It’s no wonder why the Ozark Mountain region is such a popular destination. From the banks of Lake Alma to the broken-down buildings of the Rush ghost town, the area offers some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the country. The Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri is home to pristine natural springs. The Ozark National Forest in Arkansas provides a rugged mountain canvas, and the Arkansas River Valley features the towering Cedar Falls. Discover mountain panoramas, untamed streams, and remote wilderness. Hiking expert and Ozarks native Jim Warnock shares everything you need to know about 43 five-star hiking trails for all levels and interests, including route details, directions, nearby attractions, GPS-based trail maps, elevation profiles, and more in this easy-to-carry and easy-to-use guidebook. Every trail is rated for scenery, difficulty, trail condition, solitude, and accessibility for children, so you know exactly what to expect before beginning your next adventure.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lake Alma Trail
Scenery: 5 stars
Trail Condition: 3 stars
Children: 4 stars
Difficulty: 3 stars
Solitude: 3 stars
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: N35° 29.818' W94° 13.073'
Distance and Configuration: 4.4-mile loop
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Highlights: Waterfall, lake views, and historical rock structures
Elevation: 545' at trailhead, 594' at highest point
Access: Open 24/7; no fees or permits required
Maps: USGS Alma and Mountainburg SW
Facilities: Restrooms and picnic area (restrooms closed during winter)
Wheelchair Access: No
Comments: The 1.6-mile out-and-back to McWater Falls is just right for children and novice hikers. Pets are allowed. This trail uses round yellow trail markers. The spur trail to the waterfall is marked with round orange markers.
Whether you’re a parent looking for an easy day hike to introduce your children to the gentle pleasures of nature or a trail runner looking for a heart-throbbing good time, this loop hike is for you.
You’ll see moss-covered boulder fields and historical rock structures up close. You’ll walk beside clear streams, rocky cascades, and a 10-foot waterfall. Situated within a diverse mixed hardwood forest, you may spot deer, rabbit, fox, great blue heron, and a variety of songbirds and wildflowers.
You’ll be accessing the Lake Alma Trail by the paved walking path that connects to the parking area. As you begin walking, you’ll see another paved path down below and closer to the lake on your left. You’ll save that portion of pavement for the last part of your hike today. Note: There are mile markers on this trail, but they are approximate and based on distances calculated from the kiosk. The mileage is calculated beginning and ending at the parking area.
At mile 0.2, you’ll arrive at the Lake Alma Trail kiosk. Where the pavement ends is where the work of volunteers begins. Volunteers built and installed this kiosk, and the trail logo was created by a young community volunteer.
The first section of the trail is easy walking. Follow the yellow trail markers. At mile 0.5, the trail turns to the right and goes up to cross a small drainage followed by easy walking until you arrive at the first bridge. The trail follows around the base of a hillside and then crosses a second bridge. If water is flowing under this bridge, the waterfall is something you’ll want to see.
Take a right on the McWater Falls spur trail and follow orange trail markers, arriving at the waterfall at mile 0.8. If you backtrack and return to your car from here, this provides a nice 1.6-mile out-and-back hike for novice hikers. If you have young children, consider this option, and take your time returning to the trailhead. This waterfall was named for Harry McWater, the man who had the vision for this trail.
During the late 1990s, as a member of the Alma City Council, Harry brought up the possibility of a trail around the lake several times, only to be told that money for such a project wasn’t available. In 2011, during a conversation with the mayor, he said, “What if I find volunteers to get that hiking trail built?” The mayor replied, “Go for it!” With that, Harry sought expertise and labor from the Arkansas Master Naturalists, the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, and local volunteers, including student organizations and scout troops. The trail began to see frequent use in the fall of 2012.
After enjoying McWater Falls, backtrack 0.1 mile to the main trail and turn right. You’ll get glimpses of the lake in the distance on your left. At mile 1.0, you’ll turn right onto an old roadbed. Watch to your right for some nice bluff areas and rock formations.
At 1.3 miles, you’ll pass moss- and lichen-covered boulders that appear to have tumbled down the hillside on your right. Just past mile marker 1, you’ll come to the hexagon hut. This homesite is a great place to explore, but please leave any historical artifacts in place. Mystery surrounds the construction of these structures and their occupants.
Pass the homesite on the old roadbed and turn left. If you walk into a gate, you missed the left turn. Watch for the round yellow markers. The trail goes down through a small rock wall and across a small drainage. The trail turns left and heads up a short, steep hill. You top out quickly and start down, turning left toward the bridge across Little Frog Bayou at 1.7 miles.
Take a left after the bridge, and then another left a few yards down the trail. Now you’re walking down Little Frog Bayou toward the lake. A nice view of Little Frog Bayou opens up after you pass through an area thick with privet hedges. Following is a short climb to a rock wall on the right. Continue on this former road that looks and feels like a trail.
At 2.1 miles, you leave the roadbed and follow the trail down to the left. There is some rocky tread ahead in several spots, so watch your step. You’ll pass a large leaning rock on the left and then descend to a tree with two yellow arrow markers, one pointing uphill to the right. Go left on the lower trail since the upper trail branches are not maintained and involve some scrambling. You may notice two more upper trail branches along this section, but in each case, you’ll stay on the lower, maintained trail.
At 2.4 miles, you come to “The Point.” There is a nice view back up to the dam and parking area where you began your hike. Here, an upper route climbs directly up and over a small bluffline (Little Snake Bluff) and then comes back down to the main trail. You’ll follow the lower trail that stays close to the water. You’re now walking up the Little Clear Creek that feeds Lake Alma on the northwest side. You’ll come to a bridge at mile 2.7. Nice views appear up the creek and downstream to the east shoreline of the Lake Alma.
Take an immediate left at the end of the bridge and follow the creek downstream. You might see some numbered metal markers on trees in this area. In the 1980s, these markers indicated the locations of archery targets used in competition. The trail veers away from the water and crosses a drainage. At 2.9 miles, turn left onto an old roadbed. The footing is easy from here out, and the woods are nice.
At 3.3 miles, take another left onto a grassy, lightly used road. At 3.5 miles, you’ll pass around a gate that brings you to a small parking area at the end of Lake Drive. This is an alternative access point to the trail from US 71. Cross the dam while taking in the view of the lake to the north, giving you an appreciation of the distance you’ve hiked.
Take a left at the end of the dam, heading north with the lake on your left. As you pass disc golf hole number 8, you may choose to veer right and return to the parking area. To do the whole trail, go straight down past a fishing pier. You’re now on the lower paved path, heading toward the Lake Alma Trail kiosk. At the kiosk, take a right and return to the parking area at 4.4 miles.
The Alma Aquatic Center has a swimming pool and waterslide. It’s a great place for the kids to cool off after your hike (479-632-0700).
Fort Smith National Historic Site is operated by the National Park Service and provides tours of Judge Isaac Parker’s Federal Courthouse and tells the stories of Federal Marshal Bass Reeves and other early lawmen. Wheelchair-accessible paths lead to the first fort site, River Park, and the out-and-back River Trail (479-783-3961).
Lake Fort Smith State Park has a beautiful campground with RV hookups, as well as cabins. It’s also the beginning location for the Ozark Highlands Trail (479-369-2469; arkansasstateparks.com/lakefortsmith).
Take the Alma exit, Exit 13, off I-40, and drive north on US 71 to the first traffic light. Turn right onto Collum Lane East. Drive 0.2 mile and then left (north) on Mountain Grove Road. You might notice Lake Alma in the distance on your left as you drive on Collum Lane. Drive north on Mountain Grove Road 0.3 mile and take a left just past the two green water tanks. Drive down to the picnic area parking. The Lake Alma Trailhead is at the opening in the parking guardrail.
Table of ContentsOverview Map
Overview Map Key
1. Lake Alma Trail
2. Lake Fort Smith State Park: Shepherd Springs Loop
3. Devil’s Den State Park: Yellow Rock Trail
4. White Rock Mountain: Rim Trail
5. Redding Loop and Spy Rock Trail
6. Marinoni Scenic Area
7. Kessler Mountain Trails
8. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Loop
9. Hobbs State Park: Pigeon Roost Loop
10. Glory Hole Falls
11. Whitaker Point-Hawksbill Crag Trail
12. Smith Creek Preserve Trail
13. Buffalo National River: Lost Valley Trail
14. Buffalo National River: Centerpoint and Hemmed-In Hollow Trails
15. Round Top Mountain Loop
16. Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area
17. Buffalo National River: River View and Spring Hollow Trails
18. Buffalo National River: Indian Rockhouse Trail
19. Buffalo National River: Rush Ghost Town
20. Blanchard Springs and Mirror Lake Trail
21. Petit Jean State Park: Seven Hollows Trail
22. Petit Jean State Park: Cedar Falls Trail
23. Mount Magazine State Park: Ridge and High Point Loops
24. Roaring River State Park: Fire Tower, Deer Leap, Devil’s Kitchen, and River Trails
25. Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area: Homesteaders Trail
26. Hercules Glades Wilderness: West Loop
27. Devils Backbone Wilderness: Blue Spring Loop
28. Mark Twain National Forest: Greer Spring Trail
29. Ozark Trail: McCormack Lake to Greer Crossing Campground
30. Ozark National Scenic Riverways: Alley Spring and Mill
31. Ozark National Scenic Riverways: Big Spring Double Loop
32. Ozark Trail: Rocky Falls to Stegall Mountain Vista
33. Ozark Trail: Rocky Falls to Klepzig Mill
34. Ozark Trail: Current River Vista at Owls Bend
35. Ozark National Scenic Riverways: Powder Mill to Blue Spring on the Current River
36. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park: Shut-Ins Trail
37. Taum Sauk Mountain State Park: Mina Sauk Falls Trail
38. Elephant Rocks State Park: Braille Trail and Engine House
39. Pickle Springs Natural Area: Trail Through Time
40. Hawn State Park: Pickle Creek and Whispering Pines North Loop
41. Springfield Conservation Nature Center Loop
42. Clifty Creek Natural Area Loop
43. Maramec Spring Park Loop
Appendix A: Area Outdoor Retailers
Appendix B: Maps
Appendix C: Hiking Clubs
About the Author