Backpacking in Arkansas: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Arkansas: A Beautiful Trail in the Golden Hour

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Arkansas offers diverse terrain, including the forested Ozark Mountains in the north and the Ouachita Mountains in the south.

Popular destinations include the scenic Ozark Highlands Trail, the Buffalo National River, which boasts over 150 miles of trails along the Buffalo River, and the Ouachita National Forest with the challenging 220-mile Ouachita Trail.

In this post, we will explore the realm of backpacking in Arkansas from an ultralight perspective, providing essential insights for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We’ll showcase the TOP 5 trails in Arkansas categorized into two groups: day hikes under 25 miles and multi-day trips with convenient water resupply points every couple of days.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Arkansas

  • What to expect: Expect scenic but challenging trails with diverse terrain including forested mountains and river valleys. The variable weather requires preparation – it can be very hot and humid in summer, while spring and fall are milder.
  • Essential gear: Pack light and breathable clothes, add waterproof jackets and pants. Bring a water filter for springs and streams. Use maps and a compass in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. Hang your bags properly to keep them away from bears; no need for bear canisters.
  • Wildlife: Arkansas hosts potentially hazardous wildlife for backpackers. Forested mountains shelter black bears, typically non-aggressive but a concern if food isn’t stored properly. Venomous snakes such as copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes are widespread, blending into trails. Watch out for spiders like brown recluse and black widows. During rutting season, deer might exhibit aggression. Smaller creatures like raccoons, skunks, and squirrels can access food if not securely stored.
  • Wild camping: In Arkansas, you can camp in the National Forests and Buffalo National River, but get a permit first from ranger offices. Camp in designated spots away from trails and water. State Parks don’t allow backcountry camping, just in developed campgrounds. Always ask for permission on private land.
  • Best times to go: The best times to go backpacking in Arkansas are during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) when daytime temperatures are milder and humidities lower. Summer brings very hot, humid weather with insects, so is only recommended for experienced backpackers. Late fall into winter sees dropping temperatures, potential rain or snow, and fewer daylight hours, so requires cold weather gear and skills.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 25 Miles)

Discover these excellent day hikes where your ultralight gear will truly stand out:

  1. Centerpoint to Goat Trail (5.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Eagle Rock Loop (29.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Butterfield Hiking Trail (15.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Sunset Trail (12.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Hemmed in Hollow via Centerpoint Trail (10.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Top multi-day trails for backpacking in Arkansas with water resupply options every two days:

  1. Eagle Rock Loop (29.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Ouachita National Recreation Trail (213.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail (156.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (35.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Buffalo River Trail (35.5 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Arkansas experiences a varied climate throughout the year. Here’s a general overview:

  • Spring (March to May): Mild temperatures (50°F to 70°F), potential for rain, and blooming wildflowers.
  • Summer (June to August): Warm to hot temperatures (70°F to 90°F), increased humidity, and occasional thunderstorms.
  • Fall (September to November): Mild temperatures (50°F to 70°F), vibrant fall foliage, and generally drier conditions.
  • Winter (December to February): Cooler temperatures (30°F to 50°F), potential for freezing temperatures, and winter precipitation.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Arkansas (Little Rock):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F515665738189929285746353
Low °F343745536270737265544436
Rain/Snow (D*)78101012101088888
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Arkansas? 

Campfires are limited when backpacking in Arkansas, and they might be banned in dry times. You can only have fires at established campsites in the backcountry or in portable fire rings, and permits might be needed. Only use dead and down wood if you decide to have a fire. It’s safer to cook with a camp stove instead. Be cautious, as campfires could attract bears.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Arkansas?

When backpacking in Arkansas, get ready for remote areas, wildlife, heat, and storms. Bring a GPS or maps and a compass since trails might not be well marked. Be on the lookout for snakes, ticks, and spiders; avoid reaching into holes. Stay hydrated, find shade during midday, and check the weather forecast. Turn back if storms are coming. Store your food properly because there are bears around. Don’t hike alone, let others know your plans, and be careful near steep edges and fast rivers. Filter stream water cautiously to avoid giardia.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Arkansas?

Be cautious with animals in the Arkansas backcountry. Make noise to avoid surprising bears or bobcats. Give snakes, squirrels, and armadillos space. Look for signs like scat and tracks to avoid active areas. Know how to use bear spray. If you encounter a black bear, face it, yell, and back away slowly; don’t run. For mountain lions, make yourself look big. Give deer space. Never approach or feed wildlife. Be extra careful around dusk when animals are active. Report any issues to rangers.

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