Arizona hiking guide sentenced after leading deadly expedition

Landscape at Buffalo National River, Arkansas, USA
(Image credit: Getty)

A man has been sentenced after leading dangerous illegal parks at a National Park that resulted in the death of one person. Jeffrey Johnson of Bentonville, Arizona, was found guilty of two offences in December, and has now been given two years of probation, a total of $3,366.27 in fines, and a two-year ban from the park.

Last spring, Johnson led two disastrous hikes along the Indian Creek Trail in Buffalo National River, Arkansas – one of which resulted in a person's death. Local Park Rangers had tried to prevent him running trips on previous occasions due to the steep drops and narrow ledges, but Johnson ignored their warnings.

On one hikes, an injured walker had to be carried off the trail by emergency personnel. During another, several people found the route too challenging and decided to turn back. Johnson didn't notice that the group had split, and one of those who left died after falling from the trail.


In a statement, the National Park Service (NPS) explained that Johnson had been running a guided hiking service via, charging a membership fee and soliciting donations for his services. He allowed hikers to pay in advance by check or PayPal, or in cash when they arrived for their first expedition.

He had neither sought nor been granted permission to run a business at Buffalo National River, and in December he was convicted on one count of engaging in or soliciting business inside a National Park without a permit, and one count of soliciting money inside a National Park without a permit. 

Last week he was sentenced to two years probation and given a two-year ban from Buffalo National River. Hr was also ordered to pay $600 in fines, $80 in processing fees, and $2,686.27 in restitution to cover the two search and rescue operations last year.

"We really encourage visitors to come prepared, not only to have fun, but to be educated," Cassie Branstetter, public information officer for Buffalo National River, told Springfield News-Leader after the second accident.

"Whenever these tragedies happen, we want to educate our visitors to make sure that they are best prepared, because that type of memory is definitely not one we want anyone to leave here with."

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.