West Summit and Base Trails
Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: west of
Length: 4.1 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: March 2017
Overview: A steep rocky hike to the summit of
followed by a moderate
trip around its base. Pinnacle
Park Information: https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain/
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=594955
Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of
Rock, take I-430 to SR 10 (exit 9). (Note: Little Rock
has both an I-430 and an I-440; do not get them confused.) Exit and go west on SR 10. Drive SR 10 west 6.1 miles to SR 300 and turn
right on SR 300. Drive SR 300 north 1.7
miles to ’s signed West Summit Picnic
Area on the right. Turn right to enter
the area, and park in the large paved parking lot. Pinnacle Mountain
The hike: As you journey west up the Arkansas River from its mouth at the Mississippi River, the first significant landmark you reach is a small 18-foot high rock outcrop that French explorers in the 1720’s called le petit rocher. Le petit rocher marks the transition from the nearly flat
River plain to the low, fold-type Ouachita (pronounced
WASH-ee-tah) Mountains, a now-separate chain that used to be part of the Appalachians. As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of
French would guess, le petit rocher is the site of present-day Little
Rock, the largest city and capital of Arkansas.
Only 10 miles west of
Little Rock stands a
much bigger rock known as ,
the centerpiece of 2356-acre Pinnacle Mountain . Established in 1977, Pinnacle
Mountain State Park
Mountain State Park Arkansas’ first state park in
a suburban area. The park is solely a day-use park, and it features only a boat
and some picnic shelters in terms of facilities. Visitor Center
|West Summit Picnic Area trailhead|
The hike starts with a trip up the West Summit Trail, which begins at a colorful covered bridge-looking portal near the center of the picnic area. Some park brochures and a trail map are also available here. The stone steps begin immediately, and after only 300 feet you reach a junction with the Base Trail, which goes left and right. We will eventually go clockwise around the Base Trail, but for now continue straight on the West Summit Trail.
Soon you pass marker #1 as you head up 5 switchbacks and pass an iron railing that protects you from a small vertical drop on your left. The West Summit Trail features 10 trail markers that you pass in increasing order as you climb to the summit. 5 benches also lie between you and the summit, and the benches combine with the trail markers to give this trail a front country feel in spite of the persistent steepness and rockiness. I also encountered quite a bit of traffic on this trail even though I made the ascent on a cloudy seasonally cold mid-March morning.
Just past marker #5, you pass the second bench. This bench offers a nice view to the southwest during the leafless months. At marker #6, the difficulty increases as the trail enters the first boulder field. The boulder field is fairly exposed to the sun, and I would not want to be climbing over these boulders if they were slippery due to rain or ice. Yellow blazes have been painted on the boulders to keep you on the trail.
|Entering the boulder field|
At marker #7, the trail splits only to merge again in a few hundred feet. As a sign explains, the left option is longer but less rocky, while the right option goes directly up the boulders. Just past marker #8, the two options re-merge for the final steep, rocky push to the summit. The last 1000 feet is a true New England-style boulder scramble. An unofficial slightly less rocky line can be found to the left, but that area has been closed to help prevent erosion.
At 0.7 miles, you reach a high saddle in between
’s two summits: the
slightly higher east summit and slightly narrower west summit. The two summits offer different views, so you
will want to climb over the remaining boulders and visit both of them. The view east features the Pinnacle
River and, on a clear day, downtown Little Rock, while the view
west features . These views are hard-earned, so take some
time to have a trail snack and see what you can see. Lake Maumelle
|View east toward Little Rock|
|View of Lake Maumelle|
Another trail, the East Summit Trail marked by white rectangles with red borders, also departs the summit area, but it is even steeper and rockier than the West Summit Trail you came up on. Also, going down the East Summit Trail would cause you to miss half of the Base Trail. Thus, this hike goes back down the West Summit Trail to its junction with the Base Trail. If all you want to do is visit the summit, the trailhead is only 300 feet past the Base Trail junction. To get the full tour, turn right on the Base Trail to begin a clockwise journey around
’s base. Pinnacle
The Base Trail does not provide any grand views, but it does offer other rewards such as a nice wildflower display in the spring. Also, because most people only hike to the summit, you will likely leave the crowds behind when you start the Base Trail. Just as the West Summit Trail featured 10 trail markers, the Base Trail features 29 trail markers that you will pass in increasing order as you hike clockwise. The trail markers on the Base Trail are painted neon green, as are the blazes that mark this trail.
|Hiking the Base Trail|
The Base Trail ascends and descends on gradual to moderate grades, and although the Base Trail has a few rocky sections, it seems like a breeze compared to the steep and rocky West Summit Trail you just descended. The trail curves gradually right as noise from SR 300 comes in from the left. The road noise brings up the only down side to hiking the Base Trail: it stays near the park’s boundary for most of its distance, so the park’s suburban location ensures that signs of civilization such as roads, buildings, power lines, and railroad tracks are nearly always in sight.
1.6 miles into the hike (or 0.2 miles into the Base Trail), you cross a gravel service road as you begin a moderate descent. At 2.2 miles, the long-distance Ouachita Trail mentioned in the introduction enters from the left. For the next 0.5 miles the blue blazes of the Ouachita Trail and the neon green blazes of the Base Trail run conjointly as the trail heads east along the north slope of
. Some short metal bridges carry you over some
small creeks. Pinnacle
|Metal bridge over small creek|
At 2.7 miles, you reach a junction with the East Summit Trail less than 100 feet from the East Summit Trail parking lot. The Ouachita Trail exits left here, and the East Summit Trail briefly joins the Base Trail before exiting right to begin its steep, rocky climb to the summit. Follow the neon green blazes to stay on the Base Trail.
|Little Maumelle River|
Now on the east side of the mountain, some high voltage power lines come very near the trail on the left, but the trail stays on the west side of the power line clearing. The power lines are soon replaced by railroad tracks and then by the Little Maumelle River, which was calm and cloudy on my visit. The trail passes through one final rocky area as the West Summit Picnic Area comes into view downhill ahead and to the left.
Just past 4 miles, you close the Base Trail’s loop. Turn left and hike the remaining short segment of the West Summit Trail to return to the picnic area and complete the hike. While you are at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, be sure to stop by the Visitor Center, which has some interesting exhibits and offers a postcard view from its back patio high above the Arkansas River.