Hikers can take an easy stroll or climb like a mountain goat at Withrow Springs State Park.
The 786-acre park is tucked into a hollow of forests, bluffs, streams and a spring five miles north of Huntsville. There’s plenty of bang for a hiker’s buck on three trails that meander over hill and dale.
Testing their diversity was a cabin fever elixir for a gaggle of hikers on a cold but sun-drenched Dec. 8. Arriving before most of the group offered a chance to see all the park has to offer, in addition to the trails.
A clear, sparkling spring pours from a small cave in the heart of the park near the visitor center. The park’s brochure tells visitors the spring is named for Richard Withrow, a settler from Tennessee who built a grist mill there around 1832. There’s a picnic area and lots of campsites.
One of the hikers did some Christmas shopping at the visitor center. Then it was time to hit the trails. War Eagle Trail, the toughest in the park, got the day started with a healthy dose of exercise.
WAR EAGLE TRAIL
This scenic, bluff-studded trail goes up, up, up for one mile along the War Eagle River. A breathtaking view of the river valley is the reward at the summit. Then it’s down, down, down to finish the out-and-back hike of two miles.
There’s plenty to see along the way.
Frost flowers were a white bouquet that greeted hikers tip-toeing along a narrow section near the river. The wide maw of a cave entrance stops hikers in their tracks. It’s easy to see and feel that this cave is the real McCoy. Warm air caressed the rosy cheeks of bundled up explorers this cold day, a clue that the cave’s passages run deep into the earth.
But like all wild caves in Arkansas, the cave is closed because of white-nose syndrome that is fatal to bats. Commercial caverns are not closed.
From the cave, overlook after overlook of the War Eagle River unfolds while the trail climbs higher and walking gets harder. It’s a lung-buster push to the top on a rocky trail tread with iffy footing. Gnarly cedar trees growing straight out of the rock wowed the group of trekkers.
The view from the top makes the ascent worth every step. There’s even a bench to sit and rest. It’s an easy walk back to the trailhead.
Compared to the War Eagle Trail, the Forest Trail is an interstate highway of hiking. The trail follows an abandoned forest road that’s wide enough for an army tank.
It’s another out and back route that’s the easiest in the park. It’s also the longest at 2.5-miles, or 1.25 miles one-way.
Forest Trail begins at a small parking area north of the visitor center. There’s a short, gradual climb to start, then the path is level the entire way. There are no bluffs or water to dazzle the eyeballs. It’s just a nice hike through a hardwood forest.
Winter may be the best time to walk the trail. Bare trees let hikers see far into the woods, maybe for a glimpse of deer or a pileated woodpecker.
At the end of 1.25-miles, hikers come to a gate and a road. It’s possible to walk back on the road by going left down to the park’s main thoroughfare on Arkansas 23 Spur, then go left again along the highway back to the trail-head.
Walking back on the trail is the option most hikers choose.
This is the shortest trail in the park, but gives legs and lungs a workout that might cost big bucks at a health club.
This 0.75-mile loop trail starts near the Forest Trail, but on the other side of Arkansas 23 Spur. Dogwood Trail starts on an old road, then quickly goes right on a steady, uphill route.
Flowering dogwood trees in springtime give the trail its name. In January, hikers can identify dogwoods by their coarse bark and small size.
The trail tops out on a ridge, then curves to the right. Time to catch one’s breath on this short, level piece of trail. In a whip stitch hikers come to an intersection. Go left and it’s a quick walk to the indoor pavilion along Arkansas 23. Veer right to complete the hike.
It’s downhill from here through a narrow hollow that bottoms out in a clearing near the highway. The trailhead can be seen close by on the right.
Three trails at Withrow Springs, with a picnic lunch break thrown in, make for a full day at a lovely park.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @NWAFlip
More than trails
Withrow Springs State Park has 29 campsites and a picnic area next to a flowing brook. Withrow Spring is the centerpiece.
The park has a swimming pool and an indoor pavilion for rent. During spring, canoe and kayaks can be rented for float trips on the War Eagle River. The park offers a 5-mile float from U.S. 412 back to the park, where Arkansas 23 crosses the river.
Information: 479-559-2593, firstname.lastname@example.org or ArkansasStateParks.com.
Source: Staff report