I’ve always been of the mind that those who talk down about Arkansas have never actually set foot in the state. Surely, those folks have never been fortunate enough to see the unyielding natural beauty that abounds in this neck of the woods we call home.

When it comes to the great outdoors, the variety found in The Natural State is inexhaustible. From the Buffalo, the country’s first national river, to our state’s highest peak on Mount Magazine, and all manner of flora and fauna in between, the call of the Arkansas wild is difficult to resist.

But if you want to discuss Arkansas and its eminence in all things outside, you’d be remiss if you failed to address the hiking trails, those hand-cut paths through terrain both savage and tamed that represent Arkansas in its purest form. With well over 1,400 (and growing) miles of trails through the state, these paths lead us on journeys, taking us far from the din of our metropolitan hubs and the settled lands where we live our daily lives.

But why is it that we tend to return to the same trails over and over again when there are so many new adventures on the road less traveled? This was a question we asked ourselves early in the planning stages of this feature. And as these stories came together, common threads began to emerge.

The idea of rewards kept appearing, whether in the form of the “winding stairs” along the Little Missouri River on the Eagle Rock Loop Trail or the 95-foot waterfall for which the Cedar Falls Trail gets its name. So did places where, as one writer put it while describing the Ozark Highlands Trail, “man confronted wilderness head-on, and sometimes lost,” which seems to suggest that walking a trail brings us closer to our collective roots, shrinking the gap between our forebears and ourselves.

But ultimately, it was the concept of the personal connection we make with trails that won out as the most recurring through-line. These relationships are steeped in individualized history, some of them stretching back decades, and some of them—like the family taking their newborn on her first backpacking trip along the Ouachita Trail—are still in their infancy (pun intended!). For myself, it was a specific memory and a photograph that connected me to Pinnacle Mountain’s West Summit Trail.

The eight trails featured in the following pages represent only a fraction of what Arkansas has to offer. But we hope the unique stories these particular routes inspired will embolden you to explore new paths that might have otherwise escaped your experience. 

For a special Google map marking the locations of all the hiking trails in this feature, click here.