Friday, April 10, 2015

Hadlock Cascade and Magnolia, Woods Boys, and Stahle Falls, Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area

4/10/2015 -  Magnolia Falls, Woods Boys Falls, Hadlock Cascade, and Stahle Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.86289,  -93.38516,  2135 ft
  Magnolia Falls:  35.86538,  -93.39840,  1949 ft
  Woods Boys Falls:  35.86560,  -93.39903,  1926 ft
  Hadlock Cascade bluffline break:  35.86628,  -93.40043,  1861 ft.
  Hadlock Cascade:  35.86595,  -93.40022,  1837 ft
  Stahle Falls:  35.86542,  -93.40186,  1893 ft
  Branch left off old road toward Magnolia Falls:  35.86591,  -93.38792,  2146 ft
  Leave trail toward Magnolia Falls:  35.86651.  -93.39750,  1991 ft
  Bluff break below Woods Boys Falls:  35.86889,  -93.40049,  1943 ft

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs off leash should be fine. A little 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.  It is only a short distance off the paved highway.

GPS files (.gpx format) - maps of these tracks are at the bottom of this post:
  GPS track file for Stahle Falls to Woods Boys Falls to parking 

Magnolia Falls - with Boomer, Bethany, and Rick
We were looking for a nice hike today to get out in the wilderness and get a little break from the kitchen remodel we had underway at home.  Not too rugged, pretty scenery, nice waterfalls - there are a few areas we could go to, but none fit the bill quite as well as the Upper Buffalo Wilderness area.  So my wife Bethany and our German Shepherd Boomer loaded up and headed up there.  I had just been to the Magnolia Falls area a couple of months ago, so I'll repeat the basic driving and hiking directions here, and you can see details from that hike here.  We did visit Hadlock Cascade today, the one major waterfall in the area I bypassed on my last trip, so I'll have some details about how to get down to it.

Turn off Highway 21 here!
To get there, go north on Highway 21 just 1.8 miles from Edwards Junction (the intersection of Highways 16 and 21).  Turn left (west) on NC-9050 and go another 0.4 miles on this gravel road.  There will be an old trace road on the right, and a "Wilderness Access" sign on the left side of the road pointing toward it.  The sign has a lot of trees growing around it and is getting hard to see.  The NC-9050 road is widened on the right and you can just pull off and park there.  Even if there is room, I prefer to park off the road, so I pull into the old trace road and park in an area immediately off the NC-9050.  NOTE that NC-9050 is the new name, and the only road sign on Highway 21.  Most maps and GPS units will still have it as FR-1462 or CR-6, the old county road number.  IF you are coming from the other direction,  NC-9050 is 2.5 miles south of Mossville.

Hadlock Cascade
After parking, zero your GPS is you have one.  A GPS is not needed for this hike, but always helps.  Head down the old trace road.  The hike here is mostly on the level and easy hiking.  There are a few large trees that have fallen over the trail, but the trail either goes around them or they are easy enough to just step over.  You will soon pass the old bulletin board for the trail head;  keep on going straight down the trail.  You will cross a small creek that is actually the headwaters of the creek flowing over Magnolia Falls, Woods Boys Falls, and Hadlock Cascade.   You are now in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area, so please help keep the wilderness wild and beautiful.

Woods Boys Falls (33 ft)
Shortly after crossing the small creek, you will come to a branch where the trace road continues ahead and curves to the left, and the well defined trail branches off to the right.  Bear right on the trail here.  This is a quarter mile from the parking location, and the coordinates for this branch are listed above.  There is a camping location with a fire pit just after this turn on the trail, and as it drops down the hill there is a stone berm along the right side of the trail.  Up on the hillside in the forest to the right is an old stone fence.  Some pioneer family spent a lot of time and back breaking labor making this fence.  It goes on for about a quarter of a mile, eventually blending into some massive rocks and neat hoodoo rock formations.

About three quarters of a mile from the turn off the old trace road, you will come to a small creek.  If you have a GPS, this is at 0.93 miles total from the parking location.  From here, you have a couple of choices.  If you want to go to Magnolia Falls, this is where you leave the trail.  The coordinates for this turn are listed above at the top of this post.  If you want to go to the other three major waterfalls in this area first, stay on the trail and follow it around and down into the canyon below Woods Boys Falls.  My preference is the route I usually take, which gives you a bit more of the fantastic scenery and cuts a little off the overall trip if you will be visiting all four waterfalls.

Magnolia Falls (26 ft)
We left the trail here and followed the creek downstream.  It is only a couple hundred yards from the old trace road trail down the creek to Magnolia Falls.  There is actually a fairly good trail along the right side of the little creek.  The trail will take you across the creek just before getting to Magnolia Falls.  The little feeder creek flows into the main creek right between Magnolia Falls and Woods Boys Falls.  There are paths leading to the top of Magnolia Falls and down into the grotto at its base.  Both are easily accessible.  We headed down into the grotto and set up for some photos.  This is a beautiful waterfall grotto.  Magnolia Falls is a fairly easy hike, and is so picturesque, it has become one of the more photographed waterfalls in the Arkansas Ozarks.  

Today, the hardwoods at this elevation were just starting to green up, including all the umbrella magnolias in the area that gave the waterfall its name.  It was just about a perfect hiking day, with a high of about 70 degrees, clear blue sky, and plenty of sunshine.  Bright sunshine is undesirable for photographing waterfalls, but we were there for the ambiance, not the photo taking.  

Unfortunately, as we climbed down to the base of Magnolia Falls, Bethany twisted her ankle climbing down from a rock.  It was a little painful for her, but to her credit, she wanted to continue on to the other major waterfalls in the area.  She's a trooper.  So we went on, albeit a little more slowly.

Most Arkansas waterfalls are fairly easy to access the top of the waterfall.  Typically, the base will be below a significant bluff line.  What we call a 'bluff' in Arkansas is what most other places call a sheer cliff.  Unfortunately, this area is very typical Arkansas in that regard.  The top of Woods Boys Falls is just a few yards downstream from where the pool below Magnolia Falls runs back into the main creek.  The water flows over a 33 foot high ledge there, and the bluff on each side actually falls off even further.

The top of Stahle Falls is likewise just a short distance away.  You can get back on the path to the top of Magnolia Falls and cross the creek, then follow the top of the bluff downstream to where a creek flows in from the left and spills over Stahle Falls.  However, the view from the top of a waterfall is not all that impressive.  To get the full impact of these works of nature's beauty, you must find a way to the base of the waterfall.  In this case, that means going quite a bit downstream to a break in the bluffline.

Hiking along the base of the north bluff
Remember that earlier we discussed one way of going to the base of the other three waterfalls was simply going straight on the trail instead of leaving the trail at the small creek and following it down to Magnolia Falls.  In Tim Ernst's excellent book, Arkansas Waterfalls, he has you go back up the creek to the trail and continue on.  That's one way, but another is to just follow the top of the bluffline downstream, staying on that north side of the creek.  There is a volunteer trail along the top of the bluff, and I like to take that from Magnolia Falls, then return on the old trace road.  Be careful if you go this route, as the path sometimes goes close to the edge of the cliff and in wet times can be slippery.  This bluff in a sheer cliff dropping off 50 to 90 feet, so if you slip over the edge it will not end well.  If you have smaller children, I would not recommend it.  

Where that trail on the old trace road wraps around and comes back to the bluffline, it cuts straight back down the bluffline with a path the width of the old trace road.  In fact, it looks as if this was a road cut through the face of the bluff, but it is all natural.  The coordinates for this bluffline break are listed at the top of this blog post.

Trace road cutting back across bluff face
After getting to the base of the bluffline, the trace road takes a turn to the right and disappears as it goes downhill and downstream.  You might be thinking "aha! a way down to creek level".  Don't do that.  Remember, the Woods Boys Falls is below this first bluffline.  As you travel almost a half mile downstream along the top of the bluff, the creek below goes steeply downward, cutting through more blufflines.  If you go down to the creek level here, you will spend the day getting a great cardio workout but not getting anywhere close to the waterfalls you want.  If you look at the 3D map of the area and our GPS track at the bottom of this post, you can see that although we are at the bottom of the cliff that rims this canyon, the creek bed is still far, far, below you elevation-wise.

Instead, turn left off the trail and stick as close as you can to the base of the bluffline.  The hiking back upstream along the base of the bluff is mostly open and easy hiking.  You have to climb around a rock here and there, but for the most part it is not difficult hiking at all.  

The hike along the base of the bluff is spectacular, and before you know it, you arrive at the base of Woods Boys Falls.  Today, there was enough water flow to make it look really good.  

Stahle Falls (63 ft)
From Woods Boys Falls I find it preferable to go to Stahle Falls, and then to visit Hadlock Cascade on the return trip since you will be going out that way anyway. On the other side of the canyon at Woods Boys Falls, it looks like the base of the bluff immediately drops off at an impossibly steep pitch down into the creek and is just impassable.  Once you get over across the creek to the base of the sandstone bluff, you will find a narrow shelf and fairly easy hiking right along the base of the cliff.  Once you get around the corner of the bluff, the shelf widens out to more of a bench at the bottom of the bluff cliff and is even easier hiking.

Stahle Falls is about 0.2 miles around the bluff from Woods Boys Falls.  Unlike the other three major waterfalls in this area, it is not on the main creek in this hollow.  Stahle Falls is the tallest waterfall of the lot at 63 feet, but takes a decent amount of water flow in this side creek to make it look really good. 

Hadlock Cascade (27 ft)
The Hadlock Cascade may be misnamed; it is actually more of a waterfall than a cascade, and a very pretty one at that.  It is not visited much, probably because of the difficulty in getting down to the base of the waterfall.  When I was in the area in February, there was ice covering just about everything.  This waterfall is named for David Hadlock, a fellow waterfall chaser who found this waterfall in 2010.  While scrambling down to explore, he slipped on icy rocks and fell to his death.  On that trip, with icy rocks everywhere and knowing how steep it was here, I let common sense take over and decided not to visit Hadlock Cascade.  Today, however, it was a balmy 70 degrees and I was intent on getting down to this great waterfall.

Woods Boys Falls (33 ft)
If you stay on the north side of the creek, you can get below it by scrambling down a fairly steep incline.   The GPS coordinates for the break in the bluffline are listed at the top of this blog post.  It is actually only a few yards from the path you are taking along the base of the north bluff.  This is the only access I know of other than going far downstream and making your way up the creek bed.  The south side of this grotto has a sheer sandstone bluff for quite a way downstream.   It is a steep, but do-able access here.  Watch you step, as there are a lot of loose rocks and leaves.  Once at creek level, Hadlock Cascade is only about 30 feet upstream.   

Of course, you then have to scramble back up that steep slope to get back to the base of the top bluffline, then continue on back downstream along the base of the bluff, retracing your steps to get back out of this canyon.  After hiking back down the canyon along the base of the bluff, we ascended back up above the bluff on the old trace road.  

This was another great day enjoying the natural beauty of the Natural State.  Having both Bethany and Boomer to keep me company today was the icing on the cake.  

GPS track - 3D Map of Stahle Falls to Parking Location
(bypassing Magnolia Falls)
GPS 2D track - Parking to Magnolia Falls to Woods Boys Falls

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