Everyone Does Whitaker Point, You Should Too

 Credit for all photography goes to Morgan Doyle

Credit for all photography goes to Morgan Doyle

Whitaker Point is a hiking trail in the Ozark National Forest near the Buffalo River in Arkansas. The trail leads to one of the most iconic lookouts in the entire country, which is cool.

This hike seems to be the one that everyone wants to go do anytime you mention hiking in Arkansas. That’s with good reason too. There seems to be plenty of interest from people who see pictures and want to go, but also misinformation and confusion from people who have gone. Well I’m here armed with FACTS to set you people straight.

First, let’s check out the PREMIER source for hiking trail information, Google reviews.

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With all of this “information” in mind let’s get to the FACTS. Is this trail amazing, you ask? Yes! This is a very cool trail. Everyone should do it! I don’t know if you’ll think it’s as amazing after you’ve done it a few times, but still cool nonetheless. The views from not only the crag at the end but along the bluff are all great.

Are there going to be a million hippie scrubs hangin around though? Probably not! Yeah, you can hit this trail at busy times. During the fall when the leaves have changed, holiday weekends in the summer, but other than that there’s not going to be any more people than any other trail in the Ozarks.

How long is it? Not six miles, LEVI! Hiking to the crag and back out is exactly 2.9 miles. Hiking out to the bluff, where it’s maybe another quarter to half mile before the crag is very quick, as it’s completely downhill. There are some decent hills on the way back up, but nothing crazy.

But he is right about bringing water, which you should just adhere to as a general rule when hiking anywhere at any time of the year.

Finally, we get to the drive. Getting to the area from Harrison is the same as Lost Valley, except you stay on Highway 43, and head straight where it meets and becomes Highway 21. You’ll go over the Beech Creek bridge and immediately before the Buffalo River bridge, take a sharp right onto County Road 5.

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So here’s the part that everyone wants to know, can you get there in your 2003 Toyota Camry? Or will Steve have to borrow his mom’s 1998 Suburban so that you can do some serious wheelin’ up to the trailhead? Look, here’s the deal, the road sucks. It’s six miles to the trailhead, and it’ll probably take close to half an hour to do. The first few miles are steep. Really steep and really narrow. Luckily this section is gravel. When you reach the top of the mountain, the gravel will stop and the road will become dirt. Packed, red clay, to be more specific. This is easily the worst part of the drive. The road is in serious need of some maintenance, and is completely rutted and full of holes.

Slow and steady will get you there, no matter what you’re driving. Barring any weather (rain, snow) you’re going to make it. Do I feel a lot better knowing I have close to eight inches of ground clearance and 32 inch tires on Dudley? Definitely! It’s still a 15-20 MPH trail though. I’ve never seen anyone stuck or not be able to get up this road, and if you do there will be plenty of people willing to help you. Again, taking it slow and being smart is the key to getting up there. Do not let your vehicle be a limiting factor to going to cool places like this.

When you’ve passed the cool church and cemetery, you’ve almost made it. The “trailhead” will have some parking on either side of the road, which will probably be close to capacity even on a slow day. When Morgan and I went this last time, there were new signs up before the trailhead warning not to park along the road or you’ll be towed. However, you should be able to park on the side of the road past the trailhead still.

So the trailhead and trail, let’s get into it! The first thing you need to understand, is this trail is not officially maintained or operated by anyone. Luckily the amount of traffic it sees keeps it in fairly good shape. This does mean you’re not going to find any services at the trailhead, so don’t expect to find bathrooms or a picnic area.

As I’ve mentioned, the trail out is completely downhill, and should be fast and easy for anyone who’s done any hiking. You’ll know when you’ve come out of the woods and reached the bluff line. If you’re looking for a cool hammocking or camping spot, there’s a bluff maybe 20 feet tall that you can hike down and around to the bottom of. The bluff provides some cover and there should be a small waterfall over the edge.

 First bluff you reach. Don't fall. 

First bluff you reach. Don't fall. 

Continue along the bluff. There will be five or six spots where you can stop and walk out on different rock formations to get good views of the valley and mountains. The second to last of these provides a great look of the crag itself, and is the picture you associate with the name.

 There it is!!!

There it is!!!

Walking out onto the crag is pretty awesome. Yeah take your pictures and stuff, but also just stop and take in where you’re at for a minute. Also, don’t be an asshole. If there are other people there, be respectful so that everyone can enjoy it. Don’t sit or stand out on the edge if other people are trying to take pictures. There's some trees behind the crag where people frequently hammock. This also would be a contender the best camping spot ever, and I’d like to get back out next summer to do that.

I also can’t recommend enough trying to time your arrival at the crag for sunset or sunrise. This was the first time I had been at sunset, and it changed the entire look and feel of the area.

 View from the opposite side. Sunsets are coooooool. 

View from the opposite side. Sunsets are coooooool. 

Immediately past the crag, there’s another small rock formation that makes for some cool pictures as well I think. Hike back out on the same trail you came in on. It’ll feel longer, and harder since it’s uphill this time.

Something that shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but for some reason seems to be a problem: Keep your dogs on a leash people! Should this be of concern to you? Maybe, if you care about the welfare of dogs, which it seems most people who bring their dogs here don’t. The last few times I’ve been there have been stray dogs following hikers around and hanging out at the trailhead. This is sad.

Something else that I wish didn't have to be mentioned: don't be an idiot! Mind the cliff edges. People have died here! Like, recently! Keep your kids with you. Use common sense and you'll be fine.

There’s a reason everyone wants to go hiking here. It’s an awesome spot. Is it the best hiking trail or view in the Ozarks? I don't think so! There are loads of places people have no clue that exist that I think are just as cool. Even a place like Lost Valley has more to see and do than this trail. Morgan and I did both on the same day, and it was completely manageable. Hopefully you’ll get out and do the same now.    

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