The Dam Mountain Trail at Lake Catherine State Park is my favorite of the trails at the park. It offers a little bit of every kind of scenery you can find at the park. Lake Catherine State Park has thick forest, mountain top glades, deep valleys, beautiful streams – including a waterfall – and of course the lake. Hiking the Dam Mountain Trail takes you through all of these for a diverse and beautiful trail.
In addition to the Dam Mountain Trail, Lake Catherine State Park is also home to the two-mile Falls Branch Trail and three-and-a-half mile Horseshoe Mountain Trail. And for those wanting something easier and slower pace, the park offers the Slunger Creek Nature Trail.
The Dam Mountain Trail is a four-mile trail that takes you deep into the park. It takes you so deep that it is closed during deer season because it borders land used for deer hunting.
The Dam Mountain Trail, Falls Branch Trail, and Horseshoe Mountain Trail all begin at the same location. The trailhead is at the end of the camping area, just past the eastern restrooms.
Lake Catherine State Park is between Hot Springs and Malvern on Highway 171, also known as Catherine Park Road. You can take exit 97 from I-30 at Malvern and follow that road until it dead ends at the park, about 12 miles from the interstate.
Trailhead to the waterfall
The Dam Mountain Trail is marked with white blazes. All three trails begin on the same path but quickly split. When you come to the fork you have the option to go left, straight, or right. For the Dam Mountain Trail, you want to follow the path to the left. There is an excellent sign that tells you which way to go and whether the trail is rugged and steep.
The Dam Mountain Trail is labeled as rugged and steep.
As you go to the left you head toward the campground and the lake. The woods are beautiful on this part of the trail. They are flat and open, but be mindful to stay on the trail. There are signs directing you to do so because they are trying to reforest the area.
The trail soon makes a turn to the right and crosses a small stream. You will parallel the lake for a little ways after the turn. You will cross another small stream but this time you get to cross it on a swinging bridge. The bridge is fun and neat, and I like bouncing to make it hard for my friends and family to walk.
The trail follows the lake a little more and then turns to the right and takes you into cove created by Falls Creek. At the turn there is a nice bench and steps leading you to the lake. This is a great place to take in the fall foliage in autumn or cool off in the deep water of the cove in the summer.
The trail follows the shore of the cove until you reach Falls Creek Falls. I love this narrow valley.
Side note: kayaking to the waterfall is also something I love to do at Lake Catherine State Park.
Once you get to the waterfall you can follow a spur trail to the bottom for viewing or swimming.
Waterfall to the overlook
The Dam Mountain Trail crosses Falls Creek Falls above the falls. Once you cross the creek you have the option to go to the right or the left. The trail loops back around to this spot, so it doesn’t matter what way you go.
I like to go to the right because the trail follows the creek, and I like to look upstream toward the creek’s small cascades.
The Dam Mountain Trail soon turns to the left and you begin following a small tributary of Falls Creek. After a good rain the trail from the waterfall to where it leaves the small tributary is a really nice section of the trail.
Then it makes its first assent toward the top of Dam Mountain with a few switchbacks. They are not too bad, but its enough to make me breath a little heavy. It’s not very long before it levels out again.
You can tell the trail is not used as much as the popular Falls Branch Trail because the forest seems to be wanting to reclaim it. I had to push a few vines out of my way. But there was one area where the vines make a tunnel around the trail, and that is really cool.
When the dirt path becomes novaculite rocks, you begin your second and final ascent to the top of Dam Mountain.
After you get to the top, the trail snakes around mountain glades. Some parts are open woods with grassy understory, and this is my favorite scenery. Other times you are walled by thickets, but it isn’t too bad. Just be careful of some of the briers reaching out to grab at you.
Keep you eyes out for the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys to the left. They peak out at you through the trees.
Overlook to the trailhead
As the trail turns to parallel the lake there is an overlook to your right. From here you can see Remmel Dam, Lake Catherine, and miles of the Ouachita Mountains. On a clear day you can see the buildings from downtown Hot Springs rising out of the valley. It is really a unique view.
There is also a bench for taking in the view. The trail follows the lake a little ways but you soon come to a fork in the path. Here you will want to stay to the left.
A little ways down the trail there is another vista and bench. After that the trail snakes around the top of the mountain through the mountain meadow vegetation.
The trail then begins to descend steeply back toward the waterfall. Just before you get to the waterfall you have to hike down a few large rocks. Be careful here. I slipped on them and fell once. And then a man hiking behind me did the same time. It can get slick.
There are beautiful views of the water from this point, and it would be a great place to take another break if you need one.
You will cross back over Falls Creeks in the same spot above the waterfall. From there you have the option of going to the left and hiking back to the trailhead via the Falls Branch Trail or going the same route you hike in by going to the right.
Different ways back
If you hike back via the Falls Branch Trail it will add to your milage a little, but that trail is nice as well-worth it.
If you are really wanting to add up some miles, you can hike the Falls Branch Trail to where it intersects the Horseshoe Mountain Trail and go back to the trailhead via the Horseshoe Mountain Trail.
That is one great thing about all the trails beginning at the same location; you have options on how to hike it.
Dam Mountain Trail
There is so much to love about this trail. I love the mountain glades on the tops of the ridges, the waterfall, the views of the lake from the shore and above, and the views of the streams as you hike into the woods.
The park rates the trail as steep and rugged, but the steep and rugged parts are short and once you get to the top, it levels out.