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Short hikes beat summer heat: Loops reveal nature, history

by Flip Putthoff | June 22, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
Lush forest and clear water await hikers along the Sinking Stream Trail at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area east of Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

Good things come in small packages, like great hikes happen on short trails.

Distance doesn’t necessarily mean quality on a jaunt over hill and dale, especially during summer when an all-day trek may not be the best idea. Keeping it short helps keep it fun as temperatures rise.

A good summer hiking choice takes in two short trails at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area in east Benton County. Walking the one-half-mile Sinking Stream Trail and the adjacent Historic Van Winkle Trail makes for a figure-8 hike of about a mile.

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That’s perfect for a quick morning sunrise walk before it gets hot, or an after-dinner stroll before it gets dark. If a mile isn’t enough, tack it on to a trek along one of the park’s longer trails.

Sinking Stream and Historic Van Winkle trails share a common paved parking area in the deep valley of Van Winkle Hollow along Arkansas 12 in the heart of Hobbs State Park. There’s a restroom and picnic area here.

Sinking Stream Trail heads north while Historic Van Winkle Trail starts at a pedestrian tunnel that goes under the highway. Each path is different.

Sinking Stream is a stroll through nature. Historic Van Winkle Trail is a walk through history. This is where Peter Van Winkle built a steam-powered sawmill in the 1800s. A thriving community took shape fueled by the sawmill.

Hikers enjoy a quiet, mostly level walk through the woods along Sinking Stream Trail, with all manner of wildflowers in bloom. The trail runs beside Little Clifty Creek, a gem of a stream, which flows clear and cool. It disappears underground in times of low water, only to emerge again not far away.

Ozark streams that do this vanishing act are called losing streams, lending an appropriate name to the Sinking Stream Trail.

There are lots of places to get close to the water and play in this cool, refreshing creek. A foot bridge crosses Little Clifty Creek half-way through this easy hike. Then the trail meanders south back to the trailhead. There’s a short climb from the water back to the trailhead and parking.

It’s a great warm-up stroll for exploring Historic Van Winkle Trail to complete the figure 8. A concrete walk heads downhill after hikers pass under the highway. The one-half-mile trail is flat and wide, with a crushed gravel surface.

Information panels along the way tell the history of this narrow hollow.

“Between 1858 and 1890, the Van Winkle Mill was a hub of commerce in Northwest Arkansas and generated traffic in all directions,” reads one panel.

The west part of the loop trail was the Van Winkle Mill Road, used by both sides during the Civil War. Heading north, the road led to Elk-horn Tavern, now at Pea Ridge National Military Park, site of the Battle of Pea Ridge fought March 7-8, 1862.

Visitors see the foundation of the sawmill, the homesite where the Van Winkle family lived and had an elaborate garden. Little Clifty Creek flows on the east side of the loop.

There are benches for resting, reflecting and imagining the sounds and activities that once took place in this now quiet hollow. It’s part of a short, sweet summertime hiking treat.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected]


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