*Guest Post by writer and travel blogger Molly Miles – you can read her other guest post here*
It’s hiking season in the South! We all know that the Arkansas’ tourism department’s “cool mountain air” is a complete lie during the months of May-September, but now that October is here, let’s get out there, see some great views, reset our mental space, and be more active!
In honor of the season, here’s a guide to my 4 favorite half-day (under 5 mile) hikes I did while living in Arkansas. If you want to see pretty leaves, they start turning the last couple weeks of the month through the first couple weeks of November. They’re gone by Thanksgiving, so there’s a one-month sweet spot where you can see all the beautiful colors.
Fall Hikes in Arkansas – Lost Valley Trail
(in the Spring, this is a much more formidable waterfall. In Autumn, you can walk right up to it)
This is my absolute favorite trail in Arkansas and one of my favorite hikes I’ve ever been on. The trail is in the Buffalo River area – the trail head used to be difficult to find, but it’s on Google Maps now. It’s a little over 2 miles round trip, but does have a lot of room for meandering, especially in the Fall/Winter when the river is dried up. Part of the trail is a reasonably steep rock staircase, so it is rated as ‘moderate’.
You’ll spend a lot of time wandering through beautiful geological formations and enjoying the mountain scenery until you get to my favorite part of the trail – the cave.
That’s right, this trail comes with it’s very own self-explorable cave. You will climb up the rock staircase and into the cave opening, where you can stand and walk through a narrow passage.
Eventually, this passage will end and a tunnel will appear. I was able to stay half-crouched the entire time, but I’m also 5’1”, so most people have to crawl.
You’ll crawl through this part of the cave for around 5 minutes until it opens up into the cave itself, which is a small room with a small waterfall. That’s right – this hiking trail has a CAVE WITH A WATERFALL IN IT. It was pretty cool.
Naturally, it’s pitch black in there, so you can’t really see the waterfall well, but you can hear it. It wasn’t too much more than a trickle when I went. I also got to see a couple of sleeping bats, which happen to be my favorite animals, so that was a real treat.
This is the end of the trail, so just turn around, crawl back through the tunnel, and back out the way you came, enjoying more sights along the way.
Fall Hikes in Arkansas – Whitaker Point Trail (Hawksbill Crag)
This trail’s claim to fame is that it takes you to an overhanging rock crag that was used in the opening of Disney’s “Tuck Everlasting”. It’s also been mentioned in several articles and was voted one of the “Best Places to Get Kissed.”
The trail is in the same general area as Lost Valley (Buffalo River), and if you’re feeling particularly spunky it is feasible to do both in the same day. This trail is 3 miles round trip and is rated as ‘moderate’. I don’t remember much of it being particularly challenging, there are a few ups and downs and switchbacks, but nothing over a regular mountainous region hike.
The hike itself is pretty, especially in the fall with the leaves changing, but the real reward here doesn’t come until you’re about 1/3 mile away from the end of the trail and you can see the bluff line and the crag. The view is just… spectacular. Words can’t describe. As you continue the rest of this scenic hike, you’ll end up on the crag itself, jutting out over a cliff face on a relatively small piece of rock.
Speaking of…. Several people have died on this trail over the past 6 years. Don’t take small kids, and don’t do anything stupid. There are no guardrails or signs on the crag, the bluff line, or any of the other cliff-adjacent parts of the trail. Stay away from the edges and take in the view from a safe distance.
Fall Hikes in Arkansas – Petit Jean State Park – Cedar Falls Trail
This park is always fun, and its close proximity to Little Rock means that it’s one of the most highly frequented parks in the area. It also offers a lot of overlooks, places you can drive and take a short, easy walk to a breathtaking view (like the one above), so it’s a great place to take small kids or elderly people.
My favorite hike here is the most popular one, the Cedar Falls Trail, in which you hike straight down into a valley with a 95-foot waterfall and then back up. It’s a little over 2 miles and rated moderate-strenuous due to the “and then back up” part of the trail.
Naturally, my favorite part of this trail is ignoring all the signs that say “no climbing around waterfall – slick rocks” and climbing around the waterfall on the slick rocks. It’s probably ill-advised, but I saw a lot of people doing it without tumbling to their deaths so I wanted to try.
You can sit right on the ledge there, behind the waterfall, listening to the crashing water and enjoying the natural beauty for a long time – it’s a wonderful experience.
And then you hike straight back up, a slightly less wonderful experience. But worth it.
Fall Hikes in Arkansas – Emerald Park Trail
This trail is definitely the least well-known of this group, but it is a lot of fun. Located right in the heart of Little Rock, it intersects with the popular Arkansas River Trail and has some seriously stunning views.
Entering around Pulaski Tech, the first part of the trail is wide, flat, and paved, and mostly wanders through the woods. However, if you keep going off the pavement (to intersect with the ART), you’ll find yourself winding down through sand and rocks (some of which have some interesting graffiti), and eventually walking a bluff line no more than a foot across in some areas.
It was…. A little terrifying, to be honest. There were a lot of people, and a lot of them had small children (please don’t do this) who I was convinced would tumble off at any given moment.
However, the views were worth it. Sweeping views of the foliage, the river, downtown Little Rock… you name it, you can see it from up here. Plus, the feeling of walking atop such a narrow bluff line is actually pretty neat. Really stirs up the sense of adventure, I felt accomplished when I was finished. People also say that after a heavy rain, you can see waterfalls off of the cliff faces, although it was dry when I went.
The bottom photo is what the trail was like right after you walk off the paved part. Please don’t judge me, it was over 4 years ago and I was recovering from a pixie cut. We’ve all been there, girls.
So if you live in Arkansas (or are visiting), get out there this Fall and see some views! The results will be worth the effort.