The Eagle Rock Loop is located in the Ouachita National Forest in western Ark. near the small town of Langley. The well marked trail actually consists of 3 trails with 5 main trailheads which gives a person many options for both day hikes & overnight backpacking trips. The 3 trails consist of the Viles Branch Trail, the Athens Big Fork Trail, & the Little Missouri Trail.
The Viles Branch Trail which runs east & west along the southern portion of the loop is approximately 3.6 mi in length with beautiful scenery & a mostly rolling terrain. The Athens Big Fork Trail (ABT) which runs north & south on the west part of the loop is approximately 8 mi in length. The ABT is very challenging due to the 6 steep inclines & declines going over the tall hills without any switchbacks. The Little Missouri Trail (LMT) consists of mostly flat, heavily wooded 15.2 mi & follows the Little Missouri River.
Text book mileage for the loop is typically 27 mi but most people end up at 30 mi with all the scenic overlooks available. Group leaders need to access the fitness level of their group prior to tackling the 8 mi of the ABT. This is a very strenuous hike with steep inclines/declines which can test a person's cardio fitness along with the knees. Trekking poles are strongly recommended along with min pack weight.
The complexity of this loop is due to the numerous water crossings (30 or so) which can be dangerous if you do not pay attention to the weather forecast or happen to get surprised by unexpected rain. Best to review the weather forecast & the current water level at the USGS Langley water level gauge prior to making the trip. Anything above 4 ft at Langley & a couple of the water crossings become dangerous. Cell phone coverage is very poor in this area and getting updated weather forecasts/water levels is a challenge. I only had cell coverage on two peaks.
Group leaders should prepare contingency plans in the event of heavy rain. In addition, many of the camp sites are along the water-ways so close attention to this during high water would reduce risk.
I chose the FR106 Parking area to start from. This is a very popular trailhead and vehicle safety would be better than more of the isolated ones. Also this trailhead gives a person the opportunity to adjust if there are high water levels. Going clockwise from FR106 allows a person to quickly tackle the Little Missouri in 2 locations & get the two most risky crossings out of the way. If the water levels are too high, going counterclockwise from FR106 allows the water level to subside before you come back around to the two Little Missouri crossings. The other option I liked about the FR106 start going clockwise, is this gave me some miles to warm up prior to tackling the difficult ABT. I felt the FR106 parking area was safe to leave a vehicle along with sleeping there the night before. The only downside to this parking area is the 2 mi of single lane gravel road to get to the parking lot. It is very narrow in some parts & an approaching vehicle would have been a challenge of pulling to the side to let them by.
Water along the trail is very plentiful & in most cases I only carried 1/2 liter but the ambient temperature was in the 70s. All water requires purification. .
The Langley USGS water level was approx 3.4 ft & all the water crossing were easy to cross. Maximum depth I saw was approx knee level. The rocks are slick and even 6” can test your balance at times. I do recommend trail shoes with synthetic socks on this hike due to over 30 water crossings.
Most people do this loop in 3-4 days and I would recommend a 3 day approach. Due to my schedule this trip ended up being a 2 day hike & the second day was 19 long mi with a steep climb up Winding Stairs at the very end.
The trail is marked excellent with white blazes & I only had issues in a couple areas. I used the smart phone app Arkansas Hiker with my phone in airplane mode & it was excellent. My Garmin GPS was a backup. It is always a good practice to also bring hard copy maps.
A few signs of bear along the ABT so excellent bear protocol is needed at your camp consisting of hanging your food & no scented items in the camp.
The Langley Store which is approx 15 min from the FR106 is an excellent place to gas up & has a grill for a good hamburger along with various other food items which you could take on the trail. Marginal cell coverage at this location. I believe they close at 5 pm.
Ark Backpacking Forum
Water Level At Langley
Ark. Hiker App:
Reference Book; Arkansas Hiking Trails, Tim Ernst, www.timernst.com