Thursday, November 17, 2016

Illinois Bayou and Ouita Coal Company trails, Russellville, Arkansas

11/16/2016 -  Illinois Bayou Trail and Ouita Coal Company Trail

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude)
  Parking Location:  35.31990   -93.18431

Pet-Friendly: Yes, but it is a Russellville city park, so there are rules.  I know, I know, I hate that too.  Dogs are allowed on the trail but are supposed to be on a leash.  I left Boomer at home today as he gets no enjoyment out of our hikes if he can't roam freely.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes!  There is a large paved parking lot, restroom facilities, and it is a very short (~400 yards) ride off I-40.

Hiking Statistics:  I hiked a little over eight miles today.  This is an easy hike, on a well-traveled trail.  The Illinois Bayou "wildlife observation" trail is a wide, paved, flat trail.  It does not get any easier than this and is only about a mile long if you count all the spurs.  The Ouita Coal Company trail is a dirt trail and a bit rougher, but still a nicely maintained trail.  There are a few ups and downs, but only 76 feet elevation change from highest to lowest points on the trail.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Illinois Bayou and Ouita Coal Company trails track
View of Ouita Island from Illinois Bayou Park

If you are a follower of this blog, you know I make very few posts about trails and hiking within parks.  That's because I rarely go to parks to hike, and most of the places I do hike don't have trails.  Today, however, there were extenuating circumstances.  Three days ago, I managed to trip and fall on my knee while out playing with Boomer.  At the time, I got up, brushed myself off, and everything felt fine.  A couple of hours later, I even finished my exercise sets for the day, doing another 800 repetitions on a leg machine.  But by that evening, my right knee was starting to feel a little painful, and by midnight it was excruciatingly painful.  On the old 0-10 scale, I'm talking about an 11, and I have a fairly high tolerance for pain.  

Pelicans diving for fish in the Illinois Bayou
So the next day I dragged myself down to the doctor, got x-rays and ligament field tests, and was told there was probably no permanent damage but to "take it easy" for a couple of weeks.  "Take it easy" wasn't clearly defined, and after a couple of days of being a couch potato, my knee was feeling pretty good.  So, in order to not do too much too soon, I figured I would go do a little light walking on a nice flat trail.  The Bona Dea trails in Russellville were my first thought, but then I remembered the Illinois Bayou park.  The park had been built up and new trails opened about three years ago, but I had still never visited it.  Knowing it was along Lake Dardanelle's shoreline, my thinking was that this would be about as light and "take it easy" as it gets.  I could go stroll for a mile or two and see how it went. 
Parking Area

So I got my pack, jumped in the FJ, and headed to town.  Agnetha, our FJ Cruiser, was understandably confused about heading toward Russellville instead of heading north but got over it and we got there in a few minutes.  The driving directions for this one are super easy.  From the I-40 Interstate, take exit 78 and turn south, toward Lake Dardanelle.  If you are heading west, you are on Dwight Mission Road, and if heading east, the off-ramp exits right onto Highway 64.  Turn left on Highway 64, and in a couple of hundred yards turn left into the Illinois Bayou Park.  If you are on the causeway and water is on both sides, you went too far.  The park is on the left just before you get to the lake.  On the right is another boat ramp, and the former site of the historic Dwight Mission.  

Illinois Bayou Wildlife Observation Trail
As you enter the park there is a circular drive with picnic tables, barbecue grills, public restrooms, a boat ramp, a boat dock, and a huge parking lot.  The parking area can easily hold a hundred vehicles, but the FJ was the only one in it today.  Bethany had an appointment today, and Boomer would have had to be on a leash, so I spared him that humiliation.  The Illinois Bayou trail starts right at the restrooms, and my first impression was "Wow."  This is the Taj Mahal of trails; flat, paved, and it even had a line down the middle of lanes going each way.  This trail is easily usable by bikes, hikers, joggers, or wheelchairs, by people of any age or experience.  This part of the trail extends for 0.75 miles, with five spurs branching off on the right going down to the shore of Lake Dardanelle.  I checked out each of these.  The first one loops back to the main trail, but the other four dead end at the lake with nice benches.  Between the forth and fifth spurs, there is a volunteer trail that goes right along the shoreline.  The Illinois Bayou trail is called a "wildlife observation" trail, with signs along the way describing the various flora and fauna to be seen here.  I move fairly quietly when I don't have Boomer with me, but I didn't see any wildlife.  I did see tracks of deer, raccoon, possum, and even a bobcat, so I know they are around somewhere in this park.  
End of one of the spur trails

I also saw a lot of mountain bike tracks, so I know they frequent the area as well.  Today, though, I only saw one couple at one point in my hike.  It was just me out for a stroll in the woods by myself today.  At the last spur on the main trail, the paved trail comes to an end.  To the left, a dirt trail continues on eastward into the Ouita Coal Company mountain bike trail.  This entire park is sandwiched between Lake Dardanelle on the south and I-40 to the north.  As you proceed down the trail, it goes through a narrow spit of land sometimes only 20 feet wide, between the lake and the I-40 right-of-way fence.  Once past that area, the trail goes over a couple of low bridges put in for the mountain bikers and the area opens up into what is the bulk of the land in the park.  This was my first visit to the park, and for some reason, I expected just a big loop trail even though I knew this section was a mountain bike trail.  Before it's park days, this was known as the Sweet Spot trail, named for the abandoned convenience store you passed before you turned into the park. 

One of Several Mountain Bike Trail Map Markers
At one time, this trail was used for moto-cross as well as mountain bikes but was now groomed and maintained for mountain bikers.  It is a great jogging or hike trail also, but not exactly a typical loop trail.  It zig-zags all over this section of forest, somehow squeezing about nine miles of trail into the park area.  See the map at the bottom and the right to help visualize that.  I was over two miles into this maze before I saw a map of all the trails posted.  It is a quite useful map, detailing five different sections, all color coded with trail markings on trees of the same color.  It also had the "you are here" mark and three locations for emergency pickup points.  Note to the Russellville Recreation and Parks commission:  it might help folks if you put one of these maps before you enter the maze, so they not only know what they are getting into but also know where the emergency pick up points are.  I saw two more of these maps even further into the trails.

Pond on the Red Trail
By this time, I realized this would not be the simple, flat, easy mile or two strolling through the woods that I was looking for.  My knee was still doing pretty good, so I forged on.  About the time I got to the far eastern part of the orange trail, that knee was starting to feel a little twingey, but by then I was the farthest back in the park you can get.  By the time I got into the blue section of trail, the knee was giving me a little discomfort, and I knew I had probably already overdone it.  Even worse, Bethany had told me I would do exactly that.  I hate it when she is right, which seems to be almost always.  Looking at that color-coded map, I decided to bypass the blue trail and cut over to the green trail I had already hiked.  I went down the red trail on the way back, because I knew it went around a scenic pond.  At the point the yellow trail goes to the green trail, there is a volunteer trail that cuts over to the red trail.

Ouita Coal Company Mountain Bike Trail
Heading back on the trails, I made my way to the parking lot and clocked out at just over eight miles on my GPS trip meter.  My knee was giving me a little pain by this time, so that was giving me a little concern.  I'll know later today or tomorrow if this hike was a big mistake or if it just extends my recovery a little longer.  If you don't see any blog posts for a while, you'll know what happened.  I was pleasantly surprised with the trail system here, and highly recommend it to hikers, joggers, and mountain bikers of all ages and experience levels.  Whoever you are, this park will work nicely for you.  There are plans to extend the trail so that it goes under the I-40 bridge across Illinois Bayou and tie into the trail at Orbit Lane, opening access to the public land along the Bayou on the north side of the Interstate.
GPS track of today's hike
There are approximately two miles more of the 'blue' trail
that I did not hike today


  1. Hey!! I just wanted to say that I appreciate all of your blog posts. You are my "go-to" when I am looking up a place I have only heard of. Thanks so much for the time you put into all of this!

  2. Thanks, Kristin! Glad it has helped you get out in some of these beautiful areas.