|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Starting at the Albert Pike Recreation area—with ample camping for late-afternoon trailhead arrivals—this route follows the flats alongside the Little Missouri River to a cascading falls and day-use recreation area at mile 6.3.
The trail swings west and continues its level march along the river for another 4.1 miles before turning south on the Athens-Big Fork Trail. Over the next 8 miles the trail undulates across 6 prominent east-west trending ridges, each with 400-700 feet of relief. The narrow valleys between the climbs have small, usually reliable creeks. The longest rise is a 1.1-mile climb up Brush Heap Mountain—take a breather with a 0.2-mile detour to the climb is a 700-foot rise that ends 1.1 miles from the trailhead on FR 106. Look for yellow blazes, wild turkey and river otter on the horse-friendly stretch of the Viles Branch that leads east from the junction at mile 18.2. After a wet crossing of the Little Missouri, the trail bears north into it’s most scenic section—and one of the most popular destinations in the Ouachita region—Winding Stair. Sheer walls, exposed novaculite outcroppings, cascades and amazing river views attract day hikers and photographers most weekends. Winding Stair is less than a mile long, but the trail continues north over one last difficult climb and an abrupt downhill at loop end.
Albert Pike offers the only designated camping en route, but developed backcountry sites are all along the trail and offer plenty of options for making this a 2 or 3-day excusrion. River crossings all along this trail may be dangerous or impassable when water levels are high. Call the ranger station to check conditions before your trip; (870) 356-4186.
-Mapped by Charlie Williams