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This last May, my friends and I went out to explore the Eagle Rock Loop, and while it is listed as under 27 miles in total, it exceeded all of my expectations. So that you know, the Eagle Rock Loop is the longest backpacking loop in Arkansas.
While we were only there overnight, as the temperature and heat index came in at over 110-115 degrees during the day, I am planning to return to thru-hike the loop when it is in better conditions this fall.
I wasn’t aware of this trail before my friends brought it up, and I had it in FarOut as it is part of the maps I got access to when I bought the pack with the Ouachita Trail on it.
We decided to spur of the moment to explore and take on the peaks, which is an excellent way to get some views.
Since I wasn’t familiar with it, I figure many people visiting my website aren’t either. This is your wake-up call to add this to a perfect weekend trip with no shortage of water sources and some amazing stream crossings.
What is the Eagle Rock Loop Trail?
The finest multi-day backpack in Arkansas. You may enjoy nature while following the Little Missouri River and its tributaries, sweeping views of the Ouachita Mountains, beautiful swimming holes, and peaceful, little-traveled camping sites.
It comprises three trails weaved into one continuous loop: Little Missouri Trail, Athens-Big Fork Trail, and the Viles Branch Horse Trail.
A sparkling jewel known more to locals, the Eagle Rock Loop is a hidden gem in the Arkansas Ozarks. The 26.8-mile loop is one of the most scenic and rugged trails in the state, with towering bluffs, steep climbs and descents, and pristine waterfalls and swimming holes.
The trail is also permitless, so you don’t need to acquire a permit before starting your hike, making it a near-perfect place to decide on a nice weekend to get hiking!
Where Is the Eagle Rock Loop Trail Located?
The Eagle Rock Loop Trail is located near Mena, Arkansas, and depending on the direction you come from or stay in, they all take you to the main entrance regardless of where you stayed, so I recommend just using your GPS.
The area has several access points and high-quality parking lots, but the most popular is at the Albert Pike Recreation Area. More details on trail parking, bathrooms, and more can be found on this USDA FS PDF and the USDA FS Website.
Please note that the dirt road that can get you to the other trailheads is rough sometimes and has some pretty large potholes distributed throughout the road surface.
This road is also suitable for one and a half cars, so when two cars are coming from opposite directions, you will pull into the ditch or off the side of the road embankment to allow passing, so be mentally prepared.
This big camping area for families to enjoy the water, making it a little more chaotic during the Summer and on weekends.
When Are Prime Times to Hike the Eagle Rock Loop Trail?
While the trail is open year-round, summer is the hottest time and the worst to hike if a heat wave should hit.
Otherwise, the other seasons would be excellent. Still, winter can have extremely cold temperatures, snow, and big flooding depending on the rain volumes that can hit anytime, making water crossing highly dangerous.
Spring and Fall are excellent times to hike, like for many trails, but Summer can be amazing if you plan around any heat waves or come prepared to drink gallons a day.
Best Points Of Interest On The Loop
There are some amazing places to enjoy the views and take excellent breaks, and I recommend taking those chances to relax with your feet in the crisp water.
There are also great places for swimming holes with excellent waterfalls. The one at Eagle Rock is an excellent place to take a break and enjoy the views before continuing your journey.
Here are some of my favorite places from exploring and hiking the first 1/3 of the trail:
Winding Stairs Beach
How can anyone turn down the chance to go out and sun on the rocks with their feet in the cool water? The answer is nobody; not only that the Winding Stairs offers the best swimming area and pure relaxation the trail can provide.
This spot is an excellent place to relax after a few miles of hiking and enjoy the views upstream before continuing your journey.
The water here is very refreshing, and the little beach area is a perfect place to enjoy the sun for a bit or have a snack.
Honestly, one heck of an amazing view after the first serious ascent we encountered on our trip, it is a little side trail off the main path, and once there to the area, it is wide open with views of the entire Ouachita Forest for what seems like miles.
This is an excellent place to take a break, have lunch, and enjoy the scenery before continuing your journey. I used it to take some amazing pictures to send back home to my family.
Eagle Rock Vista
The namesake of the trail is an excellent place to take a break, have a snack or meal, and enjoy the view while just letting your feet and body relax.
Some hikers forget that the journey and views matter more than just “getting the trail done.” You must just live in the moment and enjoy it in your soul.
This spot is also noted as THE place to catch a sunrise or watch a sunset as it is said to be amazing with the mountains as the backdrop.
Amazingly Detailed YouTube Video on the Eagle Rock Loop Trail
Where Did We Start The Loop?
Since it was a more spur-of-the-moment decision based on the Ouachita Trail being in super tick season and no water available, we decided to re-route ourselves and do a shakedown hike in a more friendly area where water wasn’t scarce.
We had two cars, so we parked the first at our decision point (FarOut Location is “Dirt Road 83 Parking”) with the car and change of clothes, and the second car we then took to our starting point (FarOut Location “Little Missouri Falls Trailhead”) and we hiked counter-clockwise.
This gave us a 10ish mile hike and a chance to experience a few of the peaks and views and decide whether the high heat index made sense to continue on or if we would regroup and go later in the year with better temperatures.
Since we were traveling from the Blue Bell Cafe, we got to the ERL much later in the day and started hiking at about 3 pm into a large thunderstorm. There is something incredibly awesome and nerve-wracking about hiking in heavy rain and booming thunder.
We ended up camping right before the peaks began just above the stream crossing, and it was an amazing location to set up camp with my Hummingbird Long Hammock and Heron Rain Tarp and just listen to the stream and night noises the forest brings.
On day two, the temperatures just continued to climb, we reached the first peak in the early morning, and it was brilliant to just sit at the lookout and take in the views of the surrounding Ouachita Forest.
We continued to brute force through the oppressive heat and loss of water through what I feel was a stream out of my pores, passing some other excellent camp spots along the way until we reached the bail-out point.
As the temperature was nearly 115 with the heat index overall, we decided to pull the plug and not just hike through hell, we have a plan to head back soon, and I can’t wait to get through this from end to end.
Final Thoughts on the Eagle Rock Loop Trail
I love this area and the Ouachita Mountains in general, and there is something so magical about how these mountains flow and look.
The views from up high are incredible, and I can’t wait to come back with some cooler weather gear and a hammock just to enjoy the area a little more.
This was an excellent intro hike to see what this area offers and get a feel for the terrain and what to expect.
I highly recommend it to anyone who loves backpacking, hiking, or being in nature. The solitude is pretty good for being a higher-traffic access area. I didn’t see many people until the second day when we met some other hikers coming onto the trail we were leaving.
The only thing I would caution is that heat can be extreme in the Summer, and you need to plan and prepare accordingly regardless of water availability.
Besides that, this is an excellent backpacking trail and one of the best in Arkansas, outside the longer Ouachita Trail.