The Ouachita National Forest is the oldest National Forest in the southern United States. The forest encompasses more than 1.6 million acres including most of the scenic Ouachita Mountains. Six locations in the forest, comprising 65,000 acres, have been designated as wilderness areas. The forest stretches from the central part of Arkansas into southeastern Oklahoma. “Ouachita” is the French spelling of the Indian word Washita which means "good hunting grounds".
The forest contains a number of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. The most extensive hiking trail is the Ouachita National Recreation Trail which traverses 192 miles across the region.
In the Oklahoma section of the forest the 26,445 acre Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area and six other designated areas offer visitors a full range of activities with more than 150 campsites, a 90-acre lake, and an equestrian camp.
The Talimena Scenic Byway in Oklahoma and the Highway 7 National Scenic Byway in Arkansas meander through the forest providing amazing vistas and excellent photo opportunities.
Canoeing and fishing are popular activities on the Caddo River, Little Missouri River, and Ouachita River within the bounds of the forest. The Cossatot River, said to be the most difficult whitewater river between the Smoky and Rocky Mountains also passes through the forest.
Rockhounds frequent a belt several miles wide containing large amounts of quartz crystals. Visitors and rock collectors are free to pick up loose crystals within the belt for personal use and may dig for quartz with the permission of the district ranger.