Arkansas hiking: Checking the scenes on the King’s Bluff and Pedestal Rocks trails

Jen on an outcrop on the Pedestal Rocks Trail.

High on a lot of hikers’ priorities is to see are waterfalls. And given the amount of moisture and the abundance of cliffs in the Ozarks, you can imagine there is a lot to choose from in northwest Arkansas.

One of my local hiking buddies, my sister-in-law Jen, did some research and spied out a couple of loops that we hoped would give us that visual payoff. Not far from the town of Pelsor is the Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area, part of a larger national recreation area in the Ozark National Forest. We arrived on a cool, breezy morning to a quiet trailhead and looked at our options.

There are two trail loops here. One is the King’s Bluff Trail, the other the Pedestal Rocks Trail. Neither are terribly long, and except for some sloshy spots on the trail, they are pretty straightforward routes that most hikers can handle.

We chose the King’s Bluff Trail first. After a short uphill section, the trail gradually makes its way down its namesake bluffs, a long series of cliffs overlooking a deeper ravine below. You can hike down to the bluffs’ edge where fencing has been built and peer down into a view of a slim but high waterfall that plunges from a shallow creek about 80 feet into the foot of the cliffs below. In drier times I imagine the waterfall is sparse, but we’ve had plenty of rain lately, so it was flowing nicely.

This creek fed the waterfall we came to see.

A short scramble led us to the bottom of the waterfall.

Behind the waterfall.

You can go back up the trail a bit to where the fencing begins and scramble down into the ravine if you want to see the falls from below. There will be a little bushwhacking, and it’s steep and slippery in spots. So, watch your footing. But seeing the falls from below – and behind – is worth the extra effort. As a bonus, you’ll also get to see a smaller waterfall that flows into a rocky grotto fairly close to where you start your descent. It was a cool place to visit, but there was plenty more to see.

Rocky overhang leading back up to the trail.

A smaller waterfall around the corner from the overhang.

We hiked out of there and finished the loop close to the trailhead. From there, we took on the Pedestal Rocks Trail – slightly longer, and without the high waterfalls, but other interesting sights awaited.

The Pedestal Rocks are a geological formation common to the Ozarks. I mentioned this in last week’s post about Hawksbill Crag, but I’ll go ahead and offer this again. The Ozarks aren’t like most mountainous areas in that they formed differently. The region is basically a large plateau, and over time erosion has carved out deep ravines, transforming what was likely a large, broad and flat landscape into something much more rugged and steeply sloped.

What happens to these slopes is interesting. As the sandstone is weathered by water and wind, long, slender chunks of the rock calve away from the hillsides not unlike what you see when glaciers dump icebergs into the sea. Gravity will eventually topple these towers, but for the time being, you get to enjoy viewing them from cliffside trails along the loop. It’s a heck of a visual, and there are many scenic overlooks to see the formations and look out into the broader Ozarks landscape.

An example of the Pedestal Rocks.

Now that’s a view. Seen on the Pedestal Rocks Trail.

An arch!

At one point, we even saw some arches, and sure, there were some small, drippy waterfalls to boot. Eventually the loop makes a turn and you head back toward the trailhead in a more conventional way, that is, hiking through the woods. These are pretty trails in the winter, and I can only imagine in the spring when everything is green, or in the fall when the leaves turn that these routes are spectacular.

ABOUT THE ROUTES: Both trails are roughly similar in terms of route difficulty and elevation gain, which is pretty modest. Both routes also skirt high cliffsides, so be careful if you’re hiking with kids or pets. The King’s Bluff Trail is a 1.7-mile loop. The Pedestal Rocks Trail is a 2.2-mile loop. Both are Class 1 hiking, and if you do them both, you’ll have just shy of 700 feet of elevation gain.

Bob Doucette

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