Eagle Rock Loop is a scrambler’s paradise in this 1.8-million-acre national forest, 117 miles southwest of Little Rock. The trail tracks along blue rivers and through shady gorges with spur trails to craggy overlooks. Begin this 26.4-miler on the Little Missouri Trail from Camping Area B in the Albert Pike Recreation Area. You’ll gain 72 feet on a pleasant stroll along the Little Missouri River, with stream crossings at mile 2.5 and 4.5.
Reach Little Missouri Falls 1.6 miles later, where clear water spouts between rocks and drops 20 feet, tumbling over a series of natural dams into idyllic swimming holes. Then, grunt up a quick 128-foot climb as the gorge narrows beneath lush Round Mountain. Cross a small footbridge, then veer westward and follow the river for another 3.9 miles through Little Missouri Falls Picnic Area. Scan for secluded campsites with room for one or two tents.
The next morning bear left at a T-junction to join the briar-lined Athens Big Fork Trail at mile 10.1. This southbound stretch crosses six ridges with shimmering creeks between them. The black-and-white wall along Briar Creek at mile 12.3 is composed of Arkansas Novaculite, sedimentary rock once part of an ancient seafloor. Cross Baylock Creek at mile 15 and set up camp on the far bank.
Day three holds 11.4 miles to close the loop. At 2.5 miles, take Eagle Rock Vista Spur Trail for a 0.4-mile round-trip to the circuit’s highest views. Link up with the Viles Branch Trail and pad 3.4 miles to cross the Little Missouri and reach the Little Missouri Trail. Cross the Little Missouri once more at mile 22.7, then turn right onto Winding Stair Trail 1.6 miles later. Cross FR 106 and descend to the parking lot.
Note: Albert Pike offers the only designated camping en route, but developed backcountry sites dot the trail and offer plenty of options for making this a 2- or 3-day excursion. River crossings 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.
Gear up: John Plyler Home Center, 101 West Broadway, Glenwood, AR; (870) 356-3312
Paper Map: Rangers here use maps from BACKPACKER contributor Charlie Williams (ouachitamaps.com, on sale at Glenwood District Office on Monkey Barrel Lane).
-Mapped by Charlie Williams