The numbers: 27 miles, 3 to 4 days
The hike: From wading through fast-moving creeks to laboring over steep ridges, your wilderness skills will be tested in the surprisingly tough terrain of the Ouachita Mountains. This three-day clockwise circuit of Arkansas’ longest loop trail starts at Little Missouri Falls, which enables you to hit prime campsites and break up the biggest stretch of climbing. Head south through a narrow gap to reach the first of many fords of the Little Missouri—depending on recent rains, these may require rock-hopping or deep wading (trekking poles help). Follow the Winding Stairs Trail to sweet campsites (around mile 10) by riverside bluffs of Arkansas novaculite, a chert-like rock that Native Americans chipped into weapons and tools. Easier hiking along the Viles Branch Equestrian Trail leads to the Athens–Big Fork Trail and the first of six big ridges to surmount. Enjoy the panorama from Eagle Rock Vista, then head down to a streamside campsite near East Saline Creek. After a long morning of ups and downs, rejoin the winding Little Mo and head downstream to close the loop.
Trailhead 34.422655, -93.919579; Little Missouri Falls, off Mine Creek Rd., 27 miles west of Mt. Ida
Red tape Call (870) 356-4186 to check river level—if it’s over 4 feet at Langley gauge, wading may be too dangerous.
Season late fall and early spring are best.