High Pointing and Exploring Arkansas

We celebrated our completion of the Eagle Rock Loop with a toast – my Topo Chico and Jason’s Coke Zero (when we were younger, our post-hike treats were stronger). We talked about where we would go next. The Highpoint was close, so at about 2 pm we started the drive to Mt. Magazine. On the way, I called the lodge to see if they had a couple of rooms open – they were fully booked. For some reason we talked ourselves out of car camping, even though the park had full shower bathhouses. I mean, really nice bathhouses.

Let me tell you about the State Parks in Arkansas: They will spoil you. We went to 3 different state parks and each one was fantastic. Most were built by the CCC, and the state takes great care of the facilities. They all have nice visitor centers with loads of information, nice exhibits, and usually a small gift shop. Getting in is free, and the rates are reasonable for pavilions, camp sites, and cabins. They usually have a lodge with a restaurant, or a cafe, a swimming pool and sometimes tennis courts. If they are on a body of water, there are rentals. The campsites are well spread out and there is room for biking and exploring. Had we realized this, we would have camped at Mount Magazine, instead we went to Paris, booked another sketchy motel room and dined on really bad pizza. It was so bad I don’t think they should be legally allowed to call it pizza.

We got up early, stopped for good cup of coffee at True Grit Grounds in Paris, and headed out to the Highpoint. You can practically drive up to the highpoint. But if you want a hike, you have options. In the park, there are 14 miles of trails you can put together in various combinations. Outside the park, you can hike in from the Cove Lake Campgrounds to the north (for a 19 mile r/t hike). We decided to take a leisurely 6 mi hike that started at the visitor center. We took the North Rim Trail headed west, then turned south through the campsites onto the Signal Hill trail. Mt. Magazine’s other name is Signal Hill, which we summited at about mile 3.2 and took our pics. We finished the hike by continuing south on the Signal Hill trail and then east on the Mossback Ridge Trail, taking first leg north back to the visitor’s center.

Mt. Magazine sits at 2,753 ft above sea level, it is the 34th highest state summit of the US state highpoints.  The loop trail we took had an elevation gain of about 300 ft, and the distance was about 6 miles.   We started at 8:40 am and made the summit in 1 hour 20 minutes, with photo op stops.  We spent 15 minutes on the summit.  It took us just over an hour to hike back to the Visitor Center and were in the parking lot at 11:15 am.  Our total Loop hike time was 2 hours 20 minutes, not including the 15 minutes we spent on the summit taking pictures. It can be easy to miss that they laid out the state in Stone at the foot of the sign.  Parking at the visitor center is free.  The trail is identified by blazes on trees along the trail, and our only navigating hiccup was getting through the campground.  There are facilities at the visitor center and the campground (water/restroom).  We didn’t have any bug problems, shorts and light hikers were fine.   Of course, pack out all your trash.

And a note about bears: There are black bears in the area, but consider yourself lucky if you see one. In fact, the rangers want you to note the date, time, location, number, estimated size, markings, and activity of the bears you do see. I have a feeling they are as rare as Bigfoot.

With another Highpoint in the bag, we were off to Petit Jean State Park. This is the first state park in Arkansas and it is well worth the trip. The park was named after a French girl who followed her explorer finance to the new world by disguising herself as the cabin boy on the voyage. The crew nicknamed her Petit Jean (Little John). She became gravely ill while they were exploring this area, and asked to be buried on the beautiful mountain. The full story is on the park’s website. Petit Jean

We arrived just after noon, grabbed a campsite, set up, and went exploring. There is a lake to boat and fish on, 20 miles of trails to hike or bike, overlooks into the valleys to enjoy, plus a swimming pool, tennis courts, and an amphitheater.

We went for a 4.5 mile hike on the Seven Hollows Trail. It lived up to being one of the “best hikes in Arkansas” with varied terrain and lots of geological formations to explore; caves, a natural arch, a grotto and rock walls. It is a mostly shady hike through hardwood forests. It took us just over 2 hours to complete the hike.

After our hike we headed to an early dinner at the Mather Lodge. The lodge has a nice rustic feel. Our post hike dinner of hot water corn bread (if you haven’t had this, you really should try it), hamburgers and fries hit the spot. We caught the sunset and even had evening entertainment from the Crystal Spring Pickers who were putting on a show that evening at the lodge.

Sunset at the Petit Jean Lodge Overlook

In the morning we did a two short hikes that, combined, were about 2 miles. First, the Rock House Cave where we looked for Native American petroglyphs. Second to Cedar Falls, where there was no water. Afterwards, we drove to a couple of overlooks before heading north.

By now, we knew that any waterfall destination was going to be disappointing because there was no water. We decided to head north to the Missouri Highpoint and hike a section of the Ozark Trail near Taum Sauk. On the way, we stopped at the Buffalo National River to hike the Goat’s Bluff trail. We found a camping spot right across the highway from the Centerpoint Trail head, and headed out for a short evening hike to explore the trail. We did the full hike the next morning, and it is a good thing we waited for the daylight. The Centerpoint trail takes you from the top of the bluff down to the Buffalo River. At about the 3.5 mile mark, there is a spur trail that takes you out to the Goat’s Bluff. This is not a trail for anyone with a fear of heights as the trail is on a sheer cliff and is rather narrow. But the views are great. We figured that with some extra exploratory miles toward the river that we hiked 8 miles overall in about 3 hours. We spent about 30 minutes on the bluff just enjoying the view.

Back at the truck, we hit the road with Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain as our destination. We were going to spend 5 hours on twisting mountain 2-lane highways and one interstate highway. There was nothing exciting about this leg of the trip, so I’ll skip the details. Up next is our Ozark Hike.

Until then, Happy Trails!

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