Deep in the backwoods of the Arkansas Delta Region, is where you will find the largest tree in the state of Arkansas. The Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress stands majestic in the bottomlands of the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge. This massive tree watches over a green slough that drains into a lowland lake deep in the swampy wilds.
Finding the trailhead, and your way back out
To find the trailhead for Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress Tree Trail, it’s best to use the Arkansas Forestry Commissions’ directions listed on their website. You can also use the GPS coordinates for the trailhead, 34.2417 N, 91.1178 W. However, my phone did not recognize the road where the trailhead is as a road, so it did not give me the correct directions.
There is very limited cell reception in the refuge. And I did get lost trying to find my way back out. So I highly suggest taking a paper map or an Arkansas Atlas & Gazetteer with you. Honestly, if I had not just happened to have preloaded the map on one of my hiking tracking apps, I probably would have had to stop and ask a hunter how to get out.
Hiking the Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress Tree Trail
The hike to the Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress Tree is an easy flat hike. But, again, because it’s in the bottomlands, it can be wet and muddy. So you’ll want to wear waterproof boots. A sign marks the trailhead and there is a small parking area.
From the trailhead the trail follows an old roadbed, making the trail wide and open. The trail is an out-and-back and makes a Y shape as it forks at the end, going to the Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress Tree and to Lower White Lake.
As you hike along the trail, you can read informational signs that tell about the floral and fauna of the area. Around halfway there is a bench to rest. At mile 0.4 the trail makes a sharp turn to the right. And then another sharp turn to the left at mile 0.5.
Around mile 0.95 is where the Y splits. The path to your left goes to the champion tree, while the path to the right goes to the lake. I missed this on my hike and had to use my GPS app to find the trail to the lake.
From the Y intersection, the trail snakes around in the hardwoods before ending at a slough and the massive Champion Bladcypress Tree, the largest tree in Arkansas. A bench also sits at the end of the trail, so you can sit and admire the tree.
The entire distance of the trail, out-and-back to the tree and lake, is 2.8 miles.
Arkansas Champion Trees
The Arkansas Agriculture Department’s Arkansas Champion Trees Program showcases the largest tree in each species within the state, which is measured by the bigness index. The Champion Bald Cypress Tree is the largest of them all.
The “bigness index” sounds like a made-up term, but it is actually quite scientific. It’s kind of a way to compare apples and oranges. The bigness index is a mathematical formula that takes many aspects of the tree into account to equal an overall number. You add the circumference of the tree in inches to the height in feet plus one-fourth of the average spread in feet to equal the bigness index. All of this added up is what makes the Bald Cypress the largest tree in Arkansas.
White River National Wildlife Refuge
Instead of mountains creating difficult terrain, the changing water levels of the sloughs, swamps, and bayous make this area just as remote and beautiful as the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. The White River NWR lies within the floodplain of the White River near where it flows into the Mississippi River. It is one of the last remaining bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi River Valley. And it has a natural beauty, unlike many other places.
The refuge was created in 1953 to protect and conserve migratory birds and other wildlife resources. The White River NWR has the only native population of black bears in the state of Arkansas, which is a testament to its remoteness and ruggedness of it. Other populations of black bears were hunted out in Arkansas and later reintroduced.
The refuge stretches from Clarendon to near Arkansas Post National Historic Site, north of Dumas. It is a favorite area of hunters, anglers, and birdwatchers. But it does have hundreds of miles of trails for both foot and ATV traffic.
Roads in the refuge
The trail to the Champion Bald Cypress Tree is within the South Unit of the White River NWR. The roads in this portion of the refuge are closed from Dec. 15 through March 1. Also because it’s a swamp, the roads are prone to flooding. You can check water levels and road conditions on the refuge’s website.
Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress Tree Trail
Hiking to the Arkansas Champion Bald Cypress Tree is a great way to experience the natural beauty of the Arkansas Delta. It is also a great way to experience the wilderness of flooded timberlands, which are rugged and remote. Hiking to this majestic tree is an easy hike with the added bonus of learning about the bottomland.