Featured Trail: Redding Spy Rock Loop Ozark Mountains Arkansas
This 8.5-mile loop trail is located 18 miles north of Ozark, off Arkansas Highway 23 and was featured in Backpacker Magazine, so I am told, some years back. You will get a beautiful drive through the Ozarks on your way to the trail head at the Redding Campground. The trail itself is just a little over 6 miles but there is a side trail you will not want to miss that will take you to Spy Rock.
I did this one early October and there was still a lot of greenery on the trail but there are likely benefits to hiking it in any season. I could see fall and winter making a nice time to hike during leaf off and especially after a good rain as there was a lot of potential for waterfalls when I was there. The campground itself does not have any services except toilets that I noticed. The trail is somewhat maintained but I would bring a map (see link below) to be safe as the markers were a bit dated and faded and I had a hard time locating them once the sun started to set.
Starting from the campground, head east. You will come to a trail sign that directs to west or east trails and you can choose which route to take for the loop around. I took the west trail and it was pretty good as it kept Spy Rock a little past halfway for the hike and offered a solid rewarding view. You will come out of the woods to cross the state highway 215 and then immediately head back into the woods for a semi steep climb up the ridge. Once up the ridge you will hike along the edge of the bluff for a while with some very nice and very quiet views of Spy Rock and Bowden Hollow. The one thing I can definitely say about this hike is that it was QUIET. Very peaceful, and very relaxing! You can really hear yourself think on this one.
You will eventually come to an old forest road. Cross it and then reenter the woods. I got a little turned around here because the trail on the other side of the road was not well marked. It is not a direct crossing but a little staggered. If you are climbing up what would normally be a creek bed/water fall when wet (as I did) then you are missing the trail and need to go up the road about 15 yards.
Remain on the trail and the side spur to Spy Rock is well marked with a sign. You have to take this. Spy Rock has an awesome mountain vista view of the valley below. A lot of campers through the years have fashioned a nice camp sight here too so if you are camping this is a good location. There are some good spots here for hammock campers and a nice burn pit already made. When I was there I noted that a collection of tools had even been developed and was taken care of by campers as they came through. If you use them please pay it forward and keep them looking nice and protected.
Spy Rock is a good place for a little break even if you aren’t camping. I took a chance to do some writing there and then moved along. Once you retrace your route on the Spy Rock Spur get back on the loop and continue in the direction you were going. You are going to pass a junction to the Ozark Highland’s Trail pretty soon. If you are up for a side trip and have the time this is a nice turn to take, otherwise stay on the trail.
Continuing on the loop you will soon pass a creek whose water availability varies with the weather and next you are going to be back at highway 215. The crossover is a little staggered. Once you make it you will be in a pine forest of the river bottom and almost done. The trail in this area is very hard to make out so stay aware if you are hitting this after sunset.
My two cents on this trail are 1) don’t miss Spy Rock and 2) don’t do this one in a hurry. I am not sure what it is about this one but it seems especially given to solitude compared to many others in the area. Take advantage of that and move down the trail slow and easy.
Anyone out there know this history of Bowden Hollow or Spy Rock? I have hunted the web and the books I have and can’t find anything out there. I would love to hear from you if you know.
Directions to trail head: I 40 to Ozark AR. Go 14 miles north on Hwy 23 and right (east) on Hwy 215 to the Redding Campground. The trailhead is in the south west corner near the Mulberry River.
Good link for maps of the trail