ROUTE #31: Crystal Springs Ride
Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, this route travels between the towns of Parks and Crystal Springs and loops around Shady Lake. From AR 28 near Parks, begin south on Robertson Creek Road. This winding, remote road takes you through the Muddy Creek WMA and over Mill Creek Mountain.
Turn west on US 270 at Buck Knob, and you are just a couple of miles from leaving the asphalt again. Turner Creek Road scales the high ridges of Fourche Mountain where the road, now NF 172, becomes a rough trail with narrow and steep drops. NF 172 ties into CR 70 for a twisting ride east around Brushy Knob and then a long descent south to a right turn onto AR 88. Go west for about a mile then turn left onto CR 68 which joins with CR 63 before crossing the Ouachita River on the way to AR 8.
Heading west on AR 8 just shy of Mena, the route turns south again onto AR 375. This tight, snaking stretch of highway takes you to the town of Shady, where you cross a one-lane bridge over the Cossatot River onto CR 81 and into the Caney Creek Wilderness Area. Traveling south on CR 81, pick up CR 79 and then CR 402, which lead to AR 246.
Travel east then turn left onto Shady Lake Road toward the entrance of Shady Lake Recreation Area. Situated on 25 acres, this scenic site includes more than 90 campsites, a swimming beach, hiking trails and picnic areas, and is a popular fishing hole. The route continues north from the park on CR 64 where you will find incredible views of the rugged Ouachita Mountains. But beware: this stretch of Shady Lake Road is nothing but large rocks and is extremely rough all the way until you turn east onto CR 601. From there, follow the valley toward the Little Missouri River and Mine Creek Road. Stop for a look at the Little Missouri Falls before continuing east onto Albert Pike Road. The route then turns left onto Polk Creek Road for a picturesque ride over Polk Creek Mountain.
From Polk Creek, turn north on River Road, then east on AR 8 to Norman. From there, AR 27 takes you just north of Norman where the route hits the dirt again on Crystal Park Road, and leads you past the Crystal Park Recreation Area as you climb to the top of Crystal Mountain. Continue down the mountain where the route turns east onto NF-177 before crossing Logan Gap, then continues east onto Womble Silver Road to the finish line at US 270 just west of Crystal Springs. This route takes seven to eight hours to complete, and there are lots of good camping sites along the way, so plan this as an overnight trip.