Thing to Do

Hike to Big Bluff

The expansive view of the Ponca Wilderness and Buffalo River from Big Bluff
The expansive view of the Ponca Wilderness and Buffalo River from Big Bluff

Aaron Bates

A rugged, strenuous hike through the Ponca Wilderness to one of Buffalo National River's most expansive vistas.

The Centerpoint Trail begins in the heart of the Ponca Wilderness, gradually winding down an old wagon road descending nearly 1,300 ft to the Buffalo River. During the descent, the trail offers outstanding panoramic views of the Buffalo River and the rugged Ozark Mountains that surround it. The Centerpoint Trail is considered to be a strenuous hike. The trail is steep in areas, especially on the hike out; visitors will need to plan to take the entire day to hike this trail due to the rough wilderness terrain. The trail intersects with many of the other trail systems in the Ponca Wilderness creating multiple spur trails for the more adventurous hiker. The spur trails connect the Centerpoint trail with the Chimney Rock Trail, Sneeds Creek Trail, Big Bluff Trail, Compton Loop Trail, and Hemmed-in Hollow Trail. The "Goat Trail" to Big Bluff is narrow and dangerous; visitors should proceed with extreme caution when hiking this section of trail. The Centerpoint Trail also offers a less strenuous hike to the popular Hemmed-in Hollow Falls. Visitors will still need to allow an entire day to complete the hike to Hemmed-in Hollow Falls via the Centerpoint Trail. Note: Backcountry camping is permitted along the Centerpoint Trail and within the Ponca Wilderness, but not on Big Bluff.

WARNING: The Centerpoint Trail/Big Bluff is one of the most frequent Search & Rescue (SAR) locations at Buffalo National River. Steep and strenuous trail conditions, coupled with a hiker's lack of preparation, can lead to dehydration, overexertion/exhaustion, and heat related illness.
The hike from Centerpoint Trailhead to Big Bluff is approximately 6 miles round-trip. Average hiking time is 4 to 6 hours. From the parking lot to Big Bluff, the trail travels mostly downhill, so it's important to conserve energy, drinking water, and snacks for the uphill hike back to your car. If you start this hike in the afternoon, carry a light source just in case you're out after dark.
The Centerpoint Trail leads into the rugged Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River. The most popular hiking destination from Centerpoint is Big Bluff, which features a panoramic vista of the Buffalo River and surrounding wilderness. 

This hike is considered strenuous. At approximately 6 miles round-trip, this route will follow the Centerpoint Trail (an old wagon road) for 2.5 miles down the mountain. At the intersection, veer right and take the Goat Trail for about half a mile. (CAUTION: The Goat Trail is extremely narrow and follows the edge of a 350-foot-high sheer cliff. This hike is NOT recommended for children or people with a fear of heights.) The hike back to your vehicle from Big Bluff has about 1000 feet of elevation gain. Hikers are urged to carry at least two liters of water, salty snacks, and a detailed trail map. Sturdy footwear is crucial.

There are multiple trails that intersect the Centerpoint Trail within the Ponca Wilderness. Keep a close eye on trail markers to ensure you're on the right route. Centerpoint will be marked with yellow, rectangular blazes with the letters "CPT" on them.
This hike is not recommended for children under 12 years old.
Pets are not permitted on trails in the Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River. Documented service animals welcome.
Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
The Centerpoint Trailhead is located approximately 3 miles north of Ponca, AR, directly across Hwy. 43 from the Fire Tower Road intersection. The gravel parking area at Centerpoint Trailhead can accommodate 20-25 vehicles. This location does not have a restroom.
Year Round
If you begin this hike in the afternoon, please carry a light source just in case you hike out after dark.
Accessibility Information
This trail features steep, rocky, and uneven terrain. Service animals permitted.

Buffalo National River

Centerpoint Trailhead Map
Topographic trail map of the Centerpoint Trail in the Ponca Wilderness of Buffalo National River

Map by Terra Fondriest

Last updated: April 16, 2022