Butterfield Trail at Devils Den
A 14.9 mile loop through the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with 3 trailheads: Lee Creek at Campground C, Highway 74 above the Visitor Center and the picnic area south of the Visitor Center.
The Map: Nominal 1:24,000 based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps. Printed in color on 11x17 inch, "Rite in the Rain” all weather writing paper. The Butterfield Trail was mapped with a WAAS enabled GPS and is drawn in blue to match the blazes on the actual trail. Also shown is the Devils Den Loop (red), the three equestrian trails that cross the Butterfield and selected roads. Other features include trailheads, segment mileage, general directions to park, waypoints and waypoint coordinates.
Background: The Butterfield Trail is named for the Butterfield Overland Express stage coach route and offers a rugged overnight hike in the Ozark Plateau. It begins at Devils Den State Park and loops southward into the Ozark National Forest. Devils Den State Park has camping ($12) and cabins ($95 and up) for a late arrival. It features several shorter day hikes including a 1.3 mile loop that visits the name sake fracture cave, the Ice Box (fracture cave) and Twin Falls. It also has many miles of mountain bike trails.
The Video: Click here to see the video from our 2006 trip.
The Hike: Check in with the Visitor Center to get your permit for the Butterfield Trail and pick up a custom trail map. There are two primitive camp sites to pick from, Rock Hole Camp and Junction Camp (no charge for back country sites). Pick Junction. Pressed for time or feeling lazy, ask nice and the ranger will meet you at the end of the trail and drive you and your gear to either the Lee Creek or AR 74 trail heads.
Begin the hike at the Lee Creek Trailhead in Campground C, across Lee Creek from the Visitor Center and north along the park road. Park and cross Lee Creek, which is often wet, and follow the blue blazes. In a quarter mile, pass the trail to the Walk In Camp, another option if you arrive too late to reach the back country sites.
Over the next half mile you will share the trail with the Lee Creek Trail, a loop that on the return leg is actually in the creek bed for about a half mile. The Butterfield Trail will separate from the Lee Creek Trail and head east ascending 280 feet over 2 miles to the Hwy 74 Trailhead (Mile 2.6). Part of the trail follows an old road bed, part of the original Butterfield stage route connecting Fayetteville and Fort Smith before the Civil War. Fort Smith was where “hanging” Judge Parker was the law of Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
The trail heads south through the oak forest on top of Mt Olive and makes a gradual decent to Quail Valley (Mile 4.5). There is a network of horse trails that cross and sometimes share the Butterfield Trail and are blazed in red, green or yellow. Always look for the blue blaze. Before reaching Quail Valley, you will make 3 creek crossing (same one twice) that might be tricky, but dry. Quail Valley is a grotto formed by a section of sandstone (Pennsylvanian Atoka Formation) splitting away from a cliff. It forms a welcome shelter in rain and other inclement weather.
When you leave Quail Valley, you will pass a bluff and, if it has been raining, a pretty little waterfall. Then it is along a bench until you finally drop down the first camp site, Rock Hole Camp (mile 6.3). It is a well used site right on the trail and Blackburn Creek and offers little privacy from trail traffic. The next 2.5 miles is a fairly level run through the woods.
The trail to Junction Camp is at mile 8.8 and is marked with a sign. The spur trail descends steeply for about 0.2 miles and levels out at a fire pit. Keep going, there are better sites at the end of the trail at the confluence of Blackburn and Lee Creeks. Last time we were there (Dec 2006) we had a juvenile raccoon come to the site which, from his willingness to literally walk up to you, was probably a released pet. Scare it off; they can shred your high priced gear like it’s tissue paper.
From the spur junction, head up hill and follow the trail to Butterfield Falls (Mile 9.3) The trail actually climbs the little water fall so if it has been raining, you will have to deal with slick rocks, but it’s not too difficult.
Over the next 3 miles, the trail stays fairly level as it works its way north along a series of benches near the top of the ridge. During leaf-off there are plenty of views across the Lee Creek Valley. At 12.2 miles the trail cuts back to the left and begins a steep decent to Lee Creek. One of the horse trails keeps going straight, so mind the blazes.
The trail follows Lee Creek passing several swimming holes and then climbs back in the woods. At Mile 13.9 the trail enters the parking lot at the south picnic area. The trail used to follow a foot bridge over Lee Creek and return to the Lee Creek Trailhead on the west side of the creek. However, the bridge was washed out several years ago and it is not expected to be replaced for a few more. Until it is, follow the park roads for a mile back to your car.
Info: The Butterfield Trail was featured in in the August 2007 Backpacker Magazine, Wild Weekend, Midwest Edition. USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps: Winslow, Rudy NE and Strickler (trail not shown). Contact Devils Den State Park at (479) 761-3325. Contact the Ozark National Forest, Boston Mountain Ranger District at (479) 667-2191.
Directions to Devils Den State Park: From Fayetteville AR: Take I 540 16 miles south to Exit 45, AR 74. Take AR 74 7 miles to Devils Den SP. Look for Visitor Center on left before crossing the Lee Creek bridge.
From Fort Smith AR: Take I 540 24 miles north to Exit 45, AR 74. Take AR 74 7 miles to Devils Den SP. Look for Visitor Center on left before crossing the Lee Creek bridge.
To Buy Map: This map is available at Backwoods in Tulsa, OKC and Norman, Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock, Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org ($5 plus S&H).