By Rhonda Mills, BOC
About 80 minutes southeast of Ponca is where you'll discover one of the best moderate hikes in the upper Buffalo River region—Pedestal Rocks. The highlight of the trail is its showcase of unusual geologic formations made of eroded limestone. Pedestal Rocks Trail lies within the Ozark - St. Francis National Forest east of the junction of Hwys 16 & 123 at Sand Gap.
I hiked it for the first time in late fall with my husband Mike, when autumn leaves were at their peak. It was the perfect meander through an Ozark Mountain forest on a Sunday afternoon. The day was chilly and misty, so we had the place to ourselves, meeting only a pair of hikers on our way back to the car.
The stone towers are located near the end of the trail, a little over a mile in. To see them for the first time (or anytime for that matter) is a visual revelation that is both beautiful and eerie. The way the rocks suddenly loom out of the forest and almost seem alive made me feel like a character in a Tolkien story, with Frodo Baggins likely to pop out from behind one at any moment.
The Pedestal Rocks Trail is an off-the-beaten-path kind of place, so make sure your gas tank has adequate fuel. Also, have some “fuel” and water for yourself along as well. (Our deli can pack you sandwiches for the trip if you like.) From Ponca you should plan for the trip to take a full morning or afternoon, especially if you hike both the Pedestal Rocks and adjacent King's Bluff Loop (see below for a note on that trail). You could easily spend the better part of a day here, perhaps having dinner in Jasper or at Low Gap on the way back to Ponca.
For directions, a trail map and additional information about hiking Pedestal Rocks, follow this National Forest Service pdf link:
TRAIL BONUS: If you have time, the same trailhead will take you to King’s Bluff Loop (we’ll cover that one another day), giving you two hikes to enjoy from the same spot. The NFS pdf link above provides information for both trails.