That’s how many acres encompass the Ozark National Forest.
Or, to put it another way, there are 60,000 square miles that span parts of Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas which make up this beloved area.
With this expansive amount of land comes an equally impressive number of hiking trails for you and your family to explore.
In fact, exploring the Ozark Mountains is easily one of America’s most popular travel destinations. Outdoor lovers all over the world flock to this destination to experience the hidden and natural beauty that calls the Ozark Mountains home.
The beauty of the Ozark Mountains is the fact that there is so much to do no matter your experience level. For example, experienced hikers can go deep into the woods as this is one of the best locations for rogue hiking.
However, if you are a novice hiker, then you are likely wanting to explore with a little more practicality in mind. This is where the many different hiking trails of the Ozark Mountains come in.
The Ozark National Forest is known for its varying trails that offer different levels of challenges depending on your experience level.
Let’s take a look at what makes the hiking trails in the Ozark National Forest a popular destination for thousands of people each year.
Why Hike in the Ozark National Forest?
Most of the 1.2 million acres are located in northern Arkansas and the Ozark Mountains. The Ozark National Forest is divided up into four major sections and two smaller sections.
There is a multitude of options when it comes to hiking the trails within the national forest. There are over 230 miles of hiking trails waiting for you.
The longest of the hiking trails is the Ozarks Highlands Trail, which is 165 miles long.
But it’s not only the number of trails that you have access to that make this place spectacular. Many hikers choose to visit each year to be able to view the expansive amount of wildlife.
The amount and variety of wildlife you could encounter during your hiking adventure is staggering. The Ozarks are home to white-tailed deer, rabbits, wild turkey, squirrels and racoons, just to name a few. It’s not unheard of to encounter black bears, elk, coyotes and bobcats either. Although not as common, you definitely have to be aware of your surroundings at all times!
Greenery and vegetation are as varied as the wildlife. You might see dogwoods, maple trees, service berries and redbuds. It’s not uncommon to find witch hazel growing in the wild either. You can imagine how spectacular the color of the forest becomes in the fall. With the many shades of red, yellow, green and orange, it’s a sight to behold.
Speaking of fall, it doesn’t matter what time of year you want to plan a hike in the Ozark National Forest. Each season offers a unique experience. Whether it’s the color of the leaves in the fall, the blooms of the spring or the icicle formations in the winter. The scenery here is truly unmatched, and even if you have hiked a trail, the reality is if you hike it in a different season, you are sure to find a beauty that is very different than the last time you hiked the trail.
With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, you can pick any type of adventure you could possibly want. Whether you want a day hike, camp out overnight, a short hike or a 10-day journey, then chances are you are going to find what you want in the Ozark National Forest.
5 Amazing Hiking Trails in the Ozark National Forest
With so many options, how do you even know where to start? The possibilities are almost overwhelming to say the least.
To make it a little bit easier, we’ve selected 5 different types of hiking trails for your consideration. These trails have been selected based off of many, many travel reviews and lots of opinions from hikers.
1. 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
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
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
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)
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.