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SGT Rock
2003-01-17, 10:48
I hiked this loop with my two oldest children and whatzhisname this summer. Very easy trail except for the backside which was almost Appalachian Trail type stuff. But best of all was Winding Staircase, I gotta go back and see that again.

Any Arkansas hikers out there gone here?

SGT Rock
2003-01-18, 13:24
OK, now for some more information in case you are looking for a trail.

The Eagle Rock Loop is a 26.8 mile loop that is comprised of three seperate trails. The way I hiked it was clockwise, so I'll give a trail discription based on that.

1. Parking at the juction of Athens-Big Fork Trail and The Little Missouri Trail is free, and the parking area can accomadate a lot of cars (more than 10). Directly in front of the parking area is the Little Missouri River which is only about 6" deep and can be crossed on rocks while keeping feet dry. You must cross the river to get to the trail.

Hiking east along the trail, it stays on the south side of the river most of the time, but not completly. Be prepared to cross the river numerous times. This section of the trail is very easy and provides lots of cool places to jump in and cool off. Water is never a problem. At about 4 miles from the parking area is a picknick area with outhouses and trash cans to get rid of trash. This area is kind of touristy because of the falls, which are a great place to set beside and relax. Go to the bottom of the falls and downhill to the river to get away from the crowds and you will find some great pools deep enough to swim in.

Passing that, the trail continues along with some moderate climbs, but nothing killer. About 1.75 miles later you will come upon a crossing of a creek and the river which is very cool and has some creat campsites.

The next two miles go from easy to moderate and eventually lead to a wide crossing that has great rocks for laying out on, and some cool pools for sitting about waist deep in. The water is warming up by this point so it isn't painfully cold to sit in.

About 1.75 miles further you will come to an actual park bench beside the trail with a killer view. Combined with the bench, I would say this is an excellent lunch spot.

1/2 mile later you will start to hit the outskirts of the campground. There is actually a paved trail here witha a footbridge that will lead to the showers of the campground which are free and hot. If you decide not to go across, don't worry because about 1/4 mile further on the trail you will pass another set of showers directly beside the trail.

Next is the first hard climb you will have. The trail goes straight up to the bluff overlooking the campground and right beside some sort of cement box that is no longer in use but best guess was a water tank. The trail goes right through some cool rock overlooks until it comes to an unofficial side trail that gets to the very top of the mountain for cool overlooks (note: I didn't go this trail because of the kids, supposedly it is dangerous and they where whooped after the climb). The trail goes downhill and is moderatley strenuous on the way down until you get to the crossing at Blaylock creek where the footbridge has been washed out, but it is an easy crossing. This is 2 miles after you pass the showers.

You may be tempted to camp here because the creek is nice, and there are some good campsites, but don't! I'm not saying this site is bad, but there sis something 100 times better close at hand. Here is were I diverted from the trail on the advise of a local. There is a horse trail that leads you across the creek about 3 times which is flatter than the other trail, but in hindsite don't take it. The rocks were killer on the erroded horse trail and it only saved about 1/2 mile of walking. Instead stay on the trail and hike about 2 miles until you come to Winding Staircase. This is where the Viles Branch Horse Trail and the Little Missouri Trail combine for a while.

I cannot even begin to describe Winding Staircase. This one site makes the whole trip worth it. Imagine the deep river georges along the nantahala but with warmer water, sandy beaches, fish, cool cliffs and swimming holes, great campsites, and interesting rock formations. That is Winding Staircase. I would go again and spend two days just camping and screwing around here. It is one of the must see places to put on your list to do before you die! The Winding Staircase camping possibilities parallel the river for about a mile, so maybe you should explore a little before deciding on a camp site. This ends the Little Missouri Trail and

2. The Viles Branch Horse Trail continues to parallel the river until you come to a trail junction with an obvious sign that directs you to turn right and cross the little Missouri.

This begins a 3.5 mile long steady but moderate climb. There are some campsites along the trail, but the ground is often deciving until you check it, filled with lots of fist sized rocks. Hammocks rule!

The trail crosses the Vile Branch Creek back and forth a number of times with some cool waterfalls, but nothing as big as you have gotten used to. There is good water all the way up this trail.

3. After about 3.5 milesm the Viles Branch Horse Trail goes straight, while the Athens-BigFork Trail takes a right. Tha Athens Big Fork Trail is Appalachian Trail Steep in many places, so now you will feel like you're really hiking. The trail is built from an old postal road. The initial climb up is .75 miles and leads you to Eagle Rock Vista wich has a nice camp site in a saddle below the vista, and a spot or two on the vista itself. If you plan to camp, bring water.

About 1/4 mile past that, the trail crosses a good creek for water with a nice campsite, then follows a small creek up for about a mile until it gets to Brush Heap Mountain. In this section you will really start to notice a lot of dead trees from every species. It appears acid rain is taking it's toll and briars are taking advantage of it. Brush Heap Mountain was supposed to have a scenic spot, but there was so much undergrowth (especially briars) that we could not find it. The jill down the other side of Brushy Heap mountain is steep with fist sized rocks, so beware.

The trail bottoms out about .75 miles past that at a good sized creek with campsites, then goes about 1/2 mile to a road crossing (FS 106) and more good water. After you leave this creek, it is a long way to reliable water (about 2.5 miles) because Briar Creek is not reliable.

Once you reach the good stream, the trail follows it down until you hit Long Creek and FS 512. There are some campsites around this area, but they are hunting camps and were mostly nasty packed bare dirt affairs with lots of trash.

Next you will do a good climb about 1/2 mile up to the top of McKinley Mountain, then down another 1/2 mile to Straight Creek where ther are good campsites and water.

After that you will do a climb up 1/2 mile to Lost Mountain where there is supposed to be a good overlook at Spirit Rock Vista, but the overgrown undergrowth was so thick we could barely stay on the trail let alone look for the side trail. After Lost Mountain, it is a little over 1/2 mile back to where you parked.

My reccomendations:

Friday I would take a 4 day weekend to hike this again. I would park at the trail head on FS 25 and walk to the crossing of The little Misouri and Blaylock Creek (double stream crossing) for a first night camp - about 5.7 miles.

The next day I would walk to Winding Staircase which is about 10.3 miles and stay there that night, and then the next day too!

Monday I would walk 12.6 miles for the work out to get back to my car.

OxBeaux
2003-01-19, 12:17
Sarge,

I last hiked the Eagle Rock Loop in early December after leaf off. Great views and without the brush that you described.

I plan to go back in Feb. and do a back and forth on the Athens-Big Fork trail. It's about a three hour drive from Shreveport to the southern trail-head. Should be a nice two day 19 mile hike.

OxBeaux

SGT Rock
2003-01-19, 12:28
I saw (for the most part) that at altitude a lot of trees wer already leaf off and dying, but the undergrowh was killer. If you live in the area, could you do me a favor and find out why? I assumed based on just a couple of days observation that there must be some industrial polution problem killing all those trees, which is a shame. Arkansas has some nice mountains.

OxBeaux
2003-01-19, 13:00
I got the impression that it was fire damage. I'll see if I can get info from the National Forest people.

OxBeaux

SGT Rock
2003-01-20, 14:42
It really didn't look like what I have ssen in the past as fire damage. They do controled burns here A LOT, and I am used to scorch and burn near the bottom of still iving trees. In the mountains there I saw dead standing trees with bark near the bottom. At first it reminded me of a place I saw a tornado that had mountainn hopped and tore the tops off trees. But the damage was widespread and seemed to be at altitude instead of in an area, and it wasn't confined to one species of tree. So I figured what could affect trees at altitude instead of area, and accross species. The only thing I can think of is clouds of acidic water vapor AKA acid rain.

Something else I want to mention is Sundog (new member) gave me a link to some of his pics from that area: http://www.ipa.net/~bhclardy/stairs.html

Check them out.

OxBeaux
2003-01-20, 15:19
Sarge,

Here might be part of the answer.

http://www.forestry.state.ar.us/manage/redoak_borer.pdf

Here is an article on red oaks and fire.

http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/quefal/fire_effects.html

As you are aware the red oak is a numerous species in the Ouachita Mountains. The pines seem to be all right if you look closely at the pictures that you posted.

As for acid rain. My understanding is that is more of a problem down wind of heavy coal burning industry. I may be wrong but I don't think that that is the problem here.

Hope to see you on the trail someday.

OxBeaux

SGT Rock
2003-01-20, 15:37
Sounds like a goood explination.

Coal burning powwer plants in the Mid West are causing most of the problems in the Appalachians, so the problem might be caused from further west than within the state if that truely is the problem. But it could be any source that raises the sulfer content of the air, including a lot of car traffic, but I didn't see a lot of traffic in the mountains while I was there.

sundog
2003-01-22, 14:34
If any one is interested I have some pictures from a short overnight hike I did to winding stairs last year up on my website (my very neglected website) the url is http://www.ipa.net/~bhclardy

Enjoy!

Cain
2005-05-03, 17:45
This loop is a great weekend trip. I hiked it four or five years ago in late spring. We went counter clock wise and started at Albert Pike campground. We started out late and got to the Little Missouri Trail and Athens-Big Fork intersection around dark. We camped there and headed out over the mountains in the a.m. We hiked both the Athens-Big Fork and Viles Branch trail sections the second day and camped when we got back near the Little Missouri River Trail. Lo and behold we only had to walk less than a mile before we were at Winding Stairs. I had never seen the place before, but if I knew about it ahead of time I would have definitely walked the additional mile the day before and camped there.

That trip I had my fly rod, but only hooked a few small bream. But, I saw plenty of smallmouth lurking around. The Game & Fish actually stock trout in that portion of the Little Missouri, but they are all caught or dead by the time it gets hot.