The Mountains in southwest Arkansas between Glenwood and Mena are my favorite on the entire planet. They are so rugged, remote, and beautiful, you simply cannot look at them without awe. Last month I hiked the Caney Creek/Buckeye Trail Loop in that area for the first time and might have found a new favorite trail.
The hike is roughly a 9.5-mile loop that connects two trails and a dirt road. One aspect of the trail that I love is that for the first half of the trail, you are in the valley and for the last half you hike along the ridgeline. Both sections provide amazing views that I have not seen in many other places in Arkansas.
There are actually two ways to hike the trail – clockwise and counterclockwise. I chose clockwise. I started at the Caney Creek Trail trailhead and hiked back to that trailhead on the road. That way at the end of the trail when I was tired, I hiked downhill on the easy path of a dirt road. However, I met several backpackers on the trail who chose to hike it the other way.
I’m glad I hiked it the way I did because the Caney Creek trail crosses the creek several times. The creek crossings caused me to have to stop and take off my boots several times. And I’m glad I got that over with in the beginning.
Finding the trailhead
Because there are two trails, there are two trailheads. For reasons previously stated, I began at the Caney Creek Trail east trailhead. This trailhead is on Forest Service Road 38 about 3.5 miles past Shady Lake Recreation Area.
If you chose to begin the Caney Creek/Buckeye Mountain Trail at the Buckeye Mountain Trail, its trailhead is one more mile up the road.
From a map and information from the Forest Service, click here.
Trailhead to Buckeye Mountain Trail
The Caney Creek Trail is a 9.6-mile one-way trail that follows the Caney Creek valley. But for this loop, you will only hike on it for 3.9 miles before it intersects with the Buckeye Trail. This section of the trail is fairly easy, as there is only one uphill portion. And I say “fairly” loosely depending on your tolerance for stream crossings.
I hiked it in the spring and after a rain. I had to take off my boots to cross Caney Creek two times as well as two tributaries of the creek. I have trekking poles to help keep myself stable on the slick river rocks, and river shoes – both I failed to bring. So by the fourth creek crossing, I was irritable. It also didn’t help that on that last creek crossing, I fell in soaking my boots and socks.
However, despite my failures in the creek crossings, I love this section of trail. If you are a backpacker, there are so many great spots for a campsite.
Caney Creek is beautiful, and in the summer it would be a great hike because there are many opportunities to cool off in the water.
One really neat thing about the Caney Creek/Buckeye Mountain Trail loop is that you hike parallel to Tall Peak. And about a month before I hiked the Tall Peak Trail. As I was in the Caney Creek Valley, I could look up and see the towers on Tall Peak and see how high up it is. And then on the ridgeline of Buckeye Mountain, I could gauge how far I’d come and how high I had hiked by the beacon of the Tall Peak Towers.
Just before you’ve hiked four miles, you come to the trail intersection with the Buckeye Trail. However, because it is a wilderness area, there are no blazes to mark the trail. But there is a rather large cairn.
Another good way to find the trail is to look for it right after you cross Katy Creek – which was the fourth crossing where I had to take off my boots. There you hang a right. There are a couple of other smaller creeks where I could cross without getting my feet wet, so take this in stride (no pun intended, ha!).
At the intersection the Caney Creek/Buckeye Trail you will want to go right on the Buckeye Trail. You won’t be on that trail long when you come to another intersection. Take another right here to the short spur to the Katy Falls.
Katy Falls is amazing. The water cascades about 12 feet through a very narrow shoot, for a pretty unique waterfall. Also a note to backpackers, there’s an amazing campsite right above the falls.
Katy Falls to the first vista on Buckeye Mountain
From Katy Falls, the Caney Creek/Buckeye Mountain Trail climbs steeply to a saddle below East Hanna Mountain. I loved this part of the trail as it takes you up a narrow valley between East Hanna Mountain and Katy Mountain. There you hike over massive novaculite rock glades and see broken bluffs on the opposite side.
In the leaf-off seasons, you have amazing views. And once you get to the top, you can see down the funnel of the valley looking toward the Caney Creek valley.
Buckeye Mountain ridge line
At around mile 5.2, the trail turns toward the east you hike along the ridgeline. However, don’t let this fool you. You are still climbing, just not as steeply.
Along this ridgeline is some of the best mountain views in the state of Arkansas. Looking toward the west, you have an endless panorama of blue mountain ridges piled on top of each other.
As you hike, to the south and your right, you look down on the Caney Creek valley – the valley you just hiked. And to the east, you look through another valley toward endless mountains of the Little Missouri River area. The hillside to the north has balding peaks with mountain glade, one of my favorite features of this area.
There are several vistas along this section of trail. And you’ll want to look behind you as you hike too because they are all around you.
Buckeye Mountain back to the trailhead
At about 7.6 miles, you get to the summit of Buckeye Mountain and the Caney Creek/Buckeye Mountain Trail is all downhill from there.
From the summit of Buckeye Mountain, you hike steeply down for about a mile before coming to the Buckeye Mountain Trailhead.
From there you will hang a right on the road (Forest Service Road 38) which will take you back to the Caney Creek Trailhead.
Caney Creek/Buckeye Mountain Trail
This trail really has it all – beautiful Ouachita Mountain valleys, a unique waterfall, and epic vistas. It’s no surprise to me that my new favorite trail is in this area of the state though. This is truly a unique and beautiful area.
- 9.7-mile loop
- Elevation gain 1515 feet
Trailcan be hard to follow in places
- Backcountry is camping allowed