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Single night backpacking loops in Arkansas

I live in Houston (which is pretty much a backpacking desert) and I am looking for a hike to do over Labor Day weekend. I’ll be bringing my girlfriend who has never primitive camped before so I am thinking about starting her off with a one night hike in Arkansas and then car camping for the other nights. Does anybody have any suggestions of good beginner trails between 10-15 miles that I could start her out on? I want to do something with good enough views for my girlfriend to enjoy the hike but not so challenging that it scares her away Also is it too late to book a camping site somewhere in Arkansas for the holiday weekend or is it a little more eat going than Texas where every campsite is booked months in advance?

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Re: Single night backpacking loops in Arkansas

@EthanG Ethan,

Good news is that the Natural State has tons of options for beginners and experts. I'm not sure I'd personally categorize 10-15 miles as 'beginner', unless you're on level terrain. I'd recommend you look at Devil's Den State Park in northwest AR (links here and here). The Butterfield Trail is a 15-mi, overnight loop trail that begins and ends in the park. Having hiked it dozens of times as a youth and now 50+ adult, I've never considered it "beginner" simply due to significant terrain changes throughout. It is day-hikable in the longer daylight of summer without the need for overnighting, but that's a long day - I usually backpack it. There are also shorter trails (Yellowrock is only 3 mi but has a great mountaintop view) and a great mtn biking trail. You can can combo a hike with tent or cabin camping in the park. Pretty sure reservations would still be available for Labor Day.

Also, an outstanding book on all of AR's trails, for all levels, is Tim Ernst's book "AR Hiking Trails", presenting dozens of other options throughout the state if you can do some research.

Another recommendation is the Ozark Highlands Trail (guidebook). Although the trail is a 165-mi through-hike, there are loops or simple out-and-back trips from trailheads that you could customize for your mileage. Personally recommend this in the Spring (when rains bring hundreds of waterfalls to life) or Fall (when the foliage is stunning).

Once you're smitten with AR hiking, I'd also recommend you enjoy the Buffalo River Trail, which follows our nation's first national river. Not for a true beginner, but certainly stunning views. My personal favorite. Also combo options for a long hike plus tent/cabin camping and even a zipline at Buffalo Outdoor Center. Again, Ernst has a great guidebook for the trail.

PS - I make no royalties from Tim's books, he's just a great local resource and writes everything from the hiker's perspective.

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