A giant boulder juts out of the bluff, overlooking a valley of trees and rolling hills in Arkansas, and is a little over a mile from the trailhead. It is absolutely beautiful. It's also one of the busiest paths to hike as thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to the hawk-shaped outcropping.
Noted as the Best Travel Places blog's "most photographed place in Arkansas," Whitaker Point is known to many as Hawksbill Crag and located in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests. A News-Leader reporter recently hiked the popular trail and wanted to pass on some tips to others before they head out on their own Arkansas adventure.
Proper footwear may save your life while hiking
Day hiking as well as camping is allowed and you can bring along your leashed pets while hiking on the less than 3-mile round trip trail at Whitaker Point. What is important to remember is to be properly prepared, even for short jaunts. Yes, that means wearing the right kind of shoes.
While hiking the day before Halloween as the trees transitioned to their autumnal colors, dozens of trail-goers were either sporting hiking boots, sneakers or a variation of dress shoe that would be best left in an office or at home.
Hiking with shoes that have treads can give you support. Tread-less shoes, like cowboy boots, may find a slick patch and, before you know it, your feet have slipped out from under you.
Remember, you're hiking along bluffs: Be prepared for sharp drop-offs
It's no surprise there are several warnings posted along the trail, cautioning that it is a high cliff area and to keep away from cliff edges. While a beautiful location, Hawksbill Crag has been deadly. Hikers have died or been injured while traversing the promontory, so those words of caution should be taken seriously.
Although some visitors will want to trod off path to find a shortcut, the hairpin turns in the trail are meant to offer hikers an easier descent on the way in and more gradual ascent on the way out.
Take your time and know your right of way
Everyone hikes at their own pace. Some like to take their time while others sprint. With the high volume of visitors, it's good to keep in mind hiking etiquette. The National Park Service had these recommendations:
Know your right of way. Check signage for the trail you are hiking, and follow the correct right of way yields. Signs may vary from park to park, but the general guideline is that hikers should yield to horses or other hikers who are approaching uphill.
Stay on the trail. Don’t step off trail unless you absolutely must when yielding. Going off trail can damage or kill certain plant or animal species, and can hurt the ecosystems that surround the trail. Always practice Leave No Trace principles: Leave rocks, vegetation, and artifacts where you find them for others to enjoy.
Be aware of your surroundings. Always be aware of your surroundings when hiking in national parks. It will help keep you and any members of your group safe, and it will help keep wildlife and their habitats safe and healthy. Know the rules for hiking in bear country, and know what to do if you encounter a bear on the trail.
Be prepared for any type of weather
Keep in mind the ABC phrase: "Anything But Cotton." You can experience a mixture of weather in one day, including out on a trail. Wearing proper clothing while adventuring is imperative. The morning fog is full of moisture, so your clothes will be wet and a random rain shower could leave you soaked.
As Philip Werner wrote in a 2021 blog post, when cotton gets wet, it stops insulating you because the air pockets fill with water.
"If the air is colder than your body temperature, you’ll feel cold because your cotton clothing is saturated and no longer providing any insulation," Werner wrote on Section Hiker. "This can lead to disorientation, hypothermia, and potentially death if you become too chilled. Remember, hypothermia can occur in temperatures well above freezing and become serious if you get wet and chilled."
Don't forget your rations, including water
Bringing along a snack that can replenish your energy is always a good idea, but bringing water is a necessity. Along with views that will get your heartrate racing, there are also several steep paths you'll have to traverse along the trail at Whitaker Point.
Originally shared in the 1930s by a Seattle-based outdoors group, adventure company REI published the 10 essentials a day hiker should bring along with them as follows:
Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
Headlamp plus extra batteries
Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
First aid including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
Knife plus a gear repair kit
Fire matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
Shelter carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy sack)
Extra food beyond the minimum expectation
Extra water beyond the minimum expectation
Extra clothes beyond the minimum expectation
Download or bring along a map — service can be spotty
Don't rely on a wireless network when you hit the Whitaker Point Trailhead. You can view a digital map from the USDA Forest Service's website.
Aside from knowing your location, tell a friend the time you estimate getting to the trail and about how long you estimate until you're done hiking the three miles round trip.
Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Email her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: 6 things to know before hiking to Whitaker Point in Arkansas