Friday, August 21, 2015

Sandstone Castle, Richland Wilderness Area, Arkansas Ozarks

8/20/2015 - Sandstone Castle

GPS Coordinates:
  Parking:  35.84146, -92.98413
  Trail Head on NC5080:  35.84189, -92.98472
  Sandstone Castles:  35.81647, -92.97268
  Rock Wall:  35.82412, -92.98407
  Another Rock Wall:  35.82039, -92.97832

Pet friendly: Yes, kind of.  Be aware there are a number of trees down on the trail and other obstacles that might challenge a smaller dog on a leash.  Also, unlike most of my hikes, there is no water available.  Make sure you pack water for your dog as well.

Motorcycle friendly: No.  Getting to the parking area takes about seven miles on rough gravel forest service roads.  It's doable, but you'll be sorry if you take a cruiser or street bike on these roads.

GPS files (maps at bottom of this post):
  GPS track file, trail head to Sandstone Castles (.gpx format)
  Route file (.anr format)

Overlooking Richland Valley from one of the caves at
Sandstone Castle - with Rick and Boomer
It had been quite a while since I had trekked out to the Sandstone Castles; you can see the blog post for that hike here.  I keep thinking I need to make this hike, but always seem to get sidetracked.  Usually, at this time of year, it tends to be so hot and humid that hiking is the furthest thing from my mind.  However, by some odd tweak of nature we had a couple of days of very unseasonably cool weather, but still not enough rain to get the creeks and waterfalls flowing well.  My son Scott had been wanting to get out in the woods and see some Arkansas scenery, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go back to Sandstone Castle.  When I called Scott on short notice, he was enthused enough to drop his plans for the day and drive right out.  We got Boomer loaded up in the FJ Cruiser and headed north.

Sandstone Castle - with Scott (or maybe Captain Morgan)
The Sandstone Castles are actually a series of caves cut into the rock of the
bluff at the top of the ridge overlooking Big Devil's Fork and Long Devil's Fork, high above where they join at Twin Falls of Richland.  The caves have 'windows' overlooking the valley below.  Legend has it this place was used by criminals and civil war deserters to hide out from the Law.  I'm betting that strategy was highly successful.  This is one of those places that if you know where it is, it is easy to get to and easy to find.  If you have never been there, it can be quite challenging to find.  

The "Penthouse" Cave - with Rick
To get there, take Highway 7 north and turn onto Highway 123 north at Lurton.  From the 'T' where you can turn left to Hwy 7 or right to Hwy 123, turn right and go 1.5 miles.  Turn right on NC5070 (aka FR-1200, aka CR-36, aka Herbie Hampton Rd, aka Assembly of God Church Road).  Take NC5070 for 6.8 miles, then turn right on NC5080 (aka FR-1205).  Go 1.1 miles on NC5080 and look for where the power lines cross from the right hand (south) side to the left hand (north) side of the road.  The trail head will be near the last power line pole on the right.  On the north side of the road, there is an extended gravel shoulder to park on.  

Trail head - photo from Jan 2014
The trail head GPS coordinates are listed above.  The last time I was here, there was a blue smiley face painted on a tree at this point on the south side of the road.  From the trail head, there is an old trace road that goes uphill.  Turn RIGHT onto it from the road.  i.e. - you will be heading south-west, at first almost paralleling the NC5080 road you just drove in on.  The trail will head up the mountain on this trace road.  There are a fair amount of fallen trees on this first part of the trail, but don't let that discourage you.  As you climb the trace road it will crest the ridgeline, and just over the ridgeline you will make a sharp turn to the left.  The trail here is more discernible and easier to follow, with fewer detours around fallen trees.  Someone had put a sign here to direct you from the ridgeline back to the road on your way back.

The largest cave - with Scott and Boomer
After cresting the ridgeline and turning left, the trail follows more or less just along the crest of Big Middle Ridge, the ridge between Big Devil Fork and Long Devil Fork.  The old trace road is visible in most places and the trail will follow that as it can, with zigs and zags around fallen trees.  The trail is usually visible, but there are a couple of places it gets difficult to see.   As you can see from the GPS track I recorded (at bottom of this post), the trail sticks pretty much to the ridgeline of Big Middle Ridge.  The elevation along this route does not vary a whole lot, but there are some gradual ups and downs.  You pass a couple of rock walls and an old well along the way.  The first of these is hard to miss and is about at the half way point.  These are a good check that you are on the right path.  I included GPS coordinates for these waypoints so you can track your route.

The trail will lead right down the ridgeline to the point where it drops off above Twin Falls.  The  Sandstone Castles are caves in the rock bluff line at this point, and the trail leads to the cliff directly above the caves.  There are a couple of spots you can make your way down to the cave level.   To your left as you look over the cliff is the easiest way down, going between the two largest caves.

Sandstone Castle - with Scott
I had last hiked this route with my wife Bethany in January 2014, and my recollections of the trail were that it was fairly open, an easy hike with little undergrowth.  As a result, I thought (foolishly) that it would be okay to wear shorts.  Well, let's just say things have changed a little in the last year and a half.  The summertime foliage is quite a bit more dense, naturally.  Also, it appears that there is just not enough people making the trip to keep the trail as discernible as it used to be.  We lost the trail three times on the way out and once on the way back.  Fortunately, I had my GPS and I was able to get back on the track I previously recorded easily enough.  Even keeping the actual off-trail bushwhacking to a minimum, the "trail" was overgrown enough with briers and blackberry brambles that we suffered some pretty severe scratching and gouging.  My legs look like a herd of cats used them as scratching posts.  

Even with the unexpected trail difficulties, it was a great day for hiking.  The high for the day was around 70 degrees, something you don't often see in August.  The hike is 2.69 miles each way, by my GPS trip meter.  Sandstone Castle is highly recommended, but you might want to wait for cooler "leaves off" season.  
GPS Track - Sandstone Castles

 3D GPS track for route to Sandstone Castles


  1. I think you trespassed on those lucky people's property...I like that!

    1. Definitely wandered through there before. I'm sure others have too, probably why they put up the sign to direct folks back to the road

  2. Thanks for the overview. This one has been on my list for awhile but I've never been under the impression that there was an actual trail to get there (or even much of a resemblance of one). May have to head that way this fall....

    1. Definitely worth the trip. Don't get me wrong, there is no "maintained" trail. Just a volunteer trail following (mostly) where an ancient trail went along the crest of Big Middle Ridge. But way, way, waaaaay easier than hiking up from Big Devil's Fork.