Saturday, March 14, 2015

Devil's Playground, Arkansas Ozarks

3/14/2015 - Devil's Playground

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.51155   -92.95365,  839 ft.
  Devil's Playground - access:  35.51059   -92.95376,  836 ft.

Pet Friendly: Not really.  While not restricted, the area is full of fissures, holes, and crevasses.  It will be possible for a dog to go where you go, but there are a lot of fall and entrapment hazards, so be careful.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  It isn't even all that car friendly.  Unless you have a good 4X4, ATV, or horse, I would park at White Mountain Road and hike.

After leaving Sand Cave, my friend Dan Frew and I made one more stop at Devil's Playground before going home.  This was our fifth hike of the day, and one of the most unique areas in Arkansas.  The area sits high on the mountain overlooking the Illinois Bayou north of Hector.  I don't know how to exactly describe it.  The area is somewhat surreal, with holes in the ground cropping up underfoot, fissures only a foot or two wide going deep into the ground, and crevasses interlinking at angles to each other.  Dan has lived his whole life in this area, and spends about every other day out tromping around the wilderness.  So to him this is another of those spots he grew up with, on a farm just south of this mountain.  To me, it is amazing.

To get there, drive north from Hector on Highway 27.  Less than a mile from the Big Piney Ranger station in Hector, you cross over Dare Creek.  Immediately after crossing Dare Creek, turn right onto White Oak Mountain Road (aka FR-1301).  This is a gravel road, but is a well traveled and fairly well maintained road.  Go 3.2 miles on White Oak Mountain Road.   White Oak Mountain Road bends sharply to the right at this point, and you will see a Jeep trail branching off on the left (north), heading downhill.    

Follow the Jeep road downhill from White Oak Mountain Road, over a small drainage, then back up along the bluff overlooking the Illinois Bayou valley.  After a little over a mile, you will arrive at the parking location.  That is, if you have a good 4X4, it's your parking location.  Otherwise, I would advise you to leave your vehicle at White Oak Mountain Road and hoof it the rest of the way.  

From this parking location, hike to the left (west) of the Jeep road, toward the bluff overlooking the valley.  All through this area, you will find the fissures, holes, and crevasses I described above.  Some of the fissures are less than two feet wide, but go down a hundred feet into the ground.  The fissures intersect and intertwine into a maze of crevasses and caves deep into the ground.  I have no idea what forces of nature created this area, but it is uniquely cool.

"Bear crack" leading down to
bottom of series of fissures
There is one point (GPS coordinates above) where you can descend at a not-too-steep slope down into the bottom of the crevasses.  At some point in the past, people lived in this area and made use of these crevasses.  You can see remnants of an old stone fence on top of the ground, and down in the crevasses you will find remnants of old stone walls.  As you descend into the fissures, you can feel the air temperature drop.  I don't know just how big the temperature difference is to the surface, but it felt significant.  It was in the high 60's at ground level, but even after days of warmer weather and several inches of rain, there was still snow and ice at the bottom of the fissures.

I managed to slip on a wet, mossy rock near the bottom of the descent and fell with my camera between my body and the rock.  Crap.  Another lens broke, and I broke it pretty good this time.  So most of the photos I took here were taken with my wife's hand-me-down phone, a Nokia 920.  Yeah, I broke my GS4 phone in pretty much the same manner as this lens on a hike a couple of weeks ago.  This is getting to be a fairly expensive hobby...

Be careful!  Holes like this are all over the area.
If you are looking for a spot that is just different than anything else you have seen, this is a good one.  My one word of caution is to be aware of the hazards and be careful.  Unlike Pedestal Rocks, where the forest service has put fences around many of the holes and cracks, no one has done that here.  This is definitely not a place to be walking around in the dark. 


Topo Map - Devil's Playground


  1. The old jeep road is now closed you will have to hike from white oak mountain road

  2. What is the hike like from White Mountain road as in length of time.

    On the maps the pinpoint for Devil's Playground appears to be a good distance.

    1. It's about a mile, along an old Jeep road. Shouldn't be too bad.

    2. I went up to White Oak Road this past Sunday and I am a little confused as to where I should stop my non 4WD vehicle. your description states its about 3 miles down the road from the dare creek turn off but that puts me past the first switch back. Looking at the topographical map I assume it is just before the switch back but every damn time I key in the coordinates it tells me to park at the first right hand turn which is a gate leading to a Fracking operation in which it suggest I hop the gate and walk.

      any thoughts or solutions for my confusion.

    3. Another reader reported the road is now closed, and that you have to hike from White Oak Mountain Road. I have not been in the area for a while, but you may well have the right Jeep road.