My husband and I hiked this trail this past weekend. Trail was a litle difficult at times, but I work at a desk all week so I'm not in shape by any means. We went counter clockwise. It was fun for a weekend hike and had some really pretty views. Would recommend the scenic route for the best views and place to camp. Also to go clockwise so you can camp on the scenic part and wake up with that view.
As many others have said, the trail is not marked very well, so bring a map and some luck. When I did the trail in early fall, we encountered no water the entire way though, so pack plenty. As far as scenery, there are more scenic trails a few hours away. However, this trail is good if you are looking for a loop you can do in 1.5 days or a single day if you start early.
I was there the last weekend in October. Started at Cedar Lake, went on western section of Horsethief Spring Trail, connected with Oauchita Trail, back onto eastern section of Horsethief Spring Trail, then back to Cedar Lake. I chose to follow the "scenic route" up Snake Mountain on the western section. Very overgrown and lost the trail for a bit. After finding it, however, it was very scenic! A few other short stretches along the western section where the grass and bushes were overgrown on the trail, but was still able to follow the trail. When people say "bring water" they mean it. The only water source was the Horsethief Spring, which is a trickle. Saw that some people stashed jugs of water near the Horsethief Spring parking lot.
Feb, 20, 2016 - Our Boy Scout Troop did this hike as preparation for Philmont. Great hike, bring lots of water, lots of rock, so proper shoes are key, creeks were low to cross.
We did the route clockwise, lots of switchbacks to climb up, 2 creek crossings were low, large sections of control burn areas, backside along Snake Mtn has potential to be very hot in summer months with little shade (good place to stash water refresh).
Spring at top of trail did not look drinkable (another good spot to stash water refresh), Need at least a filter.
Weather was overcast, with a little sun mid afternoon. Some mist in late morning. Great day to hike.
Most of the comments by adult leaders were about having the right hiking shoes (sneakers bad due to rocky trail) and water (not enough). Biggest debate was length of trail versus map - seemed longer than marked distance. Alltrails.com app had us at 17 miles. Section of trail along Ouchita Trail seemed longer than marked. We wondered if we missed the turn off.
Trail is shared with horse riders.
Me and my family have started at the spring along scenic Highway #1 each time we have done this trail. If you start the eastern loop first the down hill portion is rocky but easy all the way to the Cedar Lake junction. you will pass a couple of make shift camp sites and several logging/county roads. In the spring there is several stream that you will cross ( ankle to mid shin deep), just be prepared for some dry socks. The north side of the trail there was a fire through there a couple of years ago, so shade in the summer time is sparse. Also the underbrush can be thick in the late summer, I had to use a machete in Sept 2014. the western loop is there is a plenty of switch backs and a steep climb if you are going the same way we did. When you meet up with the Ouchita trail, you have 1.2 miles back to the spring, this part can be very rocky at some points so just watch you footing. With out the Cedar Lake trail it is about 9 miles and took around 5 hours of hiking. I would not consider the trail hard but it is defiantly moderate. My family consists of a 12 year old princess, a 17 year old boy, a three legged dog, and of course the late 30's husband and wife.
Here is a link to the map
I've hiked this trail twice with the Boy Scouts. The first time was two years ago on a humid May day with a 30 pound pack. We hiked it counter clockwise and it was a very difficult day. The second time was in Feb with 70 degrees and overcast. We hiked it clockwise and it seemed much easier going that route.
The route is pretty well marked and we didn't have any problems. The springs trail is a white blaze and the link portion of the Oauchita trail across the top of the mountain is blue. The trail signs are well maintained. The only confusion might be close to the cedar creek campsites, the trail head is on a small turn off near the entrance of the equestrian area. The springs was barely running but was nice to see something built by the CCC.
Hiked this trail a week ago. We started from the highway (trailhead near the spring) and descended counter clockwise. This trail was a bit dull except for a walking stick for the first 4 miles. Lots of horse traffic on this part= lots of horse poop. We renamed the trail "horse shit spring". After the split leading to cedar lake the trail all but completely disappeared for the next 3 miles. Many downed trees made it extremely difficult to find the trail- I noticed at least one downed tree with a white blaze on it's side. Thick underbrush made this trail difficult, many parts of the trail were so overgrown they were absolutely impossible to discern. We renamed the trail "Trail Thief Spring". We took turns alternating standing by a tree with a blaze and sending the other person out to scout for the next blaze at 20 degree intervals (like spokes on a wheel). Extremely frustrating. Much of the forest was burned, all of the creek crossings were bone dry. The last 2 miles uphill were full of dull repetitive switchbacks that offered no redeeming views or interesting landscape. Upon further reflection while trudging up mind numbing switchbacks we combined the new names of the trail and decided that "Shit trail spring" was an all around accurate description.
This trail had some nice views from a few points, actually. We just went this past weekend -- got to the trail late in the afternoon, camped, and then finished it the next day. To note: most of the water sources were dried up, so if you're going any time soon, bring/cache water. We went up to Cedar Lake to get water, but this is mostly a horse camping ground, so not much to see. This trail has lots of trees down, so it was difficult to navigate at times and I believe the mileage might be a little off because of rerouting.
I traveled this trail at the beginning of July starting from Horse Thief Springs. If you travel it this way and do not continue onto Cedar Lake, the trail is only about 10 miles.
It was in the middle of a series of days of heavy rain and I just timed it so as to avoid the rain. The trail itself is relatively confusing because of all the offshoot trails, many of which are unmarked. Follow the white blazes and you'll be fine, though in some areas they have faded. After the logging road, the trail was harder to follow as grass was thick and the trail became faint. In this situation, it's best to stay calm and back track and keep trying different routes until you see blazes. Once you reach the junction with the trail leading to Cedar Lake, things get much easier and I had no issues following the trail back to Horse Thief Springs. There are no really good vistas along the route as much of the area is shrouded in trees, so if you are easily bored by a lack of diverse scenery, this trail is not for you. I didn't have problems with ticks even though I was wearing shorts. My legs were however very scratched up by all of the thorny bushes in the area. Pants are recommended.
On the whole, I was unimpressed with what this trail had to offer. It had moments of beauty, but just driving the road to the trailhead with all of its captivating vistas is far prettier than anything you'll see in the 10 miles of this hike.