Hiking Cecil Cove Loop
Like every other sensible creature on the planet, I have been hiding out in the coolest places I can find lately. It’s a preservation tactic that sensible creatures have adapted over time in order to avoid dehydration, heat stroke and other nasty side effects of boiling hot temperatures in mid-Summer. The only problem with this is that I get incredibly bored stuck inside! I get to thinking that even though barely a trickle of water is slipping over the rocks in our rivers, surely there is water out there somewhere sufficient to float a boat. Surely somewhere it is cool enough to carry a backpack into the woods or sleep outside. It eats at me until all sensibility leaves me and I start packing the trunk of the car for whatever mother nature can throw at me. Hence the trip to Arkansas last weekend.
The plan was to go South into the hills and hopefully encounter a few degrees of relief, find a two-day hike that would allow for a slower pace if it was incredibly hot, spend one night in the woods and hike out the next. Faced with these end goals, I usually turn to one or another of Tim Ernst’s publications. We carry many Tim Ernst books in the store, as well as the DeLorme Road Atlases for Missouri and Arkansas and waterproof maps of the Buffalo Wilderness and River areas. In “Arkansas Hiking Trails” I found a few options that fit the bill and weren’t so far away that the gas costs would put a damper on things. After reviewing the write-ups, I settled on Cecil Cove Loop Trail for it’s diversity of scenery and because I haven’t hiked this trail before. 7.4 miles with an option for an additional few miles in other connecting trails seemed perfect for the 97 degree temperatures we were expected to get.
My friend and I tried to narrow the gear list as much as possible to beat the heat and carry a lighter load. A couple of things we did to carry less was pack silk liner sleeping bags, and carry only dry foods (jerky, trail mix etc) that required no cooking utensils.
Once we dipped into the area South of Harrison the temperature dropped a few degrees and when I checked the weather bug on my phone I was so happy to see that we were only supposed to get up to 88 degrees both Saturday and Sunday in that area! We lucked out for sure there and hopped off down the trail with light hearts. The first portion of the trail is in a creek bottom and we walked on soft sandy paths that had recently been washed with rain. After a few miles that first evening we set up a simple camp near the dry creek bed where other campers gone before had set up a small fire ring and stone seats.
We had a relatively restless night of sleep. My friend is no fan of things that go bump, thump or squeak in the night and was awakened quite frequently as things kept making these exact noises on or around the tent. We slept with the candle lantern glowing outside the tent entrance. In the early morning, I became aware that most of the noise had been caused by an opportunistic frog who had set up camp at the candle lantern enjoying the free snacks that kept flying into the glow. He was diligently tagging moths on the side of the tent and grabbing crickets that ventured into the leaves nearby. Mystery solved.
In the early morning a short rain dampened the creek bed again and set us up for another cool day of hiking. The camp was a cinch to pack up and we were off for the trail again. After another couple of miles the trail turned uphill for a pretty steady mile of climb, but passed several neat sites like old homesteads, huge boulder strewn creek beds and rock walls along the way. The last couple miles were all along an upper rim of the valley and looked out over a beautiful scenic view classic to the Ozarks.
The upper portion of the trail was overgrown in some places and my hiking pole came in handy for holding brambles out of the way, but I would recommend zipping your pant legs on if you have convertibles or putting on some long pants at this point. Not only are there stickers, but there is a lot of poison ivy along the edges of the path as well. We washed our arms and legs off in the river on the drive out just to lower the chances of getting a rash.
Overall, I really enjoyed the trip and couldn’t have asked for better temperatures for backpacking. The creek is completely dry right now and water would have made it an entirely different adventure. If you go, be sure to pack in all the water you will need as you won’t be finding any to purify along the way. And if you go when there is water, make sure to bring along your creek-crossing shoes as the trail crosses the creek in multiple places.