a left to begin heading uphill on the west part of the trail. Here you begin a two-mile northward stretch through the forest paralleling 6020B. A few times it crosses the road, and it runs on the road in a few places.
The first half mile is mostly uphill climbing. The 1.5 miles after that is a mix of down- and uphill climbing.
Then the trail makes its first encounter with Billy Creek. Although the forested walk up to this point is nice, for my money the best parts are those around Billy Creek (and its related branches) and the climb on Winding Stair Mountain.
There wasn’t that much water in the creeks when I was there, but it was still very pretty.
Shortly after crossing Billy Creek is a juncture for the north loop. Take a right here, heading in the direction of the East Billy Creek Trail. (Turning left would take you to the Ouachita Trail and the Horsethief Springs trailhead.)
I think this next part of the trail is pretty cool. For 1.5 miles, the trail climbs up Winding Stair Mountain with an elevation increase of about 500 feet. I get a kick out of uphill climbing. I also think the sloped terrain is interesting, and there are some nice Ouachita Mountain views in this area.
Eventually, the trail hits a juncture for the east side of the loop. Turn right here to stay on the south loop. (Turning left would put you on the north loop heading toward the Ouachita Trail.) Most of the next 1.5 miles is a former road. I did not find this stretch to be uninteresting at all. Much of it is on a former logging road, but it is a very scenic walk that overlooks a Billy Creek branch valley and has some very nice views of the creek and the nearby mountains.
I do agree with Frates and Floyd regarding the last part of the south loop’s east branch. The final mile is an uninteresting walk on a wide flat road. (And it is confusing as well because there are very few blazes in this area.) But having said that, I think it would be a mistake to bypass the east branch of the loop because it would mean skipping a lot of the best scenery of the trail.
The trail eventually ends up back at the start of the loop. You can then walk 6020B southward to get back to the Trailhead.
The total distance of the hike once you arrive back at the Trailhead is about 7.3 miles.
As usual, I have posted some of my photos and a gpx map made from my gps data. You can click the photos for a larger view.
Billy Creek South Loop Trail Map
Billy Creek Trail - South Loop (Ouachita Forest)
County, State Billy Creek Recreation Area, Ouachita National Forest, LeFlore County, Oklahoma Hike Length/Type 7.3 miles/semi-loop Difficulty Strenuous (4 of 5) Directions The official Billy Creek Trailhead has a large sign with a dirt parking area in the Billy Creek Recreation Area. From there, turn right and walk 6020B up the hill about a half mile until you see a K27 sign on the right. There you will see the directional sign for the Billy Creek Trail loop. Other Permitted Usage Bikes, horses ATT Cell Coverage? Yes Official Info - Phone/Links (501) 321-5202; Website. Trail Map. Weather/Conditions 50's, overcast, very nice. Date Hiked 11-20-2010