Centerpoint Trail – Buffalo River
Centerpoint Trail – Hike Date Feb 26-27, 2011
By far, the best hike I have been on yet! The Centerpoint Trail is really a combination of several trails so you can customize it to your own preferences and schedule. My final hike was around 11-12 miles round trip and major points of interest included the Goat Trail, Granny Henderson’s Cabin, and Hemmed in Hollow.
The hike starts just north of Ponca, AR on Highway 43. The trailhead has a small parking lot that my truck sat undisturbed in overnight. I entered in mid Saturday afternoon. The parking lot was rather full. Apparently a church youth group had gone in for one of the shorter day hikes. I passed many of them on their return trip staggered at different paces along the way for about 2 miles. After that I had the woods, the hills, the bluffs and the river almost completely to myself.
The first three miles or so of the hike were almost completely downhill. I read on another site that it is a 1,000 foot descent in the first three miles. Along the way I kept thinking, “this is going to be uphill all the coming back…” Somehow I managed to convince myself it would be fine and was not as bad as I might be anticipating. (WRONG!)
The first two miles are not all that special. There are some pretty views alternating to the left and right of the trail of the hills and mountains, and occasionally I saw some elevation but nothing much. It was a fairly primitive trail. Expect a lot of loose rock and overhanging trees. There was also a lot of mud in some areas as it had rained pretty heavy three days earlier. Hiking in February snakes were not a concern however, between the rocks on the trail and the river bed at the bottom I would think that would be something to keep an eye out for in warmer months. I have not failed to see water moccasins on the Buffalo when visiting in the summer.
At about mile 2.3 the trail gives way to a large open space. At first glance I thought it was a camp site but upon review I saw no sign of fire pits or anything else. It is just very rocky ground. There are some fallen trees lying here and there. The main trail continues downhill from here but before going that way I would encourage you to swerve to the right. An alternate side trail can be found. It is fairly well marked and you will know you are on it when you come to a sign that warns of no camping beyond a certain point. You are heading toward the Goat Trail.
I have seen this called a lot of different things from Goat Bluff, Big Bluff, and others. I like Goat Trail and it fits. You will know when you have arrived. The lookout is stunning. I had my lunch here. The Goat Trail moves out across one of the infamous Buffalo River bluffs with a terrific view of the river far below. The bluff I was standing on itself was full of great sites with mangled cedar trees locked into the bluff’s rocky crags, interesting rock formations and even a hole in the bluff wall that appears like a window. Be very careful as you walk along the Goat Trail. It is about 400 feet up. I was taking pictures at one point and looked behind me surprised my how close to the edge I was. The river is beautiful below. At one point two canoes floated by. They appeared like small planks in the river but due to the rock walls they were floating between I could almost discern every word being spoken by the passengers as their voices floated upwards. When the wind picks up you can hear the cedars creaking all around you. It is an awesome place to be and I recommend you take the trip slow enough to just sit back and consider life for a bit before moving on.
When you are ready, head back to the main trail and continue your descent. It is a steep and slippery .8 miles more to Granny Henderson’s Cabin from here. I have looked online for more information on Granny Henderson and this cabin but have so far been unable to find it. If someone out there knows more please post it. From what I understand she was one of the last homesteaders to live on the Buffalo River. There is a newspaper article saved to the frame of the doorway on the house that indicates it was written when she was 90 years old and still living there. Amazing! As I walked into the side yard of her house I came upon a white tail doe. I would see three more near here on the return trip. After it scurried off I realized not far away was a genuine hitching post from the old days. The cabin itself is in disrepair. You can walk around it and in it but the sign out front requests you not sleep in it. The porch was sturdy enough but I did not trust the floors to walk inside. Out in the middle of nowhere all by myself with a rusty nail in my foot did not sound like a good idea to tempt. Someone had left a sleeping bag and a bag of items in one of the rooms. I personally found it kind of creepy that someone was sleeping there but nowhere to be seen.
I pulled my map out to check my route moving forward from here. I figured I had another hour or two of sunlight. The front porch sat at the right height to lay the map out. I heard a noise off to my right and before long another hiker came moving along from the opposite direction that I had come from. He was probably fourteen years old and I figured he was with others out here. I asked if the gear inside was his and he said no and kept moving. I took no offense to his lack of conversation assuming he was just being safe toward stranger in the woods.
The Centerpoint Trail and the Buffalo River trail intersect for a short distance in front of Granny Henderson’s cabin. You can hear the river from her front porch. I really recommend you get a National Geographic map of the Buffalo River if you plan on hiking these trails. From this point forward especially I would not consider it safe to be hiking without one.
I headed toward the river and my trail from the cabin. I went through a grove of small cedar trees before getting to the river. It was kind of a strange environment and very unique to anything else on the trail thus far. It was very quiet and even your footsteps are quiet with no rocks to kick around. There were signs of former camps all throughout the grove and unfortunately a lot of garbage had been left behind in some areas. Eventually the grove opened up to a new trail that went along the river’s edge. This is the Buffalo River Trail and while you are on it you are actually on a different rail than the Centerpoint Trail.
The trail gets pretty confusing here and a good map and careful directions are in order. I actually circled twice and ended back in Granny Henderson’s front yard twice. The other hiker I mentioned earlier also got lost and we encountered one another on the trail and were able to help each other out since we were both coming from opposite directions.
The Buffalo River Trail (BRT) quickly comes to a point where you have to hike through the river to get to the other side. This will get you to Hemmed in Hollow but you are going to have to hike through the river on two occasions. Who knows what the water is like at each cross point? And frankly, I don’t like hiking in wet shoes. Just slightly past the BRT river cross here there is another river cross for the Centerpoint Trail. The different trails are marked by yellow markers for BRT and white for Centerpoint. You have to look closely for the Centerpoint marker. I missed it twice. Once again, there is the requirement to cross the river. I was able to back track a bit and found a huge tree laying across most of the river. I was able to cross the river on this then hike through some brush to get back to the Centerpoint Trail on the other side.
The trail turns upward here and you are going back up the mountain. I hiked probably another mile and a half. I had gotten a late start in the day and as the sun had already disappeared behind the hills I went ahead and set up camp. The next morning I would find that the path to Hemmed in Hollow was just 30 or so feet from my tent with the sign informing of no camping beyond that point. The evening was very pleasant. I could hear the sound of canoers camping out at the bottom of the bluffs but other than that it was very private and peaceful. I woke up early the next morning with the sun rise, put a pot of coffee on the coals and headed down the trail toward Hemmed in Hollow.
I had never been to this sight before and it was a treat. I think I got a little spoiled too. A storm could be felt moving in from the west and so even though the sun was not far from coming up it was still overcast and a pretty strong breeze was hitting. I saw the falls from quite a ways away but even the walk up to it was special with lots of “mini” falls along the way. Watch your step. It was very muddy and slick all the way into the falls. I have been to the Grand Canyon and a lot of other national parks in my life and personally Hemmed in Hollow ranks right up there with all of them. I think it probably has as much to do with the solitude and sense that it is undiscovered as it does with the sheer beauty of it all. I took some pictures and they are in the gallery here at the site but I guarantee they don’t do it justice. The dew and chill in the air caused my lens to fog up so I was struggling with that throughout.
After about 30 minutes at the falls I loaded up for my return trip. I retraced the same route back out. That up-hill trek past Granny Henderson’s was something else. As I heaved and moaned and stopped real often for breaks I could not help but wonder how in the world that woman made this trip for so many years. I don’t see how a vehicle could have done it except only the best of circumstances due to the rugged and eroded terrain.
Go to the Photo Gallery
Take highway 43 to Ponca, AR. At the intersection of 43 and 74 go left on 74. Travel along the river side and then up the mountain. When you approach the top of the mountain look for the parking lot off to the right side of the road.
Other Good Links for info on this trail
Site 1, Site 2, Site 3