Our trip to Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas will always be special to us because it was our very first backpacking trip!
By the early Spring of 2016, Josh and I had booked trips to Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park, and had been steadily acquiring all kinds of hiking and backpacking gear. After giving away what seemed like all of our money to REI, we were eager to see some returns on our investments, so we planned a weekend trip up to Devil’s Den.
Devil’s Den Stake Park is about a 5 hour drive from Dallas, so Josh and I and our friend Ross left right after work on a Friday afternoon in May. By the time we arrived it was dark and we were without cell service, so we were having trouble locating our campground. We came across a small parking area on the side of the road that looked promising, so we pulled off and walked a short way into the woods across the road. There were a few groups of people with headlamps setting up tents, who must have been backpacking and just so happened to make camp near the road. Looking like complete rookies, we asked one group of people “so, how does this work?” We were wondering how we should know where our supposedly drive up campsite was in the thick of these woods. We received a few blank stares, and then someone finally answered with a response that made us feel completely out of place. Feeling stupid, we went back to the truck and drove around more until we finally found our actual campground.
As we settled in, we started thinking about a late dinner composed of typical camp food that we’d brought with us from Dallas. To our dismay, we realized we’d forgotten firewood. Back to the truck we go…About an hour later we were back at our site – hungry and tried, but equipped to make a campfire. We made our dinner and then snuggled into our sleeping bags for a cold night’s sleep.
Morning arrived and it was finally time for our first backpacking trip! We packed up, double and triple checked our lists, then drove to the visitor center to get our permit.
With our permit, we were officially ready to get this thing started! We drove to the trailhead and with lots of excitement, hopped out of the car, put our packs on, and started walking.
The trail we’d chosen was a 15 mile loop called the Butterfield Trail.
- Butterfield Trail
- Distance: 15 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation Change: 2200 ft
As we began the trail we were surrounded by tall trees and lots of green!
Not too far in we came to a perfect photo spot in front of the water.
We continued through the woods going through a variety of up and downhill sections and eventually came to a opening where we could see the hills of the Ozarks for miles.
As we continued hiking, we kept finding interesting spots – small waterfalls, creeks, big boulders, etc. I loved all the surprises on this trial.
The campsite we’d plan to stay at was called Junction Camp. It’s about a mile off the trail around 9 miles in. By mile 7 our feet were killing us and our backs were dying for a break from the heavy load. We knew that Junction Camp was near water so once we got a glimpse of the river, our spirits were lifted enough to push us on to our destination.
When we arrived at Junction Camp there were already a few people who’d claimed spots, so we took the first available on that we found. We wanted to make sure we got water before dark, so Josh went down to the river to fill up our platypus water filter. It was our first time using it so our fingers were crossed in hopes that it worked! A few minutes later we had liters of clean water to re-hydrate and cook with. An hour or so passed and none of us were sick; success!
We felt very accomplished after hiking 10 miles with heavy packs, gathering and filtering water, cooking with our tiny stoves, and setting up camp at a ‘primitive’ site. I was sold on this whole backpacking thing!
Once the sun went down and our fire went out we had no problem getting in bed. We were exhausted, and also unsure how we would make it another 6 miles the next day with our aching bodies. To all of our surprise we woke up and felt just fine. Our bodies had miraculously recovered.
The second day on was quite a bit easier than the first, and the Butterfield Trail continued to supply us with awesome views.
Around noon on Sunday, we finally made it to the end of the trail with our first backpacking trip under our belts!
Devils Den Tips and Recommendations
- Being in the South, Arkansas can be very humid in the Summer, so pack accordingly. Although our first night was cold, the second night was hot and sticky. I kept sticking to my sleeping bag until I ultimately decided to put pants on. I wish I’d had my microweight wool pants for this trip!
- Make sure to bring Bug Spray!
- Black bears live in this area, so bring something to protect your food/scented items. We ended up hanging our food, but a bear bag would be a good option as well.
Do you remember your first backpacking trip? Where was it? Was it more of a success or more of a learning experience?