Hiking Indian Rockhouse Trail near the Buffalo National River

Indian Rockhouse Cave in Fairfield Bay
Indian Rockhouse Cave in Fairfield Bay

One of my favorite things about Arkansas is that it offers the best of all four seasons. The beauty of spring is upon us, meaning NOW is the time to get out in the woods and enjoy hiking the beautiful terrain of Arkansas.

Early spring is wonderful because the trees are just starting to hint at the shades of green that will soon consume the views.

I love looking out toward a hillside where I can still see the brown forest floor as well as a punch of color from redbuds and dogwoods dotting the landscape.

I hike Indian Rockhouse Trail on the Buffalo National River to get my fix of enjoying those sunny, yet crisp spring days. If you’re looking for beauty, interesting geology, and a little history, this is the trail for it. The trail winds on hillsides and along a stream bed to Indian Rockhouse Cave, which once served as shelter for Native Americans.

It’s a comfortable trail to hike, but is considered moderately strenuous, mostly because the return on this 3.5 mile round-trip is mainly uphill. From the trailhead, located across the road from the trailhead parking lot, start the loop trail on the right, or lower trail.

One of the first points of interest is a large sinkhole. During heavy rain, great amounts of water flow down the ravine and disappear into the crevice.

Sometimes, fog rises from the hole when the cool cavern air meets warmer outside air.

A pretty little spot is a small waterfall spilling over a bluff. Next, the trail leads past an abandoned mine. Around 1880, zinc was found in the area and mining towns sprung up. The largest was located about eight miles down the river at Rush, now a ghost town very much worth a visit while you’re in the area.

Next, a cave on your left gives a smaller preview of the upcoming focal point of the trail. Just after this cave, when the trail reaches the old roadbed, turn right and follow the road to the Indian Rockhouse. Along the way, look for two other features – sculptured bedrock and Pebble Springs.

The Rockhouse is large with cool springs flowing in the back part of the cave. This ideal home would have been used as early as ten thousand years ago, when Native Americans lived in open camps and bluff-shelter caves in the Buffalo River Valley.

Camping is not permitted, nor is graffiti, or digging for artifacts. So, take lots of pictures and enjoy the scenery, but help keep the cave in its natural state for others to enjoy.

The return trip begins here. Follow the old roadbed back to the intersection and turn off to the right. There’s plenty more to see.

One of my favorite parts of the trail is the “natural bathtub,” a deep bowl-like depression in the bedrock of the stream.

According to the National Park Service, it was actually used for bathing at one time by early settlers that had a homestead in a nearby break in the woodland.

Bringing you back to more modern times as you get closer to the trailhead is a rock quarry, where long-tube-like holes on the face of the bluff indicate drill marks and dynamite charges. Rock for park buildings and walls was quarried here during the 1930s by men in the Civilian Conservation Corp.

The trailhead is located a Buffalo Point, which was once a state park before the Buffalo River was made a national river in 1972 and taken over by the National Park Service. Buffalo Point Ranger Station is located here, along with rustic cabins, campsites, and a restaurant.

The trail is located 14 miles south of Yellville on Ark. 14, then three miles east on Ark. 268.