and Lake Dunn Trails
Creek State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of
AR (35.16188, -90.71840)
Length: 4.3 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2017
Overview: A loop hike featuring an old military road used on the Trail of Tears.
Park Information: https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/parks/village-creek-state-park
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=595024
Directions to the trailhead: In eastern
take I-40 to SR 284 (exit 242). Exit and
go north on SR 284. Drive SR 284 north
11.1 miles to the signed state park entrance on the right. Turn right to enter the park, then follow
signs to the . Park in the concrete lot in front of the Visitor Center . Visitor
The hike: Located atop Crowley Ridge, one of the few hills between
Memphis and Little
Rock, 6911-acre Village Creek State Park is Arkansas’
second largest state park. The park
exists because the Arkansas General Assembly wanted eastern Arkansas
to have a major destination for outdoor recreation. The Assembly commissioned a study of site
options in 1967, land acquisition began in 1972, and the park officially opened
on June 27, 1976.
|Trailhead in front of Visitor Center|
The first segment of this hike uses the Austell Trail, which heads south from a signed trailhead in front of the
. Both the Arboretum and Austell Trails start
here, and the treadway starts by crossing a concrete bridge and heading into
the arboretum. Small signs identify
common trees, which include sweet gum, oak, hickory, sugar maple, and tuliptree. The nice mix of broadleaf trees makes Visitor Center
one of this region’s few good fall leaf-peeping destinations. Village
Creek State Park
In less than 300 feet, the Arboretum and Austell Trails part ways at a signed trail intersection. Angle right to continue the Austell Trail and begin a gradual climb. The trails at Village Creek are marked using paint blazes with colors that correspond to allowed trail users. All hiker-only trails are blazed blue, while all multi-use trails are blazed white. I hope this system helps park rangers enforce the park’s trail-use regulations: having all trails at a given intersection blazed blue provides little help in determining which way to go.
|Hiking along the ridge|
The trail levels off atop the flat but narrow ridge. Crowley Ridge features the loess topography that is rather common on the fringes of the
Mississippi and Missouri
River floodplains. Loess
hills consist of clay deposited by wind and water rather than the usual rock,
so they are steep and easily eroded but feature no rock outcrops. The largest and most famous loess formations
are found up in western Missouri
and Iowa, but they also occur
here and further down river in extreme southwestern Mississippi.
After nearly 0.2 miles of walking along the ridge, the trail dips into a steep ravine and climbs out the other side via an elaborate set of steps. As I hiked up this hill on a seasonally cold March morning, I thought back to the humidity my mom and I felt on my first trip down this trail in July 1997 (before I started keeping even the earliest version of this blog). After climbing out of the ravine, you cross a park road and reenter the woods on the other side.
|Climbing out of the ravine|
At 0.75 miles, you reach a trail intersection with options (both blazed blue!) going right and left. The trail going right leads to a picnic area, so you want to turn left and begin a gradual descent.
comes into view here
downhill and to the right. Lake
Just shy of 1 mile, you cross a boat ramp that leads very steeply down into
. Prospective boaters will need a powerful
truck to pull a boat out of the water up this ramp. A few hundred feet later, you reach the north
end of the dam that forms Lake
which also marks the end of the Austell Trail and the trailhead for the
Military Road Trail. Turn right to begin
the upper portion of the Military Road Trail as it crosses the dam. Lake Austell
The Military Road Trail gets its name from an old dirt road built to the 1820’s that connected
Memphis to Little
Rock. In some
sense, the military road was an early version of I-40, and the longest and
best-preserved section of the road is used by this trail. Although you are not on the road yet, some
interpretive signs at the south end of the dam tell you that this road was used
during the Trail of Tears to remove Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee
from Tennessee to Oklahoma.
The trail climbs steeply away from the dam and continues its southbound course. At 1.6 miles, the trail curves left as it intersects and begins following the old military road. Parts of the road lie in a trench dug several feet into the loess soil, so the going can be a little muddy. You are traveling east on the old road, so imagine what it would be like to meet displaced Choctaw or Cherokee being forcibly marched in the opposite direction.
|Hiking the old military road|
2.1 miles into the hike, the lower arm of the Military Road Trail exits the trench to the left via a set of wooden steps. At this point you have a decision to make. If you insist on using only the hiker-only trails, then you can turn left here, hike the lower arm back to the dam area, and then retrace your steps along the Austell Trail to finish the hike. To add more variety and form a true loop, this hike continues straight on the old road to head for the multi-use trails.
The trench deepens as you begin a moderate descent toward the park’s namesake creek. At 2.4 miles, you reach the lowest elevation of this hike at a swinging bridge over Village Creek. While I could not find any specific information on this bridge, its construction is similar to bridges built by the Young Adult Conservation Corps in the 1970’s. Also, notice the streambank stabilization structures that have been built near the wooden posts that support this bridge.
|Swinging bridge over Village Creek|
Just past 2.5 miles, you reach a trail intersection (labeled marker #14 in the multi-use trail system) that marks the end of the Military Road Trail. Turn left to begin heading north on the white-blazed multi-use trail, which is open to both hikers and mountain bikes. While this part of the park does not have the stark loess scenery of the Austell Trail or the history of the Military Road Trail, this trail’s wide firmly-packed dirt surface and gentle grade make the going very easy.
At 3.1 miles, you reach trail marker #13. This description turns left here to take the shortest route back to the trailhead. If you wanted to extend your hike and see the park’s other lake,
you could continue straight here and end up at the Lake Dunn Campground in 0.8
miles. Still on the wide dirt trail you
have become accustomed to, the trail curves right as it approaches Village
Creek’s east bank. Notice the rugged,
steeply eroded creek banks in this area. Lake Dunn
3.9 miles into the hike, a final left turn and crossing of Village Creek, this time on a sturdy wooden bridge, brings you to the bicycle trail entrance at the edge of a mowed-grass play field. Though no signs indicate such, you need to angle left to reach the campground access road. Then angle left again to cross a road bridge and reach the main park road directly across from the
. Your return to the Visitor
Center parking lot signals the end
of the hike. Visitor
Before leaving the park, consider hiking the short Arboretum or Big Ben Nature Trails, both of which start near the
. Also, while you are in the area, take a short
drive to nearby Visitor Center Parkin Archeological State Park. While Parkin does not have an extensive trail
system, it is a great place to learn about an earlier, happier, and more
prosperous era in American Indian history.