Backpacking the Eagle Rock Loop in the Ouachita National Forest

We spent last weekend on a much needed getaway.

We headed about 7 hours north of Houston to the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and unplugged for a few days of backpacking (seriously, there is no cell service). We chose to hike here because we wanted something roughly equidistant from St. Louis where our friends were traveling from, and we also wanted to hike a loop. This criteria quickly narrowed our search for the perfect spot and we were pleasantly surprised with beautiful river views, some challenging hills, and more beautiful campsites than we could keep track of.

The 28.2 mile hike with 4,005 ft of elevation gain took us 2.5 days to complete.

You can start at any of the trailheads, but we started just west of the Albert Pike Recreation Area and hiked counter clockwise from there. You don’t need a permit, reservations or to pay any fees to hike the Eagle Rock Loop. This detailed map covers all of the notable features of the trail, including several river crossings. You can call the rangers office to check the height and speed of the river with the rangers office before you go on trail. The river can rise and might be too dangerous to cross at some points.

We got to the trailhead around 5pm on Friday. The parking lot was full so we were parked on the road nearby when a hiker passing by let us know that there was a place just down the road a little bit that we could park and camp for the night. Camping without reservations makes me a little nervous because I worry there won’t be a place for us to stay, but we were quick to realize that there are plenty of great places to camp.

We had initially planned on hiking in a little bit the first night, but found a great spot where we parked. The wood was really dry and made for quick fire building and a very comfortable night of car camping.

On Saturday, we hiked about 8 miles. Most of it was flat and along the Little Missouri River with quite a few river crossings. All of the river crossings had large enough rocks above water to cross without too much difficulty. We stopped at a great spot just after the first bigger climb of the trip and made a fire next to the river.

Sunday was by far the most aggressive day on the trail. We didn’t have long to go before coming across Little Missouri Falls in the morning.

The water was low enough that we could walk around and Little Missouri Falls and take a little break to fill up water bottles.

The rest of the day was full of hills. In retrospect we should have made the first day a couple miles longer to get some of the hills out of the way because they were tough.

We hiked up to Brush Heap Mountain, just .4 miles off the trail. This was the best view we got one the trip as we spent most of Saturday in cloud coverage. Mid-October was a great time to go as the trees were just starting to turn. I’m sure the rest of October and early November would also be amazing times to see Fall colors.

We ended up doing 13 or 14 miles in total on the second day and got almost all of the hills out of the way. It was a relief to take our packs off and set up camp that evening. Even after some rainfall, we were able to start a fire at night! Always a win when it’s chilly and you’re out in the woods. We ate Next Mile Meals every night for dinner. I loved the Italian Beef Marinara. I was hungry and food always tastes better when on trail, but dang—it was good.

Monday was our last day on the trail and by far the easiest and most scenic. There were two notable river crossings that required wading through the river and I was happy that I packed water shoes for the crossing. One of our friends went through with boots on and the other barefoot and no one had any issues. We got back to our cars around 1pm on Monday and were able to get home at a reasonable hour. We probably would have taken our time more on the last day, but heavier rain was coming and being cold and wet sounded far less enjoyable than being home in our own beds.

My favorite part of the trail was the Winding Stairs section. It’s not an actual staircase. Just thought I’d save you from any confusion because we talked about getting to the stairs for at least an hour and…well…no stairs. This is not at all a disappointment tho because the area is truly stunning. A little gem that would be so delightful to swim around in during the summer months. If you’re not into backpacking the entire loop, hiking in a couple miles and camping here would be a great trip.

If you’re needing a camping getaway, this really is a great trail! Some of the articles I read about this trail said it was very difficult, but I think if you’re taking breaks and pacing yourself it can be an approachable beginner trail. Just make sure you’re prepared to cross some rivers and brace yourself for a gnarly series of hills.

One of the perks of the Eagle Rock Loop is that it’s driving distance from so many cities!

  • Houston 6 hr 45 min

  • St. Louis 7 hr 30 min

  • Kansas City 7 hr

  • Nashville 7 hr

  • New Orleans 7hr 40min

For more information, check out the page for recent reviews and more details. Happy hiking!

This post was written for the  Collected Eclectic blog.

Collected Eclectic was a passion project focused on recording the process as Grace and Michael van Meurer transformed their builder grade home in to something special.

124 blog posts were published between 2018 and 2021. Explore the complete Collected Eclectic archive here

Learn more about the project here

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