Without a doubt, our River Valley is sandwiched within some of the best places to hike in Arkansas, and within an hour’s drive, there are fantastic places to take a scenic walk through protected public lands.
Being situated in the River Valley allows for access to two major preserved forests that are full of recreational opportunities. The Ozark National Forest, to our north, is home to the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) and many other scenic spots for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, leaf peeping, and bird watching. The Ouachita National Forest, to our south, contains the Ouachita Trail, a National Recreation trail, the Womble Trail and many other special places to enjoy. Both forests are unique and worth visiting but can be overwhelming if you’re trying to plan a day hike.
Let’s be honest: the criteria for a “best” of anything is fast and loose and 100% subjective. However, “best” in my book is an outdoor experience with a fine balance of unique aesthetics, scenic moments of pause, and interesting flora along the route. These are my top five non-state park day hikes within an hour of Russellville:
5. Sam’s Throne Trail, Sam’s Throne Recreation Area: Hands down one of my favorite scenic drives and hikes during the peak of Arkansas’ foliage turn. This 3-mile loop trail near Mt. Judea is considered moderately challenging and takes an average of 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. We enjoy taking our dogs along the dog trot area below the high cliffs and visiting with climbers as they ascend the sandstone walls. These hiking-only trails give users a “choose your own adventure” option with many spurs spilling out throughout the area.
4. Pedestal Rocks Loop/King’s Bluff Trail, Pelsor: Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area, about 20ish minutes south of Sam’s Throne, offers two unique areas to explore. The Pedestal Rocks Loop Trail is a 2.2-mile loop that’s considered moderate and takes an average of 1 hour to complete. The sandstone hoodoos make for excellent photography and there are plenty of cave-like structures to explore. In the same area is the King’s Bluff Loop Trail, a 1.7-mile moderate-difficulty trail that takes about an hour to complete. This trail features a large flat-top bluff with scenic waterfall and great views of the surrounding area. These trails are hiking only.
3. Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area, Roland: From Russellville, getting to this trailhead will take you 1 hour and 15 minutes, but those extra 15 are worth it and don’t dissuade me from adding this newer area to my top list. One of the few natural areas around Little Rock, Rattlesnake Ridge contains ~6 miles of developed trails and is protected by the Nature Conservancy. The trail system is excellent for navigating a path to the top of the ridge that beholds 360-degree views of Lake Maumelle and Pinnacle Mountain. The trails here are multi-use for hiking, mountain biking and dog walking.
2. Hobo Falls Out-and-Back, Ozark Highlands Trail: Using the same parking area as my number one pick, Hobo Falls is 2.9 miles east of the small pull-off on FSR 1004 at the Rosetta Trailhead. This out-and-back is considered moderately challenging and takes around 1.5 hours to complete. This section of the OHT contains two waterfalls within a small canyon and is the perfect place to enjoy lunch in the middle of your hike. The OHT is hiking-only and dogs must be on a leash. Note: During rifle season, please wear bright colors/orange.
1. Bear Skull Falls Out-and-Back, Ozark Highlands Trail: By far one of my favorite sections of the Ozark Highlands Trail and it’s only 56 minutes from Russellville! This is a 4.1-mile out-and-back trail near Hagarville and is considered moderately challenging. Taking about 2 hours to complete, hikers will be rewarded with 2, sometimes 3 waterfalls peppered along the route – the main one, Bear Skull Falls, being a very photogenic 22 feet tall. Note: During rifle season, please wear bright colors/orange.
Tip: When hiking outside of the state parks where cellular service may not exist, take precautions by downloading a trail map of the area via online PDF, maps from the AllTrails app or Avenza. Due to the fact that these trails aren’t frequented by many, it’s possible the areas are overgrown and/or their markings need repair. Always let someone know where you’re headed before entering the woods.