Rain, water, ice work wonders to form natural bridge in Newton County

Gene Williams is dwarfed in January 2024 by the massive rock formations at Alum Cove Natural Bridge Recreation Area east of Deer.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
Gene Williams is dwarfed in January 2024 by the massive rock formations at Alum Cove Natural Bridge Recreation Area east of Deer. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)


DEER -- Hikers cross that bridge when they come to it while exploring Alum Cove Natural Bridge Recreation Area near Deer in Newton County.

The rock bridge is a sight to behold and the first feature that unfolds along the 1.1 mile loop trail. Wind and water erosion over eons has formed a rock bridge that's as long as three boxcars and just as thick. Taking in this natural wonder starts at the top, but a path leads hikers below the bridge for the most spectacular views.

During wet times, sheets of water slide down rock walls next to the stone bridge. Droplets tumble from the wet rock and shimmer on sunny days. But there's more, much more to see along this short trail that's big on natural beauty.

To reach the trailhead and parking, travel Arkansas 16 east through the town of Deer, home of the Deer Antlers, and go another mile and turn left on the paved Ozark National Forest road. Go about another three miles and turn right on the paved road that leads to the parking area.

The trail heads downhill along switchbacks to the natural bridge. Lots of hikers explore along and under the bridge, not knowing there are dazzling sights along a bluff line just across the wooded hollow.

When Gene Williams and his hiking pal explored Alum Cove in January, they hiked to the right starting at the east end of the natural bridge. That is, after they'd spent lots of time marveling at the bridge's rocky realm.

The trail meanders downhill, then crosses a small creek. It heads gradually uphill on an easy climb to a magnificent bluff line next to the footpath.

Right away hikers will notice this is no ordinary Ozarks bluff. They see fissures, cracks, crevices, holes and dark, mysterious cave entrances all along the rock wall. The caves aren't really caves, but dark, cool tunnels each with an entrance and an exit. Exploring around these auditorium-sized tunnel rooms is a highlight of the hike.

Youngsters and the young at heart should have a great time crawling through large holes in the bluff that lead from the dark tunnel rooms out into the sunshine. If going into these dark spaces gives one the willies, the trail hugs the outside of the bluff so there's no need to venture inside.

The bluff is about a quarter of a mile long. At the end, the footpath heads downhill toward the little creek, where it's usually dry enough to cross without getting wet feet. Hikers meander their way on the level for a bit, then uphill to the natural bridge and back to the parking area.

For a shorter hike from the natural bridge, hike left from the bridge's west side and follow the trail a short distance across the creek to the bluff. Then return on the same trail.

Talk about plenty of bang for your hiking buck, Williams summed it up.

"It's only about a mile hike, but you could add another quarter mile crawling through those caves and crevices," Williams said. "The bridge, all these rocks down here, just the natural beauty of it. It's absolutely fantastic."

A morning of exploration can work up a powerful appetite and a fine opportunity to enjoy lunchtime treats at the picnic area situated between the trail and parking area. There are lots of picnic tables, and a restroom nearby.

There's so much to see on such a small tract it could be more aptly named Alum Cove Natural Bridge and More Recreation Area.

  photo  A bluff line that features a network of crevice caves and holes in the rock is located across the hollow from the natural bridge. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
 
 
  photo  A bluff line that features a network of crevice caves and holes in the rock is located across the hollow from the natural bridge. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
 
 
  photo  Williams emerges through a hole in the rock after exploring in January 2024 one of several crevice caves at Alum Cove Natural Bridge recreation area. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
 
 
  photo  Cracks, crevices and small caves are features at Alum Cove Natural Bridge Recreation Area. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
 
 
  photo  Exploring above and below the natural bridge gives different perspectives. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
 
 


A bridge is born

Alum Cove Natural Bridge is all that remains of what was a quartz sandstone cave. The arch is 130 feet long and 20 feet wide. The weathering process of wind, rain and ice formed the opening between the arch and the rock overhang. Water and wind also shaped the formations along the bluff across from the natural bridge.

— Source: U.S Forest Service

 



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