Friday, July 11, 2014

Graves Creek Canyon, Arkansas Ozarks

7/10/2014 -  Forever Falls, Graves Canyon Falls (2)

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.58566,  -93.18615,  1242 feet
  Leave old Jeep road:  35.58890,  -93.18575,  1011 feet
  Dead Pool Falls:  35.59213,  -93.18955,  710 feet
  Forever Falls:  35.59188,  -93.18915,  704 feet
  Upper Graves Canyon Falls:  35.59512,  -93.18660,  688 feet
  Lower Graves Canyon Falls:  35.59534,  -93.18619,  682 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes, this area should not be a problem for dogs off leash.  If your dog does not do well off leash, you might want to leave it home.  This hike is mostly bushwhacking.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  It is over six miles of gravel road.  While the road is fairly well maintained when you first get on it, it soon narrows to one lane and gets rough in spots.  

GPS files (.gpx format):
  Forever Falls and Graves Canyon Falls GPS track

Graves Creek
I had not intended to tackle the hike to Graves Creek Canyon until winter, but the recent rains got me thinking.  I had never been to this area before, but if it is as beautiful as folks make it out to be, shouldn't I see it in all its glory?  That is, with leaves actually on the trees?  In Tim Ernst's 'Arkansas Waterfalls' book, he describes this as a difficult bushwhack.  I'm not big on bushwhacking in the summertime, so I had been putting this off for wintertime.  But today, it looked like the high temperature would be in the mid 70's, so I pretty much talked myself into trying it out.  

Boomer - at Dead Pool Falls
My wife Bethany prefers going to new places after I have been there at least once so I know where I'm going.  Wise move - I tend to do quite a bit of exploring, backtracking, and a lot of hiking just to see what's there.  So she opted out.  I consulted with Boomer, our German Shepard; he didn't care where we went, just as long as we went somewhere he could roam free.  This sounded like just the place for Boomer, so we packed up and headed out.  It's embarrassing, but in full disclosure I should mention that not only have I never been to Graves Creek, it is less than 17 miles from our home north of Dover.  How could we have lived here 23 years and not checked out such a place yet?

Parking Location
To get there, go north on Hwy 7 from Dover and turn left (west) on Hwy 164.  Go 4.6 miles and turn right (north) on Pilot Rock Road.  This is the first right after the double bridge over Piney Creek, about 0.5 miles from the end of the bridge.  Go 4.5 miles on Pilot Rock Road and turn right on Graves Creek Road (FR-1800A).  Go down Graves Creek Road 1.6 miles and you are at the parking location.  You can park on either side of the road here.  

Graves Creek
Graves Creek Road actually continues on, all the way down to Graves Creek, but that is close to two miles downstream of the waterfalls we wanted to see.  The road past the parking location is very rough but do-able with a good 4x4 vehicle.  My new policy for roads like this is to save the wear and tear on my Explorer and just hike.  When it's just me and Boomer, we can hike at a faster pace than we could go in the Explorer anyway.

We hiked down the road, keeping an eye on the GPS for the best spot to leave the road and bushwhack down to the creek.  We actually hiked quite a way down the road, looking at the waypoints for both Forever Falls and the two Graves Canyon Falls, before backtracking to the GPS coordinates listed at the top for our 'leave the trail' point.  Now you see why Bethany always prefers going AFTER I have been there at least once.  

Dead Pocket Falls
After leaving the road, we bushwhacked down to a point just upstream of Forever Falls.  This was the best place I could find a break in the bluff that allowed us to get down to the creek level.  This break was opposite a nice little unnamed waterfall right on Graves Creek.  I'm calling it Dead Pool Falls because it seems Graves Creek flowed into this pool and dead-ends.  The creek goes underground and comes up 50 yards or so downstream at Forever Falls.  The bushwhack down to the creek was a bushwhack in every sense of the word.  There was an abundance of bushes, and you had to whack your way through them.  In addition to the normal undergrowth, briers, and all, it seemed there were spider webs everywhere, especially at face height.  There are few thing worse than getting a face full of cobwebs.

 Once down at the creek level, the going was much easier.  This is a fairly narrow creek canyon, so flood waters keep it cleaned out pretty well.  Unfortunately, we didn't have any of those flood waters today.   On the contrary, Forever Falls had only a dribble of water running over it.  Even without the large waterfalls, Graves Creek itself is every bit as
Boomer - at Graves Creek
beautiful as I had been told.  Even though some amount of rock-hopping is necessary, it is much easier going on the creek level than it was coming down the mountain. 

Proceeding on downstream, there are a couple of places where the creek spans the bottom of the canyon.  There is, however, a ledge right above creek level that you can hike down.  If the creek is high enough to reach these ledges, it is going to be way too deep to cross as well.  If that is the case, you will be stuck on whatever side of the creek you happen to be on.  You need to be on the south side of the creek to view the Graves Canyon Falls, and on the north side to view Forever Falls.  That being said, Forever Falls is in the bend just downstream of where we came down the break in the bluffline, so you will be able to get a good side shot of it from the south side of Graves Creek.  Upper and Lower
Graves Creek
Graves Canyon Falls spill over the north bluff face within a hundred feet or so of each other.

Both Upper and Lower Graves Canyon Falls, as well as Forever Falls, spill over the bluff cliff into Graves Creek.  Today, the small creeks that feed the waterfalls had hardly any flow at all.  As disappointing as it was to not be able to see the large waterfalls in full form, Graves Creek itself is well worth the hike.  This is a completely wild stream in a fairly remote chunk of the Ozarks, and it has a wild, untouched, beauty.  I know kayakers come through when the creek is in flood conditions, but there
Graves Creek
seems to be no trace of other hikers at all.  Other than a small cairn opposite Lower Graves Canyon Falls, I saw no trace of humans having been there at all.

Graves Creek goes through a relatively narrow canyon with steep cliffs on each side, but it still winds and twists, creating pools and undercutting the cliffs on either side.  The pools were not deep enough for me, but Boomer had plenty of swimming holes.  I did see some small fish, which is an indication that at least some pools in the creek never go dry.   

By the time I got to Lower Graves Canyon Falls, my GPS trip meter had 3.28 miles on it.  Tim's guidebook says it is 2.0 miles round trip, so that gives you some indication of amount of side trips and backtracking I do the first time I go into an area.  Still, on the way back I took a much more direct route back upstream to Forever Falls, then from there up the mountain to the road.  The printout of the GPS track below shows that route.  Even going more directly back to the parking location, with no extra side trips, it was right at 2.0 miles from Lower Graves Canyon Falls back to where we parked.  Just the round trip alone would be close to 4.0 miles, but we ended up at 5.3 miles on the trip meter.

Lower Graves Canyon Falls (35') - barely a dribble today
While we were down on Graves Creek, I was very glad we decided to go out to this area today.  In all honesty, though, the trip down there and back was far from enjoyable.  It would be a difficult hike just with the elevation change of about 600 feet.  When you add in the heat and humidity, the undergrowth, cobwebs, and rugged terrain, it is less than pleasant.  I'm definitely going back, but with two prerequisite conditions - (A) leaves off season, and (B) wet season!  
We were only out hiking about three hours in total, but by the time we got back to the car I was soaked in sweat and Boomer was ready to crash for the trip home.  At that elevation, it was still only 73 degrees, but it felt like 645% humidity.  All in all, another great day in the wilderness.  I know I whined a lot about the bushwhack, but that doesn't mean it was not well worth it.  It just means that the next trip can wait for cooler, wetter, winter conditions.  
GPS Track to Forever Falls and Graves Canyon Falls (2)


  1. Really nice sharing I am impressed! I never visited this place before in my life. After visiting this blog I have decided to visit this place in coming vacations after my Boston to NY bus tour with my friends. I like this place due to its natural beauty. I am a nature lover. Can you guide me about its hiking trails?

    1. Howard, many of the most beautiful areas I hike have no real trails, they are at least partially a bushwhack to get where you want to go. That being said, many do have well defined and maintained trails. I would recommend a couple of inexpensive books, the Arkansas Nature Lover's Guide and Arkansas Waterfalls. Both are by Tim Ernst and can be obtained on Amazon, many libraries, and directly at . They have literally hundreds of maps, complete directions, and photos.

    2. You do not need a guide book to find waterfalls. Pick a hollow...any hollow and follow it downstream. When it hits a bluff line you will find a waterfall. Much more fun that way.

  2. Graves Creek Gorge is a fantastic place! I like that narrow area where you can almost jump across the creek from bluff to bluff.