An Ozark native, much of my youth was spent visiting enchanting places such as Whitaker Point, which made the cover of my Arkansas History textbook, and camping with my family along the Buffalo River. However, it wasn’t until a special spring morning in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness that my understanding of the Ozarks’ beauty really shifted.
I woke in a friend’s hand-built cabin on the side of a steep hill. Hoping to take advantage of the sunrise, I made my way onto the dew-soaked forest lawn that was the front yard. Between the highlights of morning sun and the young green flora, I was fully captivated. Species of trees unlike any I’d ever seen sparked curiosity, numerous spider webs hid between long streaks of grass, and the dew made the entire landscape sparkle.
A hike later that day took us across unmarked hills that revealed even more beauty. We encountered damp cave openings, waterfalls of all strengths, and sweeping overlooks of the snaking Buffalo River around every bend. Big skies framed scattered cabins and treetops.
It was on this day that my understanding of my home state widened. I realized that my backyard in the Ozarks had the potential to teach me everything I needed to know about the natural world. With newfound awe for the beauty of the forests, hills, and water of the Ozarks over four distinct seasons, I began to making regular weekend trips to explore as much as possible. I found that no matter where you go, the Ozarks do not disappoint.
A drive from town to town within the Ozark National Forest is one way to start. You’ll be aching to take every side road to discover what may be hidden that way. Here’s a list of just seven of the most picturesque spots in the national forest.
Any Arkansas local will suggest you spend a full day visiting this bluff, and a walk down Hawsbill Crag Trail alone (three miles round trip) makes for the perfect leisurely afternoon. Whitaker Point is a large bluff in the shape of a wolf’s head. The Disney movie “Tuck Everlasting” was filmed here.
I first encountered Big Bluff, or the Goat Trail, in the middle of January just before a huge snowstorm. Through barren trees, the view was incredible. I’ve been back since in every season, and the view never disappoints actually.
After a steep, but very clearly marked downhill hike through the forest, one is led to the more narrow goat trail along the side of a giant bluff. The trail offers chances for hikers to pause within hollow cave walls and ponder the course of the Buffalo River below...
A challenging and slippery trail follows the length of Indian Creek, which gives birth to a one-of-a-kind world of mosses, ferns, bugs, and miniature waterfalls. A hike along Indian Creek eventually leads to the Eye of the Needle outlook that frames the distant hills of the Ozarks.
Richland Falls runs nearly year round but are especially picturesque after a good rain. The hike there also offers views of Hamilton Falls, Twin Falls, and others. It’s not uncommon to encounter swimmers jumping from their safe heights.
Compton’s Double Falls
One of the best things about the Ozarks is waterfall hunting. Compton’s Double Falls is one you’ll want to find, especially after a heavy rain. Access it just past the trailhead for the Hawsbill Crag Trail.
This massive flat sandstone spot is a great place to set up slack line, chill after a day in the hills, or capture an epic starscape. Sam’s Throne is also rock climbing destination, with 75-foot pitches. My favorite time to visit Sam’s Throne is in the fall as the leaves change color.
For a day hike or weekend commitment, the Narrows, or Nars, has a short approach to a unique geological feature from which to view the winding waters below. Located near Richland Creek, the Nars gets it namesake from the narrow rock walk leading to the bluff.
Written by Ashleigh Price for RootsRated in partnership with Backwoods.