Planning a Hike to Arkansas’ Finest Hiking Spots Ozark National Forest
The Ozark National Forest spans an impressive 1.2 million acres, which equates to approximately 60,000 square miles stretching across parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas. This vast area boasts an equally remarkable number of hiking trails, providing endless exploration opportunities for you and your family. Undoubtedly, exploring the Ozark Mountains is one of America’s most popular travel destinations. Outdoor enthusiasts from all corners of the globe are drawn to this location to experience the hidden and natural beauty that these mountains have to offer. The beauty of the Ozark Mountains lies in the fact that there is something for everyone, regardless of your level of experience. Experienced hikers can venture deep into the woods, as this is one of the best locations for rogue hiking. However, if you are a novice hiker, you may want to explore with more practicality in mind. Fortunately, the Ozark Mountains offer a diverse range of hiking trails that cater to different levels of expertise. Let’s delve deeper into what makes the hiking trails of the Ozark National Forest such a beloved and popular destination, drawing thousands of visitors each year.

Why Hike in the Ozark National Forest?

ozark national forest - stone formation
The Ozark National Forest offers a vast variety of hiking trails with over 230 miles waiting to be explored. The forest is divided into four major sections and two smaller ones, covering 1.2 million acres in northern Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains. Hikers visit the forest not only for its numerous trails, but also for the abundance of wildlife that can be encountered during hiking adventures. The forest is home to white-tailed deer, rabbits, wild turkey, squirrels, raccoons, black bears, elk, coyotes, and bobcats, among others. The vegetation is as diverse as the wildlife. The forest is home to dogwoods, maple trees, service berries, redbuds, and even witch hazel. The fall season is especially breathtaking with the many shades of red, yellow, green, and orange on display. Regardless of the season, there is always something unique to experience in the Ozark National Forest. Each season offers a different kind of beauty, from the color of the leaves in fall, to the blooms of spring, to the icicle formations in winter. The numerous trails in the forest offer a wide range of hiking experiences, from day hikes to overnight camping trips, short hikes to 10-day journeys. Whatever type of adventure you seek, you can find it in the Ozark National Forest.

5 Amazing Hiking Trails in the Ozark National Forest

It can definitely be overwhelming to choose which hiking trail to explore first in the Ozark National Forest. One approach is to narrow down your options based on what type of hike you’re looking for. Are you seeking an easy, leisurely stroll or a more challenging, strenuous trek? Are you interested in a shorter hike or a longer one that lasts several days? Are you interested in exploring specific features such as waterfalls or rock formations? Once you have a better idea of what you’re looking for, it can be easier to choose a trail that meets your needs. To simplify the selection process, we have identified 5 different types of hiking trails that you may want to consider. These trails have been carefully chosen based on numerous travel reviews and feedback from experienced hikers.

1. North Sylamore Creek Trail

ozark national forest - North Sylamore Creek Trail
The North Sylamore Creek Trail is located in North Central Arkansas, about 3 hours north of Little Rock. This trail is quite a long hike coming in at 23 miles. It also offers beautiful features such as a waterfall and the North Sylamore Creek. All the beauty is set against the backdrop of the sandstone bluffs and cliffs. This is a popular trail for hikers. It’s dog-friendly too, as long as they are on a leash. There are five sections and six trailheads, making it easier to plan. You can break the hike up into the different sections on separate hikes if needed. If you hike in the springtime you’ll be treated with blooming dogwoods and wildflowers. Winter showcases the icicle formations, making it look like a winter wonderland! The creek is the life source to a great variety of plants and vegetation that make this a truly unique hiking experience.

2. Steele Falls Trail

ozark national forest - Steele Falls Trail
The Steele Falls Trail is a popular choice among hikers looking for a shorter distance. This trail is located in Mountain View, Arkansas (about 2 hours north of Little Rock) and is only 2.6 miles in length. The elevation gain for this trail is 508 feet, making this somewhat challenging and more for the moderate hiker. This trail is both great for the family and you can also bring your dogs along. The reward for the Steele Falls Trail is the amazing Steele Waterfall that is quite a stunning sight to behold. The trek to the waterfall is actually downhill, and the trip as you are leaving is uphill. The climbing rocks also make it a little more of a hiking challenge.

3. Blanchard Caverns Wild Cave Tour

ozark national forest - Blanchard Caverns Wild Cave Trail
This is a little different than your average hiking trail. The Blanchard Caverns Wild Cave Tour (located in Blanchard, Arkansas) offers a trek through an active cave. You will have the chance to observe stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones while climbing and hiking your way through this underground. This tour is not for the faint of heart and recommended only for those who are in good physical shape. Though it takes an effort to physically get through the cave, the effort is worth it to see such stunning formations. This is a very unique experience that the whole family can enjoy. You can also hike around the area and explore the beautiful Blanchard Springs (for which the caves are named after). The Blanchard Caverns Wild Cave Tour is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis so it’s advised you make your plans accordingly. You can also make reservations ahead of time if you know your schedule.

4. Pedestal Rocks Trail

ozark national forest - Pedestal Rocks Trail
Located near Pelsor, Arkansas, this is a great option for a day hike. The Pedestal Rocks trail actually has two options for you to choose. The first trail option is the Kings Bluff Loop, which is a 1.7-mile loop. You will be treated to a breathtaking waterfall. The Kings Bluff Falls is actually the tallest waterfall in the Ozark Mountains. The second option for hiking is the Pedestal Rocks Loop. It’s a longer trail, coming in at 2.2 miles long. As the name suggests, the Pedestal Rocks are the main attraction. You will be experiencing a great hike and a geology lesson at the time. The rock formations are numerous and provide a very unique hiking experience. The Pedestal Rocks Loop also offers the opportunity to explore caves off the main path. You will definitely want to allow ample time to your trip for additional exploring. Both the Kings Bluff Loop and Pedestal Rocks Loop are considered easier options to hike and great for the family. You can also bring your leashed dogs on these trails.

5. Whitaker Point Trail (Hawksbill Crag)

ozark national forest - Whitaker Point Trail
This trail is located near Ponca, Arkansas. Considered one of the most popular trails – if not the most – in the Ozarks, this trail is 2.9 miles long. It gets its name from a rock formation that looks like a Hawk’s beak. Not only will you see the formation and waterfalls, you will be treated to absolutely stunning views. The foliage and waterfalls are bonuses when you see how cool the rock formation is. This is a perfect destination to bring your entire family. The elevation gain is 413 feet. While it might be somewhat challenging for little legs, there are places to stop along the way if needed. You can also bring your leashed dog on this trail.

Hiking the Expansive Ozark National Forest

If any of these 5 trails have intrigued you, then you may be excited to learn that this barely scratches the surface of what is available to you. There is no possible way to discover all there is in one trip, but this is a great start. You could spend days hiking the various trails and never even finish seeing all the amazing features of this land. The Ozark National Forest provides an incredibly unique opportunity to explore waterfalls, creeks, caves, mountains and trails. You and your family have countless possibilities to create memories while hiking the Ozark National Forest.

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