In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag in Arkansas, including trail stats, what to bring, and more!
If you Google “top hikes in Arkansas,” there is about a 99.9% chance you’ll see Whitaker Point towards the top of the list. The trail ranks #1 on AllTrails for hikes in Arkansas and is said to be one of the state’s most photographed sites.
While we tend to prefer the more off the beaten path spots, we also like to see the iconic places when we explore. So we knew we had to check out this hike while in Arkansas! After spending a fun morning at the Buffalo National River, we ventured a little bit Southwest to the Ozark National Forest to complete this hike.
The less than ideal weather and nerves about the road to the trailhead almost stopped us from doing this hike, but we’re so glad we went through with it (watch our experience)! The views are incredible and the rock that juts out from the side of the bluff, called Hawksbill Crag, makes for some really cool photos. It’s no surprise why this spot is so popular!
Ready to experience the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag for yourself? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before you go, such as where the hike is located, the mileage and elevation gain, what to bring, where to stay nearby, and more!
Looking for more things to do in Arkansas? Check out our other guides:
- Hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff in the Buffalo National River
- 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 Whitaker Point Trail
- When to hike the Whitaker Point Trail
- Getting to Whitaker Point Trailhead
- What to bring on the Whitaker Point Trail
- Things to know before hiking the Whitaker Point Trail
- Our experience hiking the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag
- Where to stay near the Whitaker Point Trail
- Other spots to check out near the Whitaker Point Trail
About the Whitaker Point Trail
As we mentioned above, the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbills Crag is one of the most popular hikes in Arkansas! With low mileage and elevation gain, a decent amount of parking, and a unique rocky feature at the end, it is an appealing hike for all ages and fitness levels, as well as for photographers looking to snap some epic photos. In fact, it’s a very popular spot for proposals, engagement photos, and wedding photos!
Below is some additional information about the hike, including its multiple names, where it’s located, and how long and steep the trail is.
The Trail Name
When researching this hike you’ll likely come across a couple different names for the trail: Whitaker Point and Hawksbill Crag. Regardless of what name you hear, Whitaker Point and Hawksbill Crag do refer to the same hike.
From our understanding, Whitaker Point is the name of the trail, while Hawksbill Crag is the name of the rocky cliff that the hike is most famous for. So to clarify, you take the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag.
Where is Whitaker Point located?
The Whitaker Point Trail is located in Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area in the Ozark National Forest, which covers 1.2 million acres in Northern Arkansas. The trailhead is in the northern portion of the national forest and at only about 30 minutes from Ponca, Arkansas, and 1 hour from Jasper, it makes for a great addition when exploring the Buffalo National River.
Just looking for a day hike in the Fayetteville area? The Whitaker Point Trail is about a 1.5 hour drive from Fayetteville, Arkansas and closer to a 2 hour drive from Bentonville and Rogers.
The Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag is an out and back trail that is 2.9 miles round trip and has 413 feet of elevation gain, making it relatively flat. You will go downhill at the beginning, on the way to Hawksbill Crag, and will go uphill on the way back to the parking area.
Even though you gain most of the elevation on the way back, it’s pretty gradual and definitely not too strenuous!
When to hike the Whitaker Point Trail
While the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag is accessible year round, specific times of the year and certain weather will make the trail more enjoyable and safer.
Because the trail’s main attraction has drop offs, 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 crag may be slick and you could accidentally slip and injure yourself. The road to the trailhead would also be very tricky if it has recently rained or is icy.
With vast views of the surrounding mountains, late spring through summer is a great time to see the trees with their lush green color! We hiked the trail in the fall, specifically in early November, and most of the leaves had already fallen from the trees.
While the view was still beautiful, the area was quite a bit grey and brown. Had we visited a week or two sooner, we can only imagine how even more gorgeous the fall colors would’ve been!
Getting to Whitaker Point Trailhead
The Whitaker Point Trailhead is located on County Road 5 in Kingston, Arkansas. This road is all gravel and dirt and you can approach from two main ways, from the north on Highway 21 or from the southwest on Highway 16.
When reading reviews about the hike, you’ll likely read how brutal the drive is. Many people have mentioned that the road is very steep, consists of just gravel and dirt, and that they recommend having a vehicle that can handle this terrain.
While either way you go requires driving about 20 minutes on a gravel and dirt road, approaching from Highway 16 is much easier. The comments about the road being crazy steep and difficult is if you approach from Highway 21. And although approaching from Highway 21 was closer to where we were before the hike, we decided to add on some extra miles and 30 minutes of driving to give our large 170 WB Sprinter van (which is not 4×4) a better chance of success on the road.
In our opinion, the drive starting from Highway 16 is not bad at all! While it is gravel and dirt and you’d want to be careful if it has rained or may be icy, our van had no problem getting to the trailhead. We didn’t even have our drawers fly open, which happens if we go on crazy rough roads. 😉
What to bring on the Whitaker Point Trail
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+ membership to download maps, which is $35.99 a year and so worth it!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
While this is a short hike, some of the rocky outcroppings along the trail would make for a great picnic spot! If you do bring food, 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 mostly uphill, you’ll definitely want some water, especially if you hike on a hot, sunny day!
Having a headlamp is not only one of the 10 hiking essentials, but is especially important if you plan to start your hike before sunrise or finish after sunset.
Things to know before hiking the Whitaker Point Trail
It is free to access
You do not need a permit or have to pay any fees to access the Whitaker Point Trail…score!
Dogs are allowed
Dogs are allowed on this trail, but must be kept on a leash, especially when near Hawksbill Crag, as it could be very dangerous if they got loose.
No drones allowed
Although drones are allowed in the Ozark National Forest, since the Whitaker Point Trail is in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness, drones are not allowed. Drones are not allowed in Wilderness areas in the United States.
There is no restroom at the trailhead
There are no restrooms at the trailhead, so be prepared to go to the restroom in advance or go in the woods, but make sure to pack out any toilet paper!
This hike is very popular, especially in the summer and fall around peak foliage. We’d highly recommend doing this hike for sunrise or sunset to not only get the best lighting, but to beat the crowds. And if you can go on a weekday, that will be even better!
We did this hike in early November on a Monday afternoon and were surprised by how many people were there, especially since the weather right before we started the hike was pretty bad. We cannot even imagine how busy it would’ve been on a nice weather weekend day!
Follow the red markers
There are red markers along the trail to help make sure you’re going the right direction. We didn’t find the trail hard to follow, especially since we could see people up ahead, but if it’s less busy or you’re hiking in the dark, keep an eye out for them!
There are ledges and drop offs on the hike
The majority of the hike is in the woods and totally safe, but as you get closer to Hawksbill Crag, you’ll be walking close to the edge of the bluff, with small lookout areas to check out.
The actual Hawksbill Crag is a rock hanging over a valley. While it seems a lot wider when you’re walking on it than it looks from the famous side view, the ground can be loose, so please be careful! While we felt safe walking on it, the crag may not be ideal for children, dogs, or people afraid of heights.
The Whitaker Point Trailhead has several dirt parking areas along County Road 5. The area right around the trailhead can fit probably around 25 cars or so. But since this hike is popular, some people have reported having to park down County Road 5 and walking to the trailhead.
When we got to the trailhead, there were a handful of spots left. Since our van is so long, we sometimes struggle to find parking at trailheads, but we were able to fit into one of the parking spots right across from the trailhead.
Our experience hiking the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag
After an awesome morning exploring the Buffalo National River, eating a delicious brunch in Jasper at the Blue Mountain Cafe and Bakery, and seeing foggy views at the Arkansas Grand Canyon, we hit the road to the Whitaker Point Trail!
We decided to go the long way there, taking Highway 16 to try to avoid the rough roads we had read about on AllTrails. After driving for about an hour in rain and lots of fog (we could barely see in front of us!), we made it to the base of County Road 5, which takes you to the trailhead.
We hesitated continuing the drive, as we weren’t even sure if there would be views on the hike, but after seeing the clouds thin a bit, we began the trek up the gravel road.
To our surprise, the drive up wasn’t bad at all! While we had to go very slow and it wasn’t the smoothest road of all time, our van was able to handle it just fine. We hardly saw anyone on the drive up, so we got hopeful that this popular trail would be empty on a gloomy Monday afternoon, but as soon as we approached the parking area, we saw about 20-25 cars parked and people starting their hike.
We snagged a parking spot that our van could fit in and hit the trail! Similar to the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, the trail is downhill to Hawksbill Crag. You go through a forest for the majority of the hike, which was losing lots of leaves, but the leaves that remained had a really cool orange color. It was beautiful!
After about a mile, you’ll reach a stream and some cool rock formations along the trail. There is also a little waterfall here (if it has rained). The trail will then go towards the right, where you’ll start to walk along the side of the bluff (although not on the edge). This is where you start to get some views along the trail and there are various spots to go off the main trail to check it out.
Less than half a mile later, you will see a more open area and get your first glimpse of Hawksbill Crag. You’ll likely see someone standing on it for a photo and there is a great little opening to stand in before Hawksbill Crag to snap the iconic side shot of the rock.
While I (Kathryn) waited in this opening, Adam continued up the trail to go stand on the crag. Due to the crowds, which weren’t even that bad, he had to wait in line for a bit to stand on the rock so we could get a photo.
I snapped some pics of him on the rock and then headed to the crag so I could also stand on it. It’s actually a lot wider and less scary than it looks from the iconic side shot photo.
After getting some cool photos, we headed back to the trailhead, stopping at the various other little nooks along the way. By the time we made it back to the van, the hike had taken us just under 2 hours with some stops.
Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag is popular for a reason and is a must-visit if you’re exploring Northwest Arkansas. Even with some crowds on a Monday and the possible rough road, the low mileage and elevation gain, plus the epic views and unique Hawksbill Crag make this hike totally worth it!
Where to stay near the Whitaker Point Trail
Looking for a good home base to hike the Whitaker Point Trail and nearby activities? Here are a few recommendations for lodging!
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!
Camp at JB Trading Co
Located in Ponca, Arkansas, JB Trading Co is a cool campground close to the Whitaker Point Trailhead, more so if you approach from Highway 21.
We booked an RV site here the night before exploring the area 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, close to the Whitaker Point Trail. These cabins range in size and cost, but feature kitchens and amenities to make you feel right at home!
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!
Ozark National Forest Campgrounds
There are quite a few developed campgrounds in the Ozark National Forest, ranging from $0-$10 a night and with different levels of amenities. You can see the developed campgrounds on this map, although most are a decent drive from the Whitaker Point Trail, so the Buffalo National River campgrounds may be a better fit.
You can also primitive camp (no water, restrooms, or amenities) almost anywhere in the Ozark National Forest unless there is a sign stating otherwise.
Other spots to check out near the Whitaker Point Trail
Located near the Buffalo National River and in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, there are tons of things to do near the Whitaker Point Trail. If you have more time to spend in this region, here are some ideas of things to do before or after your hike.
- Check out the many other trails in the Ozark National Forest! Some top picks are the Glory Hole Waterfall, Pedestal Rocks Loop, and Sam’s Throne Trail.
- Hike the Goat Trail to Big Bluff, which is one of the best hikes in the Buffalo National River. On this hike you’ll get to walk along a cool ledge overlooking the Buffalo National River and soak up mountain views. Read our hiking guide for this trail!
- 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.
- 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, can 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.
Ready to hike the Whitaker Point Trail?
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