Mar 13, 2020
The Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas serve as a diverse playground for outdoor enthusiasts, who are offered an endless amount of choices within the 13,000 square miles of the eroded plateau. Devil’s Den State Park, Buffalo River Trail, Kyles Landing, and Hemmed in Hollow are some of the most popular destinations for outdoor adventure seekers in Northwest Arkansas. Unfortunately, this also makes them the most crowded destinations when the weather is ripe for adventure. Luckily, a diverse region with generations of outdoor enthusiasts has allowed for several hidden oases of adventure ripe for the finding. Here are some of Northwest Arkansas’ outdoor hidden gems.
Easily accessible from Fayetteville via S. School Avenue, Artist Point is the perfect day trip for those interested in a quick dose of natural beauty. The drive is a beautiful 45 minutes to an hour from Fayetteville. Two-lane roads snake through gorgeous seas of Forrest, moss-covered bluffs, and hills that hug the path, giving you a sense of peaceful solitude during your drive.
When your GPS tells you that you’ve arrived, you might be a little confused at first. You will most likely be directed into the parking lot of what looks to some like an old saloon. This isn’t a false destination, but one of the best treats this hidden gem has to offer! Inside you’ll find a quirky Ozark general store with soaps, clay dishes, chocolates, jams, and other goods all made by local artisans. Just outside, there is also an overlook area with a stunning, unobstructed view of the Ozark Mountains. Once you’re ready, you should be able to find the trailhead behind the store, where you can begin a very brief hike down into the valley. The trail begins by descending a steep hill covered in a gorgeous deep green ivy and continues into a thick forest with towering bluffs and lichen-dense rocks. The trail is narrow and at times strenuous, so those with young children or other conditions may want to take it slow.
You are, however, rewarded for your efforts in the end by a small, peaceful waterfall surrounded by lovely greenery. Here you can string up a hammock, unpack a picnic or sit silently and enjoy the quiet solitude before packing up and heading back to your car.
This lovely system of trails hidden in the heart of Fayetteville traverses Mount Sequoyah mere miles from downtown. While you can access the area from the top of the hill, the official and most easily accessible means is from the trailhead located at the intersection of East Paddock Road and Cliffs Boulevard. Ideal for hiking, trail running, and mountain biking, this trail system is perfectly suited for several activities.
The first half mile or so is paved, leading you with ease to a solid-wood pavilion where you can have lunch, sit peacefully, or have a quick drink of water before you continue. The trail begins to climb almost immediately but at a steady pace. As you near the top of the first climb, you’re presented with some options. There is a large number of interconnected trails in this area, the most recommended of which is the roughly 2-mile Mount Sequoyah Woods Loop, which you can find here, along with maps of all the other trail options. Although a short hike, the loop
Despite which path you choose to follow, the entire area is a playground of the densely forested hill that at times opens up into a lovely and clear forest floor that, in the fall, is littered with delicious edible mushrooms! Once you arrive back at the parking lot, tired and satisfied after a few hours under the trees, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to remember that your drive home is a short and easy one.
Shores Lake Campground is the perfect destination for some rest, relaxation, and mild adventuring. Being significantly more isolated than your average drive-in campground, this spot gives you all the luxuries of car camping with water pumps, bathrooms, and numbered campsites, while maintaining a sense of seclusion by being so far away from any main roads that the familiar sound of cars passing by is almost non-existent!
The campground is right next to a beautiful lake with easy canoe access and plenty of fish. If you keep rowing long enough, you’ll eventually come across a very small, old dam, where you can dock your boat and, at your own risk, climb down to a clear and turbulent pool perfect for a quick, private swim! Once you’ve had your fill of aquatic adventures, you can retreat to a beautifully bare forest floor with a jaw-droppingly high tree canopy where, if you’re lucky, you can be lulled to sleep by the melodic hunting cries of owls.
The Steel Creek Recreation Area is one of the most diverse oases on this list. Luxurious cabins, fully-equipped campsites, and an endless selection of backpacking, hiking, and mountain biking trails make this a one-shop stop for eclectic thrill-seekers and those looking to set up camp for extended periods.
The best part about this area is the crown jewels of the Buffalo River: dizzyingly gorgeous bluffs that silently carve an ancient path through the rolling green hills. Wading through the mineral-rich waters next to these stone behemoths as migrating fish hurry past your legs is an almost spiritual experience.
Another natural beauty that rivals that of the river bluffs is the Steel Creek Overlook, via the Steel Creek to Steel Creek trail, a three-mile trek packed with dopamine-inducing nature. This is the next best view in town. Taking advantage of the vast system of trails can get you a literal bird’s eye view and another dimension of appreciation for these natural beauties.
Once you’ve had your fill of wonder, and the sun has gone down, the real show begins. The stars come out to play in the night sky, giving you a show you will never forget. Stell Creek is an isolated spot, enough distance from civilization to avoid most of the light pollution that makes the night sky drab. Fall asleep to this silent celestial lullaby, wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
We’ve saved the best for last with our dive into the Edens of Arkansas. The Goat Trail, via Centerpoint Trailhead, is the best piece of eye candy you can hope for in Northwest Arkansas. This trail is significantly longer and more strenuous than the previous hikes we have covered, but the reward keeps in perfect stride with the increased effort.
The 6-mile out-and-back style route is a slice of heaven. The first part of the trail is a downhill trek with dense forest and rocky terrain. Once you start getting closer to the bluff, the scenery changes almost immediately. Dense underbrush gives way to beautiful rock formations and reddish-orange sweet-smelling trees as you begin to ascend in elevation. Then, all of a sudden, the forest opens up to an unobstructed view of the Buffalo River Valley that you get to enjoy as you traverse a trail 350 feet above the valley floor. If you keep a sharp eye out, you may catch a glimpse of the trail’s namesake. The region is home to a small population of mountain goats, and you may get to see them below or hear them above.
Once you finish scaling the cliff, you’re left with a decision: make camp, double back, or continue down to the river. If you choose to make camp, there’s a selection of beautiful, small sites cleared by past hikers where you can fit your tent snugly amidst the trees. If you decide to double back, be sure to pace yourself, as that will likely be the most strenuous part of your hike. If you decide to head down to the river, you’re in for a treat, but be warned: although you might see alternate trails or small paths on your way down, these are not connected to a loop and will not take you back to the trailhead, but instead will lead you deeper into the Buffalo Wilderness. Only go down to the river and back, making sure know how to get back to the correct trail. Once you finish your descent from the cliff, your feet will be relieved at the soft, level ground. Go for a nice swim and view fellow hikers tackle the cliff above you, marveling that you were there moments ago.
Whether you’re looking for an exhilarating way to spend a day off or a challenging weekend adventure, Northwest Arkansas’ impressive number of parks, forests, and trails is sure to have you covered. No matter where you go to quench your thirst for the outdoors, make sure that you leave it in better shape than you found it so other people can appreciate and marvel at the beauty of the Ozarks for years to come! New to the area and need help getting acclimated beyond an outdoor adventure blog post? Contact one of our agents to get started!