We’ve been navigating this thing by spending every possible minute outside. Our gym is closed and baseball is suspended so we’ve been taking walks and bike rides — and dialing way up on our hiking. Which means we’ve dialed up on our climbing things, poking things with sticks, and testing Mom’s nerves by getting waaaay too close to the edge of things.

Lost Valley – closed along with most of the trails and areas surrounding the Buffalo National River

We’ve also had to get creative since many of our usual stomping grounds are either closed — or way too crowded. We’re not wild about crowds while hiking under normal circumstances so it’s been a welcome challenge to find new (and secluded!) spots to explore the last few weekends.

Quick tip for avoiding the crowds (COVID-19 or otherwise) — GO EARLY. Most of the world waits until the afternoon to hike out, and while we’ve had the trails to ourselves the last several weekends — we tend to see more traffic and a few more cars sneaking into the trailheads when we’re done and headed home for showers and naps.

So with secluded hiking in mind — here are three spots we’ve hiked the last three weekends that you should put on your social-distancing-approved list. I’ve been hiking in the Northwest Arkansas area for nearly 20 years and I’d never hiked these trails before — they were new to me, maybe they’ll be new to you, too. Happy hiking!

Round Top Mountain Trail

  • Easy/Moderate Hike
  • 4+ Miles, Loop
  • ????Jasper, Arkansas | Newton County

I can’t believe we hadn’t done this one before! Round Top Mountain is just south of Jasper, and promised views, unique rock formations, plenty of elevation change, and a small memorial to a bomber plane that crashed on the site in the 1940s.  We set off across the mountain for an overcast but beautiful day in the Ozarks.

Everything about this trail is easy to handle — the trail head is well-marked and right off the road, there’s plenty of parking, and there’s a full-blown trail map as you get started. (If you haven’t downloaded the AllTrails app — DO THAT. It’s full of maps and reviews and photos — the best hiking app I’ve seen.)

We started out following the red trail and eventually found our way to the green, upper trail — which is where you want to be for the views.

The trail is surrounded by incredible rocks and I loved the lime green moss covering everything in sight. I’ve read reviews that say it’s tough to find, but we easily found the plane crash site along the red trail.

It doesn’t take much for these boys, but they found plenty of things to climb on and over and through. And even some creepy crawly new friends.

The main trail loop is about 4 miles, but we did a combination of the lower trail, the upper trails — and we spent plenty of time enjoying every scenic point we found. We probably hiked close to 6 miles and spent several hours. Truly a gorgeous spot. Highly recommend!

Notice which side of the fence Mama is on…

Tea Kettle Falls

  • Moderate Hike
  • 2+ Miles, Out and Back
  • ????Huntsville, Arkansas | Madison County

We stumbled upon Tea Kettle Falls with the AllTrails app. We were driving through Madison County one weekend and found juuust enough internet service to check the app and find the nearest trailhead — so Tea Kettle Falls it was.

The app will tell you the trailhead is down a rough, steep road — and that if you don’t have 4WD it’s best to park at the top and hike down. Turns out this is very good advice that we underestimated (ignored?). We eventually got out OK — but we’d park at the top next time…

I love winter trees as much as any other season. They are their own kind of beautiful.

The only other advice I have is to bring water shoes. The trail follows the creek and we crossed it a handful of times to stay on the most passable path. We’d wear KEENs next time and it would be no big deal — the water wasn’t deep or rushing, just not passable without going straight through and there’s no way to get to the falls without crossing the creek and getting your feet wet.

The trail itself is short — around 2 miles roundtrip — but not heavily trafficked and not overly marked. Stay flexible and keep an eye out for the pink/orange ribbons marking the trail — and keep following the creek — and you’ll find Tea Kettle Falls!

Tea Kettle Falls called for an ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ performance

In higher water I’m sure the falls are more impressive, but the whole area was pretty, set off the creek into the trees. This was late March, before everything really started turning green.

This one was short and sweet — a fun little spot if you don’t mind some way-finding and wet feet.

Sweden Creek Falls

  • Easy/Moderate Hike
  • 1.5 Miles, Out and Back (lower trail)
  • ????Kingston, Arkansas | Madison County

Sweden Creek Falls is another one that’s simple to find and we’ve driven past the county road turnoff dozens of times over the years not knowing what beautiful scenes were hidden just beyond sight. Just south of Kingston off County Road 9, we parked just off the road and set off down a well-marked path.

The trail is VERY well-marked with blue tags so close together there is absolutely no way to lose the trail. And the trail has a little bit of everything. The first 1/4 mile or so is well-worn trail fit for a vehicle, but it gets more fun pretty quickly after that. The rest of the trail is a combination of scrambles and trail, in and out of rock formations and hugging the side of the mountain.

At about the 1/2 mile mark, you’ll see a trail off to the left while the main trail continues right. The right trail will take you to the bottom of the falls — while the left will take you to the top. Of course, we did both.

And if you teach a kid to chase waterfalls — he’ll eventually catch one.

We sat and enjoyed Sweden Creek Falls — and Colt getting soaked… — and then ventured back to the fork in the trail to check out the top.

Again, you see where Mama stays while the boys get too close to the edge… do you see a trend?

Another beautiful spot we’ll put on our list of “Worth Another Visit”.

While we love our usual suspects, we’re having fun discovering new trails, too. If you have a secret spot you don’t mind sharing – send it my way!

Happy hiking!

One thought on “Hiking in the Time of Corona: 3 Spots You Haven’t Tried

  1. I have been meaning to come back to this post and read it, and today is perfect timing. I plan to hike *somewhere* on Sunday and all of these sound like terrific candidates. Thank you for the excellent advice on starting early; I noticed that a couple of weekends ago, too. One of these days, let’s go hike (backpack?) together.

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