Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pinnacle Mountain Hike

Last month my family and I made a three-mile hike at Pinnacle Mountain State Park just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. The park has several trails that offer varying degrees of difficulty, but either of the trails leading to the summit are rated strenuous. The base trail has been completed to make a 3.5 mile loop all the way around the base of the mountain, but all the online resources I can find have yet to be updated to show this.

Our hike began at the West Summit Picnic Area. We covered about 3 miles that included a 1.5 mile stretch of the Base Trail, the 3/4 mile East Summit Trail, and the 3/4 mile West Summit Trail for a total distance of about 3 miles. A 700+ foot ascent from the parking lot of the picnic area rewards the hiker with breathtaking vistas of Lake Maumelle from the West Summit and the Arkansas River from the East Summit.

The Base Trail is not marked from the West Summit Picnic Area, but it's really easy to find. The covered entrance to the West Summit Trail head is impossible to miss and that's where our hike began. After only 100 yards or so the West Summit and Base Trails intersect and we made a right turn to begin our walk along the base of the mountain.

This was by far the easiest part of the hike. Though the trail can be a little rocky, and a little narrow, the entire 1.5 mile stretch we covered only nets about an 80 foot rise in elevation. The hardwood forest offers plenty of shade and our morning hike treated us to beautiful views of the sun forcing its way through the oak trees that covered the mountain.

The trails in Pinnacle Mountain State Park offer hikers an opportunity to experience a near-pristine woodland environment only a stone's throw from Arkansas' largest city, but a few man-made accommodations offer comfort to those who traverse the park's trails. The Base Trail is marked with green paint splashes near eye level on trees along the path. Though these remind hikers they are not exactly hiking in the wilderness, the markings are necessary to keep visitors from straying from the trail and following any number of game trails or paths cleared by runoff water rushing down the side of the mountain. Benches constructed every so often along the trail offer another convenience to comfort those traversing the trails. They are painted to blend with the natural surroundings so resting hikers still feel close to nature during their respite.

The only thing we encountered on the Base Trail that really contradicted the wilderness feel we were seeking was a section of the trail that paralleled a large power line for a couple of hundred yards. The open gash cut through the woods and decorated with the huge metal masts supporting the cables carrying electricity to the city to the east remind the hiker of his close proximity to the concrete covered population center just minutes away.

Fortunately though, a brisk pace removed us from the woods' wound rather quickly and we once again found ourselves surrounded by beauty that obscured most signs of civilization.

The only natural danger we encountered along the Base Trail came in the form of poisonous plants, poison ivy (pictured below) and poison oak. Their vines often protruding onto the trail could catch hikers unaware, especially those wearing shorts.

After a mile and a half of relatively easy hiking on the Base Trail, we came to the junction with the East Summit Trail. It had been more than 20 years since I'd hiked this trail, but I remembered it being far more strenuous than the West Summit Trail we planned to descend. It didn't disappoint.

The trail, marked with white marks outlined in red, was easy to follow but the 3/4 mile hike from here to the summit was certainly strenuous. The first 1/2 mile wasn't so bad, consisting of a series of switchbacks on a moderately difficult trail. But the last 1/4 mile was a steep climb of several hundred feet. Far more a climb than a hike, it was even more difficult than I'd remembered. But we made it to the top and were rewarded with the spectacular views you see below.

Looking east from the summit, the Big Dam Bridge is visible on the Arkansas River in the distance. From the west side of the summit, the view is of beautiful Lake Maumelle.

Arkansas River from East Summit

Lake Maumelle from West Summit

Our descent followed the West Summit Trail which offered a far less difficult hike than its East Summit counterpart. This trail is marked with yellow splashes on the rocks and trees. The first 1/4 mile is not quite as steep as what we'd climbed on the opposite slope and the boulders on this side of the mountain are arranged in more of a stair step fashion that facilitates the climb up or down. Near the top of the West Summit Trail, hikers are treated to several gorgeous vistas of the valley below and nearby peaks.

Views from West Summit Trail

Pinnacle Mountain State Park offers a great getaway for nature lovers, only minutes from the hustle and bustle of Little Rock. Breathtaking views await those who want to make the strenuous climb to the top, but serene strolls through the hardwoods are available for hikers who aren't ready to tackle the more difficult trails to the summit.

To get to the park, take I-430 to the Highway 10/Cantrell Rd exit. Go west on Highway 10 to Chenal Parkway. Turn right on Chenal Parkway to Highway 300. Turn right and a short drive will bring you to the entrance of the West Summit Picnic Area.

Bathrooms with running water are available in the picnic area, but hikers should bring plenty of drinking water. There is no water available on the hiking trails in the park.

Please feel free to leave comments detailing your own experiences at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. In September, we're planning a couple of short hikes at Heber Springs, Arkansas. The first is a short trail overlooking the Little Red River that begins at the William Carl Garner Visitor's Center near the dam that forms Greer's Ferry Lake. The second is another short trail just east of Heber Springs that leads to the top of a small mountain called Sugarloaf.

Until next summer, we'll be hiking about once a month on various trails throughout Arkansas and I'll write about each one. Thanks for reading, and happy hiking!