Exploring Arkansas' Highest Peak
Mount Magazine State Park is located atop The Natural State's highest peak. It is best known for scenic vistas overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, hiking trails and numerous species of butterflies.
Mount Magazine has lured people to its peak for centuries.
Rising 2,753 feet from the Arkansas River Valley, Mount Magazine is the highest point in Arkansas. Today, the rewards for making the trek up the mountain are much the same as they were for the pioneers who settled the summit in the 1800s - breathtaking vistas, recreational pleasures and cooler summer temperatures.
In 1900, the town of Magazine was platted on the mountain and the Skycrest Hotel was constructed on the peak's west side. As other development occurred over the years, including the notable Buckman Inn with its spring-fed swimming pool, the Skycrest became known as the "West End Hotel." Attracted to such resorts, both in-state and out-of-state visitors arrived via passenger trains that stopped at the base of the mountain.
Historians say actress Carol Burnett's great-grandfather, F.C. Jones of Belleville, often drove a fancy surrey to the mountain. Vacationers drove cars up the rough road to the mountain's resorts. One of the settlers often saved the day by using his horses to tow automobiles up the steepest slopes.
The town foundered when development ceased and hotels were neglected during the Depression. Golf courses on the mountain were forgotten and trees grew up in an area that was being developed as an airstrip. The federal government acquired the mountain in 1934 under the United States Resettlement Administration and turned it over to the U.S. Forest Service.
Shortly thereafter, the Works Progress Administration began building a gravel road from Paris to Havana that stretched over the mountain. Between 1936 and 1941, the WPA constructed a lodge and restaurant, and the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed cabins, campgrounds and picnic areas. The only remaining elements from that era are campsites and some stonework at various locations. The campsites now have paved pads with water, electricity, sewer hookups and access to new restrooms with hot showers.
The State Park
The mountain’s glory days have been recaptured through Mount Magazine State Park, which offers 13 cabins and a 60-room lodge with a restaurant and conference center, indoor swimming pool, exercise room, and gift shop. Additionally, there are 14 miles of hiking trails, a campground with RV hookups, park programs, and visitor center.
The 8,000-square-foot visitor center features an all-glass wildlife viewing area, an audio-visual room, a gift shop, and several exhibits. The exhibits include a three-dimensional map of the mountain, one reflecting the geology of the park and a weather station showing the difference between conditions on the mountain and the surrounding valley. In addition, kiosks at the center enlighten visitors about the mountain's varied ecology, butterflies, Native Americans who inhabited the area, early French and Spanish explorers, and the history of the mountain's resorts.
The mountain affords many recreational opportunities -- hiking, camping, horseback riding, rock climbing, rappelling and hang gliding. The park's main road also has bicycle lanes. The less adventurous can enjoy watching the hang gliders, stars, birds or just the scenery from the state's highest overlooks.
The mountain is a flat-topped plateau rimmed by precipitous rock bluffs. On the plateau are two minor peaks: Signal Hill, the highest, and Mossback Ridge, which rises to about 2,700 feet. The hike to the highpoint is short and easy.
Magazine is often said to be the highest point between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. But in reality, higher elevations are found in western Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Magazine's drastic elevation change -- roughly 2,200 feet between its summit and the surrounding valleys -- produces great views and makes it one of the most prominent peaks in mid-America.
From the north, vistas overlook the Arkansas River Valley, the town of Paris and the distant Boston Mountains, which make up the southernmost escarpment of the Ozark Mountains. Hawks and vultures coasting at the mountain’s edge are closely watched by hang gliders looking to catch the same rising air currents.
From the south rim, numerous peaks of the Ouachita Mountains lie beyond the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. The towns of Havana and Danville can be seen to the southeast.
The average annual temperature at Mt. Magazine is six degrees cooler on the summit than in surrounding areas, and summer temperatures are frequently 10 to 15 degrees cooler than those in the valleys.
The mountain's isolation, climate, and geology contribute to its variety of flora and fauna, and create a wide range of habitats within a small area.
Rock streams, unique geologic features found in few places in the state, provide habitat for the threatened Magazine Mountain shagreen snail. And the rufous-crowned sparrow, listed as a rare species in Arkansas, nests in a grassland-like area. Mt. Magazine also has a diverse butterfly population. More than 90 of the 126 species found in Arkansas inhabit the mountain.
There are black bear and white-tailed deer on Mount Magazine, which is also home to many other wildlife species, including bats, eastern wild turkeys, northern bobwhite quail, bobcats, and coyotes.
The park is located off Arkansas 309, about 55 miles southeast of Fort Smith and 100 miles northwest of Little Rock.