It's the most photographed piece of rock in Arkansas. Whether you call it Hawksbill Crag or, as most locals do, Whitaker Point, you've seen it on brochures, tour guides, advertisements and magazine covers.
Whitaker Point is accessible to almost anyone physically able to walk three miles and it's a very special place in southwestern Newton County that will enchant you no matter how many times you've seen the picture. It's also just one feature of a wilderness trail that has much more to offer.
The walk under the canopy of a mature forest is significant because of huge old ash, walnut, and oak trees and the rarer and impressive beech trees, which are interspersed with clouds of spring-blooming dogwood, autumn-bright black gums, and other smaller species. The forest floor has a carpet of mosses, ferns and wildflowers to identify and enjoy. After making its way down a hill and across a creek, the trail winds along a bluff line with views of the headwaters area of the Buffalo National River and large boulders and bluffs. There's a high waterfall and, in wet weather, several smaller ones in places where the water pours down off the mountainside.
Unsurpassed in splendid beauty, this is the premier Ozarks hike. The surrounding mountains crowd close and the valleys are deep and narrow. There are lots of places with beautiful scenery, but this squeezed-up, condensed, panoply of sights is intense in its grandeur.
The entire hike is a three mile round trip. It's moderately steep in places and the line along the bluff is not a safe place to take children, but there is an alternate route to avoid that. The trail goes downhill, crosses a small streambed and then drops more steeply to cross again. After passing a sign marking the boundary of the wilderness area, the trail makes another steep drop to cross a stream at the one-mile mark. Watch closely here for a turn alongside the upstream route that is excellent, easy walking over the knoll to the destination. The other trail, which may be more clearly visible, goes in the downstream direction towards a major sidelight of the hike, a double waterfall plunging off the bluff. The view is best from below the falls and it may be possible to climb down there from a spot farther along the bluff line. There's a rock shelter of early bluff dwellers there, too.
The rim trail goes on from the waterfall, often coming dangerously close to steep drop-offs, but offering spectacular scenery of the narrow valley of Whitaker Creek. Meanwhile, the other trail follows an old road well back from the rim and the two converge again just at the point where a few steps will give you the first view of the rocky crag which projects out into space like a great stone beak. There's a good spot here to stop and take photographs before going on to actually walk out on the crag's back. From there, you can get one of the best views of the bluff line, looking back along the rim trail route.
Footwear with ankle support and a walking stick are helpful on this easy to moderate ranked trail. Take with you some drinking water, a high-energy snack if needed, and prepare for ticks and chiggers in warm months.
Only the length of the walk would prevent anyone who wanted to go from making it. We proved it on a recent hike. One of the group was an 82 year old woman who has had replacement surgery on both knees. She walked in and out again with only occasional pauses for rest. There's also a great rest stop available before starting back. About 30 yards beyond the crag is a broad, shaded area for picnics or camping with a large fire ring surrounded by chair-sized boulders.