Beauty in Our Own Backyard: Lake Alma Trail
If you’re a parent looking for an easy day hike to introduce your children to the gentle pleasures of nature or a trail runner looking for a heart-throbbing route, this out-and-back hike is for you. Chuck Dovish of AETN's "Exploring Arkansas" said, “It’s amazing that so much variety and diversity of scenery is found right inside the town of Alma.”
You will see bluff lines and moss-covered boulder fields. You will walk beside clear streams, rocky cascades and a 12-foot waterfall. Situated within a mixed hardwood forest, you may spot deer, rabbit, fox, great blue heron, songbirds and wildflowers. Grab your sturdy shoes, water and a friend. Let’s hike this beautiful trail!
We’ll access the Lake Alma Trail (LAT) by the paved walking path that connects to the parking area. As you begin walking, you will see another paved path down below and closer to the lake on your left. There are mile markers on this trail, but they are approximate and based on distances from the kiosk. Our mileage will be calculated beginning and ending at the parking area, making the mile markers on the trail shorter than our actual distance. The LAT is marked with round yellow arrows.
At 0.2 mile, you will arrive at the Lake Alma Trail kiosk. Here is where the pavement ends and real hiking begins. The first section of the trail is an easy walk in the woods. At 0.5 mile, the trail turns to the right and goes up to cross a small drainage and then more pleasant walking until you arrive at the first bridge. The trail follows around the base of a hillside crossing a second bridge. If water is moving under this bridge, the waterfall is flowing and definitely something you will want to see.
Turn right onto the McWater Falls spur trail and follow round orange markers. You will arrive at the edge of the waterfall at 0.8 mile. Backtracking to the trailhead from this point is a nice out-and-back option for children and novice hikers, providing a 1.6-mile hike.
This waterfall is named for Harry McWater, the man who had the vision for this trail. Harry sought expertise and labor from the Arkansas Master Naturalists, Fort Smith Trailblazers, Ozark Highlands Trail Association and local volunteers. More than 100 pairs of hands worked to make this trail a reality. The LAT began to see regular use in the spring of 2012 and its popularity has continued to grow.
After enjoying McWater Falls, backtrack one-tenth of a mile to the main trail and turn right. You will get glimpses of the lake in the distance on your left. At 1.0 mile, turn right onto an old roadbed. Watch to your right for fascinating bluff areas and rock formations as you walk this section. At 1.3 miles, you will pass moss- and lichen-covered boulders that appear to have tumbled down the hillside on your right. Just past the 1-mile marker, you will come to the Hexagon Hut. This old homesite is a great place to explore. Mystery surrounds the construction of these structures and their occupants.
At this point, you’ve hiked 1.4 miles from the parking lot, including the waterfall spur. Here, we turn around and backtrack to the trailhead for a 2.6-mile hike (a little longer if you want to revisit the waterfall). Reviewing your trek from the opposite direction is always a treat. You’ll often notice views missed on the first trip through. If you walk with friends or family, enjoy their company as you build special memories in the beauty of your own backyard.
Directions: Take Exit 13 off Interstate 40 and drive north to the first traffic light. Turn right onto Collum Lane East. Drive 0.2 mile and then left on Mountain Grove Road. Drive north on Mount Grove Road for 0.3 mile and take a left just past the two green water tanks. Drive down to the picnic area parking. The Lake Alma Trailhead is at the opening in the parking guardrail.
Word of caution: The entire Lake Alma Trail forms a loop all the way around the lake, returning to the trailhead by way of the dam. This is a 4.4-mile, strenuous hike. If you’re new to hiking, begin with the out-and-back walk described here and increase your distance over time. Before you know it, you will be trekking the whole loop and still having fun.
GPS: N35 29.818 W94 13.073
Distance and Configuration:
Hiking Time: About 1.5 hours
Facilities: Restrooms and picnic area