My first visit to the Caney Creek Wilderness in the southern part of Arkansas’ Ouachitas. The 9.4 mile Buckeye – Caney Creek Loop consists of the Buckeye trail, the eastern part of the Caney Creek trail, and a short road walk on FR 38. This area is about 10 miles west of the Eagle Rock Loop.
I parked at the Buckeye trail head, walked down FR38 to the East Caney Creek trail head, and hiked west to the junction with the Buckeye trail near where Katy Creek joins Caney Creek. From there, the Buckeye trail heads north to the ridge of Buckeye Mountain (with a spur to Katy Falls) and then turns east and follows the ridge for about 3 miles, still climbing but more gradually, to the 2300′ peak (about 1100′ above the starting point). The trail then drops about 500′ on the way back to the trail head.
Right off the bat, you cross Blaylock Creek. This is very near its source so it not a big deal. When you cross it twice on the Eagle Rock Loop, it’s a different story.You don’t get very far before crossing a low ridge into the Caney Creek watershed and cross one of its tributaries. As noted by others, one of the unusual features here is the broad grassy areas along the creek. There are many places to camp and many heavily-used established campsites that aren’t in very good places. You cross Caney Creek itself twice before reaching Katy Creek and the junction with the Buckeye Trail.Here alongside Katy Creek is one of those camp sites. Someone hung their food and trash in a tree, presumably to keep it away from critters, but did a rather poor job of it. To top it off, they then abandoned it so I packed it out for them. A can of sardines, a can of vienna sausages, cheeze whiz, crackers, and Pringles. Yikes!Once you turn north on the Buckeye Trail, you’re headed up hill, and will continue uphill for about the next 3 miles. You soon come to a cairn marking a spur trail to the right that leads to Katy Falls – a worthwhile detour.Once you finally make it up to the ridge of Buckeye Mountain and turn east the climb becomes more gradual. Along the way are lots of wildflowers, stunted oaks, nice views, and interesting rock formations but virtually no level ground. Tent campers are pretty much out of luck up here. The trail works its way up the ridge, switching regularly between the north and south sides. The gooseberry and briar will really tear you up if you’re wearing shorts.
One spot in particular had a great view to the west:All along the ridge are views of Buckeye Mountain’s southerly neighbor, Tall Peak. It is the tallest peak in the area (probably by only a few feet) and there’s an antenna and old fire watch tower on top so there’s also a road going up there. The road is apparently gated most of the time but there is also a trail that goes up there. A trail? Hmmm…The Buckeye trail passes right over the summit but there are a lot of trees so it doesn’t have the big views.Just a little further east, though, is a vista with a good view to the east and south.From here, it’s downhill to the trail head a mile or less away. Not far from the vista is an interesting formation called Standing Rock. I couldn’t get a good photo so you’ll have to see it for yourself. Sorry.
I spent the night at the Bard Springs campground. I looked and looked but alas, poor Yorrick, the bard and his springs were nowhere to be found. I did find a nice Adirondack-type shelter (1 of 5) overlooking Blaylock Creek. I had the whole campground to myself for the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening. A small group of Sierra Clubbers from Dallas arrived about 7:30. As they were setting up camp a whip-poor-will started calling from the trees above and they all groaned. Yes, they too knew what that sadistic bird had in mind for us. As it turned out, the calls didn’t last long and didn’t start up again until about 5:30 AM, when I was awake anyway. A bullet dodged.