Dazzling views from the Goat Trail high above the Buffalo National River may cause a hiker to ponder if goat stands for greatest of all trails.
This lofty, narrow path with vistas of shimmering water and the 11,300-acre Ponca wilderness is a favorite trek when exploring Buffalo River country.
Like gold at the end of a rainbow, the good stuff is at the end of a 3.5-mile hike out to Big Bluff, which towers 550 feet above the Buffalo for an out and back hike of seven miles. Three miles into the trip, the Goat Trail meanders for one-half mile along the midsection of Big Bluff 300 feet above the water. From this perch, the Buffalo appears as a ribbon of clear water that makes a wide horseshoe bend cradled by this landmark cliff.
Big Bluff is one of the tallest in the Ozarks at 550 feet, and the Goat Trail offers one of the most breathtaking views anywhere in the Ozarks region.
Caution is key on the bluff. The trail is a mere five feet wide in spots and close to the edge of what seems like the sky. Footing can be slippery after a rain or from dripping water. Slow and careful is prudent advice.
Hikers who get vertigo standing on a welcome mat can still enjoy a hike on the Goat Trail. Tip-toe out on the bluff as far as is comfortable and enjoy the view from there.
Goat Trail has two or three spots that are ideal for a group to enjoy a lunch together with a spectacular view. Gnarly cedar trees are another amazing sight growing straight out of the rock at the trail’s edge.
Hikers at one spot can take the high road by crawling through a hole in the rock or the low road on a trail just below. Youngsters and the young at heart get the giggles shimmying through this hole that’s about the size of a hula hoop.
A Goat Trail hike starts at the Centerpoint Trail parking area on Arkansas 43 northeast of Ponca. Heading east on the Centerpoint Trail, the going is mostly level or downhill to the start of the Goat Trail. There’s some dicey footing in a couple areas with loose rock.
One landmark along the way is what some hikers have dubbed the stegosaurus. Here, a line of rocks, each the size of a big-man recliner, looks like the back of a stegosaurus dinosaur. Footing is slippery here with loose rock everywhere.
Three miles into the hike, the path goes gently downhill and enters sort of a clearing that’s marked with a well-rounded stump and three or four campfire rings. Here the Goat Trail heads off to the right while the Centerpoint Trail continues on straight. The start of the Goat Trail is well worn and easy to see at this junction.
The good stuff, the pot of Goat Trail gold, starts right away. Long views of the unbroken wilderness start to show themselves through the boughs of cedar trees. The path goes through a tunnel of cedars as vistas become more open and frequent.
Views are simply incredible. The roof of an old riverside cabin is easily seen during winter.
Linger long enough and chances are good riders on horseback will cross the river below.
What goes down on the out portion of this out-and-back hike must go up on the trek back to the trailhead. It’s gradual uphill for 3.5 miles from the good stuff along the Goat Trail back to the trailhead.
Gradual, that is, except for one lung buster climb of about one-quarter mile that rates a high 8 on the wheezer scale. Reach the summit, and it’s a level hike of a mile or so to the trailhead.
The 11,300-acre Ponca Wilderness is an area with little sign of civilization and vast forests. The upstream portion of the Buffalo National River flows through this wilderness.
Ponca Wilderness contains the Hemmed-In-Hollow waterfall, which spills some 225 feet in a box canyon. The waterfall is dependent on rainfall and can be reached on trails that start above Hemmed-In Hollow or below it on a trail that begins at the river.
Trails in the wilderness area can be strenuous to hike and may require crossing the Buffalo River.
— Source: Buffalo National River