White Cliffs Natural Area is a great way to explore Arkansas’ Gulf Coastal Plain as well as see some rare and unusual natural sites. A short 1.8-mile loop takes hikers through this fascinating area preserved by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.
White Cliffs Natural Area is the largest occurrence of chalk woodlands in Arkansas. This ecosystem is unique in the state and shares more in common with the Edwards Plateau in central west Texas. I always enjoy visiting areas that stand out from their surrounding areas.
The Annona Chalk preserves fossils and is a great place to keep your eye out for them. There are a few areas where you can see exposed Annona Chalk. After about a half-mile there is a bald spot in the vegetation that showcases the chalk. And then after 1.2 miles, a short spur takes you to an old gravel pit, which is the main showcase of the trail.
Annona Chalk is used to make cement. And after having it stick to the bottom of my shoe in wet places, I can absolutely understand why.
Finding the trailhead
The official trailhead is on Highway 317, four miles south of the town of Brownstown on the right. There is a small parking area with an Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission sign.
The trailhead is on top of the “White Cliffs” that rise 100 feet above the Little River. Because of this, the only view of the cliffs is from the river, not the trail. However, there is a paved walking trail to an overlook, where you can look out over the river. From this point, you can look down on cliffs and see the vertical white soil below you.
Hiking White Cliffs Natural Area
The hike begins by splitting off from the paved walking trail almost immediately. It skirts close to the White Cliffs, so you can peak out and see the cliffs and river. The trail then takes you through the chalk woodlands.
After 0.25 miles, the trail crosses the highway. It follows fairly closely to private land, but soon it turns and heads away. It goes through tunnels of Ashe’s juniper trees. The Ashe’s juniper is like its close relative, the red cedar, but much less common in Arkansas. These rare trees are primarily found on the Edwards Plateau in Texas. But are also found in some parts of the Ozarks as well as the chalk barrens of southwest Arkansas.
At mile 0.5, you come across your first bald spot where the Annona Chalk is exposed. The trail continues through the chalk woodlands. It crosses a small creek twice. These areas really remind you that you are in the Gulf Coastal Plain. Clear water with muddy banks and palmettos are a sure sign of the Gulf Coastal Plain.
At mile 1.22, there’s a spur trail toward the gravel pit. I have to admit, I completely missed it on my first pass. While I was there, I could see where the spur had been marked by blue diamond trail markers, but they had fallen off. If you do miss it, you can also access the gravel pit from the campground below. You can find that trailhead, to the right of the front gate.
After exploring the gravel pit, retrace your steps to the main trail. You pass through one more bald spot, however, in the summer the grass has taken over the white earth. And there are also more Ashe’s juniper trees.
The trail crosses the highway and leads you into the parking lot of the trailhead.
White Cliffs Natural Area
Exploring White Cliffs Natural Area is a treat because it shows you a small and unique portion of Arkansas. The Gulf Coastal Plain is always a beautiful place to explore. When you add in the White Cliffs and the chalk barrens along with Ashe’s juniper, it makes for a one-of-a-kind Arkansas hike.
- 1.85 mile loop
- Elevation gain and loss 213 feet
- Dogs allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed