Five Great Hikes in Northwest Arkansas

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Buffalo National River:

If you have never explored the Buffalo National River, I suggest you beeline there for your next outdoor getaway.  This place is special.  It was not even on my radar, but after doing some online research it kept popping up again and again.  Pardon my ignorance, but I wasn't aware that we had "National Rivers".  In fact, we have 5 National Rivers here in the USA.  I'm glad we made the trip to Buffalo National River because it doesn't disappoint.  Three of our "Five Great Hikes" are at Buffalo National River.

Our first evening camping at Buffalo National River, we stayed at the Tyler Bend Campground.  I have been to A LOT of campgrounds over the years, this is one of the nicest I've seen.  The sites are huge and widely spaced from one another.  There is a clean bathhouse with the works, and it's only $16 per night.  Click here for campground details.  A Visitor Center is close by with exhibits, books, maps, and helpful staff to aid in planning your visit.  Buffalo National River has miles of hiking trails divided into three districts: Upper, Middle, and, Lower.  Click here for a visual of these districts.

#1 Indian Rockhouse

Our first great hike, the Indian Rockhouse Trail, is in the Lower District beginning at the Buffalo Point Trailhead.  The hike out to this recessed cave is a pleasant walk in the woods with tall, beautiful trees.  You will deal with some elevation, rocks, and roots but nothing major.  You should be in reasonably good shape for this hike though.  Along the way, you will notice some interesting things such as a mining prospect.  Caverns, sinkholes, waterfalls, and smooth bedrock common to a Karst environment are also present.  The caverns are especially fun to check out.  In fact, the hike is so fun that before you know it, you will have arrived at its centerpiece.

Used by prehistoric people as far back as 7,000 BCE, the Indian Rockhouse is an impressive sight.  An overhanging ledge shelters a huge stone room filled with rock piles over which you can clamber to get different views of the "house".  On one side of the house is a creek emerging from a dark cave opening.  If you brought your headlamp, there are several ways to squeeze into some of these areas to get a closer look at the water running along the stone walls away from the sun's light.  On the other side of the house is an opening in the overhanging ledge where light filters down in the most amazing way.  Click here for map & trail details.

#2 Lost Valley

On the western end (the Upper District) of the Buffalo National River is lovely Boxley Valley.  Known for its resident elk herd.  You can park alongside the road in the valley every morning and evening to observe the elk grazing.  In this area, you will find the trailhead for our second great hike the Lost Valley Trail.  This is an easy hike to Eden Falls.  There are a few places where you'll climb some stairs.  Hike through the box canyon to the falls and find treasures all along the way.

You'll first come to the "natural bridge", which has a waterfall emerging from under the bridge.  Make your way behind the bridge to watch the water wind through the cavern to cascade down to the pool below.  Continue along the trail to find the stunning Cob Cave.  This is another recessed cave that is huge and can be explored at length.  Just beyond Cobb Cave, Eden Falls tumbles into a cloudy blue pool.  Continuing beyond Eden Falls, you can tackle the strenuous climb to Falls Cave where another waterfall awaits you inside.  Click here for map & trail details.

#3 Hideout Hollow

Our third great hike is the awesome Hideout Hollow.  It also resides in the Upper District of Buffalo National River.  During our stay on the western side of the park, we camped at the Steel Creek Campground.  There are no RV sites here.  Camping is $12 per night.  For details on camping at BNR, click here.

The Hideout Hollow trailhead is a tad difficult to locate.  We drove around for a few hours trying to find it.  To find the Schermerhorn Trailhead, use this map.  Please note the post office has burned down.  Now, there is just a parking lot there.  This is why we had such a hard time finding it.

This hike has an interesting story to accompany it.  During World War I, the "slacker gang" hid out here to dodge the draft.  Hiking out to the Hollow is simple, and there are a few fantastic viewpoints along the ledges.

Once you reach the recessed cave, look across the canyon, and you will notice a trail down to the cave.  It is rugged.  Be careful climbing down.  Beneath the ledge, you can observe the waterfalls and poke around the remnants of old stone shelters.  This is a very cool spot.  We spent several hours taking pictures and roaming about.  Click here for map & trail details.

#4 Hawksbill Crag

It's the most photographed spot in Arkansas,  Our fourth great hike is Hawksbill Crag (Whitaker Point).  Located in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, this trail leads to the breathtaking viewpoint Hawksbill Crag.  It requires some work to get to the trailhead.  Click here for detailed instructions.  We were able to drive our sedan up the mountain dirt roads, but it was nerve-racking sometimes because of the enormous potholes.

This is an extremely popular trail.  If I were to hike it again, I would try to hike it early in the morning on a weekday in the off-season.  The hike is an easy 3-mile round trip.  There is some elevation to it, so you should be in reasonably good shape.  This trail is eroded from all the use.  There are many shortcuts on the switchbacks.  Be sure to stay on the switchbacked trail to lessen the impact.  See here for LNT practices.  I know it's tempting to take the shortest route, but don't be selfish. This is our land.  We have to take care of it.

Crowds will be clustered on the crag.  If you're patient they will dissipate, and you will get your chance to enjoy the view and take photos.

#5 Glory Hole

Our final great hike is in the Dismal Creek Special Interest Area of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest.  The trailhead can be difficult to find if you're not looking carefully.  The sign indicating the trailhead is a ramshackle post on which someone has written with a black marker "Glory Hole".  Look for the sizable gravel shoulder.  Click here for detailed directions.

The Glory Hole Trail is 2 miles round trip with some steep, eroded portions.  This hike isn't terribly interesting until you arrive to view the sculpted stream bed leading up to a large, smooth, round hole.  The water flows through spilling below into a recessed cave.  You can hike down to the cave for a better look by navigating a steep hill with plenty of roots and rocks.  The Glory Hole is awesome!  You've likely never seen anything like it.  It is truly unique.

Northwest Arkansas is a fantastic place to hike.  I already want to go back there.  In this article, we have barely scratched the surface.  You could spend months here hiking.  There are long-distance backpacking trails also, including the Ozark Highlands Trail & the Ouachita Trail.  These are definitely on the horizon for us.  If you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment.  For more road trip ideas, visit our page here.


Hiker Tips

  • Buffalo National River is quite spread out.  Although it doesn't look that far on a map, it takes time to drive from one district to another in the beautiful, hilly terrain.
  • Visit these awesome Web Sites for more great hikes in Arkansas:
  • Arklahoma Hiker
  • Hiking the Ozarks

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