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September 1999

Arkansas’s Butterfield Trail

Once a bumpy stagecoache route, Arkansas's Butterfield Trail now jostles hikers.

Theories abound on the naming of Devil’s Den State Park. Was it for the notorious outlaws who, according to legend, hid out in this cool valley during hot Arkansas summers? Or was it for the abundance of bats and caves, which evoke a sinister image of the Devil’s own playground? My bet is the epithet derived from stagecoach drivers in the mid-1800s, who probably cursed the place like Hades itself after navigating the rocky ridges on the Butterfield Overland Stage Route.

Whatever its origin, this unsavory name belies the beauty of the place. Devil’s Den is a 2,000-acre lush Ozark hideaway still known for its caves and bats, as well as massive hardwood trees, rock outcrops, and the cascading, turquoise waters that cleaved a shaded valley out of deep, steep bedrock.

The best way to sample the wonders and uniqueness of Devil’s Den is along the Butterfield Trail, which commences at the headwaters of Lee Creek and parallels the stream for half a mile or so through dense cedar thickets before curving uphill for a short, leg-straining climb through dense oak-hickory woods. Along the way, the trail winds past some of the area’s unique Ozark “balds,” or patches of prairie on the thin-soiled, sun-bleached slopes.

Atop Holt Ridge, the trail follows a trace of an old road before meandering back downhill to Blackburn Creek and another of the area’s secluded valleys, this one outside the state park in Ozark National Forest. Here, you’ll encounter that old Arkansas standby, rocks-lots of rocks-in the form of dramatic outcrops, bluffs, overhangs, and boulders. At the valley bottom, a bonus awaits: rock-lined swimming holes.

Once past Blackburn Creek, the trail wraps around and reunites with Lee Creek Valley and Devil’s Den. You’ll follow old logging roads and horse trails, cross natural stone bridges, and even parallel the old stage line for a while. At some point, after traipsing these hills, you’ll likely marvel at the stamina of those horse teams.

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