Hey guys! Shelby here. So the girls and I have been talking about adding a reoccurring segment to the blog which highlights great aspects of this little state we call home: Arkansas. If you’ve noticed our tagline (common roots, different routes), well this is where the “roots” come in. We’ve decided to call this segment “Local Flavor” and because I’m a bit of a nature freak, I’m going to start it off by telling y’all a little bit about hiking the Ozarks.
My entire life I’ve been captivated by nature. It’s only natural (no pun intended) that I would enjoy hiking. Since moving to Arkansas in 2006, I’ve had many opportunities to hit the trails, and for the past two years have explored the Ozarks even more with my own personal trail guide (and boyfriend), Jeff. What I’ve found there is splendor and peace.. stillness and chaos… the untamed wild. If you have the opportunity to see it for yourself, please don’t hesitate! In fact, for your convenience, I’ve prepared a list of the best hiking/exploring in the Ozarks, so you don’t even have to wonder! Only wander. Ok, I’ll stop being cheesy now, but we do hope our wandering inspires some wandering of your own! In no specific order, here are my top ten trails of the Ozarks.
(Note* this is not a trail guide per-say, just a list, and completely based on my personal experience and opinion. Feel free to comment below with your experiences and/or tips and tales.)
- Hawksbill Crag
Easily the most photographed spot in the state, the hike to the crag, formally known as Whitaker Point Trail, is easy and only about 3 miles round trip. Treat yourself to an amazing view! Best seen at sunrise. Fun fact: our very own Tera was proposed to atop this crag!
2. Steel Creek (along the Buffalo River Trail)
This trail is more about the river and bluffs than the actual hike (in my opinion). Stunning views of the famous bluffs, a superb (slightly secret) swimming hole, and a wonderful quaint campground that will have you rushing to stake your ground and set up your tent!
3. Big Bluff
At 550-ft tall, Big Bluff is the tallest sheer bluff face found between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The hike, round trip, takes 4 to 5 hours to complete (6 miles RT), and it is worth every minute. The Buffalo makes a wide horseshoe turn right below the bluff, making an incredible panoramic view, best seen at sunset. If you are so inclined, you can also set up camp right on the bluff in one of the many shelter areas.
It is important to note the the trail to Big Bluff is called the Goat Trail, and actually spurs off of the more prominent Centerpoint Trail. From the Centerpoint Trailhead, it is about a 1-hour hike downhill to the spur trail that takes you out onto Big Bluff. This is where the trail opens up into a large, rounded flat area with a fire ring that directionally is at about one o’clock on your right. The spur trail (Goat Trail) to Big Bluff is off to the right of the fire ring. From here, it’s about a 1/4-mile hike out to the start of Big Bluff!
Note* also on the Centerpoint Trail (if you don’t take the Goat Trail) is the tallest waterfall in mid-america, Hemmed-in-Hollow.
4. Indian Creek Trail
I personally have never hiked this trail, but Jeff has and was insistent that it make the list. According to him, it is one of the most scenic hikes in the state. Huge bluffs, amazing rock formations, beautiful streams, caves, and waterfalls; the landscape is epic. The hike is intense – possibly the most high risk in the Ozarks – but in his opinion, totally worth it. Some of the notable features are Copperhead Falls, The Eye of the Needle, Tunnel Cave, Arkansas Cave Falls, and more. For those who have a big heart for adventure, this trail is for you.
5. The Narrows
The Narrows, affectionally referred to as “The Nars,” is thin ledge of limestone rock rising up amidst the Buffalo River and Richland Creek Valley. This ledge is the last vestige of a once mighty mountain high in the Boston Plateau. Many moons ago, Richland Creek scoured the mountain away and then slowly moved across the valley to it’s current location at least a 1/4 mile away. As Richland Creek meandered away, the Buffalo moved in and took out the other side of the mountain, leaving this narrow strip of hike-able rock.
6. Lost Valley
I think I’ve been to Lost Valley three times now, and there is always something new to see there. Less of an epic overlook than some of the others on the list, Lost Valley is more about the hike and less about the destination. Acclaimed as the most popular trail in Arkansas, it features waterfalls, amazing rock formations, and few caves. Make sure to bring a flashlight (or preferably a headlamp) if you want to explore the caves fully. Also note that the waterfalls flow best after a good rain. This trail is great for beginners!
Another thing I personally like about the trail is its abundance of medicinal plants! The wide variety of species found there include, bloodroot, crested iris, columbine, mayapple, comfrey and Ozark trillium, just to name a few.
7. Richland Creek Wilderness Area
This one has a special place in my heart, because if it wasn’t for the Richland Creek Wilderness Area I would never have met Jeff. We met after he hosted a hike/exploration of the area that I heard about through the Instagram Account, Igersarkansas.
Located deep in the Ozark National Forest, miles from civilization, and home to hiking trails, swimming holes, cascades and waterfalls, wildflowers, fall color, bluffs, rock formations and so much more, the Richland Creek Wilderness Area is one the most scenic areas in all of the Ozarks or Ouachitas. Designated by Congress in 1984, this Wilderness Area offers 11,801 acres of the most rugged and scenic beauty of the Boston Mountains. Home to Twin Falls, Richland Falls, Hamilton Falls, and more, this place is a real wilderness worth exploring.
8. Sam’s Throne
A brief bit of lore: “It is believed that Sam Davis, born around 1795, came to Arkansas from Mississippi. It is told that Indians captured his young sister and fled with her into the Arkansas hills. Sam set out to find her traveling up the White River to the mouth of Buffalo and thence to the mouth of Big Creek. Coming up Big Creek he lost track of the Indians, so stopped and settling at the mouth of Dry Creek, above present Mt. Judea. Sometime after Davis had settled on the Big Creek farm he went into the woods hunting cattle. His hunt took him to the head of Pud Cove. While standing there calling cattle, he was shocked to hear a woman answer him at some distance. The voice sounded strangely familiar. The two kept calling and walking in the direction of each other until they met. The woman was his long lost sister who by then was the wife of an Indian chief. She too, had recognized a strange familiarity in the voice she had heard. In Sam’s latter years he had become demented. He was known for many strange actions during that time. In this case, Sam would take a ladder, climb up to this knob, pull the ladder up, and there stay for days. During those times he could sometimes be heard preaching “to the wind.” He also planted peach trees there, which lived and bore fruit for years afterward. Sometimes it would take considerable persuasion on the part of his family and others to get him down from the knob. In time, this knob became known as Sam’s Throne,” (source).
This one is not so much a hike as it is a must-see of the Ozarks, overlooking the Big Creek valley below. It is so accessible that you really have no excuse not to go see it. This location is very popular for rock climbers, photographers, and star-gazers. Fun fact: there is a geocache hidden here! See if you can find it when you make your trip, and tell us about it if/when you do!
9. Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area
This is a great place to explore, and offers two awesome loop trails, each leading to its own scenic area. There is also a waterfall, Kings Bluff Falls, which is one of the tallest in the Ozarks. The scenic area takes its name from the “pedestal rocks,” massive natural stone columns or “pedestals” that rise up from the valley floor. Formed by natural erosion of the rock bluffs, they took thousands of years to form and have attracted human attention almost since the first Native American hunters entered the mountains.
10. Devil’s Den State Park
Last, but not least, I give you Devil’s Den State Park! This Park has miles of hiking and multiple use trails winding through Devil’s Den and the surrounding Ozark National Forest. Caves, crevices and bluff overlooks can be explored here. You can take a wet-water hike up Lee Creek, or trek the 15-mile Butterfield Hiking Trail! This trail, from the park through the Ozark National Forest, leads backpackers deep into the hills and hollows of the rugged scenic Ozarks. Two of my favorite trails here are the Devil’s Den Trail (for the Cave lover) and the Yellow Rock Trail (for the overlook junkee).
This is my favorite on the list for mostly nostalgic reasons. Only an hour from home, my family and I take an annual camping trip to Devil’s Den to see the fall colors. My Dad’s family also camped here when he was a boy! Most recently, it has also become even more special to me since Jeff asked me to be his girl atop Yellow Rock about a year ago (insert swoon here).
So there you have it! Get out and go explore this beautiful place we call home. As always, live healthy and love hard!
*Photocreds for the vast majority of the photos go to my wonderful boyfriend, Jeff Rose. Book him for your next session!