It was late November 2015 and my wife decided we should get out of town (Dallas, Texas) and go on a small adventure for New Years. We juggled with the idea of heading to Big Bend for a few days but ultimately threw out the idea as we didn't think we had enough time to fully enjoy it without feeling rushed. We make many trips to Arkansas every year for various backcountry events and mountain bike trips, but there was one spot that we had yet to visit, Mount Magazine State Park. Mount Magazine is the highest point in Arkansas at 2,753 feet, while not the Rocky Mountains, the views from Mount Magazine are pretty spectacular. We decided this would make a perfect weekend trip to bring in the New Year. We called our friends who live in Joplin, Missouri and asked if they would like to join us. They jumped on board immediately.
We left Dallas around 10a.m. and headed north towards Mount Magazine. We were scheduled to meet up with the rest of our group on New Year's day so we were in no hurry to get to Mount Magazine. Our first stop of the day was a late lunch at a small diner we have passed many times but never had the opportunity to stop, Pam's Hateful Hussy Diner in Talihina, Oklahoma. The name instantly strikes fear in every man's heart, but they make a pretty good hamburger.
After lunch we continued our way to Poteau, Oklahoma where we decided to stop for the night. We found a small camp site to settle into and ended up going to bed early with no intentions of staying up til midnight.
Happy New Year! We woke up to a sub 30*F morning and a nice layer of frost on the ground and truck. The buffalo in the field next to us didn't seem to mind the temperature at all. We packed up the car and headed into Poteau to find some breakfast. We always search for something new when we visit small towns and try to avoid chain restaurants at all costs. The choices in Poteau seemed few and far between but we settled on a run-down building called Blondie's Diner. If you are looking for an experience and getting out of your comfort zone, eat at this place! My 6'4" height had me ducking under every doorway and nearly brushing the ceiling as I walked through. Not the cleanest or most updated establishment, and a pretty basic menu. I had the Hobo Breakfast; everything they have on the breakfast menu, thrown onto one plate, and mixed together. The food was good, but I am going to check Blondie's off the list of "been there, done that" and probably not go back.
We headed towards Mount Magazine and knew we had made the right trip decision when we started driving up the tight switchbacks to get to the top. Heavily tree-lined roads and small waterfalls surround you the whole way up. Once to the top, we drove passed the mountain lodge and parked the Xterra. We walked to the edge of the cliffs and took in the view.
We hiked around and enjoyed the views for about an hour. We then set out to explore the surrounding areas. I had searched through my Gaia GPS app before leaving for the trip and plotted some 4x4 and maintained dirt roads that I thought would be fun to explore. Unfortunately, most of the 4x4 marked roads were for ATV and side-by-side use only and had narrow wood gates to keep trucks and SUVs out. We stuck to the maintained dirt roads and ventured our way east and circling back north of Mount Magazine.
Along the way we found an old church and cemetery with grave-sites dating back to the early 1900's. After seeing this, Sarah was on a mission to find more early churches and cemeteries. We searched through Gaia on the Ipad and found all of the marked cemeteries in our vicinity. Making our way along the dirt roads, we passed a few Jeeps and trucks out exploring as we were and managed to find a few more old cemeteries. One that stood out to us was the Antioch Cemetery. The smallest of all the sites we visited, we initially drove right passed it because it blended in with the surrounding trees.
The Antioch Cemetery had 6 gravestones with the oldest dating back to 1863. We were both pretty taken aback seeing something that old and thinking about the people who lived in the area in the 1800's with no sign of their existence other than a very simple gravestone.
The sun was setting and we headed north to our meeting point with our friends. As a group we decided to rent a small house, outside of Paris, Arkansas for the two nights as temperatures were supposed to be in the mid-20s at night, and hot showers sounded too good to pass up.
We woke up, cooked breakfast and made a plan. A number of people in group hadn't been to Mount Magazine or Petit Jean State Park. We decided to hit both of them, and throw in some 4x4 trails to mix it up a bit.
Everyone set out in our small three truck caravan. We immediately drove onto maintained dirt roads but quickly followed our planned route to 4x4 trails we had found through forest service maps. Luckily all of these trails were accessible to trucks and not marked as ATV only. About a mile in we reached what turned out to be one of the best trail segments we had ever been on. As we crawled over small rocks through the trail, we came up on a creek with an old abandoned bridge that looked to be out of commission for over 30 years. A medium sized tree now stood at the place where the main bridge should have connected to the surrounding land. Our only way to continue on was through the creek. We initially had our doubts of the depth of the creek as the water was moving at a decent pace and none of us wanted to enter the frigid water to check its depth. We found the largest stick we could find and climbed on top of the remaining bridge. After checking the depth, we elected a guinea pig and we chose Kevin. He climbed into his 4Runner and sent it through. Upon entry the water reached about mid fender height and he made it through successfully. Evan and I were still hesitant, but decided we might as well go for it.
After making it through the water we were immediately presented with one of the best hill climbs we have come across in northwest Arkansas. For the next 150 yards, loose rocks and two and half foot rock shelfs were directly in our path and tire placement was really important. After making it to the top, we could look down on a section of the creek we just crossed.
We headed on towards Mount Magazine and took in the view once again, stopping at a few overlooks that we hadn’t seen the day before. We stopped for lunch and headed to Petit Jean State Park. Not wanting to lose much daylight, we took the main roads to the park. We all decided to take the hiking trail to the Petit Jean falls. There had been recent rains in the area for a few weeks and the falls were roaring.
We all woke up early to make our way to Oark, Arkansas. We have visited the Oark General Store in the past and wanted to get lunch there before heading back home. There are also numerous 4x4 forest service roads in the area. We drove about an hour to Oark and went straight for the trails. We had routes already marked that we had taken when we were part of an Ozark Overland Challenge event the previous year. The group decided to take one of our main routes and see what we could find following along on GPS and recording our tracks. We played around in the woods for a few hours until we all started to get hungry. Arriving at Oark General Store, there was a small 15 minute wait to get seated so we perused the antique shop next door. If you haven’t been to Oark General Store, you need to go. They have awesome burgers and milkshakes, and you can get some locally made blueberry jam!
After lunch we all headed our separate directions and made plans for our next group adventure.
Mount Magazine is an amazing spot to check out in central Arkansas. With views for miles and plenty of areas to explore, it doesn’t disappoint. The offroad trails in the area are not the most technical as the majority are maintained dirt roads, but there are hidden gems if you have the time and desire to explore. Keep Exploring!