WATCH: Hiking the Sunset Trail, part six: The final leg

Outdoor writer and photographer Corbet Deary is featured regularly on The Sentinel-Record. Today, Derry takes readers on a journey along the last leg of a picnic around the hot springs.

Well, this series of highs is almost in the books. In fact, we’re on the sixth and final leg of the trip that makes a full circuit through Hot Springs National Park, which consists of 14 miles of hills, valleys, and beautiful scenery.

However, the landscape and terrain were only one of the perks awaiting those who chose to tackle this special trek. As most of us know, the 2022 Deer season is in full swing. On the other hand, hunting enthusiasts are presently present in the middle of the forest in large numbers. And rightfully so, as many have predicted this season since the 2021 chase ended.

But it so happens that hunting is not permitted within the perimeter lines of national park property. With this in mind, what better destination than a route included in this series of trails for non-hunters to get out and enjoy the outdoors without worrying about crossing trails with hunters?

The video does not play? Click here

The initial trek started at Gulpha Gorge Campground along the Sunset Trail. We have since completed that entire route, and have borrowed some winding trails along and down Mt West. And last week’s walk consisted of a short trip along the docks.

The day’s hike will also begin on the sidewalk, where we must walk from the parking meter to the site where the trail heads into the woods. In fact, we will also have to walk a short distance along Fountain Street to get to the marked route.

But once we enter the forest, the only sidewalk one can plan to see for the remainder of the trek is to cross a road up the northern mountain and the parking area where the trek will end.

Well, let’s roll. From Park Avenue, we’ll head to Fountain Street, between the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa and Arlington Lawn. Parking meters will be located along the right side of the road.

After finding a vacant counter, continue in the direction of travel. Follow Fountain Street past the crossroads to the summit of North Mountain. Access to the Floral Trail will be on the left, a few hundred feet behind the water fountains.

Let’s turn left and follow the flower path for a short distance, before turning right into Lower Dogwood Path at the first junction.

The Lower Dogwood Trail will begin its ascent shortly thereafter. However, those who have already walked the first five sections of the series will find this climb much easier than some of those who have already walked all the way.

The marked trail will link up with the Upper Dogwood Trail at about 0.2 of a mile, where we will continue to the right. Of course, the majority of the first part of the day’s walk consists mostly of climbs, as we’ll eventually have to pass over North Mountain to finish our walk back at Gulpha Gorge Campground. But again, those who climbed the previous sections will find these ascents far less daunting.

We’ll stay on the upper Dogwood trail for maybe 0.2 miles as it continues through what I consider to be typical Ouachita mountain terrain, before reaching another intersection at the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, where we’ll continue in a straight line.

We’ll follow the Hot Springs Mountain Trail for maybe 0.1 miles, to where it crosses a paved road at the ridgeline. One might consider stopping and enjoying the moment at this transit, as it is somewhat of a landmark. This is actually the point where all the ups and downs are behind us.

This is correct; It’s all down from here. This is also the point where we will cross the road, ditching the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and veering left onto the Gulpha Gorge Trail.

However, those who are still active and have legs can always turn right and stay on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. This particular trail will make a 1.7-mile circuit along the edge of the ridgeline before returning to this exact spot.

But enough about the unscheduled trek along the Hot Spring Mountain Loop. Let’s go back to the planned path and start our descent to our final destination.

The Gulpha Gorge Trail wastes no time in beginning its descent down the steep hillside. However, many recalls consider the trek to be much more level and easier than it would have been if the trail had simply been beaten down the mountain.

In fact, I recently came across this section of the trail, deeming the descent easier than I expected. One will notice another intersection in the middle of the switchbacks, where we will keep to the right and continue down the hill.

The beaten path will make its way elsewhere, as the switchovers almost come to an end. We’ll continue to the left, at this point, on the Gulpha Gorge Trail.

One could hear the sound of distant vehicles to his right. In fact, the hiker will likely also notice the sounds of others enjoying the outdoors, as the trail parallels the remote Gupha Gorge campground for the rest of the walk.

Hence, this is a very popular route. So don’t be surprised that two more hikers happen to be on for the short remainder of the trip. The path will descend slightly before reaching a point where it turns sharply to the right and approaches a flight of stairs which have been built of original stone.

The trail continues slightly downhill for a short distance before it leads to an intersection leading to the parking area. Simply turn right at the junction and cross the creek across large flat stones and follow the path a short distance to the parking area.

Well, I suppose some will find the parking area cause for celebration, since the string of hikes we’ve been focusing on for the past six weeks is officially on the books.

I’ll be the first to admit there are some climbs lurking along the way. But I suspect that those who have been through the whole walk will also agree that the experience was well worth the effort.

Not only did they improve their health both physically and mentally, but they benefited from the opportunity to get to know a little better about the beautiful mountain landscape we call home.

To get to Hot Springs’ Gulpha Gorge Campground from Park Avenue (Bathhouse Row), head south and turn left onto Reserve Street past the Federal Building. Go 0.3 miles and take a left onto Spring Street. Travel 0.2 miles and turn left onto East Grand at the light.

Go 4 miles and take exit 2 toward Magic Springs. Drive 0.2 miles and take a left at the four-way stop sign. Go under the bridge and stay straight at the four-way stop sign. Travel 0.4 miles and the entrance will be on the left.

Photo The section of the trail to access Gulpha Gorge Campground from Fountain Street consists of several light climbs during the first section of the walk. – Photo by Corbet Deary from The Sentinel-Record