I’m not afraid of spiders, I swear. But like most humans, I have that instinct that makes me scream when I walk into a spider web. This weekend, that instinct was put to an extreme test.
I decided to start off the Arkansas fall backpacking season with a trip to the rough & rocky Cossatot River. The River Corridor trail runs about 12.5 miles, meandering through lush mossy forest and climbing the bluffs that overlook the river. In the words of the AR Dept of Parks, Heritage & Tourism, it is “one of the most rugged and spectacular river corridors in the central United States.”
I’d wanted to do two nights but work got complicated on Friday, so I didn’t make it out of Dallas until sunrise Saturday morning. The 3.5 hour drive northeast had me facing directly into the blindingly bright morning sun… something which I should have realized during the planning process. Around Texarkana, it suddenly began to feel like fall. The weather got cooler, the first fallen leaves bedecked the ground and the scent of pine needles floated through my windows. I passed through quaint small towns with cute, colorful shops and historic buildings. I was instantly reminded of my deep love for Arkansas.
I checked in at the visitor center, where they had me put a sign in my front windshield that declared my intended date of return. Since I was hiking solo (unless you count the dogs), I appreciated that someone would be paying attention to whether or not I made it back. From the visitor center I hiked down a gravel road to a bridge which indicated the start of the trail.
I took about five steps before encountering a huge grey snake. The dogs were on leash, thankfully, and I decided they should stay that way. The last thing I needed in the back country was a snake/dog fight. I tied their leashes to the hip belt of my backpack.
Another few feet into the trail, I ran straight into a giant spiderweb. I shrieked and stepped backward onto a dog paw. The dogs in turn yelped and attempted to run in circles around me, getting me tangled in their leashes. I picked up a stick in case I needed to swat more spiderwebs out of the way, and continued on. Three more steps and I encountered another spiderweb… and another and another.
I have never in my life seen such a spidery trail. I pondered whether I should just give up and go somewhere else, but decided to press on. The constant web-swatting made it a frustratingly slow-going hike. Despite waving a stick in front of me, I still managed to walk into numerous webs, screaming each time despite my better judgment. I even screamed once when a leaf fell on me as I was looking at a spider web. One spider fell down my shirt and bit me.
The combination of screaming and stick waving really freaked out my dogs. I accidentally hit Tchai in the head several times with the spider stick. These poor, poor dogs. As horrifying as the webs were for me, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the thousands of poor spiders whose homes were destroyed by a giant oaf plunging through the forest. I was glad nobody was around to hear me screaming like a little girl.
It was surprisingly hot and humid for mid-September and I soon found myself drenched in sweat. There were surprisingly few river access points, and I had to give the dogs some of my nice purified water. Thankfully some cloud cover rolled in and it started to sprinkle. The rain felt so good that I decided not to get out my rain jacket. I was already soaked with sweat, so what was the difference if I got rained on?
I reached the River Ridge Group Camping Area, which was a private area but had river access. I wanted the dogs to drink up while they could, rather than wasting my purified water on them. A man emerged from the picnic table area and I asked if it would be ok to access the river there. He said sure, but there were a bunch of boyscouts out there and they would probably want to pet the dogs.
Sure enough, there were tons of teenage boys sprawled over the boulders in the river and they immediately started calling to the dogs. It was probably a great spot to tan and relax, but just then a peal of thunder rolled across the sky. The chaperone yelled at the boys to get out of the water, and I decided I’d better go.
Hiking in gentle rain is the most wonderful experience in the world. The noise of raindrops on leaves is something that relaxes me so much that I put on YouTube videos of it when I’m stressed. Also, a lot of animals tend to come out when it rains – which is what happened in this moment.
On the side of the road was an armadillo rooting around in the dirt. I watched it for a while and it either didn’t notice me or didn’t care. Surprisingly, the dogs didn’t bark and just sat there and watched it with me. It didn’t seem to have an eye on the side of its head facing me, which is perhaps why it was oblivious to us. As I watched it, the sprinkles turned into a torrential downpour and I decided it was time to move on.
The rain felt heavenly as it washed the hot sweat off my skin. The only problem was that my socks got soaked and soon there were mini puddles inside my hiking boots. I had prepared for this and changed into my hiking sandals. I hiked the remaining 2.5 miles to Cossatot Falls in the rain. There were less webs here, which very much increased the enjoyability. Either the rain tore down many of the spider webs, or the boyscouts had done earlier in the day.
In this section, the trail climbs the bluffs and overlooks the river below. I could barely see through the foliage, but I think in another month once some leaves have fallen, the views here will be spectacular. I found a covered bench that overlooked a scenic part. I was dying for a break, but when I stepped in the gazebo I saw there was a wasp net in the corner. Hard pass.
Just as I reached Cossatot Falls, the sun emerged. The dogs and I jumped in the river and took a long break hopping around the boulders. It was a lovely reward for a tough day of hiking. The Falls aren’t really a waterfall, more like an area where there are white water rapids in the spring. In early fall, the water was pretty low.
The Sand Bar Campground was just around the corner from there – my digs for the night. It’s an actual campground along an unpaved road and costs $15 to stay. I had read online that you needed 4WD to drive there, but I spied a compact car in the parking lot as well as a couple motorcycles. I definitely could have just driven and then hiked from that spot – which is what I will probably do with friends at some point in the future. The Cossatot River SPNA requires campers to stay at an official site in one several campgrounds, so it’s not quite so rough and remote as other routes.
I set up my hammock and collapsed in it. Spent the rest of the evening reading and listening to thunder in the distance.
It didn’t rain that night, but was misty enough that by the time I woke all my stuff was wet. I set my boots in the sun the next morning to try & get them to try off. I hadn’t realized my propane tank was low, and accidentally used all of it on boiling water for coffee. Luckily I had brought plenty of non-cook foods (tuna packets, an Indian food packet, Clif bars, baruka nuts, dried figs, kale chips…)
A fellow camper came by my site and asked if I needed anything. He noticed I had backpacked in and offered to help with any supplies I’d forgotten. I thanked him for offering but didn’t need anything. I asked him about the drive in and he said it was 20 miles of bumpy road and took a long time. Maybe backpacking was the better option after all!
I’d been hoping that the trail back would be clear of webs since I’d torn them down the day before. Unfortunately that was not the case. Many spiders had already rebuilt their webs across the trail. By this time I’d gotten so used to waving the spider stick that it didn’t seem so bad. I actually started to appreciate the beauty of the little critters. There were fat ones with bright orange & yellow designs, and smaller black ones with white triangles on their backs.
On the way back, I again stopped at the group site to get water. The boy scout troupe had already left, but a friendly female ranger drove up to say hello. I told her about how spidery the trail was and she was unsurprised. She said the spiders liked hot weather and sunshine, but in a few more weeks when it’s cold they’ll die off. It was really comforting during this solo trip to have encountered all these friendly people. The rangers are definitely aware of backpackers and on the lookout for anyone who might need help. Despite encountering no other hikers on the trail, there were lots of friendly people at the various stops. Additionally the trail was very well-maintained and easy to follow. Because of that I felt very safe and think this would be a great trail for beginners.
All in all this was a great little weekend trip. I hiked about 12 miles total, which was plenty with the heavy backpack. It was much slower than my usual pace, because of the spider webs and dogs being tied to me. I hope the spiders weren’t too upset about the destruction of their homes, and wish them all the best for the remainder of their short little lives. Shockingly, neither of the dogs got ANY ticks. Not a single one! I’d say that’s a pretty good trade-off for having to deal with spiders.
For information about spiders in the Ouachita, I’ve found this website to be particularly useful: