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Camping Connection – The Devil in the Ozarks

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By Chris Reinolds

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Arkansas, Devil’s Den State Park is a wonderland of hiking, backpacking, spelunking and other outdoor delights. Lee Creek Valley, where the park is located, is set in the ancient sedimentary mountains renowned for their natural beauty and lush oak-hickory forest.

Geologists believe that, between 10,000 and 70,000 years ago, about thirty acres of hillside collapsed and slid into the valley, causing massive blocks of sandstone to fracture and form numerous crevices and caves, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Devil’s Den features the largest sandstone crevice cave area in the United States and you can explore these crevices along the park’s one-and-a-half-mile Devil’s Den Trail. The crevice caves also provide a habitat for numerous bat species, including the endangered Ozark big-eared bat.

The mysterious name, Devil’s Den, dates back to the late 1800s. Local settlers referred to the site as the “Devil’s Den” because of the large crevice area and its numerous caves, including the longest cave, at 550 feet, known as the “Devil’s Den Cave.”

The park has a rich and varied history. The Arkansas Archeological Survey in 1979 recorded eleven archaeological sites at the park. Six sites are prehistoric and indicate the presence of Native Americans as far back as 8,000 years.

As with other early state parks in Arkansas, the federal government acquired the land for Devil’s Den State Park after it was forfeited by families who could no longer keep up with taxes on their property during the Great Depression.

Devil's-Den-Cabin

The Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s used native materials to craft the park’s rustic style wood and stone structures including a native stone dam that spans Lee Creek in the heart of the park to form Lake Devil. The lake is too small for motor boating, but rental canoes, tandem kayaks, pedal boats and water bikes are available. In 1994, the park was designated a National Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Devil’s Den Assistant Superintendent Tim Scott notes that summer and October are the peak times – the leaf show in the Ozarks is spectacular. And each year, the park continues to be one of the top draws in the state, bringing an average of 3,000 to 5,000 visitors every weekend. During the peak seasons, campground officials recommend making reservations in advance.

Hiking is the main activity and most of the trails are short and easily day tripped. The hiking and mountain bike trails lead to backcountry areas of the park and the surrounding Ozark National Forest. The mountain biking trails are a big draw since several metro areas are less than two hours drive to Devil’s Den. And horse lovers will be thrilled with the equestrian trails and adjoining campground.

The longer (read overnight) Butterfield trail contains amazing diversity as it falls along BlackBurn Creek, Scott noted. During our first visit to Devil’s Den, we backpacked the well-maintained Butterfield trail with a group of friends. Most of us were first time backpackers and the ease of the trail was conducive to novice hikers. But beware, the towering walls of sandstone are so impressive, you need to remember to watch your footing.

Devil's-Den-RV-Site

If you’d rather avoid the hard cold ground for your slumber, there are a number of traditional sites in the main campground with full hookups for the RV crowd. The park has a total of 143 campsites, some with full hookups and some tent only/hike-in sites. The Horse Camp includes a bathhouse and access to 20 miles of horse trails spaced along the valley. The park also offers seventeen fully equipped cabins with kitchens and fireplaces that are available year-round.

Many visitors also come to Devil’s Den State Park to explore one or more of its many caves and crevices. You can visit on your own (flashlights required), or participate in a strenuous guided cave exploration hike offered once a week during the summer. Unfortunately, due to the proliferation of White Nose Syndrome, a fungus spreading across the eastern U.S. that has killed millions of bats, Farmer’s Cave and Big Ear Cave in the western end of the park were closed on May 27, 2009. The fungus isn’t present in these caves – the closure was a precautionary measure to safeguard their bat populations. Check the park’s website for updates on these caves and others within the park.

For more details about the park’s riding trails, mountain bike trails, hiking and backpacking trails and caving opportunities, go to: www.adventurestateparks.com.

For information about other mountain parks in the state’s park system, go to: www.mountainstateparks.com

To reach Devil’s Den State Park, travel eight miles south of Fayetteville on I-540 to Exit 53 (West Fork), then go 17 miles southwest on Ark. 170; or I-540 at Exit 45 (Winslow) and go 7 miles west on Ark. 74 to the park.

To get the latest rates and make reservations for campsites and cabins or for more info, call: 479.761.3325

All photos courtesy of Devil’s Den State Park.

Atlanta-based journalist Chris Reinolds lived in the beautiful state of Arkansas for several years. In fact it’s where she bought her first backpack and mountain bike. Email her at creinolds@gmail.com.

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