Ascent of Magazine Mountain on 2006-10-03

Climber: Sarah Kin

Others in Party:Philip Kin
Date:Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Magazine Mountain
    Elevation:2753 ft / 839 m

Ascent Trip Report

Despite the fact that I did a lot of internet research on high points in general, and went so far as to make a handy Word document listing them all, I neglected to do any real specific research on Mt. Magazine. I knew that it was the 34th highest point in the U.S., that it was 2,753 feet above sea level, and that it was somewhere around 17 miles south of Paris, Arkansas. So, armed with Mapquest directions to Paris and sturdy shoes, we set off.

The drive from Tulsa was actually quite pretty. Once you exit I-40 at Ozark and start heading south, the scenery is quite nice. Rolling hills and trees and a lot of motorcycles. I think there was a rally or something. The drive actually took quite a bit longer than we had expected, however. Once you leave the interstates, you drive exclusively on very curvy two-lane highways. The speed limit was supposedly 55mph, but it was hard to get above 40 with all of the curving. Heavy construction just south of Paris on Scenic 309 made the road very narrow and a bit scary, but with a lake just to the west of the road, it's possibly one of the most scenic parts of the Scenic Highway. Due to the narrowness and curviness of the road, I don't recommend that the driver spend a whole lot of time trying to see the lake through the trees.

My lack of preparedness became an issue when we passed a sign that pointed off to the west and said "Mt. Magazine Hiking Trail 1.6 mi." It looked exactly like what we were looking for, and it certainly felt like we had driven 17 miles south of Paris. So we followed the sign and wound up on this awful road. It was a dirt road with large rocks scattered across it liberally-- it looked like a gravel road where the gravel had been left alone long enough that it had grown to a legitimate size. It was also barely one car-width across. If we had met someone coming up that road, I'm not sure what we would have done. There wasn't enough room off to the side of the road to even pull off. After following a few more signs that directed us to turn onto ever smaller and scarier roads, we wound up in what looked like a parking area. There was a clearly marked trail that went downhill off back to the south and then the "road" (it really looked like mud ruts through the underbrush at this point) continued sharply uphill. Philip and I got into a brief argument over what to do. The hiking trail clearly went downhill (and thus the wrong way) but was an actual trail. The road went god knows where, and didn't look like the sort of terrain that a Honda Civic was built for. At that point, I recalled Mt. Magazine's Wikipedia entry that mentioned a visitors' center and new lodge. Seeing neither of those from this little dirt-and-rock parking area, we decided to go back to the main road and keep heading south on 309.

Good decision, as it turns out. A few more miles down the road, a large colorful sign welcomed us to Mt. Magazine State Park. From there, the large and welcoming visitors' center came into view. Now, I have no other highpoints to judge Arkansas against (sadly, I haven't even been to the top of Harney Peak in my home state of South Dakota, despite having been to the Black Hills multiple times) but Mt. Magazine State Park is really nice. The visitors' center is part gift shop, part museum. There was a lot of information on the monarch migration, which was supposed to hit its peak over the weekend. The staff was friendly, well-informed, and helpful (although, admittedly, the only test I put them through was asking for directions to the Signal Hill trail). From the visitors' center, it was a short drive to the parking area at Cameron Bluff campground. The trailhead was across the street from the parking area. A sign at the trailhead promised a 1.5 mile hike, which seemed completely doable, if a little bit long for two completely out-of-shape people.

The trail itself was lovely. It was clear and well-maintained. I could have hiked it in flip-flops. We could not have been hiking for more than 10 minutes when we got to the top. I'm not sure where the 1.5 miles came from. We marvelled at the easiness of the hike and at the rock map of Arkansas at the top. We put our names in the log book. We chatted briefly with the two other couples that reached the "summit" at the same time that we did. The only disappointment was that the top of Signal Hill is so heavily wooded that you can't see a thing. There's no sense that you're at the highest point in Arkansas. I had pictured sweeping vistas and a top-of-the-world feeling. I wanted to stand on a rock outcropping and survey the State of Arkansas, spead out below me. Instead, I stood on a log bench and tried to get a photo of the rock map. We hung around for a minute or so, but once the pictures were taken, there wasn't much else to do. It felt a lot like our trip to the Grand Canyon: hours of driving for a few minutes of sight-seeing. The Grand Canyon looked more impressive, however.

We stopped a few times on the way out at Scenic Overlooks to snap a few pictures. We saw a couple of monarchs, but nothing to indicate a migration; they probably beat us there, since they didn't take a needless 3.2 mile detour on crappy roads. We looked around at the impressive hills around us (I'm not sure, geologically speaking, if any of the Ozarks count as mountains) and observed that we had been higher than any of them.

Anyway, Arkansas was a great place to start. Regardless of what kind of shape you're in, Signal Hill is very doable. The park is heavily wooded and very beautiful. We never stopped to see the lodge, but on the website it looks nice. Similarly, the campsites look . . . well, as nice as campsites ever look, really. I'd recommend the park to anyone looking to get away for a weekend. I look forward to seeing more of the country and am encouraged by an early success.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear

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