Monday, March 9, 2015

Paradise Falls, Upper Buffalo Wilderness, Arkansas Ozarks

3/8/2015 -  Paradise Falls Polyfoss Area

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.88490,  -93.37985,  2250 ft.
  Turn off trail to Boen Gulf Branch:  35.88392,  -93.38320,  2211 ft.
  Turn off trail to Twisted Knee Falls:  35.88217,  -93.38351,  2192 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.88583,  -93.38759,  1993 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.88306,  -93.38999,  1935 ft.
  Chumfarger Falls:  35.88213,  -93.39225,  1885 ft.
  Hargfarger Falls:  35.88184,  -93.39251,  1873 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #5:  35.88154,  -93.39278,  1863 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #6:  35.87941,  -93.38548,  2046 ft.
  Twisted Knee Falls:  35.88158,  -93.39011,  1939 ft.
  Paradise Falls:  35.88134,  -93.39329,  1831 ft.

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs off leash should be fine. Some of the terrain is very steep and rugged, and close to the top of tall cliffs.  If your dog can't be trusted off leash I would not recommend taking it.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes!  You park right off Highway 21.  A little too cold today, but this would be a good one to combine a beautiful ride with a good hike and scenic waterfalls.

Paradise Falls (32 ft)
While Bethany and I were spending the week in the Texas Hill Country, our home in Arkansas was getting a pretty good dose of Winter Storm Thor.  By the time we got back, the snow was gone from the roads, but still melting and adding to the water table in the Ozarks.   Unfortunately, the snow and ice were making many of the back roads a real mess.  Paradise Falls seemed like the perfect choice for today.  You park right next to the highway, and I had been wanting to catch this waterfall with a good amount of flow.  In late summertime, the Boen Gulf Branch goes just about dry, but when it has good flow this waterfall is breathtaking.  Bethany wanted to catch up on household chores, so Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I took the hint and took off.

Parking Location - by Highway 21
To get there, go north on Highway 21 just 3.4 miles from Edwards Junction (the intersection of Highways 16 and 21).  There is a pull off on the left (west) side of the road where you can park.  If you are coming from the other direction, this is 0.8 miles from the Mossville church and cemetery.  This pull out is where an old road ran into the highway long ago, but is now blocked with a berm across it.  A very large berm, for all you Jeep owners;  I wouldn't try it.  I certainly wasn't going to try it in my Explorer.

Unnamed Falls #1 - Highest in Boen Gulf Branch
After you park, go over the berm and head down the old trace road.  The road is fairly clear and in pretty good shape as you go down the hill.  As the road levels out, you come to an intersection with a road on the right; bear left and stay on the road here.  After that intersection, the old road curves left, and after the road levels out there is another old trace road to the right.  It is now so overgrown that you will not even see it unless you know where to look.  "Trace road" is being generous, as it is now mostly trace and not much road.  It is also getting very heavily overgrown on the upper half, with a lot of undergrowth and briers.  This is the route in Tim Ernst's excellent Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook.  This old trace road will lead you downhill, and the further downhill you go the easier it is to follow.  It crosses Boen Gulf Branch, and that's where you leave the road to bushwhack downstream to all the waterfalls.  The first of these is just below the road crossing.

Creek above Twisted Knee Falls - with Boomer
Boomer was well down the road by the time I got to the turn off point on the old road.  He often scouts out the best trails ahead of me, and assumed we were staying on the main road.  Instead of calling him back, I decided to take a different route down.  We stayed straight on the main road to the next intersection on the right with a fairly well defined, clear trace road.  This road goes downhill toward the tributary that contains Twisted Knee Falls.  It is very easy hiking down, at least as far down as the road goes.  About 200 yards from this tributary creek the trace road ends and you will have to bushwhack down to the creek.  There is a "bear crack" at (35.88018, -93.38409) that will allow easy access through the bluff above the feeder creek.  It is somewhat easy hiking as bushwhacks go, and before long you come to the creek and can then follow it down to Twisted Knee Falls.  

Twisted Knee Falls
This creek has no name, that I know of.  It appears to be fed by a large spring-fed pool at the top of the mountain.  It generally has more flow than Boen Gulf Branch has upstream of their juncture.  There are a number of smaller waterfalls and cascades in this drainage.  Unnamed Falls #6 is just downstream from the bear crack.

Twisted Knee Falls is a beautiful little waterfall, with water flowing off a large flat rock extending out over a large pool.I don't know what the story behind naming Twisted Knee Falls is, but I can only guess.  It is a short climb down to the base of the waterfall, but it is a little rugged.  With all the ice and packed snow remaining today, it was somewhat treacherous.  Boomer and I both managed to stay free of twisted knees and other injuries today, but it was a challenge.  

Chumfarger Falls
From Twisted Knee Falls, we hiked downstream.  The juncture with Boen Gulf Branch is only about 200 yards downstream.  Instead of going back upstream to check out the waterfalls there, I decided to save them for the return hike and headed on down Boen Gulf Branch.  On the way down to Paradise Falls are three more really nice waterfalls, and a host of smaller falls and cascades.  Most of these can be accessed from the east side of the creek that we were hiking on.  

Hargfarger Falls
One of the larger ones, Hargfarger Falls, is a little trickier.  Don't try climbing down the rock bluff near this one; it is too slick and dangerous.  If you stay on the bluff directly above the creek here, it slopes down for easy access near the top of Paradise Falls.  From there, you can go back upstream at creek level to Hargfarger Falls.  Unnamed Falls #5 is also right there, only a few feet upstream of Paradise Falls.   

Paradise Falls
Paradise Falls is another of those Ozark waterfalls that is much easier to access the top than the base of the falls.  If you hike up over the bluff from the top of the waterfall, there is a ledge along the bluff edge that you could take to get to a fairly rough and steep access down to the base.  Today, this ledge had snow and ice packed on it such that it couldn't be used.  It is only a few inches wide to start with, and with the ice sloped to the edge of the bluff, it would have been impossible to NOT slip over the edge.  And since it is about a 40 foot drop, my fear of heights kicked in and I backed off.  Boomer was somewhat smarter (he usually is) and wouldn't even start out on the ledge.

Unnamed Falls #5 - at top of Paradise Falls
We hiked up on the bluff and went downstream a couple of hundred yards before we found a steep but doable way down to creek level.  With the ice, snow, mud, and loose leaves, it was a slippery slide down.  But there was at least some slope instead of a sheer drop off.  As I had hoped, the snow melt had provided enough flow to make Paradise Falls just spectacular.  Today, it was more like Antarctica than paradise, but still pretty as a picture.  There are a lot of umbrella magnolias in the waterfall grotto, so I would imagine this does indeed look like paradise in late spring or early summer.  This is another of those waterfalls that photos can not do it justice.  The totality of the scenery, the surroundings, and the sound of the water is incredible.  Unfortunately, a large tree has fallen over the cave high on the rock face to the left of Paradise Falls, so there is only one place to get an unobstructed photo.

Cave visible to the left of Paradise Falls
We left the Paradise Falls grotto the same way we came in, slip-sliding up the slope.  Hiking back upstream, we went back around the bluff to Twisted Knee Falls, then down to Boen Gulf Branch.   Upstream of the juncture of these two streams, it runs at a lower slope but there are still a couple of nice waterfalls along the way.   

Unnamed Falls #6
Just above the highest waterfall in this drainage, the old trace road crosses the creek.  We headed uphill to make our way back to where we parked.  This old trace road is not too bad for the first half of the way back to the main trail road, but deteriorates rapidly after that.  It is getting badly choked with green brier, blackberries, and other undergrowth.  If you go this route, you are just as well to bushwhack from the main trace road toward Unnamed Fall #1, and find the best path with the least brush.  

Once back on the main trail, the going is much easier and we were back at the Explorer in a few minutes.  As you can see from the GPS track below, we wandered around the various water features quite a bit.  The hike just to and from Paradise Falls should only be about 2.4 miles, but we logged 4.76 miles altogether.  

GPS Track - Paradise Falls


  1. Thank you for posting this. I'll be checking this out next month. When do the trees green up in AR?

  2. Kevin, the hardwoods are starting to bloom and leaf out right now. Should be pretty green next month.