Hiking Arkansas: five walking trails across The Natural State

Whether you’re a fitness fanatic or looking to take a leisurely stroll through the undulating wilderness, Arkansas has a range of hiking trails to discover.

View from Petit Jean Mountain as the sun sets in Arkansas. 

Photograph by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
By Jacqui Agate
Published 13 Mar 2023, 15:00 GMT

Rippling hills under a blanket of woodland, waterfalls rushing over rocky ledges, sky-scraping peaks, stooping caverns — Arkansas’ ‘Natural State’ nickname sets heady expectations. Happily, the state delivers on all these fronts and there’s a good network of hiking trails that’ll get you straight to its wild heart. Lovers of the outdoors should focus on Arkansas’ bucolic western reaches, where the Ozark and Ouachita mountain regions serve up a feast of natural wonders. So, lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails with five of the finest routes through the state. 

1. Hot Springs Mountain Trail, Hot Springs National Park

Best for: mellow mountain hiking
Difficulty level: relaxed

You’ll get maximum reward with minimal effort on this easy 1.7-mile jaunt through Hot Springs National Park. The park safeguards ancient thermal waters and a series of century-old bathhouses, but this trail — which is well marked and maintained — is all about the peaks. The route reaches an ear-popping 994ft as it curls across the summit of Hot Springs Mountain, part of the Ouachita range. Waters from the western face of this mountain feed the park’s springs, and various overlooks grant views of the surrounding forested peaks. If you want to stretch your legs further, you can add on the connecting Honeysuckle Trail and the short Peak Trail — the latter offers yet more panoramas from the 216ft Hot Springs Mountain Tower. 

2. Eagle Rock Loop, Ouachita National Forest

Best for: a backpacking adventure
Difficulty level: challenging 

At more than 26 miles, this marathon-length hike is hailed as the longest loop trail in the state. Any route of this length promises wonders aplenty and this one doesn’t disappoint, revealing waterfalls, swimming holes, shady coves and rocky gorges as its slices through a southwestern swathe of the Ouachita National Forest. 

The route roughly hugs a century-old postal route, and you can cover the whole trek — setting aside two to three days and overnighting at off-grid campgrounds – or tackle just a portion of it. The trail’s Little Missouri Falls section is a particular jewel, showcasing a tiered cascade that splashes down into a popular swimming hole. This is one for solid hikers; be prepared for rocky scrambles, rugged terrain and multiple creek crossings if you tackle the whole route. 

Ramble alongside the Buffalo National River as it flows past the cliffs.

Ramble alongside the Buffalo National River as it flows past the cliffs.

Photograph by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

3. Whitaker Point Trail, Ozark National Forest

Best for: a cinematic finale
Difficulty level: moderate

The Ozark National Forest spreads out in the northwestern reaches of Arkansas, enveloping hilly oak and hickory forests and creekside sycamores and willows. Running through it like a vein is the Whitaker Point Trail, one of the region’s most popular and rewarding hiking routes. You’ll wend your way into hardwood thickets, skirt cliff edges and pass waterfalls and wildflowers, as you make your way towards the trail’s glittering finale. Whitaker Point, or Hawksbill Crag, is a striking tongue of sandstone that juts out over the cloud-cloaked canopy and the Buffalo National River. The round trip is just under three miles, so set aside a few hours. 

4. Rock House Cave Trail, Petit Jean State Park 

Best for: Native heritage
Difficulty level: relaxed 

You can combine outdoor adventure and history on the Rock House Cave Trail, a gentle, quarter-mile walk that heads towards a giant rock shelter. At the shelter, you’ll find precious vestiges of an ancient Indigenous culture — some of the best-preserved rock art in all of Arkansas. Basted onto the walls are curious shapes including a stick figure and a platypus-like effigy, thought to have been made with pigment from animal fats. The short trail routes through Petit Jean State Park, which spreads over its namesake mountain in the Arkansas River Valley. 

Take in spectacular views over the mountainous regions at Whitaker Point.

Take in spectacular views over the mountainous regions at Whitaker Point.

Photograph by Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

5. Pedestal Rocks and Kings Bluff Trails, Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area 

Best for: epic rock formations 
Difficulty level: moderate

You get twice the bang for your hiking buck with this pair of trails in the Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area. The two routes (Pedestal Rocks at 2.2 miles and Kings Bluff at 1.7 miles) join up to form a playground for geology geeks — you’ll wander through a forest of mushroom-like rock forms called pedestals, which have been shaped by wind and water over many millennia. The headline sight is Kings Bluff, where a waterfall shoots over the side of a stark rocky ledge. Allow at least three hours for this one, so you can hike at a leisurely pace and linger a while in the Pedestal Rocks area, with its shady caves and natural archways. 

Plan your trip

To discover more about The Ozarks and Arkansas, visit travelsouthusa.com and arkansas.com

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