Wildflowers highlight summertime trek at Bench Rock Trail.
It only takes a few steps to guess how one of the prettiest hiking trails at Beaver Lake got its name.
Bench Rock Trail dips and curves while following a level stretch of forest and meadow tucked into a hillside — a bench in Ozark-speak. Hikers tread a path at the edge of a bluff with boulders scattered hither and yon. They put the rock in Bench Rock.
The trail is an easy 1.1-mile hike at Indian Creek park on the north side of Beaver Lake not far from the dam. Bench Rock Trail is a favorite of George Riggin, who led a bevy of Hill ‘N Dale Hiking Club members around the loop on June 8.
It’s more like an oval, a tight oval. The hike starts at a trailhead that is easy to find near the entrance to Indian Creek Park, east of Gateway in northeast Benton County. To reach the park, follow U.S. 62 east from Gateway. Turn south on Indian Creek Road and go about seven miles to the park.
“This is one of those trails you can do at different times of year and it looks different every time,” Riggin said.
The trail sports lush greenery during summer. Views of Beaver Lake open up in winter during leaf off.
Bench Rock Trail proved ideal for a warm weather hike. It’s almost entirely in the forest so it’s shady. The path makes an easy climb at first, then levels off along a bench on top of the bluff. It’s easy walking, but demands attention. The path hugs the lip of the bluff just steps away from some steep drops.
Fleeting views of the lake appeared. The rocky realm was scenic. Wildflowers, dozens and dozens of varieties, made the hike memorable for much of the group. Some marveled they had never seen so many coneflowers on such a short hike.
Butterfly weed, in bloom and bright red, dazzled hikers trekking single file down the trail. Butterfly weed is one of the showiest species of milkweed and of tremendous value to a monarch butterfly population that is in decline, said Alan Bland, park ranger at Beaver Lake with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Bench Rock Trail is popular with fans of flying insects.
“You see butterflies on it all the time in the spring and summer,” Bland said.
Hikers have admired forest, lake and butterflies here since the 1970s. That’s when
a troop of Boy Scouts carved Bench Rock Trail above and below the bluffs at Indian Creek park, Bland said. Since then, other Scouts have refurbished it so it’s in good shape for hiking even after 40 years of feet.
“Scouts do a lot of maintenance on our trails,” Bland added. “They keep them clear and re-mark blazes if it’s needed. They replace signs, or refurbish signs on the trails.”
Helpful scout troops hail from all areas of Northwest Arkansas, he said.
The first one-half mile follows the high road along the bluff. Then the path takes a hard left, heads downhill and goes back to the trailhead along the bottom of the bluff. There’s a bluff shelter near the end of the hike that’s worth exploring.
From this lower route, it’s not a difficult walk down to the water.
“You could even go down and take a swim.” Bland said.
The nearby lake is one attraction that makes the corps’ trails at Beaver Lake popular for summer hikes. Lost Bridge Trail, the longest at six miles, is close to a pretty beach a few miles into the walk. Dogwood Overlook near Beaver Dam is another good summertime trail. So are trails at Rocky Branch and Prairie Creek parks.
“You want to stick to the ones that get some traffic,” Bland said. “Some of the lesser used ones might be overgrown.”
Hikers explore a bluff shelter June 8 along the Bench Rock Trail near Beaver Lake at Indian Creek park. The 1.1-mile oblong loop meanders through forest and along bluffs.
George Riggin (right) leads a group of Hill ‘N Dale Hiking Club members around the trail.
Wildflowers, dozens and dozens of varieties, bloom throughout summer along the Bench Rock trail. Coneflowers (below) are common.
The trail is almost entirely in the forest so it’s shady and ideal for a warm weather hike.