Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hiking Little Rock Arkansas - Pinnacle Mountain State Park

Pinnacle Mountain juts skyward from the banks of the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle in Central Arkansas, inviting hikers far and wide to scramble to its rocky summit. The easternmost peak of the east-west lying Ouachita Mountains, located just 15 minutes west of Little Rock, Pinnacle Mountain is a go-to spot for locals seeking fitness, fun and even spiritual renewal. It is also close enough to Interstate 40 to be a welcome leg-stretcher for cross-country travelers as well.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park - West Summit Trail rises along stony spine
From I-40, take Interstate 430 south two exits to Highway 10 west. Six miles down the road you will turn right on Chenal Parkway, which connects to Route 300, which will take you to the entrance to Pinnacle State Park. The parking area for the West Summit Trail is off of Route 300. To reach the East Summit Trail go a little farther and follow the turn-off that leads to the Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor's Center. 

West Summit Trailhead - with connections to Base and East Summit trails
Both the West Summit Trail and the East Summit Trail are about 1.5 miles round trip. The West Summit Trail has a slightly more gentle slope while the East Summit Trail requires a bit of scrambling (using your hands to scale larger boulders). You should be ready for a two-hour hike using either route, and take plenty of water. You could also make this a loop hike by taking one trail up and the other down and using the Base Trail to return to the trailhead from where you started.

Trail sign near the beginning of the West Summit Trail
The Base Trail makes a 3.5-mile loop around the mountain, and this is a great option for hikers not able to handle the approximate 600-foot elevation gain/loss to reach the summit. For the summit loop hike, taking the western portion of the Base Trail will make your summit experience into a 3.5-mile hike while taking the eastern portion of the Base Trail will make the loop a 3-miler. TIP: Taking the East Summit Trail to the summit and coming down the West Summit Trail may be easier if you sometimes experience vertigo.

Much of West and East Summit trails are rocky steps through boulder fields
Dogs are allowed to hike with their people, but they must be leashed at all times. Honestly, though, this can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you have a short leash or your dogs have short legs - as any hiker knows, navigating boulder fields is a personal experience. I have two small dogs and had to take them off leash so they could safely navigate the trail themselves. In fact, I had to carry one of my dogs as we reached the summit, where the boulders get a bit larger and more difficult to mount. I would not recommend you hike the East Summit Trail with dogs of any size. Still, if you do take your dog off leash make sure they are under voice command at all times, and of course re-leash them any time you come across other hikers on the trail.

Ouachita Mountains stretch west from Pinnacle Mountain's western spine
The views from the West Summit Trail, where the trail as your reach the summit follows the visible rocky spine of Pinnacle Mountain, are spectacular. The Ouachita Mountains stretch off to the west, with Lake Maumelle visible to the north of the chain. Once you reach the top, you notice that Pinnacle Mountain actually has two distinct summits linked by a saddle. the northern summit has spectacular views of the Arkansas River and Lake Maumelle, while the southern summit has a striking view of ripples of mountains rolling off into the distance.

Hiker enjoys the view from Pinnacle Mountain's rocky summit
On the east side of the southern summit you will notice the red/white blazes pointing you back down the East Summit Trail. Yellow blazes mark the West Summit Trail, while green blazes mark the Base Trail. It is impossible to get lost on Pinnacle Mountain as long as you keep your wits about you and pay attention to geographical landmarks the blazes marking boulders and trees along whichever trail you are on.

Red/white blazed entrance to East Summit Trail atop Pinnacle Mountain
Here are all the important stats you'll need to enjoy your day hiking Pinnacle Mountain:

Trailhead: From I-40, take Interstate 430 south two exits to Highway 10 west. Six miles down the road you will turn right on Chenal Parkway, which connects to Route 300. Take 300 to the entrance to Pinnacle State Park. The parking area for the West Summit Trail is off of Route 300. To reach the East Summit Trail go a little farther and follow the turn-off that leads to the Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor's Center.
Distance: 1.5 mile out-and-back hike for either West Summit Trail or East Summit Trail. Also, you may choose the 3.5-mile Base Trail Loop or make a summit loop of either 3 miles (east Base Trail) or 3.5 miles (west Base Trail).
Elevation Gain/Loss: 600 feet (183 m)
Map: You can find the Pinnacle Mountain State Park map here. I would also suggest checking out the GPX map posted by fellow blogger Arklahoma Hiker here.
Hiking Time: About 2 hours, depending on your personal speed.
Best Times to Hike: This hike is excellent year round.
Difficulty: Moderate


East Summit Trail Trailhead, the tougher of two routes to Pinnacle's summit