Friday, June 20, 2014

Richland Creek Trail to Twin Falls and Richland Falls, Richland Wilderness area, Arkansas

6/19/2014 - Richland Creek Trail to Twin Falls and Richland Falls

GPS Coordinates:   (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
   Parking and Trail Head:  35.79839,  -92.95774,  1040 feet
   Twin Falls:  35.80594,  -92.96412,  1188 feet
   Richland Falls: 35.80075, -92.96010,  1157 feet
   Trail branch to top of Long Devil's Falls: 35.80555, -92.96223

Pet Friendly: Yes.  Easy for pets off leash, doable with pets on leash.  There was one spot on the Richland Creek trail that Boomer had some issues with, but he got over it.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The dirt road is definitely too rough and too long.  Wouldn't take my cruiser on it.

Links to GPS track files (.gpx format)
  Richland Campground to Twin Falls 
  Twin Falls to Richland Falls (high route)
  Richland Falls to Richland Campground 

Richland Falls
Out of all the beautiful waterfalls in Arkansas, Twin Falls is my favorite.  So you would think I would have taken about every route to get there by now. Oddly enough, the one that most folks think is the only way to get there is the one I had not yet traveled.  Not all the way, anyway.  Bethany and I hiked the Richland Creek trail once, all the way down to where you need to cross Richland Creek.  It was way below freezing on that day, down in the single digits.  It didn't look like we could cross the creek without getting wet, so we decided it was better to just turn back than to risk hypothermia two miles from our vehicle.  So earlier this week, I decided to carve out Thursday to go do that hike in warm weather.

As it turned out, an old friend, Dennis Ward, that I had not heard from for years, had asked about going along on one of our adventures, so I invited him on this one.  As soon as Boomer (our German Shepard) saw me loading hiking gear into the Explorer, he climbed in and refused to leave, making sure we wouldn't leave him behind.  Not that I would even consider that.  I guess he just doesn't want to take any chances.  

So, just how many routes are there to my favorite waterfall?  Five that I know of:
  1. Hiking down from Hill Cemetery or Iceledo Gap
  2. Hiking from Sandstone Castle right down the spur between Long Devil's Fork and Big Devil's Fork
  3. Hiking directly from FR-1205 south of Dickey Junction along the mountain ridge south of Devon's Falls
  4. Hiking from FR-1205 north of the Richland Campground, bushwhacking due west across the drainage.  I still have not tried this route recommended to me by Anthony Clark, but the long bushwhack will have to wait for winter now.
  5.  Hiking down the south side of Richland Creek, aka the Richland Creek Trail.  This was our objective today!

Richland Falls - Center
To get there, go to the Richland Campground.  If you are not familiar with it, from Hwy 7 turn east on Hwy 16.  Go 9.8 miles on Hwy 16, then turn left.  This is Upper Falling Water Road, and merges into Falling Water Road.  Go 9.2 miles from Hwy 16 and turn left into the campground; there is a blue road sign here that says "Campground Road".  Along Falling Water Road you will pass Falling Water Falls, the low water bridge, and many other nearby waterfalls.  Don't be distracted - this is a fairly long hike and you need to get started with this one.  You can always stop at the others on the way back if you have the time and energy.  

Twin Falls
Go all the way to the back of the campground and park.  At the Y, bear to the left; the short dirt road to the right goes down by Richland Creek.  Today, there was only one family camping, and I have never seen it more than half full, so you probably won't have an issue with finding a spot to park.  We had actually gotten off to a fairly early start, so instead of packing lunch with us, we ate half of it before we left and saved the rest for when we returned.  From the back of the campground, go straight back and down the bluff to Falling Water Creek.  Cross Falling Water Creek - there is a spot a few yards back from the juncture with Richland Creek where someone has stacked stepping stones across it.  Depending on creek level, you may want to take the hiking boots off and wade across to be safe.  

Rock Cairn at Richland Creek Crossing
Once you cross Falling Water Creek, you will be heading upstream on the south side of Richland Creek.  The real trick to getting on the Richland Creek Trail is (of course) knowing where it is.  If you take the trail right next to the creek, you will be sorely disappointed and will need to turn around after an appropriate amount of cursing.  Instead, look upstream right between Richland Creek and Falling Water Creek where they merge.  You will see a rock-strewn spur rising up between the two creeks.  Go right up the spine of that spur, climbing up the rocks, and when you get up the bluff you will see the trail right in front of you.  

The Richland Creek Trail starts out fairly smooth and on the level.  If you look at the elevation changes to determine how hard a hike will be, don't be misled by the 140 foot elevation change for this hike.  Although very do-able by even novice hikers, this is a rough trail with a lot of ups and downs, and climbing on and around rocks.  Dennis had just walked 11 miles the day before, but this kind of trail packs a lot more exercise in just the five or six miles round trip.  It's also one of the most scenic trails in the state, running right next to Richland Creek, a beautiful and unspoiled classic Ozark mountain stream.  

There is one spot on the trail where it squeezes down to a ledge along a cliff about 15 feet above the creek level.  Boomer had a little problem here - he is a very smart dog and did not trust this situation at all.  I could not convince him that he could do it safely, so we backed up a few yards to where we could get down to the creek level and scrambled upstream on the rocks next to the creek.  Just a few yards after the ledge, we were able to get back up on the trail.  On the return trip, I called Boomer a big sissy and shamed him into going over the ledge.  He didn't like it, but he did it anyway.

Twin Falls - with Boomer and Dennis
When we got to where Devil's Fork runs into Richland Creek, it was dry!!  Despite all the rain we had received recently just a few miles south, this did not look good at all.  But I had never heard of Twin Falls ever going completely dry, so we went ahead and crossed Richland Creek at that time and went upstream to check it out.  Knowing that we would be crossing a couple of creeks, I packed a pair of waterproof sandals that I could put on to protect my feet while I kept my boots dry.  This worked much better than my Crocs, which tended to slip on the wet rocks.

Big Devil's Fork Falls
Going upstream on Devil's Fork, we found there was, in fact, water flowing in the creek.  It had just all gone underground before reaching Richland Creek.  Proceeding upstream to Twin Falls, we found both falls to be at pretty low flow.  That was somewhat disappointing but the falls were still beautiful and well worth the trip.  Heck, for that matter, the trip itself is worth the trip and spots like Twin Falls are a bonus.  We rested and let Boomer swim in the pool for a while, then packed up and headed for Richland Falls.  I also packed up the beverage can and candy wrapper some idiot left behind.  Whoever left it must be a special kind of stupid and morally bankrupt to leave trash at a place like this.

There are a couple of ways to get from Twin Falls to Richland Falls.  One is along the creek, then upstream along Richland Creek.  The route I prefer I call the "high route', and have GPS coordinates above for the trail branch.  This route branches off the trail along the Devil's Fork Creek and slopes up the bluff to a trail that will go right to the top of Long Devil's Fork Falls, or left to Richland Falls, which is where we headed.  The high route trail does rise a couple hundred feet above the creek, but is in my opinion a much better trail.

Richland Falls - Left
Arriving at Richland Falls, it also was not nearly at it's peak flow.  But, again, it was still beautiful.  This waterfall looks spectacular when water is flowing across the entire breadth of the creek, but even at lower flows has a couple of sections that are nice of their own accord.  We did a little exploring, going across the creek and following a trail about a half mile upstream.  There is a nice campsite there, but not much else, and when we ran out of trail we turned back.  I'm just not a big fan of bushwhacking in the summer time with heavy undergrowth.

Crossing back over the creek to get back on our going home trail, the "low route" trail, we proceeded on down stream.  Just before the juncture with Devil's Fork, we crossed the creek to get back on the south side and back on the Richland Creek Trail.  Someone had entirely too much time on their hands and made the most elaborate rock cairn to mark the spot that I have ever seen.  Or maybe they were camped at the nice campsite just up the trail above the creek and drank a little too much.  At any rate, it's hard to miss.  

Rock Cairn at Creek Crossing
From this cairn, the trail goes straight back from the creek, past a couple of camp sites, and then on downstream and back to Richland Campground.  On the way back, we met a couple heading upstream.  They had spent all day on the other (north) side of the creek before giving up and crossing back to the south side and finding the trail.  I have heard from others that have done the same thing, thinking they can avoid the creek crossings by just following the north side of the creek.  Don't do that - it's a nightmare of steep rock scrambles and undergrowth.  

All in all, it was a great day of hiking.  We ended up hiking a little over seven miles altogether, but it was a rough seven miles.  By the time we got back to the Explorer, we were both beat and my shirt was still soaked in sweat after the hour-long drive back home.  It was good having Dennis along for company and catching up on old times.  And of course, Boomer had his normal good time hiking, swimming, and trying to keep an eye on us.  But even he was tired when we got back.  He climbed back in the car and was pretty much passed out the rest of the day.  Can't wait to get out and do it again.


  1. Very nice man.. I'm one of the poor souls that scrambled the whole right side of the creek to the fork with my buddy and 4 month old puppy.. 8 creek crossings.. didn't make it back till 1030 pm.. luckily we had headlamps... I think I'll be taking a trip back in the winter or spring and this time I'll find the trail!!

  2. Where did you find trail maps for Richland Creek Wilderness Trails? We found a trailhead past the picnic area above the swimming hole, past the double campsite at the farthest point of the campground loop, and a trailhead off 1205 marked by an engraved stone thanking Senator Bumpers for introducing the bill that included Richland Creek in the National Wilderness Protection System. We also found two OHT access points within walking distance of Richland Creek Campground.

    1. I don't know of any trail maps for this area. In Tim Ernst's "Arkansas Waterfalls" book, his wife made rough maps for each waterfall. Most of the hikes I take are bushwhacks - no trails. Whenever I can, I try to provide GPS tracks showing on a topo map the routes I take. Check out some of my later posts for this area and look at the bottom of the post for the map. There are several routes into this area.

  3. *the swimming hole, a trailhead past the double campsite*...