One of my favorite hikes around the Hot Springs, Ark., area is the Caddo Bend Trail at Lake Ouachita State Park. This four-mile loop showcases the beauty of the forest that blankets the Ouachita Mountains. It also showcases the beauty of Lake Ouachita.
The Caddo Bend Trail is the longest of the trails within the state park. Information from the park’s website on the trail can be found by clicking here. Lake Ouachita State Park also offers the Dogwood Trail, which is about a half of a mile long. Interpretive signs offer information about wildlife that are unique to the area. On the park’s website, the Dogwood Trail is listed as easy.
The Caddo Bend Trail also offers hikers interpretive signs, but is listed as strenuous on the park’s website. I have hiked the Caddo Bend Trail numerous times. I personally do not find it particularly hard. It has a few ups and down, but for the most part the steepness is not too terrible.
Although in the gift shop at the state park recently, I balked at label of “strenuous.” My nephew said, “Not everyone has hiked mountains in Colorado.” Touché Nephew Noah. So compared to places with more rugged terrain, the trail is not hard, but compared to other trails in the Arkansas area, I understand the strenuous label.
Because the trail is a loop it can be hiked either direction. I have hiked it both ways, and I’m not sure if there is an easier or better way to hike it. At the trailhead I usually follow the path to the south, or where the Caddo Bend Trail sign is. Arkansas State Parks number each mile on the trail and this way the mile markers ascend in number.
A few years ago a tornado blew through the area and took out many trees that used to canopy the trail. Although it is sad that the storm damaged one of my most loved trails, it is interesting to see the changes nature can make to itself.
And actually I kind of like the changes. It opened up the trail, so the vistas of the lake are more numerous, and the wildflowers in the spring and summer fill the land that once was under the trees.
I also love hiking through the tall grasses that now take advantage of the abundance of sunlight. But a word to the wise, bring bug spray. These tall grasses and fields of wildflowers are prime for Arkansas chiggers.
A little under half way, the trail comes to the tip of the peninsula. Here is a deck overlooking the lake. This is a superb spot to watch the sunset, as it faces west. An unofficial spur trail to the left will take you down to the lakeshore. The trail never actually takes you down to the lake. But there are several unofficial trails that lead to nice beaches for cooling or just enjoying the lake.
As the trail rounds the end of the peninsula, you hike through fairly rocky terrain. The trail parallels the tip of the peninsula, it provides you with wonderful piney views of the cliffs below.
Side note, if you are a kayaker this is an awesome place to kayak. The geology of the lake is extremely interesting. The state park offers geological guided tours via party barge. It offers pamphlets for a self guided tour.
The trail makes it’s way around and begins heading back to the campgrounds and marina of the park. On this leg there are two bridges that cross deep ravines. The trail takes you through open woods, and there is not as much meadowy tornado damage areas on this side of the peninsula.
In the middle of the peninsula there is a gravel road, and all along the trail there are side trails that take you to that road. The well-marked spur trails to the road are great if you want to cut the trail short. The road in the middle is also nice and wide, so it is easier to walk out in the twilight if you want to watch the sunset from the vista.
I tried trail running the Caddo Bend Trail only once. That was enough for me. I am not a trail runner, and I don’t advise trying it on this trail. There are so many rocks and roots that I was constantly watching my footing, more so than on a normal trail. I also ran with my dog, Caddie. Trying to keep my balance on the unsure footing and hold the leash was just too much.