Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Hiking is an awe inspiring route to experience the beauty of Arkansas. The state’s climate allows the pastime year round and a chance to get off the beaten path is also attainable. Tim Ernst, a wilderness photographer and author of many guidebooks about hiking in Arkansas, said that while some trails in the state can get crowded on popular weekends, most remain relatively unknown compared to major trails in other states. “It is possible to hike all day and never see anyone, or just a few other hikers, so our trails are much less crowded than those in other states,” he said.
The state’s diverse topography offers a range of scenic territory to explore, including Southwest Arkansas, home to the Ouachita Mountains. The ridgeline of this range runs predominantly east to west rather than the north to south direction of the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, a directional trend that gives rise to distinct plant and animal communities. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail follows this scenic range for more than 220 miles. There are a wealth of hiking options in the region, including routes such as the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, which has around 45 miles of trails along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita, the largest lake in the state. The route meanders through the Ouachita National Forest with spurs providing lake vistas.
Climate also makes hiking here stand out from other states. “One of the many great things about hiking in Arkansas is the fact you can hike all year here while many other ‘hiking’ states are frozen in winter for instance,” said Ernst.
The atmosphere of hiking in the state is also distinct.
“I find we have more intimate landscapes here in Arkansas,” he added. “Both as a nature photographer and as someone who enjoys getting out simply to enjoy the great outdoor beauty, I prefer things I can reach out and touch and see close up all around me.”
The Little Missouri Trail: This is one of my all-time favorite hikes in Arkansas. There are many great river views along the way that showcase a classic Ouachita mountain stream. The river is right there next to the trail much of the way, so you can always stop and dip your toes for a refreshing break. I also love the forests of giant pine trees and expansive vistas stretch across the landscape for miles. And the trail is very easy to hike, especially if you travel downstream.
The Caney Creek Trail: This trail takes you through the heart of the oldest wilderness area in Arkansas, far away from the sights and sounds of modern motorized society.
The Black Fork Mountain Trail: This takes you high up on one of the tallest mountains in Arkansas where you can visit rock “glaciers” and a stunted oak forest that is hundreds of years old.
The Ouachita Trail: A short but steep hike along the Ouachita Trail takes you to the top of Flatside Pinnacle to one of the very best sunset views in the central United States.
The River Corridor Trail at Cossatot River State Park Natural Area: This trail follows the spectacular Cossatot river for a dozen miles and is one of the best river hikes in the region.
RELATED: Read more about the Cossatot River »
This is just a glimpse of the variety of routes available in Southwest Arkansas. For more details about the many hiking trails available throughout the region and Arkansas, visit arkansas.com/outdoors/hiking/. For more details on Tim Ernst’s photography and guidebooks, visit timernst.com.