Buckeye Trail-Caney Creek Trail
The Buckeye and Caney Creek Trails are located in the Caney Creek Wilderness of Southwest Arkansas. The Caney Creek Trail is 9.5 miles from the Cossotot River to FR 38. The Buckeye is 4.3 miles from FR 38 to the middle of the Caney Creek Trail near Katy Falls. Many people combine the Buckeye, east Caney Creek and FR 38 to make it a 9.5 mile loop.
Special Thanks: The Buckeye Caney Trail has been maintained by Tom (aka Ouachita Hiker) and Janet Trigg for several years now. It is a difficult job and requires constant work. If you appreciate their effort, drop them a thank you at the Backpacking Arkansas.
Background: The Buckeye and Caney Creek Trails are located in the 14,460 acre Caney Creek wilderness. Created in 1975, this area in the central Ouachitas is dominated by oak and hickory with minor short leaf pine and beech. You will also see evergreen holly trees, sugar gum trees with their spiked balls and lots of wild flowers when in season.Caney creek has very clear water, much clear than lots of the other parts of the Ouachita. Much of this is due the underlying rock, the Arkansas Novaculite. The Arkansas Novaculite is a white to grayish-black sedimentary rock made of microcrystalline silicon dioxide, i.e. it is a massive layer of chert. Deposited in Devonian to Mississippian time, it was formed in a sediment starved ocean basin that existed south of the then North American continent. The term novaculite comes from the Latin for "razor stone" and is used because the rock can be chipped to shape points and edges for arrowheads and the like. It is also a commercial source of whetstones.
The central Ouachitas feature east-west trending ridges and valleys that were formed during the Ouachita Orogeny (i.e. mountain building event). During the Pennsylvanian, geologic forces from the south pushed the abyssal plane where the novaculite sediments were accumulating up on the North American continental plate. And just you get folds perpendicular to the direction of forces when you push two ends of a piece of paper together, the rocks fold and faulted in an east-west direction.
About 10 miles east of this trail system is the Eagle Rock Loop, a 26 mile hike through the central Ouachitas that features river crossings, a traverse across 5 different ridges and all the beauty of the Caney Creek Wilderness.
The Map: Nominal 1:24,000 based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps. Printed in color on 11x17, "Rite in the Rain” all weather paper. The Caney Creek Trail is red, the Buckeye is blue and the spur trails are yellow. All were mapped with a WAAS enabled GPS. Other features include forest roads, trailheads, creek crossings, segment mileage, general directions, waypoints and waypoint coordinates. An inset map of the same scale is used to fit the entire Caney Creek Trail on one map. Lines show where the two maps overlap.
Buckeye-Caney Creek Video: Click here to watch the video from our 2006 trip.
Buckeye and Caney Creek Trail Mileage: Click here for pdf.
The Narrative: Since the Buckeye Trail utilizes the east portion of the Caney Creek Trail to make a loop and because the loop is the more popular hike, this narrative is in three sections. The first is the West Caney Creek Trail covering the Caney from the Cossotot TH to the Buckeye junction, the second is the Buckeye Trail and the third is the East Caney Trail from the Buckeye Junction to Forest Road 38. The West Caney narrative is based on a hike in December 2006. The East Caney and Buckeye were updated based on a hike in April 2010.
The West Caney Creek Trail: The Caney Creek Wilderness is remote and scenic. Except for all the creek crossings, the trail is very easy, but very pretty. This narrative will start at the west trailhead (WP-04, N34.40948 W094.16543) off County 81/FR 31 near the Cossotot River and cover the 5.6 miles to the junction of the Buckeye Trail. The west trailhead is at the end of quarter mile access road on the south side of CO81/FR31. Leave the gravel parking lot at the southwest corner and head into the woods following the path (the trail is not blazed). At 0.4 miles you will be at the bottom of a hill at river level in an open forest ideal for camping. The river in this area is highlighted by white outcrops of Arkansas Novaculite. While this is awfully close to the trailhead for a normal campsite, it is well situated for a late arrival.
The Cossotot River crossing is at 0.5 miles. Unless its in the middle of a drought, expect the crossing to be wet. When you drive to the trail head from the north, you will cross three low water bridges where you can gauge the river level. Needless to say, if you have problems with those crossings, you can expect more troubles here (it’s down stream). Also keep in mind there is one more major tributary after the last low water bridge to add to the volume of water.
Coming out of the river you will head up a small flat valley following and crossing a little creek. The valley narrows a little as it climbs about 100 feet to the divide that marks the edge of the Caney Creek watershed (1.5 miles). The trail drops into a shallow open hollow, crosses a picturesque rivulet and then climbs up a little hill. After another 0.2 miles, the trail drops off the hill bears left (east) and finally comes to the first Caney Creek crossing (2.2 miles). As with all the numerous crossings, this is a simple boulder hop under all but high water conditions.
Caney Creek is flowing westward and the trail will head up stream. Check out the clarity of the water; crystal clear because of the novaculite rock. Including the first crossing at 2.2 miles, you will cross it 10 times before the Buckeye intersection. The crossings are at 2.4 miles, 2.5 miles, 2.8 miles, 3.0 miles, 3.3 miles, 3.5 miles, 3.9 miles, 4.1 miles and 5.1 miles. The trail itself is usually easy to follow. It runs along the creek, below bluffs, above the creek on the natural terrace and in bottomlands. The latter, around mile 3.2 is the only place where the trail was a little elusive.
At 5.2 miles, the trail heads up along the hillside north of the creek, passes the spur trail to the designated campsite (5.5 miles) and intersects the Buckeye Trail (5.6 miles). The spur trail is a little over 0.1 miles down hill and across Caney Creek. The campsite is large and marked with a small sign (1st picture). The easiest way to get to Katy Falls (2nd picture) is to go up the Buckeye Trail about 0.1 miles and turn right at the. For the remainder of the Caney Trail, jump to the West Caney Creek Trail narrative.
The Buckeye Trail: The Buckeye-Caney loop is 9.4 mile. To make a complete loop it utilizes Forest Road 38 to connect the Buckeye Trailhead and the East Caney Creek Trailhead, the Buckeye Trail and the East Caney Creek Trail. This narrative begins at the East Caney Creek Trailhead, an goes counterclockwise beginning with a walk up Forest Road 38 and ends at the Buckeye-Caney junction. Mileages in this section are all based on beginning at the East Caney Creek Trailhead and include the hike on FR 38. The East Caney Creek hike is in the following section.
The parking area for the East Caney Trailhead (WP-01, N34.39698 W094.02226) is a wide spot on the road. It is marked with a sign and can fit a half a dozen or more cars. Head north on the FR 38 for a 1.08 mile hike, climbing 500 feet. The forest road is wide gravel and usually well maintained and accessible with a regular car. Near the top of the hill, the Buckeye TH is on the left (WP-02, N34.40879 W094.02805). There is room for several cars to park in case you prefer to finish the hike with that up hill climb or want to drop your packs, drive to the Caney TH and hike the hill a little lighter.
The Buckeye Trail spends most of its time on the crest of Buckeye Mountain, a long east-west trending ridge supported by the Arkansas Novaculite. The trail begins at the small parking area, stays fairly level for about 0.3 miles and then begins to climb. At 1.5 miles it intersects an abandon forest road that leads to an old mine site. I haven't visited the site but in doing a little research to determine what was being mined I learned that there was a gold "discovery" on McKinley Mountain, the next ridge to the north and within 2 miles. The assay indicated there was no gold, but that does not mean that the mine wasn't a gold prospect. Alternatively, there are several well established occurrences of barite, copper and manganese within 10 miles of the this prospect, all associated with the novaculite.
The trail continues uphill, rounds the nose of Buckeye Mountain and begins to climb the crest. At 1.7 miles there is a standing rock of vertical novaculite and a nice place to take a break. There is a good view of the white rocky slopes of McKinley Mountain to the north and Tall Peak to the south. At mile 2.0 there is a trail-side vista with more great views of the central Ouachitas. At mile 2.1, you will hit the high point of the hike.
The next 2.4 miles is on top of the ridge, with a few brief excursions down the slopes to either side. At 2.8 miles there is a campsite that can hold several tents, but there is no water. In fact, there is no water until you get down into Caney valley, so plan accordingly. At 4.2 miles the trail comes up to a big outcrop on your left and veers off to the right. There is a tempting path the takes you along the outcrop and then begins to head downhill. It is not the trail.
At mile 4.5 the trail drops across a rocky saddle. Once again, it looks like the trail should drop over the north side (and I think it once did) but it actually begins to climb out of the saddle until it takes a u-turn to the left and begins to go down hill. The trail is narrow in this area but it soon turns back to the right below the saddle and broadens. The rest of the trip to the Caney Creek Trail junction is downhill.
It is one mile and a 500 decent from the ridge to the Katy Falls spur. Most of the hike is a gradual descent along the side of East Hanna Mountain. You will know you are near the bottom when the topography begins to fall away on your right. Soon you will encounter a crude cairn (a pile of rocks) marking the Katy Falls trail spur (mile 5.5). You should definitely check out the falls on your trip. At mile 5.6 is the junction with the Caney Creek Trail. If you are on the loop, turn left (east). If you are heading for the official campsite, turn right, go about 0.1 miles and take the spur trail heading down to the left.
East Caney Creek Trail: Conveniently enough, the Buckeye Trail plus FR 38 hike is the same distance as the West Caney Creek Trail to the Buckeye-Caney Junction. Therefore, the distances in this part of the narrative can be used as either a continuation of a west to east hike on the Caney or as the last part of the Buckeye-Caney (plus FR 38) Loop.
After the Buckeye junction (WP-3, N34.39527 W094.08143), the trail drops into Katy Creek and then pops up to a wooded terrace for 0.2 miles. While this area is flat and a tempting area to camp, it is marked in many places as no camping. Since the Forest Service can't mark every tree, I figure the entire area is off limits until you get to about mile 5.8. Here is a large, well established campsite on the right (south) side of the trail and there are no signs.
The trail crosses to the south side of Caney Creek at 6.6 miles. It is quite possibly a wet crossing. At 6.8 miles, the trail passes a scenic spot with a bluff and little cascade on the far side of the creek (see 3rd and 4th pictures). There is a big flat rock in the water inviting you to take a break.
At 7.2 miles, a secondary channel separates the trail from the main flow. Just upstream and on the north side of the creek is a campsite. The trail stays on the south side of the creek until mile 7.5 when it crosses back to the north. This is the last Caney creek crossing. On my solo trip in April 2010, I headed off into the flat area east of the trail and set up a leave-no-trace camp. The nice thing about the Caney Valley, is that besides being one of the prettiest areas in Arkansas, it has lots of camping opportunities. If you need a big campfire, please stick to the established sites. If you' re into leave -no-trace, you are in for a treat!
The trail heads north from the crossing, turns east along the side of a ridge for about 0.8 miles and drops back down to creek level. It turns north and goes through a water gap of the first tributary of Caney Creek. Past the gap there is a "Y". The left trail is a spur to an established campsite that is an easy hike from the East Caney TH. The right fork is the main trail. It continues east and climbs about 150 feet out of the Caney Creek drainage. Across the divide, the trail descends into the drainage of eastward flowing Blaylock Creek. At 9.4 miles, the trail crosses Blaylock Creek and ends at the FR38 parking lot.
Info: USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic map: Nichols Mt. and Eagle Mt. (trails not shown). Contact the Ouachita National Forest, Mena Ranger District (479) 394-2382. An 8.5” x 11” sketch map of the trails is available through the forest service.
Directions to West Caney Creek Trailhead: Take State Hwy 375 southeast from Mena AR to Shady. Follow County 81 south for 5 mile (this is the only sign for the turnoff). Turn left at sign for trailhead access.
Directions to Buckeye and East Caney Creek Trailhead: Take State Hwy 375 southeast from Mena AR to Shady where it becomes County 64/Forest Road 25 (13 mules). After 4.6 miles, Co 64 splits from FR 25 and joins FR 38. Go south on Co 64/FR 38 for 3.8 miles to the Buckeye Trailhead or 4.9 to the East Caney Creek Trailhead. The roads from Hwy 375 are gravel but driveable in a normal car. The turns are well marked with signs to Shady Lake , which is south on FR 38. Both trailheads are marked.
To Buy Map: This map is available at Backwoods in Tulsa, OKC and Norman, Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock and by emailing email@example.com ($5 plus S&H).
Weatherproof Topographic Maps at
OuachitaMaps.com - Hiking Trails of the Ouachitas and Ozarks