What I call the Eagle Rock System is the trails whose parts constitute the Eagle Rock Loop: the Little Missouri, Athens-Big Fork, and Viles Branch. The general area is 20 miles southeast of Mena Ark, is within the Caney Creek Wildlife Management Area, and is just a few miles east of the Caney Creek Wilderness.
The 27-mile long Eagle Rock Loop (ERL) is considered by many to be the “crown jewel” of Arkansas hiking. Others may disagree but I’ll bet it’s on their top 3 list. It features several crossings of the Little Missouri River and some big creeks so it’s important to check water levels while preparing for a trip. During my first trip it read 3.3′ and I was able to rock-hop at most crossings. During the second trip it was 4′ and I got my feet wet at all crossings but the water didn’t get much over knee deep.
In addition, there’s great scenery and some pretty rugged terrain. The Athens-Big Fork section in particular will get your heart rate elevated.
My maps are a 2-page PDF and will be at 1:24000 scale on 11×17″ paper. They show trail heads, area roads, the location of signifcant water crossings, and other points of interest. The coordinates of included trails heads are also shown.
The file name will change every time I update the map so share or bookmark this page, not the file.
Athens-Big Fork Trail
This former postal road is now a strenuous trail that runs about 10.1 miles up and down over 6 or 7 ridges. The middle 8 miles is the western “spine” of the ERL.
The northern trail head is at 34.4500, -93.9674. Take AR-8 from Big Fork to FR38 and turn southwest. Go 1.5 miles, turn southeast on FR B15 and go 0.2 miles to the trail head.
The southern trail head is at 34.3466, -93.9837. Take AR-246 west from Athens to FR 38 (Shady Lake Rd). Turn right on FR 38 and go 0.9 miles. Turn right on W53800 and go 0.7 miles, turn left on B23F and go 0.9 miles to the trail head. It’s less than a mile to the junction with the Viles Branch Trail.
The Blaylock Creek trail head is near the center of the trail at 34.3815, -93.9622 on FR 106 (Blaylock Creek Rd, Polk Co 82). This is about 4 miles east of the Bard Springs Recreation Area and about 6.5 miles west of the Albert Pike Recreation Area (day use only now).
This trail also crosses the Little Missouri trail head (see below) about 1.25 miles south of the northern trailhead.
Little Missouri Trail
The LMT runs about 16 miles from Little Missouri trail head east, then turning south past Little Missouri Falls, the Albert Pike Recreation Area, the Winding Stairs area, then a bit past the intersection with Viles Branch Trail. It forms the northern and eastern part of the ERL and is by far the most scenic of the three trails. It doesn’t stray too far from the river.
The northern/western trail head is at 34.4342, -93.9737 on the south side of FR25 (Polk Co 601). You will have to cross the Little Missouri River immediately but it’s not very big here. After crossing, turn left for the falls, or right to head south on the Athens-Big Fork Trail.
I don’t know if there is currently access to the southern end of the trail. It looks like it might continue for about 0.5 miles past the junction with Viles Branch Trail before dead-ending into the Little Missouri River. This research is on my to-do list.
The trail goes through the parking area (34.4227, -93.9196) of Little Missouri Falls Recreation Area. At the south end of the area the trails crosses a long bridge over the river.
The Albert Pike Recreation Area is day-use only since The Flood. Nevertheless, there is a parking area at about 34.3763, -93.8786. I don’t know what happens if you park there overnight.
The Winding Stairs trail head is at 34.3662, -93.9020. There is a spur going south about 0.2 miles to intersect the Little Missouri Trail.
Viles Branch Trail
About 3.5 miles of the 26-mile Viles Branch Trail constitue the southern leg of the ERL. The Viles Branch Trail is the only one of the three designated for equestrian use. Technically, the Viles Branch and Little Missouri trails share the route from just north of the Winding Stairs area to just before the last crossing of the Little Missouri River, where the Little Missouri Trail turns south to its end, while the ERL continues west on the Viles Branch Trail 3.5 miles to its junction with the Athens-Big Fork Trail. There’s no big elevation change on this section and it does cross the creek several times but I think it was always a rock-hop for me.
Where the ERL turns north on the Athens-Big Fork Trail, the Viles Branch Trail continues west (mostly on an old road?) about 3 miles to the Shady Lake Recreation Area. I’ll get more of this trail researched and mapped.