Hike Location: Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Little Rock, AR (34.6456, -92.0599)
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2020
Overview: A nearly flat hike around Arkansas' tallest ceremonial burial mounds.
Park Information: https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/parks/toltec-mounds-archeological-state-park
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=825978
Summary Video: (coming December 25)
Directions to the trailhead: On the southeast side of Little Rock, take I-440 to US 165 (exit 7). Exit and go south on US 165. Drive US 165 south 12 miles to SR 386 and turn right on SR 386. The park is 0.6 miles ahead on the right; park in the only parking lot.
The hike: Jutting up to 50 feet above the otherwise dead flat farmland of central Arkansas, the 18 mound complex protected as Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park contains the tallest surviving ceremonial burial mounds in Arkansas. The mounds were built by the Plum Bayou people, who lived in permanent villages throughout eastern and central Arkansas from 600 to 1050 AD. The Plum Bayou people had a distinct culture from their contemporaries of the Mississippi River valley, and these mounds stood near the Plum Bayou's largest village. Thus, much of what we know about the Plum Bayou people comes from archaeological work done at this site.
Despite the park's name, the Toltec people who lived 1000 years ago in present-day central Mexico have no known connection to this site. The site was given the name Toltec by Mrs. Gilbert Knapp, who owned this land from 1857 to 1900 and mistakenly thought the Toltecs had built the mounds. Although the mounds have attracted national interest for over 100 years, the state park was established only in 1975, and the mounds were designated a National Historic Landmark only in 1978.
Of course the mounds form the centerpiece of the 132-acre state park, but the park also features a Visitor Center with many informative interpretive exhibits and an Education Pavilion. For hikers, the park offers two short trails that wind among the mounds: the paved ADA-accessible 0.8 mile Knapp Trail and the dirt 1.7 mile Plum Bayou Trail. The two trails cross each other at several points, and the longer and more extensive Plum Bayou Trail is the route described here.
|Trailhead near Visitor Center|
|Gazing at the mounds across the plaza|
Ignore the road that exits left and leads to the park superintendent's house, choosing rather to turn right and intersect the paved Knapp Trail at 1.2 miles. Turn left to head for the boardwalk over Mound Lake. Mound Lake is an oxbow lake that was the channel of the Arkansas River some 4000 years ago. The Arkansas River now runs almost 4 miles north of here. Parts of the boardwalk were closed for repair on my visit, but the lake breeze and shade from the shallow water's cypress trees made the boardwalk a pleasant spot.
|Cypress trees in Mound Lake|
|Back side of Mound A|