In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff in the Buffalo National River, including trail stats, what to bring, and more!
Despite living in Texas for the majority of our lives, we never visited Arkansas and boy, were we missing out! After some of our close friends explored the state earlier this year, we realized how gorgeous it was and made it a top priority for the fall on our way back to Texas.
We kicked off our time in the state mountain biking and exploring Bentonville before heading down to the Buffalo National River area for some hiking. We unfortunately only had one day in the area, but we tried to squeeze in as much as we could. And the highlight of our time there was hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff (watch our experience)!
This hike is one of the most popular hikes in the Buffalo National River and it’s no surprise why, as it features some of the best things the area has to offer: river views, mountains, and unique rock outcroppings. We absolutely loved it!
In this hiking guide we’re sharing all of the details about hiking to Big Bluff on the Goat Trail, including where to start, trail stats, things to know before you go, our experience, as well as some other spots to check out nearby. We hope it helps you plan an epic adventure in the Buffalo National River!
Looking for more things to do in Arkansas? Check out our other guides:
- Hiking the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag in Arkansas
- A Weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas Itinerary
- Things to do in Hot Springs National Park
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
- About the Buffalo National River
- Goat Trail to Big Bluff Trail Stats
- When to hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
- What to bring to hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
- Things to know before hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
- Our Experience Hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
- Where to stay to hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
- Other spots to check out in the Buffalo National River
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About the Buffalo National River
The Buffalo National River is located in Northern Arkansas, right by the Ozark National Forest.
The area is most famous for the river, which winds 135 miles through the area, and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48, as well as the first designated National River in the United States.
However, the Buffalo National River is just one of the many things to see and do in this area. It’s also home to waterfalls, rocky hikes, mountain views, valleys, the state’s only herd of elk, and so much more! The region is so beautiful and feels remote and untouched, with lots of windy backroads, open land, and small towns full of local establishments.
As we hiked and drove around the area, we were kicking ourselves for not visiting it sooner. The Buffalo National River and Ozark Mountains are incredibly scenic and reminded us a bit of driving around West Virginia. And similar to West Virginia, we think this area is majorly underrated and a hidden gem!
Goat Trail to Big Bluff Trail Stats
The Goat Trail to Big Bluff is 5.9 miles roundtrip and has an elevation change of 1,076 feet. As you can see on the map above, as well as on the AllTrails page, the hike to Big Bluff is all downhill, which means that you’ll be going all uphill on the way back.
We had read reports beforehand that said it was a hard hike, but we didn’t find the elevation gain to be that brutal on the hike back, but we did have a cooler, cloudy day, which helped!
You start the hike at the Centerpoint trailhead in Compton, Arkansas before splitting off onto the Goat Trail, which takes you to Big Bluff, a cool, rocky bluff. It’s an out and back hike, so you will return the same way as you came.
One important thing we wanted to mention about this trail is its name. When researching this hike we saw this hike called a variety of names. Technically this route is the Centerpoint Trail to the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, but we have seen it called the Big Bluff Trail, Goat Trail, Centerpoint to Goat Trail, and other names, which made it a bit confusing to understand if they were the same or not.
In this guide we’ll call it the Goat Trail to Big Bluff to keep things shorter, but we wanted to mention its various name combinations so you’re not confused.
When to hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
While the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, as well as the Buffalo National River, is accessible year round, specific times of the year and certain weather will make the trail more enjoyable.
Because the trail has drop offs and exposed areas, which we will discuss more in a second, we would not recommend hiking this trail if it has rained a lot or if there is any ice, as the rocky ledges may be slick and you could accidentally slip and injure yourself.
Visiting the Buffalo National River in the late spring or early summer will be your best bet to see lots of waterfalls. Although there are no waterfalls on this trail, there are quite a few in the area, so it’ll give you more options of hikes to do before or after. The summer will also be a great time to see the trees with their lush green color!
We hiked the trail in the fall, specifically in early November, and got the last glimpses of fall colors before the leaves fell. It was so beautiful! Had we visited a week or two sooner, we can only imagine how even more gorgeous it would’ve been!
What to bring to hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map for the route you’re hiking before you go. There is not much cell service in the area and it’s helpful to track your progress on the trail, as well as verify the route if needed. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
While this is a relatively short hike, you may want to bring snacks and food to keep you fueled during the trek. But even more importantly, make sure you have bags to put your trash in so you can pack out what you brought.
Lots of water
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink while moving. Since the return hike is all uphill, you’ll definitely want some water, especially if you hike on a hot, sunny day!
Things to know before hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
It’s almost time to hit the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, but before you go, here are a few more things to be aware of, including some rules, parking info, and more!
It is free to access
Despite being managed by the National Park Service, hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, as well as accessing the rest of the Buffalo National River is free! There are no permits required or day-use fees. Woo!
No dogs allowed
Dogs are not allowed on the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, as well as on many of the trails nearby. Dogs are only allowed at campgrounds, on the river, and on the gravel bars, but must be on leash. They are also allowed on a few trails, including the Tyler Bend Campground trails (Spring Hollow, Buck Ridge, and Rock Wall in the Middle District) and all three Buffalo Point Campground trails (Forest Trail, Overlook Trail, and Campground Trail in the Lower District).
You can find more info about where dogs are allowed at the Buffalo National River here.
No drones allowed
Since the area is managed by the National Park Service, drones are not allowed in the Buffalo National River, including on the Goat Trail to Big Bluff.
There are no restrooms at the trailhead
There are no restrooms at the trailhead, so be prepared to go to the restroom in advance (JB Trading Co is close by and has a gas station and convenience store) or go in the woods, but make sure to pack out any toilet paper!
There are ledges and drop offs on the hike
As we mentioned above, there are some ledges, some of which are somewhat narrow, especially at Big Bluff. Many reviews have said that the hike is dangerous and can be scary if you’re afraid of heights.
We didn’t think the hike was dangerous, as long as you’re careful. The ledge at the end is wide enough for two people to walk side by side without being too close to the edge. As long as you’re cautious, you’ll be totally fine! We’d suggest starting the hike early so you can enjoy the bluff without a lot of people, which will make it feel safer and more enjoyable.
Although, we will agree, if you do not like heights, you may not love Big Bluff. And it may not be the best for small kiddos, unless you can keep them right by your side. You can watch our experience on the trail here to get a better idea of how the trail is.
There is a dedicated parking lot for the hike which has room for probably about 15 cars. If that parking lot fills up, there is another parking lot across the road that seems to be privately owned and they charge a fee to park there.
We started our hike at sunrise on a Monday and were the first car in the parking lot. The private lot appeared to not be open during our visit since the main parking area still had lots of spots open.
Whatever lot you decide to park in, make sure to NOT park on the main road as we have read many reports of people being towed.
Our Experience Hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
We arrived at the Centerpoint Trailhead bright and early on a Monday morning in November. We heard that the trail is very popular and can get busy, so we wanted to experience it on a weekday and arrived early to hopefully avoid crowds.
After parking and waiting a bit for it to get lighter out, we hit the trail! The Centerpoint Trail is mostly a forested walk, with the occasional view through the trees of the surrounding area at the beginning. It’s a downhill trek until you get to the Goat Trail, but it never felt super steep. However, the trail was pretty rocky at times, so make sure you have good shoes and keep an eye on where you’re stepping so you don’t trip!
After about 45 minutes to 1 hour of hiking on the Centerpoint Trail, you’ll reach an open area with a fire ring to the left and trails straight ahead (which we hear goes to the river) and to the right. There will be a tree with signage telling you to go to the right to start the Goat Trail.
Fun fact, the Goat Trail gets its name from the descendents of goats that were brought there by pioneers and these goats either escaped or were released. You most likely won’t see any while you’re there, but they do roam somewhere out there!
Once getting onto the Goat Trail, the scenery starts to get more interesting. You’ll start to walk along a more narrow trail, with a rock wall on your left. The trail becomes a bit more “choose your own adventure” in some areas, where you can climb up some rocks to continue on the trail, or stick to the more traditional trail.
After about 10 minutes or so, you’ll reach a cool rocky outcropping that has a hole in it. You could likely squeeze through this hole, but we’d suggest going down below it on the more traditional trail to get around it. Once you hit this spot, you’re SO close to Big Bluff!
About 0.25 miles from the Goat Trail turn off, you’ll reach Big Bluff! You’ll know you made it when you see the rocky ledge that curves around the bluff, with open and incredible views of the Buffalo National River!
Big Bluff is actually the tallest sheer bluff face between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains and once you reach it, you’ll understand why this hike is so popular. Walking along the bluff is a fun and more unique hiking experience and the views of the river as it winds through the area are hard to beat! The river water has a clear, blue color, which contrasted super nicely with the yellow and orange leaves we witnessed. The mountains that surround the area are also very beautiful!
Since we started the hike early and were the first ones on the trail, we had Big Bluff all to ourselves, which made the experience even better! After soaking in the views for a bit and snapping tons of photos, we headed back on the Goat Trail to the Centerpoint Trail.
On the way back, the hike is all uphill, which makes it a bit harder, but minus a couple pretty steep sections, which had us huffing and puffing a bit, it’s not too difficult. We only saw about 6 people on our way back and ended up getting back to the van in about 3 hours. We hear that the trail takes about 3-4 hours for most people to complete this hike, but plan extra time if you want to stop for snacks or if you like to take your time hiking.
If you’re visiting the Buffalo National River, we couldn’t recommend this trail more! With breathtaking views of the river, mountains, and bluff at the end, it combines so many of the things that make the Buffalo National River special!
Where to stay to hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff
Looking for a good home base to explore the Buffalo National River and hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff? Here are a few recommendations for lodging near the hike, as well as the other activities nearby!
Camp at JB Trading Co
Located just 6 minutes from the trailhead, JB Trading Co is a great spot to call home in the Buffalo National River. We booked an RV site here the night before hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff and while we didn’t get to enjoy the amenities due to arriving late, the property is VERY nice, the bathrooms are clean, and they even have a store and restaurant on site. You can choose from RV sites, a tent area, or a platform tent, where you can pay extra to have a bed.
Ozark Cabins has quite a few properties around the Buffalo National River, including some right across from the trailhead. These cabins range in size and cost, but feature kitchens and amenities to make you feel right at home!
Buffalo Outdoor Center
Buffalo Outdoor Center is an adventure lover’s dream! With cabins, RV sites, and even lodges that can sleep 30+ people, there are a variety of accommodations. But the best part is that it’s all located on a great property with a store for your adventure needs and access to tons of activities, like kayaking, ziplining, mountain biking, and close proximity to hikes!
Buffalo National River Campgrounds
The Buffalo National River is home to a few more traditional campgrounds. The majority are first-come, first-served and some are free to stay at. You can see a list of the sites, as well as their season dates, amenities, and other details here!
Other spots to check out in the Buffalo National River
The Goat Trail to Big Bluff is just one of the many things to do in the Buffalo National River area! If you have more time to spend in this region, here are some ideas of things to do before or after your hike.
- Visit the quaint town of Jasper! While you’re there, make sure to grab the cinnamon roll french toast at Blue Mountain Bakery & Cafe (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Their breakfast biscuits are pretty dang good too! Ozark Cafe is another popular restaurant option and is open all day everyday.
- Hike the Hemmed-in Hollow Trail! This hike is 5.5 miles and 1,404 feet of elevation gain. And similar to the Goat Trail to Big Bluff hike, you’ll be going downhill the whole way there and uphill the whole way back. But it’s worth it because Hemmed-in Hollow Falls is the highest waterfall between the Rockies and Appalachian Mountains at 210 feet! Make sure to read recent reviews to see if the water is flowing or not, as it does dry up.
- Go kayaking on the Buffalo National River! You can rent kayaks and also take river tours with Buffalo Outdoor Center.
- Check out the many other trails at the Buffalo National River! Some top picks are the Lost Valley Trail, Indian Creek Trail (warning: this trail can be dangerous!), and Indian Rock House.
- Visit Arkansas’s Grand Canyon, which is a quick roadside stop on AR-7. From here, you can see the mountains and valleys that make up the Ozark mountains and on a clear day, you can even see into Missouri! During our visit it was super foggy, but we could still see a bit of the view and can only imagine how gorgeous it would be on a clear day!
- Explore the Boxley Valley Historic District, which is an old, historic homesteading area from the late 1800s. Today some historic wooden structures remain, as well as the state’s only herd of elk.
- There are about 800 Rocky Mountain elk, which were brought to the area to replace the Eastern elk that had gone extinct. It is best to get here around sunrise or close to sunset to have the best chance to see some elk. We got there later in the morning and luckily saw a couple, but from quite a distance.
- Hike the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag. This hike is supposedly the most popular hike in the entire state due to its easiness, as well as its views, especially at the crag! The trail is located in the Ozark National Forest, about 35 minutes away from the Centerpoint trailhead. Read our guide to learn more about this hike(coming soon)!
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