Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pack Rat Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/28/2014 -  Pack Rat Falls hike

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.67663, -93.25463,  817 feet
  Pack Rat Falls:  35.67267, -93.25335,  1005 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs on or off leash should be fine. This is a campground, so if your dog is not well behaved around strangers, please keep it on a leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes!  Just like any other vehicle if you can't see how deep the water is when the road crosses Haw Creek, don't cross.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for Pack Rat Falls Hike (.gpx format)

Pack Rat Falls
When we set out to go hiking today, Pack Rat Falls was not even on our list of waterfalls to check out.  But after visiting Lonesome Hollow Falls, Fern Falls, and Hudson Shelter Falls, we still had a good part of the afternoon left.  We decided we would drive home form Hudson Shelter on a little longer route via Highways 123 and 164, instead of just going straight down Highway 7.  Then we could stop in at Haw Creek campground and see what the recent rains had done for one of our favorite waterfalls.

Pack Rat Creek Canyon
As it turned out, the Haw Creek area received very little rainfall yesterday, if any.  In fact, Haw Creek Falls had less water than just a couple of weeks earlier when Boomer and I had hiked to Pack Rat Falls.  Bethany had never been up this cool little drainage, so we decided to make the hike up to Pack Rat Falls.

I won't reiterate the detailed directions on how to get to the falls, since you can get that information on my previous post for Pack Rat Falls.  Click on the link here to access that post and the detailed directions.  

I will add that the Ozark Highlands Trail goes right through camp site #5, which is the parking location and trail head for Pack Rat Falls.  When you start out, you are actually on the Ozark Highlands Trail for a few yards until you round the ridge spur on the right and go off that trail to head upstream in the creek canyon for Pack Rat Falls.

Pack Rat Creek Canyon
Log Walking Practice for Boomer
The creek itself is one of my favorites.  It tumbles down this canyon with cascades, slides, and pools literally all the way up to Pack Rat Falls.  Along with being the love of my life, Bethany is our photographer.  Having never been to this wonderful little creek, she had to stop and take a bazillion photos along the way.  Pack Rat Falls itself is a beautiful 24 foot waterfall, and it's grotto makes a picturesque setting.  There was a large log going right across the pool at the base of the falls, so Boomer got a little real life workout with his 'mount' command, which means he is to get up on the log and walk across it.  He did just fine, slipping a little because it was wet and mossy.  I'm surprised both of us didn't end up in the pool, but we came out nice and dry.

We were starting to lose our daylight down in the creek canyon, so we headed back out.  Of course, on the way back we had to 'oooh' and 'aahh' and wait for Bethany to take more photos, but that's OK.  This is the kind of magical place that you just like to hang out in and savor nature's beauty.  All in all, a great way to put a cap on a four hike afternoon with my favorite hiking companions.

Hudson Shelter Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/28/2014 -  Hudson Shelter Falls hike

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.85416,  -93.12623,  2111 feet
  Hudson Shelter:  35.85146, -93.12411,  1912 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes.  Be careful, however if you go down to the shelter cave itself (base of the lower waterfall).  You have to cross the creek to do so, and right at the top of the fall.  Less sure-footed dogs might slip and go over the ledge.  You might too, for that matter.  Be careful!

Motorcycle Friendly: Marginal.  It is over four miles on a gravel road, but I will say it is a fairly well maintained gravel road.  I hate taking my Harley off the pavement, but you may find this acceptable for a street bike.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for Hudson Shelter Falls hike (.gpx format)

Middle and Lower Falls of Hudson Shelter Falls
So far today, we had already hiked out to Lonesome Hollow Falls and Fern Falls, both not far off Highway 7 and only a few miles apart.  Another one in this area we wanted to check out was Hudson Shelter Falls.  We had been to Hudson Shelter a couple of times, before I started writing my hiking blog.  Both previous times we had come here the creek feeding the falls had been dry.  On one of those occasions, it was even at a time of year when most Ozark creeks DID have water flowing in them.  So I didn't really know what to expect today, even though we had a significant amount of rainfall yesterday.  That doesn't always equate to significant rainfall
Lower Falls Viewed From Within Hudson Shelter

everywhere, and the other two waterfalls, while spectacular, did not seem to have had nearly as much rain as we had.  Today, I figured if I could not catch this waterfall with actual water falling, it might be time to give up on it.  I'm glad we gave it one more shot.

Hudson Shelter is a large (huge) shelter-type cave tucked away in a drainage right off the side of Hudson Mountain.  It is actually less than four miles as the crow flies from Lonesome Hollow Falls, where we had started our hikes today.  On the drive to it, there was not a lot of standing water or any other indication that the creek feeding the falls would have a decent amount of water.  But we were in the area, so it needed to be at least checked out.  It is also a short hike, so it's not as if it would take much time to at least look.

Turn off Highway 7
To get there, drive north 11.0 miles from Pelsor (aka Sand Gap), or if coming from the other direction, drive south 2.8 miles from the junction where Highway 16 splits off from Highway 7 to go west toward the community of Deer.  This will bring you right to the middle of the small community of Cowell, such as it is.  Turn right on the road going toward the northwest here (or left if coming from the other direction) onto NC-6560 (aka FR-1204).  On some maps this road is CR-55 (old county road name) and on some it is Newton 6370.  All I can tell you for sure is there is only one street sign on Highway 7 for this road, and it says NC-6560.

Whatever you want to call this road, go down it for 4.1 miles and turn right onto FR-1204B.  I believe this FR-1204B is also known as Hudson Mountain Road locally, but the only marking is a stake on the right that says 1204B.  Go about a hundred yards down FR-1204B and there will be an old logging road on the right.  Park there and start your hike.  In the past, I have been able to back all the way down this logging road to where it bends to the left, but today there were some trees partially blocking the road.  

Highest of the Three Falls at Hudson Shelter
Follow the old logging road for a short distance to where it makes that bend to the left.  Keep going straight and leave the logging road at that bend.  There is a trail there that goes down to the creek, then follows it downstream.  This drainage is a feeder creek that flows into Campbell Creek about a third of a mile below Hudson Shelter.  As we got to the creek, I could hear the sound of water gurgling in the creek.  Woo-hoo!  At last we would see this with water in the waterfall!

Middle Falls of Hudson Shelter
The trail crosses over the creek a couple of times before coming to the top of the falls.  Hudson Shelter Falls is actually a triple-tiered waterfall, with three distinct waterfalls.  There is only 15 to 25 feet from the base of one waterfall to the top of the next, so I only listed one GPS waypoint for the group of waterfalls as a whole.  

The top waterfall has a cascade of about six feet, then drops off a ledge for another four to five feet.  This one is small, but still a pretty waterfall.  It was difficult to get an unobstructed view of this one for photos due to fallen trees.  As you go past this waterfall on the left side as you face downstream, there is a path for a relatively easy climb down to the next level.  From there, you stay on the left side of the creek for a similar drop down to the base of the second tier, the middle falls.

Lower Falls of Hudson Shelter (Middle Falls Visible Above)
The middle falls are nice by themselves, falling off a ledge then down large rocks for a total of at least 20 feet.  Once you get back over to the other side of the creek, there are several perspectives where you can see the middle and lower falls together, for a striking view.  To descend to the base of the lower waterfall and to the cave itself, you have to cross over the creek and descend a scramble of large rocks.  Be careful here as there is ample room for a misstep.  Boomer was able to make it down the rock scramble and back alright, but was unable to get up on one large rock I climbed for the photo at the top of this post.  He let me know how displeased he was for me to be up there unchaperoned.  

Inside Hudson Shelter
Hudson Shelter itself is a huge cave, easily 70 to 80 feet deep and much wider than that.  It has a high ceiling, at least 20 feet in the center.  The photo on the right is taken from the big middle area of the cave.  To put it in perspective, that small blob of black in the center of the photo is Boomer, a three foot tall, fairly large, dog.  The lower waterfall falls over the right side of the mouth of the cave (as you look downstream), the side you just climbed down to get there. 

After my previous visits when the creek was dry, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the waterfalls were flowing.  I'm glad I didn't give up on this area and got to see it today.  The tiered effect of the waterfalls flowing right out over the roof of the cave make this an almost mystical looking place.  It is also another quick and relatively easy hike.  It is less than half a mile each way, and about a 200 foot elevation drop.  You do have to go four miles down a gravel road, but it is a well maintained road.  This hike is highly recommended IF conditions are wet enough to have water in the creek.  If you are one of those cave-crazy individuals, you will want to make this short hike just to see the Hudson Shelter cave itself.  This one also goes on the quick and easy hike list for visitors.  

Fern Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/28/2014 Hike to Fern Falls

GPS coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking location: 35.89291, -93.19023,  2045 feet
  Turn on trail: 35.89332, -93.19416,  2010 feet
  Fern Falls: 35.89748, -93.19249,  1851 feet

Pet friendly: Yes.  Easy open trail, with bypasses around downed trees and obstacles.  As always, be careful around the top of the waterfall.

Motorcycle friendly: Yes.  Just pull off Hwy 7 and park.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for Fern Falls Hike (.gpx format) 

Fern Falls (42')
After leaving Lonesome Hollow Falls, Fern Falls was next on our list.  This was another beautiful waterfall that I had been to before, but neither Bethany nor Boomer had made the trip yet.  This was another easy hike with a big payoff.

From where we had parked near the Cowell cemetery, all we had to do was get back on Highway 7 and go north a little over 6 miles, and park next to the scenic byway sign.  I won't reiterate the detailed directions on how to get to the falls, since you can get that information on my previous post for Fern Falls.  Click on the link here to access that post and the detailed directions.

After you veer right onto the trail going down along the creek, it is still a well defined trail.  That being said, someone wanted to make really sure you stayed on the right trail and blazed it with red trail ribbon on trees all the way down.  Where the trees had fallen on the old logging road, they were especially careful to blaze every few feet along the trail bypassing the downed trees. The hike to the falls was very nice.   Everything was getting fully greened up for springtime, and the dogwoods were in full bloom along the way.   Having been here before, we didn't even waste time at the top of the falls.  You can't really see anything from the top, and the best place to cross the creek is about 40 feet upstream where even a short person can rock hop.  

Dogwoods Along The Trail
Over on the west side of the creek, there is a path over to a break in the bluffline that leads right down to the bottom of the ledge that Fern Falls goes over.  This area also did not seem to get nearly as much rain as we had received yesterday, but it got enough for the falls to be flowing well and looking their best.  Fern Falls is a somewhat classic Ozark waterfall, flowing out over a large ledge, then crashing onto the rocks below and falling into a large pool.  Of course, Bethany could not be satisfied with photos taken below the ledge and had to get further down to downstream of the pool.   The best way to do that is to go behind the waterfall all the way around the grotto, then it is an easy climb down to the pool.  

This was the second on our "go back and see these waterfalls after a good rain" list, and it did not disappoint.  Fern Falls looked spectacular today.  As with all the waterfalls we visit, photos and videos are really a poor substitute to being there.  My GPS track showed it to be only 0.62 miles each way, and it is a very easy hike.  The trail is well defined with a very easy gradient, dropping less than 200 feet over the length of the trail.  Fern Falls also goes onto our quick hit list of hikes we can take even with friends and family that are novice hikers.  We'll be back!

Lonesome Hollow Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/28/2014 - Hike to Lonesome Hollow Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking:  35.80639, -93.15759,  1822 feet
  Turn off ATV trail:  35.80364,  -93.15878,  1839 feet
  Lonesome Hollow Falls:  35.80487, -93.16006,  1988 feet

Pet friendly: Yes.  OK for pets on or off leash.

Motorcycle friendly: Yes.  Less than a mile down a fairly good gravel road.  I would take my street bike on this road.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for Lonesome Hollow Falls hike (.gpx format)

Lonesome Hollow Falls (47 feet)
The last time I came to Lonesome Hollow, the waterfall was a beautiful, fairly tall (47 feet) waterfall, but I thought it would be much better with more water flow.  I have a list of waterfalls like this that I vowed to go back to after a good rain.  Yesterday, we got almost three inches of rain at our house north of Dover.  While I realize the amount of rainfall varies widely over an area as large as the Ozarks, I figured surely there was a good deal of rain in the mountains north of us, even if not as much as we received at home.  So Bethany and I, along with our German Shepard, Boomer, loaded up and headed north to see if we could visit a number of these "see when wet" waterfalls.  Lonesome Hollow Falls was first on our list.

I won't reiterate the detailed directions on how to get to the falls, since you can get that information on my previous post for Lonesome Hollow Falls.  Click on the link here to access that post and the detailed directions.

Lonesome Hollow Bluffline
We parked and started our stroll down the old ATV trail.  By the looks of the ATV trail, it looked like no one had been here since my last venture to Lonesome Hollow months ago.  I'm sure that is not the case, but I like it when there aren't any signs of human intrusion.  Today we had the woods all to ourselves, as usual.  After dropping off the trail where it gets below the bluffline on the right, we made our way along the bottom of the bluffline, coming into view of the waterfall.  It was really flowing well, completely changing the way the waterfall looked.  This area did not get the three inches of rain we got further south, but certainly got plenty of rain to make the waterfall spectacular.  After getting back home, I went back to some of the photos I took in February and did some comparisons.  A little more water makes a big difference.  I thought it was a cool little waterfall then; now it looked like an awesome not-so-little waterfall.  See the comparison photos side-by-side below.

Feb 12, 2014
This is what I would call an easy hike.  It is only a half mile each way, and less than 200 feet elevation change.  The first quarter mile is easy hiking on the old ATV trail.  The other quarter mile is technically a bushwhack since there is no trail, but it's an easy bushwhack.  It is on the level and easy to hike along the bottom of the bluffline.  This waterfall hike is going on my list of easy hikes with great waterfalls that I can take visiting friends and family to,  when there's adequate ground water, that is.
April 28, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Glory Hole, Arkansas Ozarks

4/22/2014 -  Glory Hole

GPS Coordinates: Lat/Lon/Elevation
  Parking Location:  35.82838, -93.39050,  2125 feet
  Glory Hole:  35.82210, -93.39352,  1732 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs on or off leash should be fine. This is a popular hiking location, so if your dog is not well behaved around strangers, please keep it on a leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes - park right off Highway 16.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for hike to Glory Hole (.gpx format)

Bottom half of the Glory Hole - Boomer and Rick
The Glory Hole has to be one of the weirdest waterfalls ever.  It started out eons ago like many Ozark waterfalls, just a creek spilling out over a big sandstone ledge.  But over the millenia, this 'little creek that could' eroded a hole all the way through the ledge.  Now the waterfall starts up above the ledge and pours down through the hole into the large shelter cave below the ledge.  Glory Hole's 'cool factor' plus the fact that it is a relatively easy hike makes it a popular location.  Since Boomer and I had wrapped up our hike at Stepp Creek today before 2:00 pm, we decided we had to go see this one as well.  After all, it was "right in the same area".  

It is right off Highway 16, where Highways 16 and 21 are combined.  Getting there is pretty easy.  If coming from the east, it is 2.3 miles west of Edwards Junction.  If coming from the west, it is 5.7 miles east of Fallsville.  There is a lot of room on the south side of the highway to pull off and park, and you can see where a lot of folks have done so.

View from behind the Glory Hole
There is an old road heading south from this parking location.  You can drive down this road another 0.3 miles and park, but be warned it is a VERY rough road and has a couple of long mud holes that you might get stuck in.  When we got to the parking location there were a couple of Jeep Rubicons with big tires and high clearance parked there already.  I figured if they weren't taking the road, neither should we.  At any rate, you only save yourself a quarter mile of hiking on a very easy trail, so why not save the abuse to your suspension and just enjoy the hike?  That's what we did.  It was rather unusual for us to find other hikers on the trail, especially on a weekday.  A couple of college students were just coming out as we started our hike, and another nice couple with a small dog were on the trail ahead of us.  This little dog had to be all of eight inches long and all of five pounds soaking wet, but she thought she was all that and a bag of chips.  I think she wanted to take on all 95 hulking pounds of Boomer, but he was very polite and well behaved.  He chases squirrels bigger than this dog, so he just gave her a funny look, shrugged it off, and we hiked on.

Turn Right at Road Branch
Talk about directions - at the highway there is actually a small white sign nailed to a tree that says "Glory Hole' and an arrow pointing the way.  At 0.3 miles down the old road, you will come to a branch road to the right that is even rougher and narrower.  There used to be a Forest Service bulletin board at this point, but it was torn apart in a storm or something and only has one post remaining.  Someone took the large piece of plywood from it, painted 'Glory Hole' on it with an arrow, and leaned it against a tree there.  

Upper part of the Glory Hole
After you turn right on the old road, it goes downhill and crosses Dismal Creek.  If you stay on this old road, it gets narrower until it is just a hiking trail and not even something an ATV could use.  Shortly afterwards, this trail brings you to the top of the Glory Hole, where Dismal Creek falls through the hole in the ledge.  It should not need to be said, but be careful at the top of the ledge and going down to the base.  It can get slippery.  From the top of the waterfall, you can see where it used to run out over the ledge a bazillion years ago.

Lower part of the Glory Hole
To get to the bottom of the Glory Hole, go along the bluff to your right as you face downstream.  There is a trail of sorts across the feeder creek there.  When that creek has water flowing, as it did today, there is also a small waterfall.  On the other side of that feeder creek you can pick your way down the bluffline to get to the base of the Glory Hole.  The hole is smack dab in the middle of the large shelter-type cave under the ledge.  Today, it had a fair amount of water.  Dismal Creek is not a real large stream, and often virtually dries up in late summer and fall.

Small Waterfall Upstream of Glory Hole
Cascade on Dismal Creek
I said earlier IF you stay on the old road, it will take you to the top of the Glory Hole.  While that's true, I don't recommend you go that route.  After crossing Dismal Creek, you will see a number of trails heading off to the left toward the creek.  Take the first one you see.  There are several small waterfalls and cascades along the creek upstream of the Glory Hole that you will miss out on if you go straight down on the old road.  There are well worn trails all along this west side of Dismal Creek.  While these trails are a little rougher than the old road, they are not much so.  It is still what I would call a very easy hike, and is a much more scenic way to go.

I would categorize Glory Hole as a 'must see' waterfall at least once, just because of its unique nature.  It is easy to get to, and a very easy hike of about two miles round trip.  The trail is clearly defined and unobstructed, going through a really pleasant pine and hardwood forest.  It's just a really nice stroll in the woods.  To top it all off, you can park right next to a paved road.  What's not to like?  I recommend going during wet conditions, when there has been a substantial amount of rain.  In late summer it is still a pleasant hike, but you'll be lucky if there is even a dribble of water going down the hole.
Glory Hole Track

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stepp Creek Area, Arkansas Ozarks

4/22/2014 - Stepp Creek Falls and Other Waterfalls in the Stepp Creek Valley

GPS Coordinates:  Lat/Lon/Elevation
  Parking for Stepp Creek:  35.85506,  -93.30045,  2080 feet
  Leave Logging Trail:  35.85071,  -93.30704,  2047 feet
  Upper Stepp Creek Falls:  35.85771,  -93.30904,  1820 feet
  Lower Stepp Creek Falls:  35.85773,  -93.30963,  1805 feet
  Lower Sidestep Falls:  35.85652,  -93.31180,  1781 feet
  Upper Sidestep Falls:  35.85513,  -93.31183,  1812 feet
  Stepp Creek Junction Falls:  35.85846,  -93.31128,  1750 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes.  Easy for pets on or off leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: Marginally acceptable.  It is a little over a mile down a gravel road, but the road seems to be well maintained.  If you ride slowly and watch out for potholes, it should be fine.  If you ride, watch out for the first house right off Highway 16, as they seem to have about a thousand dogs.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for hike to Stepp Creek Falls (.gpx format)

Upper Stepp Creek Falls
Boomer (our German Shepard) and I set out today for a couple of different areas; the Stepp Creek area, and an Arkansas favorite, the Glory Hole.  We wanted to tackle Stepp Creek first, because we were going to take a little different route.  You never quite know how that will turn out.  This area has some nice little waterfalls and creeks, yet seems to be very rarely visited.   One note on the names of the waterfalls I am documenting - only the Upper and Lower Stepp Creek Falls had official names.  All the others are placekeeper names I made up because I dislike confusing nomenclature like 'Unnamed Falls #x'.  These names made some sort of sense for the location.

To get to the trail head, go to Highway 16 west of the Highway 7 junction.  Drive 9.0 miles west of Highway 7 (or 4.1 miles east of Edwards Junction), then turn north on NC-8908 (aka FR-1227).  Go 0.9 miles on NC-8908, then bear left onto NC-8910 (aka FR-1227 or Union Grove Road), go another 0.25 miles, and pull into an old logging road on the left to park.  There is a cattle corral on each side of the road just before the parking location.
Full size track at bottom of this post

If you have a GPS, reset it here.  This is where I decided to deviate a little from our previous directions, which was to follow the old logging trail for 0.25 miles, then turn off the trail to bushwhack down to the creek.  Looking at the maps, it appeared you could get a lot closer to the waterfalls staying on the old logging trail.  It did turn away from the creek at 0.25, but then turned back toward the creek in short order.  The logging trail was a pretty good hiking path, mostly on the level and clear of debris and undergrowth. So we kept on the logging road, staying on it until 0.6 miles.  At that point, my GPS showed us starting to move a little away from the falls.  So at that point we left the trail and bushwhacked down to the creek. 

At the point we turned left off the old logging road, my GPS showed 0.6 on the trip meter, and showed the waterfalls to be only 0.19 miles away.  Of course, that is 'as the crow flies', not necessarily the distance we would have to go to get there.  I was pleasantly surprised with the actual bushwhack at this point.  The slope of the hillside was very moderate and there was very little undergrowth and brush.  We hiked through a section of tall Pines, and made good time going straight downhill to the creek.  When we reached the creek at 0.84 miles, we were only 200 feet upstream of Upper Stepp Creek Falls.  So the decision to go a new route really turned out well in this case.  The hike down to the first of our waterfalls was what I would have to rate as an easy hike.  

Upper Stepp Creek Falls
From the top of Upper Stepp Creek Falls, there is a break in the bluffline on the right as you face downstream that you can use to get to the base of the falls.  This is a really picturesque 25 foot waterfall that tumbles down the face of the rock bluff.  There is a small shelter type cave to the left of the waterfall that we would come back to for lunchtime.  But for now, it was still fairly early in the morning.  We had made better time getting down to the waterfalls than I had expected.  So off we went downstream. 

Lower Stepp Creek Falls (12 feet)
Crossing to the left side of the creek as we went downstream, we followed the bluffline down on that side.  As the bottom of the bluffline goes past the top of the lower falls, there is a moderate slope down to the creek and the base of the waterfall.  Again, this is an easy hike all the way.  Lower Stepp Creek Falls is less than a hundred yards downstream of the upper falls.  In fact, if you look closely at the photos of the lower falls, you can see the upper falls in the background.  Lower Stepp Creek Falls is a typical Ozark ledge-type waterfall, dropping into a pool. 

Boomer Sized Natural Bridge
From Lower Stepp Creek Falls, we decided to do some exploring throughout the rest of this drainage.  On this upper reach of Stepp Creek, it actually has two branches with Upper and Lower Stepp Creek Falls both on the eastern branch.  The western branch of these headwaters is about the same size as Stepp Creek, and the junction of these two creeks is a short distance downstream of Lower Stepp Creek Falls.  For my documentation, I'll call this other branch 'Sidestep Creek' so I have something reasonable to call the waterfalls on that creek.

We followed the same bluffline on the left (west) side of Stepp Creek, staying right at the bottom of the rock bluff.  Boomer found a small natural bridge in this bluffline that was just his size. You never know what kind of weird rock formations you will find in the Ozarks.  Following this bluffline around to the right, it takes you right into the Sidestep Creek drainage and to the Lower Sidestep Falls.  

Lower Sidestep Falls
Sidestep Creek above the lower falls runs primarily on a long, flat, run of rock.  This makes for a stream bed that is relatively flat and wide, but only an inch or so deep so you can walk right up it if you have waterproof boots.  Continuing on up this creek you come to the Upper Sidestep Falls, a nice little waterfall with another cascade a few yards above it.  We explored a little more above this upper cascade, but didn't find anything interesting, so we headed back downstream to the main Stepp Creek.  

Upper Sidestep Falls and Cascade Upstream
We stayed high above Stepp Creek as we went downstream.  My experience hiking in the Ozarks is that you can usually drop down into an area when you need to, but if you go right down to the creek level, it is not unusual to find yourself in a situation where you have to climb back out.  So we stayed above the creek level as we went further downstream, scoping out the creek below to make sure of where we could move along at creek level.  

We went far enough downstream to find a series of long, fast cascades and water slides where Stepp Creek narrowed down quite a bit, falling into a long pool at the end of the water slides.  Downstream of this pool, I couldn't see anything of interest, so I decided to turn back at that point and go down to where we could go upstream at creek level.  It was now getting close to lunch time and I wanted to make sure we had time to go to Glory Hole this afternoon.

Stepp Creek Junction Falls
Going back upstream, we stopped at Stepp Creek Junction Falls.  This waterfall is on Stepp Creek right where it joins Sidestep Creek.  It is only about five feet high, but is a beautiful little waterfall in a really nice setting with the two creeks merging right after it's base pool.

From Stepp Creek Junction Falls, we went the short distance upstream past Lower Stepp Creek Falls to the base of Upper Stepp Creek Falls.  Boomer and I stopped here for lunch, just took our time enjoying our surroundings.  We both ate, hydrated, rested up, and then headed back.  For the return trip we retraced our path hiking down to the creek.  Going back uphill, it always seems more steep than when you came downhill, but it was not bad at all, especially by Ozark standards.  The old logging trail is a little faint at this point, so you might want to mark where you turn back on it (GPS coordinates above).  If you don't have a GPS, get one.  But for now, pay attention that you don't cross this trail inadvertently.   Once on the old logging trail, it is an easy hike back to the parking location.

This is a really nice little valley with some picturesque waterfalls.  I like it a lot, as it is mostly clear hiking without much undergrowth and briers.  It was a very enjoyable hike, not strenuous at all.  I would recommend this for any time of year.  While spring was just starting to be seen at this altitude, it did not look like it would be bad in late spring or summer.  
Stepp Creek Falls Hike Track

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stack Rock Homestead Falls and Punchbowl Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/9/2014 -  Stack Rock Homestead Falls, Dry Creek, and Punchbowl Falls

GPS Coordinates: 
  Parking Location:  35.86676 , -92.92346
  Stack Rock Homestead Falls:  35.87452, -92.93038
  Old Pioneer homestead site:  35.87441, -92.93116
  Punchbowl Falls:  35.87578, -92.94057

Pet Friendly: Yes, for the most part.  If your dog doesn't climb steep slopes and rocks well, you might want to leave it home for this one.  I had to help Boomer get out of the Punchbowl Falls bowl.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  This road is not suitable for street bikes.

GPS files:
  GPS track file for hike to Stack Rock Homestead Falls (.gpx format)
  GPS track file for hike to Punchbowl Falls (.gpx format)

Elevation changes:
  Parking location: 1907 feet
  Stack Rock Homestead Falls base:  1527 feet
  Dry Creek at OHT crossing:  1333 feet
  Punchbowl Falls base:  1066 feet

Punchbowl Falls
I had never been to Punchbowl Falls, but the photos I had seen looked fascinating.  When I mapped it out on my Topo software I found it was just north of my favorite hiking area, the Richland Wilderness.  So today Boomer (our German Shepard) and I set out for this area, where the Stack Rock Scenic Area meets the Richland Wilderness.  Should be a beautiful area, right?  It is!  And the fact that Stack Rock Homestead Falls is right on the way is just a bonus.

To get there, go to Dickey Junction.  This is on FR-1205 (aka NC-5070) 1.9 miles south of Iceledo Gap or 5.0 miles north of the Richland Creek campground.  If you are not familiar with this area, you can get detailed directions on my post for my hike to Twin Falls.  It can be referenced here.  From Dickey Junction, turn east onto FR-1201 (aka Richland Road or NC-5085).  Go three miles on FR-1201 and turn left onto a narrow road.  This goes only about a hundred yards to a gate.  Stop here and park; there is plenty of room for parking and turning around.  This is a trail head for the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).  

Ozark Highlands Trail Head
Go around the gate and get on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).  There are a couple of old logging roads here, so make sure you get on the trail, not a road.  If you are unfamiliar with the OHT, look for the white metal tags loosely nailed to trees.  That's how you'll know you are on the OHT.  The tags also tell you the direction the trail will turn when you see them mounted at an angle instead of straight up and down.

From the parking location to the Stack Rock Homestead Falls is only 0.9 miles.  And being on the OHT, it is all easy hiking.  Kudos to the architects and constructors of the OHT;  everywhere I have been on the OHT, they seem to have found the ideal route through the area.  I love hiking the OHT, and today we only used two miles of this segment of the OHT that runs for 165 miles.  From the parking location to Stack Rock Homestead Falls, the OHT parallels the creek that flows over the waterfall.  As you get closer to the falls, look back up stream and you can see (in winter/early spring, anyway) where the creek cascades all the way down the hill before it feeds the waterfall.

Stack Rock Homestead Falls
I should have said the hike on the OHT to the TOP of Stack Rock Homestead Falls was easy.  The Falls is just off the OHT on the right.  You can't see it from the OHT, but you can hear it.  Unfortunately, getting to the base of the falls is not as easy.  It's a scramble down a steep hillside with a lot of brush and undergrowth.  Not nice, but not the worst I've seen.  Boomer had no problem at all here.  I was cursing the undergrowth and slippery soil, but made it to the base of the falls intact.  The way back up to the OHT has just as much undergrowth, but is steeply uphill.  OK, enough whining for now.  At least we only had to bushwhack a short distance off the OHT to get to the base of the waterfall.

Old Pioneer Homestead
On the other side of the OHT from Stack Rock Homestead Falls is the homestead that I assume the falls were named after.  This is at the lower part of the Stack Rock Scenic Area, and there is an old pioneer homestead here, so I'm thinking that's a reasonable assumption.  The only thing left of the pioneer home is the fireplace and chimney.  It's a little surprising the fireplace has stayed mostly intact a century and a half after the rest of the house decayed away to nothing.  If you look closely at the rocks in the fireplace, you can see they were dry stacked - no mortar to hold them together.  I guess back in the early 1800's it was hard enough to get mules into an area like this even without a wagon.  Packing stuff like Portland cement into an isolated area like this was probably out of the question.  When they dry stacked this fireplace and chimney, they did a good job.  The old pioneer homestead makes a great flat piece of ground for hikers on the OHT to camp.

From the old homestead, we headed on down the OHT.  So far on the hike to Stack Rock Homestead Falls, the trail had dropped some, but was mostly on the level or low slope.  Down the trail, it starts to zig-zag down into the Dry Creek valley and gets steeper.  Still, it is the Ozark Highlands Trail, and the trail makes for easy hiking.  Before the trail crosses Dry Creek, we went off trail to the right and started our bushwhack downstream.  

Dry Creek
Dry Creek, ironically, is a pretty good flowing stream.  While many creeks in Arkansas will go dry in late summer, Dry Creek almost always has water in it.  A kayaker told me it is one of the best kayak creeks in Arkansas.  As far as hiking, I would have to call it a difficult bushwhack.  Going downstream involved some serious rock hopping, crossing from side to side, climbing over boulders, and in some cases climbing up the creek canyon walls.  Despite having waterproof hiking boots, I still got my socks wet, slipping and going in up to my knees at one point.  Dry Creek has a plethora of water features one after another, with waterfalls, cascades, water slides, and deep pools all the way downstream.   We stayed mostly on the right side as you go downstream, but at a couple of points we had to cross to the left side.  Closer to the falls, the left side goes along a high rock bluff that limits access entirely on that side.

Unnamed Falls Above Punchbowl Falls
As you get to within 100 yards of Punchbowl Falls, there are some awesome water features.  There is a really nice 'umbrella type' waterfall where the water slides off the rock at a downward angle, with other nice smaller falls around it.  Just before it goes over the falls, the creek goes down a long, very fast water slide.  Unfortunately, the creek canyon closes up around the creek the last couple of hundred feet as well to make those features.  To get down to them and see them well, you have to climb up the bluff on the right and then go back down to creek level.  At the top of Punchbowl Falls, you have to climb back up the bluff on the right side to get downstream of the waterfall.

Punchbowl Falls used to be called Dry Creek Falls, but the new name suits it much better.  It is a powerful waterfall for the size of Dry Creek.  The more powerful and higher the waterfall, the bigger the pool it carves out for itself at the base of the falls.  In this case, Punchbowl Falls goes into a huge emerald pool with steep cliff-like walls on all sides except where the creek runs out downstream.  It does indeed look like a punch bowl.  The pool and waterfall look spectacular from the top of the cliff around the falls, and every photo I have seen of it is taken from the top of the cliff on one side or another.  Getting down to the base of the falls is pretty tricky.  And dangerous, so I don't recommend it.

Punchbowl Falls
If you don't mind getting wet you could go downstream until you find a break in the bluffline, then come back upstream.  But with the structure of the cliff around the bowl, you still have to go through the bowl to get to the base.  Boomer was game, but it was still a little too chilly for me to get in the water.  I found a crease where runoff water had cut a crevice down the side of the cliff on the right hand side, where we were.  As I
was contemplating just how stupid it would be to go down it, I kind of forgot that I had told Boomer to 'lead', which is just what he did.  As Boomer started heading down, I could tell he immediately had second thoughts, but couldn't turn around.  So he scrambled around and made his way over toward the falls where he could follow the bluff base down.  Since he was committed, I pretty much had to go, so I climbed down.  This is one of those rare cases where my ability to grab stuff and climb vertically gave me the advantage, and I made it a down a little easier than Boomer did.  He may have 4-paw drive, but I have opposable thumbs.  Thanks for that, God!

View from cave - at the left is the foot of the falls
At the base of the waterfall, you can tell it is an even more special place than it seemed from higher up.  Right next to the base of the waterfall is a good sized cave that you can't really see well from up on the bluff.  The sound of the water crashing into the pool next to us coupled with the spectacular view of the pool and creek downstream made this simply an awesome spot.  As you would expect, you also get a much better view of the waterfall itself from this perspective.  Boomer and I ate lunch, hydrated, rested up, and just kicked back inside the cave to enjoy the surroundings.  

This is almost a magical spot, and we probably dawdled more than a half hour soaking it up.  But I still wanted to see Dogwood Falls on the way home, so we eventually tore ourselves away and headed back.  I immediately saw it was going to be more difficult getting out.  Boomer could slide and jump on the way down, but there were a couple of spots that he just couldn't make it up on his own.  I braced and balanced as well as I could and gave him a boost.  We both made it up OK, but it wasn't pleasant.  Boomer feels the need to swim in every pool we go by and he spent a lot of time in the big pool here.  So that was a 95 pound WET dog I had to grab and lift up.  But I'm sure he would go for help if I fell down a cliff or broke my ankle, so I'm happy to help out my hiking buddy when he needs it.

Long water slide above Punchbowl Falls
Going back up Dry Creek was as much a bushwhack ordeal as it was going downstream, only now we were going uphill and were getting a little tired.  We eventually got back to the OHT and headed back on it, grateful to be done with the bushwhacking.   As a side note, the OHT parallels Dry Creek going downstream for a little way.  I think next time I will stay on it if I can cross Dry Creek on the OHT and then when the OHT breaks away from the creek, bushwhack down to the creek at that point.  

Heading back up the valley is much easier on the OHT, but it is still uphill.  We stopped at the the old pioneer homestead to catch our breath.  Okay, so I could catch MY breath; Boomer was fine, but he's still less than two years old.  We'll see how he does when he is my age.  After resting a bit, we headed back to the parking location and loaded up.  All in all, a pretty good day in the wilderness.  We ended up spending four and a half hours on the trail, but only tracked about 6.5 miles total.  Tired but happy.  And still early enough in the day to stop by Dogwood Falls, since it's parking location was close and right on the way home.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pack Rat Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/15/2014 -  Pack Rat Falls hike

GPS Coordinates: 
  Parking Location:  35.67663, -93.25463
  Pack Rat Falls:  35.67267, -93.25335

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs on or off leash should be fine. This is a campground, so if your dog is not well behaved around strangers, please keep it on a leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes!  Just like any other vehicle if you can't see how deep the water is when the road crosses Haw Creek, don't cross.

Pack Rat Falls (24 ft)
After spending a couple of hours hiking to Hobo Falls, we still had a lot of afternoon left.  Since the water levels in the creeks looked pretty good, we decided to check out another waterfall that was close to where we had parked.  Pack Rat Falls is in a beautiful little creek canyon, one of those that is really nice in wetter conditions.  So we loaded up, headed back to Highway 123, and made a bee line for the Haw Creek Falls campground.  

Haw Creek Falls (6 ft)
The Haw Creek Falls campground has a large sign on Highway 123, so it's hard to miss.  It is 12.9 miles south of Pelsor (aka Sand Gap), or 13.8 miles north of Hagerville if you come from that direction.  As soon as you turn off the highway onto the campground road, you cross Haw Creek.  This is a low water crossing made of concrete, so you don't have to worry about traction as long as the water is not too deep or too fast.  If you can't tell, stop and check it out, then use your head.  Normally it is perfectly safe for normal cars to cross, but after heavy rain it is a flood zone.

Haw Creek Falls is of course right next to the campground.  As the namesake it is the main attraction but Pack Rat Falls canyon is just as picturesque, if not more so.  Go to the back of the campground on the loop road to the most southeast camping location.  That is the one on the campground road furthest from Haw Creek Falls.  Take the path leading out the back of this camping location, and you immediately round the bluff that was on your right as you drove into the campground.  As you round the bluff, turn right into the creek canyon.  

Pack Rat Falls Creek - with Boomer
This little creek canyon is as pretty as any you will find in the Ozarks.  Oddly, most folks that come here have no idea it is even here.  There were no campers here today, but most summer days we come here there will be at least a couple of other folks camping and enjoying the scenery.  Whenever I chat with campers here, they rarely know about Pack Rat Falls, but jump at the chance to go see it.  Pack Rat Falls is only a quarter mile up this hidden canyon from the campground.

When the creek has plenty of water, as it did today, it tumbles down this canyon creating cascades virtually all the way downstream of the falls.  There is a path of sorts, wherever there can be one, but in a lot of places you just have to rock hop, cross the creek when you need to, and find your way upstream.  It is still an easy hike.  The creek is steep enough to create cascades, but not so steep that you can't easily hike right up the creek canyon.

Today Pack Rat Falls had about as much water as I have ever seen.  The waterfall was just beautiful, as was the creek itself.  This was a nice cap to yet another great day of hiking in the Arkansas Ozarks.  This waterfall is highly recommended anytime there are relatively wet conditions.  Our excuse today was "we were in the area anyway" (excuse #2), but you don't really need an excuse to go see it.  Just get out and do it!