Buckeye Trail – Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) – 9 mi

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
West-facing evening view of Ouachita National Forest from one of the great vistas on the Buckeye Trail (7-13-2013)

This is a challenging 9.4-mile loop hike in the Caney Creek Wilderness of the Ouachita National Forest in Polk County, near Shady Lake. It is composed of the Buckeye Trail and the east part of the Caney Creek Trail.

It’s a tough hike, but it has some great scenic areas and wonderful vistas.

As you can see from the maps below, the hike roughly makes a rectangle with the south side being 3.8 miles of the Caney Creek Trail and the north and (shorter) west sides being the Buckeye Trail.

The east side is a 1.1-mile gravel road walk (Forest Road 64) between the Buckeye trailhead at the northeast corner and the east Caney Creek trailhead at the southeast corner.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
South-facing panoramic view from a vista a little bit to the east of the Buckeye Mountain summit, Ouachita National Forest (8-10-2013)

The net elevation change on the hike is about 1100 feet. (On the entire hike, the cumulative elevation gain is about 1970 feet.)

You can start the loop either trailhead. The east Caney Creek trailhead is about 3.5 miles north of the Shady Lake campground. The Buckeye trailhead is the higher one by about 400 feet.

I started at the Caney Creek Trailhead so I would be doing that uphill climbing on the trail instead of on the gravel road.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
This part of Caney Creek was pretty dry during my mid-July hike.  (7-13-2013)
Wilderness Area

One thing to keep in mind is that both of these trails (and the Tall Peak Trail) are in the Caney Creek Wilderness. Blazes and trail signs are not permitted in this area.

(When I was there, it appeared that someone had blazed the trail with yellow paint which had later been removed.)

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Buckeye Trail, Caney Creek Wilderness, Ouachita National Forest (7-13-2013)
East Caney Creek Trail

The Caney Creek Trail runs east-west and is about 9 miles long. The eastern part of the trail that is part of this loop is 3.8 miles.

It runs through a valley with Tall Peak Mountain and Porter Mountain to the south and Buckeye Mountain and Katy Mountain to the north.

I thought this section of the hike was enjoyable, especially after the first mile when the trail started following Caney Creek. (Unfortunately, this part of Caney Creek was largely dry during my July hike.)

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Katy Creek had the most water when I hiked the trail in mid-July.  (7-13-2013)

The Caney Creek trail was not difficult to follow and did not involve much climbing. There is only about 150 feet of elevation variation on this part of the hike.

Caney Creek flows to the west so, as expected, the trail makes a gradual downhill slant as it progresses westward.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Katy Falls and Katy Creek. It is accessible from a spur near the west end of the Buckeye Trail.
Buckeye Trail and Katy Falls

At about 3.8, you make a right turn (heading north) to go on the Buckeye Trail. Even though there is no signage, it is not hard to see the fork. There is a cairn (a pile of rocks) to mark the juncture.

This juncture is just past where Katy Creek comes in from the north and flows into Caney Creek.

When I was on the trail in mid-July last year, there was no significant water flowing in Caney Creek east of here, but Katy Creek was steadily flowing.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Climbing Buckeye Mountain on the Buckeye Trail, Caney Creek Wilderness, Ouachita National Forest (7-13-2013)

After about a tenth of a mile on the Buckeye Trail, there is a fork. Taking a right turn is a short spur over to an awesome waterfall, the 12-foot Katy Falls (on Katy Creek). Even in mid-July, it was flowing nicely.

Back on the Buckeye Trail, from here is where you really start climbing. In fact, for the next two miles, there is an elevation change of nearly 900 feet.

The first mile is mostly climbing northward on the east side of East Hannah Mountain. Then the trail curves eastward and continues the climb along a ridge on Buckeye Mountain.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
View of Tall Peak Mountain from the summit of Buckeye Mountain (8-10-2013)

There are some awesome vistas along the trail, particularly at the higher elevations of Buckeye Mountain.

During leaf-on, there was not a good vista view right at the highest part of the Buckeye Mountain (around 2300 feet elevation), but there are a number of great vistas other spots on the trail.

At around 7.6, the trail makes a switchback to the left turning north for about a half-mile. It then juts east back to the Buckeye trailhead.

From here, turn right for the 1.1 mile walk on FR 64 back to the east Caney Creek trailhead.

Final Notes

I would not recommend mid-summer (when I did my 2013 hike) as the best time for a long challenging hike such as this. There are usually a lot more bugs to deal with at that time. Also the heat, with risks of dehydration and heat exhaustion, can make hiking more difficult.

(It took me much longer than I was planning to complete the hike in July of last year. In fact, by the time I reached the summit area of Buckeye Mountain, it was already dark. (I don’t recommend hiking in the dark.) I went back a few weeks later and hiked part of the trail again starting at the Buckeye trailhead so I could get some daylight pictures of the Buckeye Mountain summit area.)

I had no AT&T cell signal except in places on the higher elevations on the Buckeye Trail.

All these photos (and the gpx file) are from my July and August 2013 hikes.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
A cool rock formation on the east part of the Buckeye Trail (8-10-2013)
Photo Gallery

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Buckeye Trail/East Caney Creek Trail Loop – Map

Click here for full screen map.

Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Buckeye Trail/E. Caney Creek Trail Loop – Contour Map (Click to Enlarge)
Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Approximate elevation profile based on gps data.
Buckeye Trail - Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) - 9 mi photo
Official USFS Caney Creek Wilderness Trails Map (pdf)

Buckeye Trail/East Caney Creek Trail Loop (Ouachita Forest)

LocationCaney Creek Wilderness, Ouachita National Forest, Polk County, Arkansas
Hike Length/Type9.4 mile loop, including the 1.1 mile walk on the forest road from one trailhead to the other.
DifficultyVery Strenuous (5 of 5)
Gpx file (by Mike)Link
Official Info(479) 394-2382 (USFS Mena Ranger Office)
USFS trail map (pdf)
Directions (via Google Maps)Directions to East Caney Creek Trail trailhead
Directions to Buckeye Trail trailhead
Date HikedJuly 13, 2013 (and partial on August 10 2013)

8 thoughts on “Buckeye Trail – Caney Creek Tr. Loop (Ouachita For.) – 9 mi”

  1. Hello, There! I just found your site while doing some googling on the Caney Creek Wilderness area for a possible backpacking trip. I have made several trips to this area over the years, but it’s been almost 4 years since the last trip, so I am really chomping at the bit to get back in the woods up there. The Buckeye trail has always been somewhat hard to navigate in places. In fact, the original Buckeye trail (which was my first backpacking experience) made a steep drop around Buckeye Mountain to the headwater of Katy Creek, then followed the creek to it’s junction with Caney Creek. I am really curious as to how bad the overgrowth has become in that area. A few years back some friends and I took a day hike to Katy falls and noticed some serious overgrowth along the trail during our hike (we came up the Caney Creek trail). It made me think that Buckeye had to be worse, as it was the lesser-hiked trail of the two (at least at the time).

    I would also recommend trying out the Athens-Big Fork Trail sometime. There are some views on that trail that eclipse anything on Tall Peak or Buckeye. I will warn you, however, that the Athens-Big Fork is a North-South trail, and, as such, goes perpendicular to the ridges rather than following them as most trails in this area do. The mountaintops have some spectacular views worthy of magazine covers, but the hike to them makes you earn every bit of it.
    Athens-Big Fork Map [Comment from an earlier version of this post.]

  2. Robert, thanks for your comments. I do hope to hike the Athens-Big Fork Trail sometime in the near future. It looks like a cool, but challenging trail. Mike [Comment from an earlier version of this post.]

  3. Love this post, such a great trail. I was hiking with a full pack working on fitness for a trip out west as I hiked there summer of 1999. It was so hot I decided to camp in a low spot near Katy Falls and hike out in the morning. I had fun cooling off with my feet in the water below Katy Falls. My dog kept running to the top of the falls and perching precariously, then whining to be rescued. He ended up falling in and whining about it. What a fun memory. This is a lovely spot for a first backpacking trip. I really like this post and all these maps. Nice trip report.

  4. I hiked this trail on March 21-22, 2015 and it was a stunning trail to hike. The spur trail to Katy Falls was difficult to find this time because from my previous hike in Feb 2006, the rock cairn (from what I remember) was no longer there but there was some logs laid down parallel on the Buckeye Trail that led down to the falls. Just listen for the falls and follow your ears if you have to. All of the creeks and falls were running at a good clip due to all of the recent rains in the area. As a matter of fact it rained about 2 inches on us Saturday night. The weather man sure missed that one! The trail was also very busy. There was 3 different groups of 5 or more each plus 3 in my group and then another 2 as we finished up. The ridge top view from Buckeye were stunning along the ridge. This is a strenuous trail to hike but the views are sure worth it.
    *note: if you are coming in from the Buckeye side and then turning left to go to the East Caney Creek trailhead, just look for the rock cairn on your left and you will cross a creek, immediately after crossing the creek the E Caney Creek trail veers off to the left up a grade. It can be difficult to see and we missed it the first time.

  5. We hiked this trail this last weekend and the Buckeye Trail was VERY overgrown. There were several times we couldn’t even tell where the trail was because the grass was so high. We had lots of challenges on the Buckeye – especially with thorns. Once we made it to Katy Falls, everything from there was great. You could definitely tell that the Buckeye isn’t used much – I’m assuming because it’s summer?? I was really glad that I had printed off a lot of information on this trail because at times we had to refer to it to find our way. Anyway, it was a challenge but it was beautiful! I will do it again but not during the summer.

  6. Thanks for the trail report. I am originally from Texarkana and wish to get back to the Quachitas soon. My 16 year-old son and I will be making a movie in the Quachitas and I’m considering the Buckeye Trail to be one of the shooting locations.

What do you think? (Leave a comment.)