A Stroll Through History on the Arkansas River



View of the Fort Smith Courthouse as you approach the trailhead

I typically like hiking in the deep woods of the Ozark Mountains, but this little urban path is a fun hike for kids and history buffs. It’s also a great place for runners and cyclists visiting the city of Fort Smith.

Driving Directions: To get to the trailhead, turn southwest off of Garrison Ave (AR 64) onto 4th Street. Then turn right (northwest) onto Garland and drive one block to 3rd street and the entrance to a parking area. A covered pavilion is at the north end of the parking area, and this is where we’ll begin our walk.

GPS  Trailhead Coordinates: N35° 23.260’  W94° 25.851’

Distance and Additional Information:  4.6-mile out-and-back with a small loop. This route is wheelchair accessible throughout. Leashed pets are allowed.


This is one of the few (maybe only) trails I’ve walked that begins by crossing a railroad track, but train traffic is limited (or non-existent). The entire trail described here is handicapped accessible. There are restrooms at the Historic Site Visitor Center just to the northeast of the trailhead. There are also restrooms at the River Park Events Center about 1 mile into the hike. Be sure to carry water even. There are water fountains at the River Park, but they were not on when I visited.

The trail climbs slightly to a small loop around the site of the First Fort Smith, 1817-1824. Stone footings are still visible where the fort stood overlooking the Arkansas River.


One section of footings at the site of the original Fort Smith


Site of the original Fort Smith

The trail backtracks a short distance to where you’ll take a right and circle around until the Arkansas River is on your left side. You’ll come to the Trail of Tears Overlook with interpretative markers and a bench. A set of stairs invites you to walk down by the riverside where you might see geese and other wildlife.



The shoreline below the Trail of Tears Overlook

After leaving the overlook, continue down the paved path into a wooded area with a high shaded canopy. Some of the larger trees are cottonwood with a few sycamore close to the riverside. I looked around to be sure we were alone and then let Hiker-dog take a quick run through these woods. She returned and let me leash her back up before any other walkers were in the area.


The trail passes a spur to the right that takes you back to the trailhead if you want a short walk. We’ll use this spur later when we return from our out-and-back. Continue under Garrison Bridge at 0.7 mile and to the River Park stage. Turn left (southwest) and walk under the bridge a short distance then turn right (southeast), walking downstream with the river on your left. You’ll come to stone steps that outline the Riverfront Amphitheater seating area. Handicapped accessible switchbacks lead up the seating area to the Events Center.


Looking through the Riverfront Amphitheater toward the River Park Events Center


After walking past the River Park Events Center, you’ll come to a pavilion with a bronze statue of a girl carrying flowers and a basket. This is where the River Trail officially begins as it follows the Arkansas River downstream.  IMG_1055rrIMG_1142rr

A short distance down the 12-foot wide path leads you to an overlook with two beautiful bronze sculptures. This is a nice destination if you want a shorter walk.


Looking back upriver toward the River Park from the River Trail


This statue seems to celebrate the river and land to the west.


From the overlook, continue down the river and come to the River Trail Bridge at 2-miles into the walk. Just before the bridge is a spur trail left to the riverside. This is a great place for fishing, but Hiker-dog saw it as an opportunity for a quick dip. A small pavilion is on the other side of the bridge. The bridge is another possible destination and turnaround point.IMG_1112rr


View of the pavilion and Arkansas River from the River Trail Bridge


Looking upriver toward the Garrison River Bridge

Standing at the edge of the Arkansas River, you realize the strength of its flow. It might appear tranquil from a distance, but there is a firmness in the water as it speeds along. This barge churned its way upstream on the morning of our walk.

The paved trail continues and then comes alongside private property before ending at Riverfront Drive. A dirt path continues from there along the top of a levy. A ranger told me there are plans to eventually extend this trail to all the way to Van Buren. For today’s walk, we’ll turn around here and head back the way we came.


Barge working its way up river

After a nice out-and-back on the River Trail, we return to the Fort Smith Historic Site and take a left at 4.2 miles into our walk. This is the spur we passed earlier and it takes us back to the trailhead. Going straight would take you back around to the Trail of Tears Overlook and would give a little more distance to your hike. This route gives you a total of 4.6 miles, the perfect distance for a walk or run right in the center of downtown Fort Smith.

For solitude, go early in the morning, because this urban trail is getting some heavy use from residents and tourists. It should have a positive impact on the community for years to come.

If you have time, check out the gift shop in the Historic Site Visitors Center. You’ll find a variety of books related to the region and National Park Service programs that children and adults will enjoy.  You can take a tour of the Fort Smith Courthouse and decide for yourself if Judge Parker’s reputation as the “hanging judge” was justified. You’ll also learn about Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River. Continue your stroll through history on the grounds around the Courthouse and let the kids get a close look at historic artifacts.

Hiker-dog says, “Thanks for coming along.” IMG_9875Hikerpaw23




Reentering the Fort Smith Historic Site after walking past the River Park on our out-and-back.


View of the First Fort Smith as you return from the River Trail


Judge Parker’s gallows are in the foreground with the Fort Smith Courthouse and Visitor Center in the background.


Someone in period costume arriving to participate in one of the children’s programs.




World of Beauty Down a Small Ozark Hollow


I’ve read about the waterfall in Devil’s Canyon, but today was not a waterfall hunting day. We were merely scouting the driving directions and having a look around so that when the water is flowing strongly in the future, we can get to the area quickly. I made it to the first drain and ended up spending all of my available time exploring a small hollow as I followed the water downhill.

Continuing a short distance downstream, we came to this little grotto and waterfall. The large waterfall this area is known for is in another section of Devil’s Canyon (close by air, but distant by foot).


At this point, I thought I’d seen the scenic features of this little side-valley, but the randomly placed car-sized boulders drew me ever downward. I quickly came to a reflective pool and realized little beauty-surprises were hidden around every boulder.



Below is a wider view of the same area showing boulders stacked above.


Massive stacked boulders

Continuing downstream, I heard flowing water but couldn’t see where the cascade was until I arrived next to an A-shaped opening.


A young man who I’d seen running the jeep road on the edge of the canyon reappeared and exclaimed at how beautiful this little area was. I introduced myself and discovered that he worked for the US Forest Service. He’d been helping with a fire in Tennessee and was now headed back home to Oregon. After our short visit, I thought how easy it is to meet fascinating people on the trails of Arkansas.

While taking a photograph of the little cascade through the leaning A-shaped rocks, I heard a commotion close by and instinctively covered my head. Hiker’s 65-pound frame had dislodged some small rocks causing her to glissade down a slope, bringing rocks and dirt with her. She ran over next to me and stayed close by for a few minutes.


A surprised Hiker-dog stayed close by for a few minutes after her slide down a hillside.

I needed to watch my time to allow for the uphill climb out of this little valley. The way these boulders caught my attention, it would be easy to remain until after dark.


We spent some more time at the little grotto on our way back upstream. I ate some dry bread I’d packed as a nod to John Muir, who’s birthday was a few days before on April 21st. Born in 1883, he continues to influence thinking about the outdoors and conservation today. He was known to toss a dry loaf of bread in a sack and explore the mountains for several days…the original ultra-light backpacker.

As we continued upstream, I noticed this scene I walked past earlier. Its beauty wasn’t lost on Hiker because she hopped right in after I took this photo.


As we crossed the creek that feeds into the hollow, I noticed the abstract patterns created by shallow water and sunlight. I couldn’t resist capturing the intricate dancing lines that flowed at my feet.


Shallow creek crossing

It had been a beautiful hike down this small stream and back up. Today I learned again that you can’t predict the beauty you might find in the eroded valleys of the Ozark Mountains. I was already missing this place as we passed the overlooks on the edge of the canyon. We will return another day!


Hiker seemed to enjoy the view as we hiked away from Devil’s Canyon.

Ozark Abstracts in Rock, Water, and Ice

WordPress Photo Challenge: Abstract

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I stopped this morning to admire the abstract patterns in this rock wall next to the trail. When I got back home, I decided to skim through previous photos from the Ozarks region that have an abstract quality about them. I chose to focus on photos with rock, water, and ice.


Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area bolder 


Rock floor next to Hurricane Creek


Roaring River


Little Clear Creek West on the Lake Alma Trail


Ice on the bluff at McWater Falls.


Frozen creek surface 


Detail of frost flower 

Dinnertime on the Trail

Response to WordPress Photo Challenge: Dinnertime


I enjoy the mental and physical winding down that occurs at the end of a day in the Ozarks. Dinnertime can take on the character of a sacramental act.

Preparing simple food surrounded by stone walls and towering trees, a natural cathedral. Quiet conversations next to a cascading stream as we replenish body and soul, an outward sign of inward grace.



One Good Trail is Enough


It had been several months since I checked my little adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. My last two visits were in July and then again in September. Mike LeMaster cut a number of trees off of the trail in July and then Steven Parker did some more chainsaw work recently. I’ve had some expert help in maintaining this trail!


Mile marker close to Dockery’s Gap

This little piece of the OHT has become special to me. It runs from Old Locke Road (FR 1007) at the Dockery’s Gap Trailhead, west to a campsite next to Jack Creek at mile-5 of the OHT.

When the new Lake Fort Smith State Park was being built, this piece of trail was abandoned, and the beginning of the OHT was at Dockery’s Gap. I liked hiking the closed trail and marked sections with survey tape to make the route easier to follow. Sometimes I’d saw small trees off the trail to keep it passable. When this section of trail reopened around 2008 after the completion of the new state park, I adopted the 4-mile section.


Jack Creek

About three years ago, I realized just how strong my sense of ownership was when I discovered that some campers had trashed a special spot on the trail. I cleaned it up while cursing under my breath. I describe this incident in Jack Creek Criminals. It felt like a personal attack that someone would have so little respect for “my” section of the OHT!


Hiker enjoyed the trail and cool air.

Today, Hiker-dog and I walked from Dockery’s Gap to Lake Fort Smith State Park where my wife, Becca, would meet us. Wildflowers were popping, creeks were flowing, and the sun was shining through cool, crisp air. It was a magical day and every step held beauty. I felt like I barely knew this trail as if hiking it for the first time.

Sometimes I’ll say, “I’ve done the OHT,” meaning I’ve hiked the 180 miles from Lake Fort Smith to Tyler Bend. I’ve “done” the section from Dockery’s Gap to Lake Fort Smith many times. What I can’t say is “I know this trail.” Today taught me that I never “know” a trail. Each mile has something new to offer every time I walk it. My life would be plenty full with just this little stretch of Ozarks landscape. One good trail is enough! 


As I approached Lake Fort Smith, I met a hiker from Joplin. It was his first time on the OHT, and he was pleased with his new map. I enjoyed telling him that he was standing on the section adopted by Kristian Underwood, the cartographer responsible for the OHT maps.


Map by Underwood Geographics

Below are a few photos from today’s hike.


Hiker unsuccessfully seeking a mole.


Hiker-dog inspecting a very clean campsite at Jack Creek. The group was from Kansas City, MO.


I enjoyed giving out a couple of bookmarks with Hiker-dog’s “signature.”


Wild iris on the trail


Looking into Jack Creek drainage and the mountain ridge on the other side with new leaves on the hardwoods


Boulders broken by time and the elements


Crossing Frog Bayou that feeds Lake Fort Smith

I’ll end with a few photos of history along the trail approaching Lake Fort Smith and next to the lake.

Waterfall Cures from Do South Magazine

Glory Hole Falls 2 E Scowden small

Glory Hole Falls, Eric Scowden

I’m proud to be published with friend Eric Scowden in the beautiful Do South Magazine. If you enjoy waterfalls, you’ll like our article that gives detailed information to find nine beauties in our area of Arkansas. The following links take you to the web version of the article.

Digital magazine format with article beginning on p 58:

“Waterfall Cures” Words by Jim Warnock  / Photos by Eric Scowden and Jim Warnock 

Do South Blog format:

“Waterfall Cures” Words by Jim Warnock / Photos by Eric Scowden and Jim Warnock

Turner Bend Falls Warnock 2 small

Turner Bend Falls on the Pig Trail, Jim Warnock

Photo Challenge: “Half-Light” at the end of evening walks


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I completed my evening walk as the sun went down over Lake Alma. It was the latter part of that magic hour just before dark. I was sorry I’d failed to carry my camera, but pleased with the resulting photo made with my phone. I say, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

Below are more sunset views over Lake Alma, three minutes from my home. I don’t think I’ll ever exhaust my love for sunsets!


Reflections of sunset over Lake Alma


Sunset on the Lake Alma Trail – Water converging with the land and sky.


Sunset after a stormy day

Diverse group on a 20-mile stretch of the OHT


How often do you plan a trip for five 10th-graders, one college student, four older adults, and a dog? Two of the youngsters had never been backpacking while several of the group had done many nights in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado as well as Arkansas. A diverse team for sure!

I was a little hesitant about our itinerary, especially the long first day from Cherry Bend Trailhead to Harrod’s Creek, but everyone was packed and ready to go on Saturday morning. The boys spent Friday night in the Rock House just west of Cherry Bend Trailhead, so they began the trip with an experience few others their age have had.


The group minus Bob’s wife, Dana who joined in at Fly Gap Trailhead.


Pausing to take in the view from Hare Mountain

While hiking over Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT, we wondered how anyone could eke out a living on such a rocky terrain. A rock wall, fireplace, and still usable well are the only remnants from the early settlers.



Creeks were flowing, so water options were plentiful.


Crossing Harrod’s Creek after an 11-mile day.


Cedar grove campground at Harrod’s Creek

Several of us packed our bear canisters in preparation for a future trip. We enjoyed the convenience of keeping all food enclosed in a secure container rather than suspending food from tree limbs. I had my traditional tater soup with a few slices of dehydrated sweet potatoes added.

Day 2

Hiking toward Indian Creek brought us alongside a beautiful stream with water features and cascades. I’d passed this small waterfall in the past, but since day two was a shorter mileage day, I took time to scramble down for a few photos.



The group enjoyed an early lunch after crossing Indian Creek.

The trail holds beauty with every step. In places, the moss-covered trail surface glistened green in the distance despite foot traffic.


The younger hikers in our group showed no indication of discomfort. They kept on trucking down the trail.



Bob at the Marinoni Scenic Area campground next to Briar Branch

We enjoyed referring to the new OHT map during our trip to see the lay of the land and forest roads surrounding the trail. Bob scrambled up above the area for a look at the top of the natural bridge.


Briar Branch has clear water most of the year. I enjoyed exploring upstream during the lazy afternoon.


Hiker-dog ate something that didn’t agree with her system and took an extended siesta. I was a little worried about her, but she bounced back to her hyper self the next morning.


Day 3 


Coffee is best next to an early morning fire.

Hiking through the Marinoni is always a treat! The modest Briar Branch flows next to massive boulders brought down by years of erosion. Within a week or so, the place will be alive with wild iris and many other floral displays.



Natural Bridge in the morning sun.


Bob and Dana passing through a rocky maze about one mile from Lick Branch

After arriving at Lick Branch, we drove away with hamburgers on our minds. As we approached Oark, we slowed down while sharing the road with horses. They stopped in at the Oark General Store, and we had a full house for lunch.



Nick heading in for lunch.


Good food and fellowship.

By the end of the trip, I couldn’t tell you which two of our younger hikers had never done a backpacking trip. There was no whining, and they handled themselves like veteran backpackers. I enjoyed seeing their energy and enthusiasm, and I’m sure they enjoyed the comic relief we older hikers provided during our three days on the trail.

If you want to learn more or get driving directions to the Marinoni Scenic Area, go to Making Time for Marinoni.

Here’s a link to the Rock House where the boys spent their first night on the OHT.

There’s always a plan-B in the Ozarks


Senyard Falls

I’d planned to hike Hare Mountain today. As I began climbing a muddy East Fly Gap Road with my two-wheel drive vehicle,  I imagined my wife riding along with Hiker and me. At the moment I could imagine her getting concerned, I decided to turn around.

In the Ozarks, a plan-B is always available. I decided to visit the nearby Senyard Falls, named for Roy Senyard who maintains this section of the OHT and has been involved in trail maintenance for years. Roy is a strong guy, so it’s appropriate that the paths leading to his waterfall involve some tough scrambling, especially when conditions are wet.

There was a light rain, so I avoided having my camera out except for a few quick photos. I look forward to returning to this waterfall and seeing it from below. I couldn’t resist trying to capture a spider web next to the trail above the falls. It was easy to see why a camera could become wet quickly in this morning drizzle.


As Hiker-dog and I headed back upstream, we stopped for a break at a crossing.


While sitting beside the stream, I noticed Hiker looking quite pensive. I began to watch her, wondering what was going on in that little head of hers. I don’t know if dogs are capable of prayer, but I’m pretty sure Hiker was demonstrating a sense of gratitude for what she was seeing and experiencing on this drizzly morning. Or, maybe she was just spotting a squirrel in the distance.

IMG_1499rrI wonder if Hiker remembers her time of starvation and being alone in the woods before she joined our family. She does seem to appreciate everything about her life now, and she’s wildly excited when we go hiking.


I paused to appreciate the bluff below the Cherry Bend Trailhead as we climbed back toward Hwy 23.

After driving south on Hwy 23, then east on 215, we did some hiking on the Redding Loop. While taking photos of the lower falls that were not running strongly, I noticed these fungi on a limb at my feet.



Hiker and I both enjoyed walking through the pine and cedar groves on the Redding Loop.

I’ve admired a long rock wall close to the trailhead. Today we decided to go off the trail for a closer look. The craftsmanship was obvious from a distance and confirmed on closer inspection.


Rock wall close to the Redding Loop Trailhead

We made a quick stop at Turner Bend for a turkey sandwich. The ladies behind the counter always try to guess my order. I usually fake them out with my ham or turkey decision, but they know I’m going to ask for the “whole garden.” Love those veggies!


Turner Bend Waterfall

We were driving away when I noticed that the falls next to Turner Bend were still flowing. Had to stop for a photo before heading home. Hiker slept in her crate, content and happy after her morning in the woods.

Ushering in Spring on the Ozark Highlands Trail


trout lily

This trout lily peeped up through the leaves and whispered, “Spring is near.” Mike, a fellow hiker, noticed these small wildflowers as we passed. I stopped and spent a few minutes looking and listening to what the subtle blends of color might be saying about the approaching spring.

The open woods revealed a contrast between the trout lily’s tiny voice and the soft roar of wind through the overhanging leafless hardwood canopy.


On the OHT southeast of Arbaugh trailhead

Our route began at Arbaugh Trailhead, north of the little town of Oark, and headed east and south on the Ozark Highlands Trail. Kerry, a strong hiker and mountaineer, led our group of twelve. We enjoyed a short level walk before beginning a long steady downhill toward Lewis Prong, a beautiful stream flowing just enough to require a wet crossing.


After crossing, I sat to enjoy the flow for a moment before moving on. Maybe recent practice at slowing down was paying off. In the past, I might have hurried on down the trail, but pausing gave me a chance to enjoy Lewis Prong and this rushing cascade downstream from our crossing.


Turner Hollow made a nice lunch stop. Doug found the perfect sitting-rock with a view.


We crossed several creeks that day under Kerry’s watchful eye.


Waterfall Hollow was littered with downed trees from ice storms of the past. We saw evidence of trail maintenance all along this section. Randy, the adopter of this section, and other volunteers had spent many hours here, and we were thankful.


The climb up and over Moonhule Mountain was tough followed by smooth sailing down to Hignite Hollow where we camped.


As the sun went down, we began to enjoy the warmth of a fire as well as conversation and marshmallows. I used the fire to cook my broccoli cheese soup with dehydrated potatoes. The temperature probably dipped down into the upper 30s on this clear, star-filled night.

The next morning I was up at first light and headed out for a short hike with camera in hand. I hiked along the trail and then down an old roadbed to a drainage that led back to Hignite Hollow Creek. It was a pleasurable hike, especially where the creek formed small cascades that shimmered in the morning light.



Morning coffee before continuing toward Ozone Campground


Boomer Branch was a dry crossing though the water was clear and inviting. Once on the other side, the route continued up and away from the creek. Mike stopped for a photo as the group headed out.


After a short climb, we followed a beautiful ridge walk before descending to, and crossing, the Mulberry River. At my feet’s request, I remained standing in the creek a few extra seconds. The cold water felt good on tired feet and legs.

Some tough climbs awaited us as we moved away from the Mulberry and eventually to Ozone. A familiar looking trout lily stood silently as I passed. It seemed to be saying, “Hope you enjoyed your springtime hike. Think of this cool morning next July!”

I thought about how much this little stretch of trail had given me during my two-day trek. Gifts from the trail are often more than expected, and this hike was no exception.