Wednesday, July 2, 2014

King's Bluff Falls and Pedestal Rocks, Arkansas Ozarks

7/2/2014 - King's Bluff Falls, King's Bluff and Pedestal Rock Trails

GPS Coordinates: (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking:  35.72376,  93.01567,  1877 feet
  King's Bluff Falls:  35.72480, -93.02510,  1559 feet (at base)

Pet Friendly: Yes.  Easy for dogs on or off leash.  I think they are supposed to be on leash, but I saw no signage to that effect so Boomer was free ranging today.  It should be noted this is a popular hiking location.  If your dog does not play well with strangers, it is best to keep it on leash. 

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes! The parking area is right off Highway 16.  

GPS files:
  King's Bluff Falls track (to base of falls)
  Pedestal Rocks and King's Bluff Trails track

King's Bluff Falls (114')
I had no intention of going hiking today, since I had a couple of things to do for Bethany's new business.  But the rain gauge said we got an inch and a half of rain last night, so that made me think twice about it.  Here it was, July already, and the creeks and streams were starting to shrink up.  If the mountains north of us had received anywhere close to the rainfall we had, this might be the last chance to see some decent waterfalls for a while.  There were a couple of "wet weather" waterfalls I had been intending to go back to after a decent rain; Keefe Falls and King's Bluff Falls.  So, big surprise, I opted for going hiking instead of working on the wife's new business.  I consulted with Boomer (our German Shepard), and he was in.  Bethany chose to stay and work.  Hmmpf.  You can check out her shop's website if you want to see what she would rather do than hike:
Vintage Stars and Stripes
It's probably just me, but painting old furniture just doesn't sound as much fun as a day in the wilderness.

Boomer and I loaded up and set out.  To get there, go north on Hwy 7 to Pelsor (Sand Gap), and turn right (east) on Hwy 16.  Go 5.9 miles and look for the National Forest sign for Pedestal Rocks on the left.  Take the short loop off Hwy 16 to the parking area.  There is plenty of parking and a primitive toilet there.  We had the whole place to ourselves today, which was a little odd.  This is a popular hiking location, and there is generally at least a few vehicles here.

The King's Bluff trail and Pedestal Rock trail are two separate loop trails, both starting out from this trailhead.  My original plan was to just go to the waterfall here, then head on up to Keefe Falls to check it out, so we went over the little rock bridge at the parking area and turned right to go on the King's Bluff trail.  King's Bluff Falls is about halfway around the 1.9 mile loop.  The trail has a lot of switchbacks, but stays pretty much on the level.  

King's Bluff - with the photo Boomer
You come to King's Bluff at about one mile going either way around the loop.  King's Bluff is a giant slab of rock about the size of a football field, with a drop off of well over a hundred feet, then a steep slope of even more.  There is a great view of a large expanse of the Ozarks from here, as you might imagine.  King's Bluff Falls spills over the north edge of this rock bluff; the right side as you look out over the bluff.  When it has water to spill, that is.  This is what I call a wet weather waterfall and is often completely dry.  Today it did, in fact, have some water,  But like most waterfalls, the view from the top is just not that great.  

King's Bluff
While we were there, we did cross over the creek and go along the bluff to the north for quite a way just to see what was there.  There is another small drainage that spills over the bluff, but no breaks in the bluff to get below that I could find.  So we headed back continued on the trail around the loop.  After leaving the huge rock bluff area, the trail goes over another small wet-weather waterfall, then the trail branches.  The marker says King's Bluff trail both ways; you want to go to the right here.  Even if you don't go down to the base of the falls, this trail goes around the edge of the bluff.  If you don't go on this lower trail, you will miss some really cool rock features and views.  

From this trail marker, go down the trail a couple of hundred feet and look for a path going downhill on the right.  This takes you down into the hollow below King's Bluff Falls.  Take this trail all the way down to the creek, then go up the creek to the base of King's Bluff Falls.  When you get to the creek, make sure you turn around and look downstream to get a fix on where that path is so you can find it when coming back out.

King's Bluff Falls (114')
King's Bluff Falls itself is huge, height-wise, at 114 feet high.  Because of it's height, it takes a lot of water to make it look good.  Unfortunately, that happens only during the wetter seasons after a good rain.  This was the first week of July, so I suppose we were lucky to have any flow over it at all.  At any rate, of course I would have preferred more water, but it was still pretty.  And there is something about a big waterfall that just makes the stress leave your body.  You can't help but enjoy it.  So Boomer and I enjoyed it for a while, then headed back up.  

Alternately on the trail down to the base of the falls, where the trail goes down past the break in the bluff, you can follow the base of the bluff down.  This goes down to another small waterfall with a pretty good sized shelter cave next to it.  Boomer and I came back up from the creek level this way to check it out.  Not much water running over this waterfall over the cave, but still pretty cool.  The cave is a good camp site, if you are into backpack camping.  It has plenty of room to set up a tent, and folks have built a fire pit there.

King's Bluff
If all you do is stay on the King's Bluff trail and don't go on down to the base of the falls, I would have to rate this as an easy hike.  It is a couple miles long, but mostly on the level and not a lot of effort to hike.  That being said, going down to the base of the falls is a moderate-to-difficult hike.  This is a fairly rough trail, and once you get to the creek it is a bushwhack up the creek to the base of the falls, albeit not a very long one.  On the way back up out of the hollow to the King's Bluff trail, it is about a 300 foot elevation change over a relatively short distance.  Just pace yourself coming out and you'll be fine.  

Once back on the trail, we continued on around the King's Bluff loop.  There are some really cool rock features, crevasses, and pedestals, similar to what you see on the Pedestal Rocks trail.  Speaking of which, as you continue on around the loop you come to a sort of 4-way trail crossing.  If you want to go back to the parking area, take a one on the left (north), and the parking location is only a quarter mile or so further.  The other two trails on the right are both ends of the Pedestal Rocks trail.  

King's Bluff
When we started out today, I only intended to visit King's Bluff Falls and then head over to Keefe Falls.  But once we got to the cross trails, it seemed a shame not to go ahead and hike the Pedestal Rocks trail as well.  It goes along the same bluff as the King's Bluff trail, but has many more of the bizarre rock features.  Pedestal Rocks is designated as a 'Special Interest Area'.   It didn't quite make the criteria as a Wilderness Area, but the Special Interest Area designation is given when there are unique features that should be preserved.  In this case, it's the plethora of very unique rock formations.  We went out on the back side of this loop, which goes down the back of the mountain, then loops back along the bluff before heading back to the parking area.  

The Pedestal Rocks trail is not quite as 'on the level' as the King's Bluff trail, and goes down to it's lowest point at the far end of the loop, so you have about a 250 foot elevation change either way you go around the loop.  That's spread out over about a mile of trail, so you don't really
Pedestal Rock
notice it all that much.  Both trails have some very unique rock formations, and both are well worth the hike.  So if you go there, why not get a 'twofer' and do both trails?  

This is an area you could easily spend all day at, and enjoy every minute of it whether there is any water in the waterfalls or not.  The two hiking trail loops are about two miles each, but with all of our side trips we ended up hiking about six miles by the GPS track meter.  Not bad for a start, but we still had the second half of our hiking double header for the day ahead of us, so we ate a late lunch and headed on to Keefe Falls.
GPS track to base of King's Bluff Falls

King's Bluff (upper) and Pedestal Rocks (lower) trail loop GPS tracks

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