North Sylamore Creek Trail
The North Sylamore Creek is located in the Ozarks of north central Arkansas, about 2 to 3 hours north of Little Rock. The trail is a 23-mile point-to-point that features beautiful sandstone bluffs rising out of crystal clear North Sylamore Creek.
The Maps. The 3 detailed topos are a little further down the page. They are free to download and formatted to print on 11x17 paper. Preprinted, color, weatherproof versions (11x17) of each map are also available for $5 each plus S&H by emailing Charlie@OuachitaMaps.com.
Want to do some trip planning. This link is to a larger map that encompasses the entire Sylamore Trail (it is 13 mb so it may be slow to download). A preprinted version of this map is NOT available.
Entire Trail on Google Earth. The map on the right is the portal to the entire Sylamore Trail on Google Earth. But wait, there's more. You will not only see the Sylamore Trail in blue (to match the blazes), but in addition the Sylamore Section of the Ozark Highlands Trail is included. Plus, it is not just on a Google Map API, it is on the Google Earth API and the 3D element is enabled.
Entire Trail on Google Maps. Use this link or the map on the right to see where the trail is and how to get there. Want to see it without the satellite image, click "Map" on the top right of the image after it loads.
GPS File: Right click this link to download the track in a gpx format. Save it to you computer and use your GPS software to load it to your GPS. If your computer saves it to and XML format, you will need to change the extension to GPX. There are 1,281 track points so if it exceeds your saved track capacity (which it probably will), you will need to break up into more digestible bites.
Trail Description Overview. What a surprise! A buddy of mine hiked the Sylamore Trail about 20 years ago and said it was beautiful but it was so far away, I just made my first trip this year (2011). I probably say this after every trip but this may be one of the best hikes in Arkansas. The 23 mile hike features sandstone bluffs that rival the Buffalo River Trail, the crystal clear water of Sylamore Creek and if you make time, as much as a half day excursion into the remote sections of Blanchard Springs Cavern.
The trail runs from the Cripple Turkey Trailhead to the Allison Trailhead, coursing above Cole and Barkshed Creeks until it finally enters the Sylamore valley.
This is a point to point trip, so be sure to allow for plenty of shuttle time. We had two cars so didn't need one, but if you do, try some of the outfitters on this site.
The Cripple Turkey Trailhead is set back in the woods well off the highway. Go 4.8 miles north on AR Highway 341 from the intersection of AR Highway 14. Turn east on FR 1108. It is also known as Barkshed Road but we only saw the forest road sign. Go 2 miles on a gravel forest road and turn left on Cripple Turkey Road. I don't recall a sign, so watch your mileage. The trail head is 1.2 miles on the right. There is a fair sized parking lot so you can't miss it during the daylight. However, Cripple Turkey Road continues beyond the parking lot so if it is dark, pay attention. When we were there, the gravel roads were passable in a low clearance vehicle.
The Cripple Turkey Trailhead is shared with the Ozark Highlands Trail. In fact, the OHT follows Cripple Turkey Road from the intersection with the Barkshed Road. You will begin to see the white blazed as soon as you make the turn. However, since the OHT also follows the Barkshed Road, if you miss the Cripple Creek turn, you will still see the white blazes. NOTE: The OHT is blazed white but the Sylamore Trail is blazed blue.The Allison Trailhead is at the southeast end of the Sylamore Trail. From the intersection of AR Highway 9 and 14 just north of Allison, turn west on Highway 14. Go 0.5 miles and as the highway begins to go uphill and curve to the left, turn right on the gravel road. The highway continues to climb, so if you miss the turn, it will soon become obvious. Once on the gravel road, go 0.4 miles until you get to the trailhead parking lot on the right.
Cripple Turkey to Barkshed (Map): The trail begins on the northeast side of the Cripple Turkey parking lot, behind the sign. Follow the blue blazes as it descends toward Cole Fork. The trail never makes it to the fork but rather contours several hundred feet above it, meandering in and out of the Cole tributaries. Along the way there are a few small outcrops and potential pour-offs, if you hike after some good rains. One of the outcrops has some interesting curtain structure like you might find in a cave.
At about 4.3 miles the trail turns south as it leaves the Cole Fork valley. At 4.7 miles it crosses Barkshed Creek and Cole Road. Unless it has been raining, Barkshed will be your first water. It was a boulder hop for us, but like all Ozark streams, it could be pretty wet after a good rain. In about a half mile, the trail climbs to the steep side of Barkshed valley and stays there until it reaches the Sylamore valley.In the Sylamore valley, the trail stays high most of the time. The big difference is that the bluffs and cliffs start to get much taller and more frequent. At about 7.9 miles the trail heads down hill (picture is uphill) towards river level and provides a good vista of the valley.
At 9.4 miles the trail comes out to the road at Barkshed Recreation Area. Turn left and cross the old iron bridge to the active part of the area. Barkshed has a picnic area, vault toilet, a small primitive campground and access to Sylamore Creek.
Barkshed to Blanchard Spring (Map): From the iron bridge, the trail follows the road as it exits the recreation area on the east side and turns south into the woods at the big sign. As noted on the sign, it is 4.0 miles to Gunner Pool and 9.0 miles to Blanchard Springs. The hiking times on the sign must be round trip because nothing in this next section is particularly difficult that should slow your pace to 1 mile per hour.
For the next mile, the grade is pretty level and the trail takes you under some smaller overhangs. While the trail appears on the maps to stay near creek, it is not very accessible. After about a mile, the trail enters a narrow tributary valley ends with a potential pour-off. A little rain and this could be impressive.
Leaving the narrow valley, the trail climbs high above the river giving some excellent views of Sylamore Creek below and bluffs across the valley. And there is no shortage of bluffs and overhangs above you. After a mile or so, the trail comes out of a long overhang, pinches through some rocks and then climbs out to a small overlook. A quick turn to the left and then trail begins its decent to Glades Branch. At the branch, the trail is close enough to Sylamore Creek to give easy access. Then it cuts below a tree covered bluff and works its way through the woods until it climbs to another bluff.
The trail descends again, comes alongside the creek and joins FR 1102, Gunner Road. Follow the road to the east and then south, cross the bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1931 (mile 13.0) and enter Gunner Pool Recreation Area. Gunner Pool (video) is a picnic area and campground. The pool itself is an impoundment on Gunner Creek. There is tap water and a vaulted toilets.
Stay on the main road leaving the recreation area to the south. Just past the main sign the trail leaves the road to the left and heads into the woods. After 0.7 miles the trail climbs and crosses a narrow bluff that affords a great view. After rounding the hillside the trail goes into a hollow where a stacked rock stand as a sentinel in the forest. The trail crosses a nose and just before it begins the down hill back to Sylamore Creek, passes a scenic area of broken rock layers and cedar trees.
The trail reaches the bottom of the hill, crosses a small bridge (15.1 miles) and enters a small prairie. Looking around the sides of the basin in which it sits, you can see small bluffs. The small flood plain occupied by the prairie is the result of a meander in the creek that reached all the way back to the bluff walls. The channel that did the scouring of the bluff face is long abandoned.
Just beyond the prairie the trail crosses a long flat slab of rock that reached to the water's edge. With the small overhang it is a perfect place to rest in any weather. The trail soon picks up an old forest road and follows the creek for about a half mile. There are several good camping spots in this area. Then the road turns right and heads up the side of a hill. At mile 16.3, the trail leaves the road to the left, and stays on the side off the mountain for a little over a mile. Occasionally you will breakout of the trees enough to see the creek far below.
At about 17.3 miles the trail begins its decent to Blanchard Spring Recreation Area. You will pass a sign and a trail spur to the campground at 17.8 miles, pass an old foundation, stroll through the pines and come out on the park road at 18.1 miles. This is a fairly large developed area with lots of park roads, some buildings, picnic areas and campgrounds.
Blanchard to Allison (Map) : We had our biggest problem navigating through the recreation area because we were not sure where the trail actually went (but now you have a map). Head southeast and look for the bridge across Sylamore Creek. Follow the road across it to an old building where the trail heads back into the woods.
We hiked another 0.7 miles and found a campsite between the trail and the creek. There were several signs of beaver activity including a gnawed tree and a slide on the edge of the bank. On the creek was a nice gravel bar where we could get out into open skies and see the light from the setting sun on the bluffs above.
A little further and the creek pinches the trail to the side of the valley. There is a bridge here where the trail crosses a small wetland formed by a spring. Staying just above creek level the trail continues on level ground as it goes through woods and a cane break and then around a nose (19.4 miles).
Around Wolf Pen Hollow the trail crosses a series of glades. Glades are different than prairies in that they are technically "xeric limestone glades" (xeric meaning dry). They are formed on a dense flat layer of rock. The denseness of the rock keeps it from eroding or breaking down into a thick soil horizon, prevents the hardwoods and pines from sinking their tap roots and forms a "sheet" just below the surface that allows surface water to run off rather than accumulate. Instead, you get cactus and agave that have a preference for dry soil, moss and lichen that like a rocky substrate and cedar trees that when not too big, do just fine without a tap root. Besides this area, you will pass several other distinct glades before the Allison Trailhead.
At mile 21.0 the trail crosses Slick Rock Hollow (note: the USGS maps calls it Sick Rock Hollow). This scenic area is announced by the flat slab of rock that makes up the streambed and the small pool just over the lip to the south. Continuing down the trail you will see lots of outcrops that range from water falls to cliff faces to overhang. Noteworthy is the rock face up the creek at mile 21.4 (0.4 mile before Trotter Hollow) that is probably a nice falls when it's wetter; a series of massive overhangs a couple minutes past Trotter Hollow and huge amphitheater (video) at Roper Hollow (22.4 miles). One more small bluff, that if you are starting from Allison would be impressive, and you come to Sylamore Creek.Your approach to the creek is a set of stone stairs that brings you to the creek side (the picture is taken from across the creek). If the weather has been fairly dry water, there will be a rock slab to the water's edge. The water is pretty deep at this spot so look to your left and follow the trail down stream until you get to the gravel bar. This last crossing is a wet one. If the river is raging, you are going to have to bushwhack out to Highway 5 and use the highway bridges to get back to the trailhead. Otherwise, it is time to take off the boots. Cross the creek (video), cross the field and you are at the trailhead.
Info: USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps: Northfork SE, Calico Rock, Fiftysix and Sylamore AR (trail not shown). Ozark-St Francis National Forest, Russellville, AR (479) 964-7200. http://www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ozark/. Sylamore Ranger District, Mountain View, AR, (870) 269-3228.
To Buy Maps: These maps are FREE. Click on image to access full size maps and download them. Color, weatherproof versions (11x17) of each map are also available for $5 each plus S&H by emailing Charlie@OuachitaMaps.com. They are also available at Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock.
Weatherproof Topographic Maps at
OuachitaMaps.com - Hiking Trails of the Ouachitas and Ozarks