It’s no secret that northwest Arkansas has become a popular place for outdoor enthusiasts. Mountain bikers in particular have come to know a number of trails in the area, and towns like Bentonville have embraced it. Hilly countryside, thick woods and loads of trails to explore have helped this part of the state grow in popularity for the MTB crowd.
Generally what’s good for mountain bikers is also good for hikers. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the variety of trails — from short, easy walks to long slogs — leaves something for everyone. And in most cases, all these trails offer a high degree of visual payoff.
Such is the case for the Hawksbill Crag Trail, also called the Whitaker Point Trail, near the town of Jasper. That’s where me and my sister-in-law Jen (my partner in crime on Mount LeConte, Tenn.) went on a recent three-trail hiking day.
A little about that name: The destination of the trail is a rocky outcrop overlooking a set of wooded ravines. It resembles, as you might guess, the head and beak of a hawk looking out over the ravine below. There are a number of places to see the crag, and it’s a popular place to take a photo of someone standing atop the crag, looking out into the scenery with a bunch of air underneath. In the age of Instagram, Hawksbill Crag may as well be Horseshoe Bend. Just as many people hike this trail for that shot as those who come for the views.
Like a lot of Arkansas trails, it begins at the top of a plateau and descends to follow a line of ledges. The trail is easy to follow and offers some nice overlooks before you get to the crag itself. Intermittent creeks mean that you’ll have a few crossings, but you can get through most of them without having to worry about getting your feet wet. Those creeks will flow higher and faster if there have been any good rains, however. Choose your footwear accordingly.
That said, you’re not going to find many trails as accessible to hikers of all kinds as this one. It’s a short trip, a 3-mile out-and-back round-trip. Going along with one of the creeks is a small waterfall you can see from the top. I imagine there is a way to get to the bottom, though it may take some doing. The mix of pines and broad leaf trees means there will be at least some greenery year-round.
As for the crags: One of the reasons why the Ozarks offer so many rocky overlooks has to do with how they are formed. The Ozarks are really part of a large, broad plateau that covers sections of northwest Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, southeast Kansas and southern Missouri. As the eons have passed, rivers have cut into the sandstone, digging out steep, rocky ravines and hollows that make the plateau appear less flat and more like mountains. Erosion causes some of the slopes and cliffs to collapse, often leaving behind odd, free-standing rock pillars and jutting crags at the edges of the bluffs. Hawksbill Crag is one of those overlooks, the remains of a rock rib whose bottom collapsed long ago.
The crag, and the many smaller ones similar to it, make for great places to stop for photos, have a snack, or just chill. Hawksbill Crag is broad enough to fit more than a dozen people.
As I said earlier, the site has become popular. Unless you get there at dawn or sunset on an off day, you’re unlikely to get that solo shot everyone is looking for when they come here. It’s a busy trail. As such, don’t expect this to be a hike with much solitude.
But it is worth doing because the scenery is top-notch, the trail is easy to get to and the hike is not difficult. The only downside is that you’ll be hiking mostly uphill for the last half mile or so back to the trailhead parking lot, which might be a bummer if you’re already tired. But most people can manage it just fine. It’s a short trip.
ABOUT THE ROUTE: The trail is marked with blazes and is easy to follow. Class 1 hiking with a total elevation profile of 413 feet. Expect some minor creek crossings, none of which are deep. Exposure along the ledges is significant, but easily avoided; be careful when hiking with kids. Route length is 3 miles.
GETTING THERE: South of Ponca, Ark., on State Highway 21, go past the State Highway 43 intersection 1.2 miles, turn west on a county road, just before you get to a bridge over the Buffalo River. The dirt road starts steep and has rocky spots but is fine for passenger cars. Go about 6 miles and you will see a parking area on both sides of the road. The trailhead is on the left.
UP NEXT: Two more northwest Arkansas trails with fewer people and big visuals. Coming up next week.