Backpacking in Arkansas: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in Arkansas: A Beautiful Trail in the Golden Hour

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

Backpacking in Arkansas offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes of the “Natural State.”

From the towering peaks of the Ozark Mountains to the winding trails through lush forests and alongside pristine rivers, Arkansas boasts a wealth of backpacking adventures for hikers of all levels.

In this guide, we’ll share essential tips and the top 5 multi-day trails in Arkansas, catering to both experienced backpackers and newcomers eager to explore the outdoors.

Interested? Let’s get going.

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.
  • 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: Proper food storage is essential to avoid conflicts with black bears. Venomous snakes and spiders blend into trails. Deer may be aggressive during rutting season. Securely storing food prevents issues with smaller animals like raccoons and skunks. Awareness and appropriate measures are crucial for safe wildlife encounters.
  • 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 are spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) when temperatures are milder. Summer is hot and humid, suitable mainly for experienced backpackers. Late fall to winter sees dropping temperatures and potential rain or snow, necessitating cold weather gear and skills.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Arkansas

Here are the best multi-day backpacking trails in Arkansas:

1. Eagle Rock Loop

A serene grassy field under a bright blue sky

Length: 29.2 mi / 47 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 3877 ft / 1182 m
Location: Ouachita National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 11 800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 26.6-mile Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas combines three trails through scenic wilderness with rivers, waterfalls, and mountain peaks. Suitable for experienced backpackers, the strenuous 3-day trek requires navigating water crossings and steep inclines with minimal phone reception.

2. Ouachita National Recreation Trail

A sunny vista of an open field at the Caddo Bend Trailhead in Mountain Pine, Arkansas

Length: 213.9 mi / 344.2 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 32 276 ft / 9838 m
Location: Pinnacle Mountain State Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 73 900 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The 213.9-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail is a challenging point-to-point backpacking route through the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas, averaging 94 hours. It features steep, rocky terrain requiring sturdy shoes, well-marked but dispersed campsites, and scarce water sources. The strenuous multi-day hike offers scenic mountain views and birding opportunities year-round but demands proper planning.

3. Butterfield Hiking Trail

The Devils Den Park dam spanning a creek under a sunny Arkansas sky

Russ, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Length: 15.6 mi / 25.1 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 2007 ft / 612 m
Location: Devil’s Den State Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7000 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The 15.6-mile Butterfield Trail is a challenging 6.5-hour loop in Devil’s Den State Park and Ozark National Forest near Winslow, Arkansas. Following the historic Butterfield Stagecoach route, it offers scenic rock formations, mountain views, and creeks along its rocky, mountainous terrain with steep sections. Designated and dispersed camping available, permit required for overnight backpacking.

4. Lake Ouachita Vista Trail

A scenic lake surrounded by lush forests under a brilliant blue sky in Arkansas

Length: 35.8 mi / 57.6 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 4547 ft / 1386 m
Location: Ouachita National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 14 200 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 35.8-mile point-to-point trail near Mountain Pine, Arkansas averages 14.5 hours. Well-marked, it passes campgrounds with restrooms and offers gorgeous vistas, though requires careful water management. Popular for backpacking March-May with opportunities for solitude. Hammock camping recommended for this strenuous but scenic Arkansas trek.

5. Buffalo River Trail

People swimming and relaxing by the iconic Skull Rock formation at Buffalo Point

Length: 35.5 mi / 57.1 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 5830 ft / 1777 m
Location: Buffalo National River Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 14 600 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 35.5-mile Old River Trail follows the Buffalo National River from Ponca to Pruitt in Arkansas, averaging 16 hours. It requires numerous river crossings while passing remnants of abandoned pioneer vehicles. Popular for backpacking and riding, the scenic trail is best in fall/winter to avoid bugs. Designated campsites exist but require planning for water sources on this remote wilderness trek.

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):

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

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Arkansas is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guide for Tennessee.


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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At Hikinglite, we're all about helping you hit the trails with lightweight and ultralight outdoor gear that won't weigh you down. Our crew of content creators? Real outdoor enthusiasts who've logged countless miles on the trails.

Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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