Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls and Diamond Falls, Buffalo National River Wilderness

5/13/2014 -  Hemmed-In Hollows Falls, Diamond Falls hike from Compton Trailhead

GPS Coordinates:  Lat/Lon/Elevation
  Parking Location:  36.08091,  -93.30353,  2246 ft.
  Hemmed-In Hollows Falls:  36.07213,  -93.30753,  1278 ft.
  Diamond Falls:  36.07167,  -93.30946,  1349 ft.  1356 ft. 
  HIH Downstream Falls #1:  36.07096,  -93.30791,  1125 ft.
  HIH Downstream Falls #2:  36.07027,  -93.30821,  1081 ft.
  HIH Downstream Falls #3:  36.07102,  -93.30878,  1066 ft.
  Sharp left turn in trail:  36.06447,  -93.30927,  1127 ft.
  Campsite #1:  36.06681,  -93.31252,  1391 ft.
  Campsite #2:  36.06466,  -93.30909,  1116 ft.
  Wild Vic's Cabin:  36.07501,  -93.30945,  1934 ft.

Pet Friendly: No.  This area is operated by the National Park Service, not the Forest Service.  They feel the need for a lot more control and rules, so no dogs allowed on the trail.  Horses are allowed on the 'yellow tagged' trails, but only hikers on the 'white tagged' trails.

Motorcycle Friendly: Not for me, but I have a heavy road cruiser.  It's only a little over a mile on gravel roads, so others might find it acceptable.

GPS files:
  GPS track file: Hike to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls (.gpx format)
  GPS track file: Diamond Falls to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls(.gpx format)

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls (209')
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls and Diamond Falls are two of the tallest waterfalls in Arkansas.  In fact, at 209 feet high, Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains.  I figured today would be a good day to visit Hemmed-In Hollow for a number of reasons.  With our busy travel schedule, this was looking like my only free day for hiking in the next couple of weeks.  It was raining today at our home north of Dover, but it looked like it would stop raining for at least a few hours around mid-day in the Ponca area, so some of the waterfalls in that area looked promising.  Also, Boomer was still recovering from the snake bite he got while we were hiking last week, and the trails in Buffalo National River area do not allow dogs on the trail, so while he was out of commission I thought I would do some hiking in the Buffalo NR area. 

Diamond Falls (148')
To get there, go to the small community of Compton, 8.8 miles north of Ponca on Highway 43.  The small Compton post office will be on the left (coming from Ponca).  Turn right on the gravel road across the highway from the post office.  This is NC-2700.  At the first intersection, turn right (to stay on NC-2700).  Go another 0.8 miles and turn right on NC-2720.  There is a sign pointing to the Compton Trailhead.  There is a large parking area on the left after you turn down this road.  Park there and look carefully at the signs on the two trails from this trailhead.  The one on the right is for the Sneeds Creek horse trail, and the one on the left is the Hemmed-In Hollow trail.

The trail down into Hemmed-In Hollow is fantastic, from a hiking perspective.  It is well defined and easy to follow, is well maintained, and sees a fair amount of traffic.  I hear a lot of complaints about the climb coming OUT of the hollow, and indeed it is an elevation climb of 1180 feet.  But that climb is stretched out over a mile or so of trail, so at any given point the trail itself is not that steep.  In fact, in many places the trail architects have placed large flat rocks to form stair steps.  It is a lot of climbing, but not difficult in that there is no bushwhack involved, nor any stretches so steep you have to climb instead of hike.  Some folks have avoided this hike because they have heard it is so strenuous, (it even says "steep and strenuous" on the bulletin board at the trailhead).  If you pace yourself on the way back and give yourself plenty of time, it should be do-able for anyone in halfway decent shape.  That is Rick's opinion, in any case.  I have put a 3-D topological map of this route at the bottom of this post so you can get a feel for the hike involved.

Hemmed-In Hollow Trailhead
It took me two hours to drive to the 80 miles to Compton Trailhead, because of the rain and some SMV's on Highway 7.  It was still raining when I parked, and looked like it would keep up a light rain for a while.  So much for all the weather forecasts.  Fortunately, we carry a couple of plastic rain ponchos in the glove box, so I got one out, put it over myself and the backpack, and got on the trail.  I looked like a giant blue smurf, but it isn't like I'm the epitome of fashion when on the trail anyway.  Plus, I was the only one crazy enough to hike in the rain, so I had the trail to myself for now.  Reset your GPS at the trailhead, and soon after you leave it, you cross the upper headwaters of Hemmed-In Hollow
Intersection with Bench Trail
Creek.  Don't be concerned if it doesn't look like much water flow.  That is the top of the creek and it picks up quite a bit before going over 
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls.  At 0.79 miles, you come to an intersection with what is known as the bench trail (it runs on the bench above the Hemmed-In Hollow bluffline).  Go straight through this intersection, or somewhat straight, anyway.  There is a sign post that even points the way. 

The trail to this point is fairly moderate, dropping less than 300 feet over almost a mile.  The next mile is much steeper, but as previously mentioned, the trail's descent is very well managed.  At 1.52 miles, there is a campsite on the left.  Going out the back of this campsite is a short path to the edge of the bluff, where you can get a view of the entire hollow with Hemmed-In Hollow Falls on the bluff wall opposite you.  Continuing on down the trail, at 1.8 miles you come to another intersection with a signpost.  The Hemmed-In Hollow trail takes a sharp left turn here, then shortly after that is another good campsite.  For you hikers that like to pack in and camp overnight, this is your last chance.  Camping is not allowed down in the hollow itself.

Downstream Waterfall #3
At 2.2 miles you cross a small creek, and at 2.27 miles come to Hemmed-In Hollow Creek, where the trail branches again.  Turn left here to go upstream.  If you stop on the Buffalo River at Horseshoe Bend, this is the trail that comes from the river along the west side of the creek.  Once you turn upstream, Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is only a quarter mile upstream.  There are several waterfalls along this creek, starting as soon as you turn upstream.  You cross another small creek here, I believe this is the creek Diamond Falls feeds.  If you look upstream, you will see a small waterfall on that creek, and right next to the trail is a nice double waterfall with that creek and Hemmed-In Hollow Creek both having side-by-side waterfalls.

Downstream Waterfall #2
There is another waterfall that you can hear as you hike along the trail, but
you can't see it clearly.  There is a trail of sorts that goes down to the creek to get access to this second downstream waterfall, then continues on down along the creek.  Further upstream, there is yet another really pretty waterfall.  It can be seen from the trail, but you will have to scramble down off the trail a little to get a good view of it.  Whenever there are a number of smaller waterfalls in the area, I always try to see as many as I can, but generally save them for the way back.  That is exactly what I did today, going straight to the main attraction and saving the smaller falls, the mid-trail view of the hollow, and Wild Vic's cabin for the way back.

Hemmed-In Hollow Falls (209')
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is just spectacular.  At 209 feet, it is the tallest waterfall for literally hundreds of miles.  Hemmed-In Hollow did not get the amount of rainfall we had received at home, but it still had plenty of flow to look great.  The waterfall is so tall, it is impossible to find a viewpoint where the entire waterfall can be captured in a photo.  The foliage will get in the way when you get back from the falls far enough for the widest angle lens I carry.  There are a lot of photos of this waterfall, but I can assure you they don't really do it justice.  As usual, you need to be there to properly experience it.  It had stopped raining a few minutes before I got to the falls, so I hung up the poncho to dry and started just savoring the magnificence of this place.  

To get a better perspective of the falls, you need to get up on the series of ledges around the waterfall grotto.  Easier said than done, especially with wet rocks and slick muddy soil.  I first went up close to the falls on the left side, but you can only go so high there.  It is fine for taking some side view photos, but not for accessing the level you need to be at to go to Diamond Falls.  If you look at photos of Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, you will see a large dead tree behind the falls about 60 or 70 feet above the base.  That is, where the vestiges of plants end and the cliff rises above it.  That is the level you need to be at to follow the bluff around to the left to Diamond Falls.  On the right as you face the waterfall, the slope is such that you can scramble up to gain access to this level.  Traditionally, folks scrambled up the right side, then crossed behind the falls at this level.  I do NOT recommend doing that any 
Ancient Cedars on Diamond Falls Route
(Hemmed-In Hollow Falls is at Upper left)
longer.  While the ledge here was relatively dry due to the overhang, you are still walking on loose dirt and gravel, and the ledge has deteriorated such that at one point you only have six inches or so to stand on as you go around behind the falls.  At this point, if you slip it is pretty much straight down with nothing to break your fall, and the it is solid rock at the bottom.  By the time I got to this point, I was past the point of no return and it was safer to proceed on than to try to turn around.  So I proceeded on, but I vowed to find a better way coming back.  I do NOT recommend anyone take this route any longer, even if you are not deathly afraid of heights as I am.  One slip and you have to go back in a body bag.  That would NOT be a good end to a great day of hiking.

Let me be clear here.  I would encourage everyone to go to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls because the trail is excellent and I believe anyone in decent shape can do it.  I can NOT say the same for Diamond Falls.  There is a trail of sorts along the bluffline base, but it is neither safe nor easy.  To get to Diamond Falls, you have to get
Rock Tunnel on Diamond Falls Route
to base of the sheer rock cliff above the creek level.  Once there, you just follow the base of the cliff as well as you can around to the left (west) and Diamond Falls is less than a quarter mile around the bend in the bluff.   Once I got away from 
Hemmed-In Hollow Falls itself and to the point where there is a little slope and some trees between you and the creek bed, I could at least breathe a little easier.  At this point, there are some ancient, gnarled, twisted, cedar trees that look like they are a bazillion years old.  You couldn't ask for a better foreground object for a side shot of the Hemmed-In Hollow Falls.

Diamond Falls (148')
Proceeding on around the bluffline from the old cedar trees, you come to a rock tunnel.  Don't go through it; there is about a 40 foot drop out the other end.  But you can scramble up and over it, then continue on around the bluffline to Diamond Falls a short way ahead.  In drier times of the year, it is a little disappointing, but today there was plenty of water flow to make it look spectacular.  At 148 feet tall, it is not quite as as tall as big brother Hemmed-In Hollow Falls around the corner, but still a big'un, as they say in Arkansas.  The creek flows off the bluff ledge, drops about a hundred feet, then hits a large sandstone outcropping before spraying off and falling the remainder of the way to the base.  Again, you just gotta be there to really appreciate the beauty.

After heading back from Diamond Falls the way I came in, I scouted along the way for a better way to get back to creek level.  Due to the ruggedness of the terrain there, the options are very limited.  I determined that the best route is to slant down the hillside from the ancient cedar trees toward the base of the falls.  It looked like some folks had made that same determination.  It was not really that difficult a descent except one place that was basically about a ten foot mud slide because the ground was so wet.  But even at this point, there were bamboo growing that I could hold onto to steady myself and keep on my feet.  Once below that mud slide, there is a about a four foot drop down onto the creek floor, which I could jump down from.  Next trip, I'll climb up there to start my trek up the slope.   I said it already, but let me emphasize - if you want to go up to the ancient cedars and Diamond Falls, do it here on the left of the falls, not by going behind the falls.  You might get a little dirty, but it is at least relatively safe.

Downstream Falls #1
After getting back at Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, I rested and hydrated a bit, then headed back.  I had plenty of afternoon left, so went down the creek to all three of the downstream falls.  There was plenty of water in the creek to make them all look pretty good.  There is a path off the trail toward the creek (Lat/Lon 36.07059, -93.30823) that goes down to the second downstream falls, then continues along the creek to the third downstream falls where you need to get back on the trail again anyway.  On the way back, I took this side trip to get a good view of all the smaller, but still beautiful, waterfalls.

Getting back on the trail, I started that long steep climb we talked about.  If you pace yourself, this shouldn't be a factor.  Unfortunately, those that know me know that I don't have much of a governor.  I pretty much have a wide open throttle all the time.  Boomer can keep up with me, but I'll wear him out on the longer
Hemmed-In Hollows Falls
from across hollow with telephoto lens
hikes.  When Bethany goes hiking with me, I'll get her to lead the way so it slows me down to a better pace.  But she opted for staying home today, getting the house ready for guests coming in and getting us ready for a trip this weekend to see our nephew's wedding.  So without anyone to pace me, I have to make myself stop and rest.  That first campsite we came to on the way down is a good place, about halfway back up the slope, and I had intentionally passed it up on the way down.  So I stopped there, wheezed and panted a little, and enjoyed the great panoramic view of the valley before me.

Wild Vic's Cabin
Moving on after catching my breath, I got back to the intersection with the bench trail and turned right (east) onto it for a quick trip to Wild Vic's cabin.  The bench trail is mostly on the level, so hiking along it is actually a breather for me.  Look for the cabin in the woods on the right about 0.16 miles from the trail intersection.  I continued on past the cabin until I came to Hemmed-In Hollow Creek to check out the trail condition.  It was not so good;  after Vic's cabin, it was very wet, the trail itself looking more like a creek with water running down it all the way to the creek crossing.  On the way back, I stopped at the cabin and explored a bit.
Wild Vic's Cabin
 I'm not sure who Vic was, or why they called him "Wild", but he sure had a great view.  The beds of Iris around the cabin where just at the end of their blooming period.

Heading back, I got back to the intersection and turned right to go back to the Compton Trailhead.  From here, it was a little less than a mile back and my little side trip to Wild Vic's cabin had given me a good breather, so the remainder of the trip went fairly quick and easy.  Just in time, too; as I got back to the parking area, it had just started a fine misting rain again.  I love the rain, and I love to hike, but I hate to hike in the rain.  At any rate, it all worked out pretty good for me today.  I only got a little bit of the rain at the first half hour of my hike, and there is something especially refreshing about hiking through the woods after a rain.  All in all, another great day in the wilderness.  If you have not made the hike to Hemmed-In Hollow Falls yet, you should.
GPS Track - Hemmed-In Hollow


  1. Hey Rick. Do you have the gas coordinate for where to head to diamond from the left? I'm like you, no way am I walking on a 6 inch ledge to get to it the other way!

  2. Hi Jill. No GPS coords for that point, just the general directions I gave here. I would climb the left bank right below the old cedar trees. There is a rough trail once you get up above the bank level.

  3. Hello,
    Very interesting post...I loved all the photos...They are saying a lot regarding buffalo river...Anybody should go for a buffalo river float trips...Thank you too much......