Although two separate National Forests located in northwest Arkansas, the Ozark and St. Francis are managed together. The Ozark National Forest covers more than one million acres, mostly in northwest Arkansas. The St. Francis National Forest takes its name from the St. Francis River, one of the rivers forming the forest’s eastern boundary. Most of the forest is situated in the hilly Crowley’s Ridge section, but some is in the low and flat lands along the rivers. As one of America’s most scenic and picturesque areas, the Ozark-St. Francis provides a lot of the “natural” in the Natural State of Arkansas. The nearby Buffalo National River area is included in the best hikes in Ozark – St. Francis National Forests descriptions below as it is a short drive. And the area has many of the best hikes in the state of Arkansas. Official Website.
|Nearest Metro Area||Fayetteville, AR|
|Area Size||1,159,801 acres|
|Established||March 6, 1908|
|Hiking Trails||395 miles|
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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Ozark – St. Francis National Forest
(*** = Best Hikes in Ozark – St. Francis National Forest)
Alum Cove Trail – 1.1 mile loop
This looping trail wanders past the natural arch, across a small stream and to the bluff line with overhangs. The entire trail is 1.1 miles long and takes about 1 hour to walk. The natural arch is all that remains of what was a quartz sandstone cave. The arch is 130 feet long and 20 feet wide. The weathering process of wind rain and ice formed the opening between the arch and rock overhang.
Big Creek Cave Falls – 3.1 miles out and back
This trail follows abandoned logging roads and is not well marked. The hike features several creek crossings and two large waterfalls including Big Creek Cave Falls which cascades out of the side of the mountain.
Centerpoint Trail to Big Bluff Trail*** – 7.4 miles out and back
This is one of the more popular hikes in the area heading down to the Big Bluff overlooking the Buffalo River. There are several routes along the way so make sure to know where you are going. This trail is not managed by Ozark – St. Francis National Forests but located in the nearby Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River and a short drive from the forest.
Devil’s Den Trail – 1.2 mile loop
Family friendly loop trail in western Arkansas with a trailhead near Yellow Rock Trail (below). The trail begins near the visitor center and features several caves, viewpoints, and waterfalls during the wet season.
Glory Hole Falls Trail*** – 1.8 miles out and back
Short downhill hike to a waterfall where the water has worn through the ledge and cascades down through a hole rather than over the ledge. Best to hike after a recent rain!
Hemmed in Hollow Trail*** – 5.2 miles out and back
Challenging hike but after a good rain, the falls are extremely beautiful and hard to pass up. You will descend over 1000′ in elevation in roughly 2.5 miles meaning the trip back up will put a strain on your legs. The falls, over 200′, are the largest in middle America, between the Rockies and the Appalachians. This trail is not managed by Ozark – St. Francis National Forests but located in the nearby Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River and a short drive from the forest.
Lost Valley Trail – 2.2 miles out and back
Easy, yet beautiful hike leading it to be very popular on nice weekends. The trail follows along Clark Creek, past several natural bridges, to the end destination of Eden Falls and Cobb Cave. This trail is not managed by Ozark – St. Francis National Forests but located in the nearby Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River and a short drive from the forest.
Ozark Highlands Trail – 165.0 miles one-way
(Backpacking option) Ozark Highlands Trail is a 165-mile hiking trail that crosses the Ozark National Forest and is recognized as one of the most scenic trails in the United States. Starting at Lake Fort Smith State Park on Arkansas 71, the trail crosses the forest to Woolum near the Buffalo National River. The trail travels through a wide variety of forest landscapes ranging from lower stream side elevations to high ridges. Scenic bluff and rock formations along the high vistas are evident along most sections of the trail.
Whitaker Point (Hawksbill Crag) Trail*** – 2.8 miles out and back
Beautiful family-friendly hike leading to one of the most scenic lookout points in Arkansas. The rock formation at the end juts out from the bluff resembling a hawk’s face, thus the name. The road to the trailhead is steep and may require 4WD. This trail is not managed by Ozark – St. Francis National Forests but located in the nearby Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River and a short drive from the forest.
Yellow Rock Trail*** – 3.0 mile loop
This loop takes hikers to several beautiful rock formations overlooking wide views of the Ozarks. The highlight of the trail, Yellow Rock, sits 300′ up and offers sweeping panoramic views of Lee Creek Valley.
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