I’ve been camping, floating, and hiking America’s first National River since I was 7 years old. That’s 24 years folks! I love this area so much because it is so wild and untouched. If you’re looking to truly unplug and explore the natural beauty of the Natural State, this is the place. Let’s explore!
the main trails
This list is not in order of my favorites, well maybe it is. Exploring Arkansas is my passion and I want to share it.
There are literally way too many insanely gorgeous hikes to write about here, but rest assured I plan to keep adding to this list. If you’re serious about exploring, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Tim Ernst’s Buffalo River trail book. You can find it here on Amazon. I have one of his books and bring it with me on every hike — it’s full of maps, gps coordinates, detailed trail descriptions, and tips for every season.
Whitaker Point aka The Hawksbill Crag
Probably one of the most Instagrammable spots in the Upper Buffalo, I’m talking about the Hawksbill Crag. This trail is pretty heavily trafficked now, thanks to its popularity, but the view is SO worth it. You are literally overlooking the Earth. It’s a spiritual experience, I often think: this is how God intended the world to look. It’s untouched, wild, rugged, and stunning. Please, please be careful as there are no fences to obscure your view. Many people have died falling off the crag taking photos. Getting to the trailhead is really the only struggle on this hike as it’s located on a gravel/dirt road, like 6 miles of a very narrow road. Yes, I’ve gotten a flat tire up there and there is NO cell service so be prepared to handle it yourself. Check out AllTrails for more on this must-see trail.
There are two ways to see the actual falls, but if you start from the Compton Trailhead, you’ll get to see several vistas showcasing the beauty of the river valley, because starting at the trailhead you’ll descend 1000 feet down to the bottom of the valley. Pray for your knees before you start. You can also see the falls by accessing the trail from the river, which is a short .6-ish jaunt to the tallest waterfall between the Rockies & Appalachians.
Getting back from this trail is the challenging part. If you accessed from the river, you’re golden. Just head back to your kayak or canoe and float away. If you hiked it, I recommend looking up the Old Buffalo River Trail in your handy-dandy Tim Ernst book to get you to the Big Bluff overlook trail. It’s a slower elevation gain but you’ll still be hiking up 1,000 feet. If you take two vehicles you can leave one at each trailhead.
Lost Valley is one of my favorite trails in the area. It’s easily the most accessible and easiest trail, with a good portion flattened out gravel it’s perfect for first-timers, young children, and those whose joints can’t handle the rugged terrain of the previously mentioned trails. Lost Valley offers waterfalls, a cave you can explore, and rugged bluffs that have fallen. It’s like taking a walk back in time. It really reminds me of Jurassic Park. Since Lost Valley is a state park, you’ll have access to restrooms and a water pump, unlike the previously mentioned trails.
This was from a summer hike. Think little-to-no water flowing and jungle-like greenery. I went again in October and can say unequivocally that the trail shines best in the fall. But, if you want to avoid the crowd, summer is your time — just try to plan around a good rain.
Just bring some good boots because these trails get muddy.