The last place I expected to have such an incredible time hiking, camping, and canoeing was Arkansas! Being from Indiana, I romanticize about spending time in wildly diverse terrain with many things to see and experience…but no one could have ever convinced me that the northwest corner of Arkansas would be such an amazing outdoor playground. Yes, Arkansas!
In my research the Buffalo River Region in the Ozarks always ranked really high among hikers. Many people wrote about the sheer bluffs, the great trails, the special scenic spots, and the adventurous Buffalo River. In fact, this particular area was ranked by Trails.com as one of the Top 100 trails in the United States.
Our plan was to spend two days hiking and two days canoeing. We would leave Ponca, hike ten miles to an area close to the unbelievably scenic Hemmed in Hollow, camp overnight and then hike back to Ponca via an alternate trail. We would then spend the night in Ponca and leave for a two day canoeing trip ending downstream at Kyle’s Landing.
We assembled and geared up near the Ponca Bridge. There are a couple of things to note quickly. There is an outfitter close by the Ponca Bridge and I recommend asking if you may park there. The bridge parking lot is known to flood unexpectedly and you don’t want to leave your car there. Also, in the evening near the bridge area the wildlife really come out. This area is really peaceful and serene…enjoy it!
It didn’t take long down the trail to feel as if we were completely out of civilization. We were fortunate that we were hiking during the weekdays and the activity level in the area was at a minimum. The trail floor was carpeted with moss and lichens as we climbed up along the bluff line. We were in and out of the tree canopy and we could tell it was going to be a hot June hike. As we elevated from about 1000 feet at our origin to about 1400 feet at the top of the ridge line…there were some real opportunities to see a more expansive view of the river and other bluffs.
At Steel Creek everything opened up as we approached the rock bank on the rivers edge. Roark Bluff stood proudly on the other side in her magnificence. We stopped for a few minutes to take in this picturesque view of this towering bluff brooding over the Buffalo River. When you are surrounded in this much beauty you have to just soak it in and marvel…and this was just within the first two miles of our hike.
As we marched on from Steel Creek the trail ascended and descended before leading us up once again to another river overlook and then Big Bluff overlook. If this trail promised us nothing else it would certainly deliver on amazing bluff views from every vantage point. And as breath-taking as all of these views were…our biggest surprise was yet to come. But there was some work to do in front of us. We had to climb a thousand feet over the next two miles AND THEN descend a thousand feet over a mile and a half in order to get to an area known as Horseshoe Bend.
We made our trek to the top and took a break at Slaty Place. In many ways Slaty Place reminded me quite bit of Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Indiana with a lot of tree covering and nice big, cool slab rocks to sit on. We took about a fifteen minute break before continuing on to Horseshoe Bend and then the much talked about Hemmed in Hollow.
Our steep descent was upon us. For all of the work that went into pushing against gravity on the way up…we were fighting it on the way down. My pack seemed about 50 pounds heavier than it did at the beginning of the day. The trees and trail gave way to the water once again. We had arrived at Horseshoe Bend in the Buffalo River. It was time to jump in and cool down.
We decided to set up camp in the woods on top of a smaller bluff and then hike back to Hemmed in Hollow. Even though we had hiked a little over nine miles up to this point, the last mile to Hemmed In was considerably easier without our packs and gear. As we came around the last bend on the trail we witnessed the largest waterfall between the Rockies and Appalachians….towering at about 230 feet. We couldn’t imagine doing anything else but running up to it and standing under it. This hollow was utterly amazing. I just wanted to stay there for the rest of the evening. After a hot, stuffy, laborious hike the cool mist and swirling winds were a welcome relief. Hemmed in Hollow was the exclamation point at the end day one…and it was well worth the workout to get to it. Fortunately it was not even close to being the exclamation point for our entire trip. That evening we walked over to the top of the bluff where we were camping and began to do some bluff jumping into the river. The next few days were full of canoeing, more bluff jumping, swinging from ropes over the river, and swimming.
Welcome to the “Natural State!”
hoppipolla by sigur ros