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The Devil's Eyebrow: Hard Hiking in Northwest Arkansas


Susan Dragoo

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“Build a railroad right through these mountains? You can’t do it, man; you can’t do it. You might as well try to build a railroad on the Devil’s eyebrow as to undertake to build one in such a place.” And so the words of a pioneer gave a rugged sandstone formation in northwest Arkansas its name. The year was 1880, and surveyors were doing preliminary work on the location of the Frisco Railroad. The railroad was built, the name stuck, and today “Devil’s Eyebrow” is one of 75 Natural Areas managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC), which protects the last remnants of the state’s original wild landscapes. Devil’s Eyebrow is the only confirmed site in the state to contain the rare black maple tree, and is a large and well known winter roost for the bald eagle.

Creek in Devil's Eyebrow Natural Area

Multiple stream crossings create intriguing wading possibilities.

Old logging roads comprise the trail system through this 3,000 acres of deep ravines, clear streams, and limestone bluffs located at the north end of Beaver Lake along Indian Creek and its tributaries. Halfway between Rogers and Eureka Springs in the Ozarks, the Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area is more than 3,000 acres of bluff-lined hollows separated by steep ridges. While hiking here, the word “diabolical” often comes to mind, with the image of an acutely arching devil’s eyebrow providing a fitting symbol for the topography. Sharp declines plummet to tantalizing streambeds but what goes down must come up, and the climbs – straight up, no switchbacks – are lung busters.

Hiking Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area in Arkansas

A small cascade in a deep ravine makes a steep climb out worthwhile.

On my first hike at Devil’s Eyebrow, just after its 2013 opening, there were only a few miles of trail available. But now, there’s an out-and-back trail that extends 5.9 miles from the trailhead just off U.S. Highway 62 to the shores of Beaver Lake, with several spur trails along the way. On my most recent hike there, I took one of those spurs to explore a year-round spring situated amid fern-lined bluffs. Its breathtaking beauty made the (literally) breathtaking trudge out of the ravine well worth it. From the trailhead to the spring, the distance is about 1.5 miles.

Creek and Reflection in the Devil's Eyebrow Hiking Area

Winter offers a wide-open view of the area’s limestone outcroppings.

Just 2.3 miles from the trailhead, a broad streambed provides a perfect spot for a rest, or a good turnaround point. Along the way, numerous stream crossings are worth exploring, each encouraging the hiker to ignore the perils of wet boots and slippery rocks, probing ever more deeply into the beauty of this place. And, a loop trail of 1.4 miles circumnavigates the top of Trimble Mountain, at 1,720 feet elevation, the area’s high point. The trail is also accessible on its south end from the shore of Beaver Lake.

Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area Hiking Elevation Profile and Photos

I have the feeling that hiking the steep ups and downs of Devil’s Eyebrow is a little like childbirth: right after you’ve done it you think you’ll never do it again, but then the passage of time drapes gauze over the memory of the pain and eventually it seems like a good idea to repeat the process. Devil’s Eyebrow’s beauty is what drew me back a second time with only vague memories of long climbs and indeed I found it was worth the effort.

Information: Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area is open to the public for hiking, bird watching, photography, and hunting. Travel is limited to foot traffic. The trail is very strenuous and you should be in excellent physical condition to tackle the steep climbs.

Getting There: From the town of Garfield, travel east on U.S. Highway 62 four miles to the town of Gateway. From the junction of Highway 62 and Highway 37 at Gateway, continue east on 62 for one-half mile to the gate on the south side of the highway. This is the entrance to the natural area.

Best Time to Go: The period from late October to late April offers the best conditions for hiking in Arkansas. Summer brings ticks, poison ivy, and hot, humid weather, but the weather is generally mild the rest of the year.

Maps: Maps and other information can be found here. For navigating to and from this and other hiking destinations in Arkansas, an atlas like the Delorme Arkansas Atlas and Gazetteer can be useful.

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