On a February hike, the early morning light filtered through the pine trees and illuminated the saturated ground below. The light reflected off the standing water with a bright hot glow. And I was reminded of how unusual this scene is – this mix of wetland and pine forest. But the Coastal Plain Trail at White Oak Lake State Park showcases this unique terrain of South Arkansas.
One aspect of Arkansas that I love so much is how diverse it is. The Gulf Coastal Plain is one of six natural divisions of the state. At one time the Gulf of Mexico covered it before it rose due to tectonic uplift causing its shoreline retreated.
The Coastal Plain Trail is a three-mile, fairly easy hike that showcases this fascinating region.
Trailhead to primitive campground
There are three trails at the White Oak Lake State Park, starting from the same trailhead at the end of the campground loop. Begin your hike following the main trail for about 0.2 miles. Here you want to turn to your left and follow the sign that directs hikers to the Beech Ridge Trail.
I got confused here and continued straight since I was not planning to hike the Beech Ridge Trail; however, I found myself on the Fern Hollow Multi-Use Trail and had to turn around. The Coastal Plain Trail is marked with blue blazes.
From this intersection, the trail takes hikers through marshland, and the park provides raised platforms to help protect the fragile ecosystem and keep hikers’ feet dry.
At mile 0.3, you will come to another intersection. Here you will want to go straight to follow the Coastal Plain Trail counter-clockwise. You can also go to the left if you want to hike it clockwise. The Coastal Plain Trail is a lollipop loop and this intersection is the beginning of the loop portion.
From there the trail begins to climb into the pines along the ridge. The forest is open and quite beautiful, especially in the early morning winter light. At mile 0.65, you’ll want to stay straight to stay on the Coastal Plain Trail. You can also turn to the left to follow the Beech Ridge Trail for a shorter hike.
At mile 1, the trail drops down off the ridge and really showcases the sand hills of the area. The Fern Hollow Multi-Use Trail weaves in and out, but here at mile 1 pay close attention and keep straight. I almost went the wrong way here.
At mile 1.3, you come to the primitive campground. This would be a great place for first-time backpackers. To camp here, you must register at the park’s visitor center.
Primitive Campground to Trailhead
After you explore the backcountry campground, the trail begins to circle back toward the trailhead. The trail takes you through more open woods before dropping back down to the wetlands.
Here you get your first glimpses of the lake through the open woods. At mile 1.75, the trail crosses a marsh with clear running water. I found this interesting. Unlike other marshes and swamps, the creeks in this region run clear as if they were a mountain stream.
At mile 1.9, the trail takes you to the shore of the lake. This would be a great lunch spot. The trail follows along the lakeshore for about 0.35 miles, before turning to the left and heading back into the woods.
It is here, at mile 2.27, where the Beech Ridge Trail comes back into the Coastal Plain Trail. When you get to mile 2.55, you are back to the second intersection of your hike – the stick of the lollipop loop. Here, you will turn to the right and follow the same path over the boardwalks and back to the trailhead.
Coastal Plain Trail
If you are looking for an easy, beautiful hike, the Coastal Plain Tail is for you. Many people only think of the Ozarks or the Ouachitas when they plan to hike in Arkansas, but Arkansas is not called The Natural State by accident. There are many wonderful and diverse areas throughout the state that are quite lovely to explore that are not in the mountain.