Devil’s Den State Park, the popular student hiking spot, is only 20 minutes from Fayetteville, and it’s free. Visitors can explore the lake by paddleboat, horseback ride through the woods, bike the hilly terrain, swim in the pool and picnic by the dam.
The Yellow Rock trail and the Devil’s Den Self-Guided Trail are probably the most beaten, as they are only a couple of miles long. and they both contain landmarks. Yellow Rock has a beautiful lookout onto a wooded valley from 300 feet up. Visitors hiking the Devil’s Den Trail cross over the Twin Falls by way of a small bridge, which catches mist from the waterfall on a windy day. Devil’s Den Trail also includes the Devil’s Den cave and the Devil’s Icebox cave. Unfortunately, both caves have been closed since 2010 in an attempt to prevent the spread of the White Nose Syndrome fungus in bats. Although hikers currently cannot enter the caves, they can still explore the broad entrance of the Icebox and bask in its refreshingly cool air.
However, aside from its obvious natural appeal, Devil’s Den State Park is a National Historic District and has a noteworthy past. As the sites’ informational plaques denote, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began to build the park in 1933, as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The land for the park was acquired by the U.S. government from families who were hit hard during the Great Depression and couldn’t pay their property taxes, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
The CCC built a road from West Fork to the park, as well as hiking trails, the dam, cabins and other buildings, until the organization dissolved in 1942. Although many of the structures eroded due to lack of maintenance and were replaced with modern materials in the ’60s and ’70s, Devil’s Den State Park remains one of the best-preserved parks built by the CCC, the encyclopedia stated.
Another factor that makes the Devil’s Den area in the Boston Mountains unique is its status as the largest national collection of sandstone crevices. These crevices are believed to be the result of hillside collapse tens of thousands of years ago, and Lee Creek has only further cut through the sandstone. The collection of crevices encompasses approximately 60 caves, according to the encyclopedia. The Devil’s Den cave is the longest at 550 feet, but the Devil’s Icebox, Farmer’s Cave, and Big Ear Cave are popular as well. These caves contribute to Devil’s Den State Park’s importance as a bat habitat.
The sandstone crevices were also occupied by outlaws in the mid-1800s. The bandits hid along the Butterfield Stage Line, a stagecoach route for passengers and U.S. mail, as stated on the official Arkansas tourism site. The sandstone crevices were used a few years later by Confederate guerrillas in the American Civil War.
The land encompassed by the state park was used long before the Civil War, however. Native Americans were present in prehistoric times, dating as far back as 8,000 years, reported the Arkansas Archaeological Survey. In total, the park contains eleven archaeological sites, including old Native American sites and European-American settlement sites likely dating back to the early 1800s.
So not only has the state park’s land been traversed by students and adventure-seekers, but it has been lived on by Native Americans, early white settlers, outlaws, families struggling in the Great Depression, and the CCC workers who shaped it into what we see today. The next time you’re trekking along on a trail at Devil’s Den, don’t forget to look past the beautiful scenery and think of all the people who have stepped there before you.