Born and raised in Arkansas near the Missouri border, I understand the state isn’t high on most people’s list of places to visit and that it doesn’t attract many bucket list-type travelers. Still, Arkansas is an absolutely beautiful state, full of many wilderness adventures, the beautiful terrain of lakes, the famous hot springs, caves, swimming holes, beaches, and the Ozark Mountains. If you are an outdoor junkie or are in need of an outdoor escape off the beaten path, Arkansas has a lot to offer and is affordable!
Fall is the best season for hiking, as summers are humid and hot, and overheating can be a concern. I experienced most of the best hikes with the best views during days gone by -- when it wouldn’t take me a week to recover! Some noteworthy hikes are left out based on my current skill level, but if you are an expert hiker, don’t miss Eagle Rock Loop, which is for experienced hikers only.
I grew up hiking all over the state, and my list of favorites includes some hidden gems and can’t-miss adventures in the aptly named Natural State.
1. Yellow Rock Trail, Devil’s Den State Park
Inside Devil’s Den State Park, the three-mile, moderately difficult hike to Yellow Rock will take you 300 feet in elevation to one of the best views in the park. There are lots of interesting rock formations along the way, and the trail, in general, is a bit rocky, so I recommend bringing a hiking pole or a walking stick. The path is well marked, and the view from the top is amazing. This is a great trail for almost all ages and is dog friendly. Don’t miss this trail or Devil’s Den State Park, which makes for the perfect day trip from nearby Fayetteville.
2. Pinnacle Mountain West Summit Trail, Pinnacle Mountain State Park
This 1.5-mile, rocky trail starts out moderate, but the last half mile is a bit tougher to get to the top. Once you do, you are rewarded with some amazing vistas at the top of Pinnacle Mountain. You will see a spectacular view of Lake Maumelle, the Arkansas River Valley, the Ouachita Mountains, and West Little Rock. The trail itself can be busy and heavily trafficked because of it’s close proximity to the state capital.
3. White Rock Rim Trail, Ozark National Forest
Finding this gem of a trail will have you heading deep into the country and make you feel like you are truly in the middle of nowhere. This 1.5-mile trail is defined by its lush greenery and well-worn pathways. The easy loop circles the mountain and offers 365-degree views of the Ozark National Forest. This hike saves the best for last, as the end of the trail has some of the best views, and there is a shelter with benches so you can fully take it all in. I’ve never been lucky enough to catch a sunset, but if you have the opportunity, plan accordingly.
4. Mount Nebo Rim Trail, Mount Nebo State Park
This three-mile, moderately difficult trail has it all: scenic views for most of the hike, waterfalls, and a loop path. There are some parts near the beginning where the trail is strenuous, but instead of getting harder, it gets easier and is consistently moderate for the majority of the hike. Mount Nebo has a few cliff drops along the way that might make your stomach turn if heights bother you, so be prepared. There are many paths you can take if you find yourself camping in the area, and this one’s not to be missed. Additionally, Mount Nebo State Park is a good stopping point between Little Rock and Fayetteville or can make for a good day trip from either city.
5. Whitaker Point Trail, Ozark National Forest
Arguably the most well-known hiking trail in Arkansas, Whitaker Point has been featured in movies and on magazine covers, is the site of many proposals, and attracts hikers from all over the country. All that said, it’s a popular hike, and you won’t be alone during your trek. If you don’t mind the company, you will find a breathtaking hike to a rock outcropping, Hawksbill Crag, which resembles a hawk's bill from the side. The out-and-back hike is 2.9 miles long and isn’t all that difficult. When you reach the rock formation at the end, which overlooks Whitaker Creek, you will be overwhelmed by the vastness of the Ozark National Forest.
6. Peak Trail, Hot Springs National Park
I discovered this lovely hike during a vacation to Hot Springs years ago, and I’ve loved taking my wife and grandkids on this trail many times over the years. It’s an easy, 1.5-mile hike that’s great for beginners and all skill levels. The trek to the top of the mountain and the Mountain Tower (which is a fancy art deco-looking gazebo) features forest scapes, good views, wildflowers, and a well-maintained trail.
7. Lost Valley Trail, Buffalo National River
This is my pick for the best hike in Arkansas. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Any trail that features a waterfall, a swimming spot, and a cave is high on my list of favorites. In the Buffalo National River area, you will find the popular Lost Valley Trail, which is both well maintained and easy to moderate in difficulty. The first half mile features a natural bridge with a little waterfall that’s easy to traverse, then you’ll make your way toward Cob Cave. Make sure to spend some time exploring before moving on. The trees provide enough shade in the summer, so this is a trail that’s enjoyable in any season. The best parts of the trail are toward the end as the trail leads you to Eden Falls. Make sure to pack accordingly so you can hop in for a swim at the end.
8. Indian Rockhouse Trail, Buffalo National River
The Indian Rockhouse Trail is a moderately difficult 3.5-mile loop that involves a decline on the way out and is mostly uphill on the way back. I haven’t hiked this trail since I was in my 40s, but I can imagine that it will make the knees bark now that I’m a bit older. Still, this is a beautiful trail that traverses a hillside and offers so much to see and explore. There is a waterfall at the beginning and waterholes, an abandoned zinc mine, caves, a natural bathtub, and rock formations throughout. The trail is marked along the way and well maintained. Follow along a beautiful stream to the spectacular Indian Rockhouse Cave, which is large with cool springs flowing in the back part of the cave. You can see why this would have have been used as lodging when Native Americans lived in open camps and bluff-shelter caves in the Buffalo River Valley. Don’t miss this trail if you find yourself near the Buffalo River area; it’s a true hiking gem.
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