Fall is one of the best seasons to kick that wanderlust into overdrive and enjoy what The Natural State has to offer. The temperatures are dropping, the foliage fading, the animals pillaging, the bugs… well the bugs are still out full throttle. Bring bug spray. Tourist travel from near and far to experience the colorful views of the Ouachitas and the unbelievable plateaus of the Ozark Mountains.
Since the temperatures are cooler it’s prime time to tackle a lengthy, challenging trail. I would consider myself an avid hiker, my wanderlust can not be contained. I’ve been sauntering in the wilderness since the 1980s. My earliest memory is with my mom at the Cossatot River on the big red bridge. One thing I’ve learned about hiking in Arkansas is that the humidity is unforgiving. We all have our limits; heat intolerance is mine. This hiker does not participate in tree hugging during the summertime. Too many nope ropes and heat strokes. But on this crisp Saturday morning, it was ideal hiking weather so off we wandered… hydration backpacks, hiking sticks, water shoes, snacks for days.
Now to decide on the perfect trail for the perfect weather, which is not an easy task when you’re surrounded by national forest.
Arkansas Hiking Guide by Arkansas photographer and author Tim Ernst, is my #1 reference when researching a trail. Always research the trail. Tim Ernst is the author of several guidebooks including Waterfalls and Hiking Trails. Arkansas Hiking Guide gives a detailed description of 78 trails that vary from easy, family friendly self guided trails to the hardest of the hard. The book also includes a detailed map of all 78 trails.
Fun fact, Tim Ernst led a crew that helped build Little Missouri Falls Recreational Area.
Little Missouri River is 147 miles of crystal clear mountain water that’s included in the estimated 90,000 miles worth of rivers and streams that flow through Arkansas. This river follows alongside the hiking trail known as Winding Stairs. This trail is located deep in Ouachita Mountains, at the Albert Pike Recreational Area north of Langley, Arkansas on HWY 369. The pavement ends at Albert Pike becoming a steep, narrow dirt road with several switchbacks. Be careful.
Winding stairs makes up 4.8 miles of the 28.2 mile trail known as Eagle Rock Loop. Eagle Rock Loop is the longest loop trail in Arkansas and is a conjoined journey of Viles Branch, Athens/Big Fork, and Little Missouri Falls trail that travels over 9 mountain ranges in the south-west region of the Ouachita Mountains. Winding Stairs is rated a “moderate” portion of this trail but in this hikers opinion, is a more challenging trail due to the steep inclines, narrow walkways, and river navigation. It is easy to lose the trail, especially at the river crossings. Do your research. Make a plan. Map the trail. Follow the markings or look for colored tape if you get lost.
Winding Stairs features a variety of waterfalls, caves, crystal clear water and the famous “Peace Rock”. You’ll know when you see the Peace Rock. You. Will. Know.
Winding Stairs trail elevates up to 70 ft above the Little Missouri River on a trail no wider than 12 inches. I actually have a fear of heights so I’ve been challenging myself to overcome that fear. Slowly. Very slow. Construction on Interstate 40 kind of slow. Be prepared for narrow walkways, downed trees and slick rocks. I honestly would not take my kids on this trail, although I’ve met people that do. It’s admirable, but not for this momma. I have a dandy of a time keeping my own feet going forward. Speaking of slippery slopes, be aware of any past, present and future weather conditions. A portion of this trail winds up, down and around some steep inclines that are mostly made up of slate rock and red clay. Be aware of the terrain. Be aware of broken limbs. Be sure of your footing before taking that risky step.
I personally like to bring a hiking stick or hiking pole. I find it to be a lot easier to maintain balance when using a walking stick and it can literally save you from hurtling yourself down an incline cause your shoe lace got caught on a root, or the rocks giving way under your weight. Anything can happen out there. Even the most experienced hikers trip over their own feet or take a badly calculated step.
Another bonus to carrying a hiking stick is checking areas for snakes or for pushing brush out of your pathway. Or just leaning on it while you’re catching your breath.
Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. That includes bug spray. Definitely take bug spray.
Quartz crystal and novaculite can be found in the Winding Stairs area. novaculite, also known as Flint, is derived from the Latin word novacula, meaning sharp knife, dagger, or razor in reference to its handy use of sharpening. Fun fact, this stone can only be found in the Ouachita Mountains. Arrowheads, Indian tree markers and many other Indian artifacts have been found in this portion of the Ouachitas due to its abundance of novaculite.
The Natural State is abundant with whimsical beauty, natural resources and history that dates back to the 1500s. All that I ask is that you take only memories, leave only footsteps.
Hi, my name is Lacey Yoakem, and I take outdoor opportunities every chance I get. For more outdoor adventures, tips, tales and information find me on Facebook and Instagram at “Wanderlust and Arkansas Dust.”