Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spring Creek Waterfalls, Arkansas Ozarks north of Treat, Arkansas

3/25/2015 - Waterfalls in the Northwest prongs of Spring Creek

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.66278   -93.18465,  1716 ft.
  Park - Spring Creek South Prong:  35.65245   -93.15793,  1627 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #1:  35.65554   -93.18519,  1136 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #2:  35.66026   -93.17733,  1187 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #3:  35.66047   -93.17762,  1232 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #4:  35.65946   -93.17656,  1138 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #5:  35.66560   -93.17249,  1238 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #6:  35.66578   -93.17269,  1260 ft.
  Spring Creek Unnamed Falls #7:  35.66793   -93.17377,  1467 ft.

Pet Friendly:  Dogs off leash may be okay, but there are some areas they may have difficulty getting in and out of.  This is what I would call a very difficult bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on leash, it will probably be okay, but you are in for a long day.  There is a lot of undergrowth and opportunity for entanglement.

Motorcycle Friendly:  Nope.  This is many miles on dirt roads, some of them not so good dirt roads.

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, the valley containing Spring Creek is over 1200 feet of elevation change.  Dan and I ended up hiking 6.63 miles with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of about 950 feet.  We made several climbs of several hundred feet, as we went into and out of the various hollows in this drainage system.  Most of the hike we did is what I would call very difficult bushwhacking conditions.  A tornado that swept through the area several years ago left much of the area we hiked through a total mess of downed trees and the briers and undergrowth that have sprung up since.  We were hiking for 5 hours and 31 minutes on the track at the bottom of this post.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.

Unnamed Falls #2
After almost a month of road trips (two to the Texas Hill Country and one to Ohio), I finally had the opportunity to get out and do some waterfall chasing.  My friend Dan Frew and I decided to give the vast Spring Creek area a look.  Dan had previously visited the big southern prong of Spring Creek and found a couple of really nice waterfalls, so we had high hopes for the rest of the area.  Spring Creek is a huge drainage, encompassing over 12 square miles.  Normally, the hollows in the Ozarks are named after the creeks running through them, or vice versa.  In this case, I can't find any name referenced for the individual hollows in all the many prongs off Spring Creek, nor for the larger Spring Creek drainage itself, so I'll just be referring to the entire area as Spring Creek.

Unnamed Falls #4 - with Dan
To get there, from Dover, go north on Highway 7 for 28.7 miles to Pelsor/Sand Gap.  Turn left (west) on Highway 123 for 4.7 miles, then turn left (south) onto Treat Road (aka FR-1802, CR-5991, or Meadows Knob Road).  Go 3.0 miles on Treat Road, then bear right onto CR-5991.  Go another 1.2 miles and turn left (south) onto a local Jeep road.  You can go down this road as far as you feel comfortable to park.  We parked just 0.1 mile down the Jeep road, since we were unfamiliar with it and wanted to take no chances until we checked it out.  As it turned out, this old road was in fairly decent shape well down the mountain.  A good 4WD vehicle should have no trouble going another half mile or so down the mountain.

Unnamed Falls #1 - with Rick
Photo by Dan Frew
We started hiking down the Jeep road, then leaving the trail to the right and bushwhacking over to the first prong we wanted to explore.  We were fairly high in the hollow, and saw no signs of waterfalls as far as we could see upstream, so we headed downstream.  We only found our first waterfall of the day, Unnamed Falls #1, midway down this drainage.  It was a nice smaller waterfall in the six to eight foot range.  Continuing on downstream, we found no other waterfalls on this tributary creek.  The creek itself went underground for about a hundred yards, reemerging in a big spring further down the hollow.

Unnamed Falls #2 - From inside Cave
After following the first feeder creek all the way down to where it flowed into Spring Creek, we explored a little downstream and a short distance up the large south prong.  The slope at these points is extremely low, and the odds of finding some water features appeared low, so we decided to head upstream to the steeper parts of the Spring Creek system.    This is where we first encountered a major impediment to hiking in this area.  Several years ago, a tornado came right up the Spring Creek valley and into the upper prongs.  Unfortunately, it cut a swath a couple of hundred feet wide right through the area we wanted to hike through.  The downed trees, along with the dense undergrowth, briers, and other vines that grow when the large tree canopy is suddenly gone made for extremely rough hiking.  This was awful to try to pick our way through today; in the late spring or summer it would be impossible.

Cave at Falls #2
wide angle photo by Dan Frew
We eventually made our way north into the next tributary and found Falls #2, which also had a deceptively large cave next to it.  The cave opening was low, almost unnoticable behind the berm of stone and dirt in front of it.  Once inside, we could see that it extended along the bluff and quite deep into the hillside.  Falls #3 was a short distance upstream, but instead of going further upstream we decided to go downstream, where we found Falls #4.  From there, the undergrowth and briers forced us into a route over the bluff into the next hollow instead of downstream as we would have preferred.  

Unnamed Falls #4
Getting into the next prong to the north was not too difficult, but once there, we ran into the tornado damaged area again.  It seemed almost as if the tornado had somehow figured out the routes we would have wanted to hike, and had followed the same route just to wreak havoc with our hiking.  At any rate, we eventually got down to creek level in this prong, and made our way upstream.  This was what I would call something beyond a "difficult bushwhack", this was more like a "painfully difficult bushwhack".  It was very slow going, but we persevered and eventually made it upstream to where we found Falls #5 and Falls #6 in close proximity.  

Unnamed Falls #3
Continuing upstream, we did find a rock glacier to hike along.  Normally, rock hopping up something like this is less than desirable, but it was much easier than the dense undergrowth around it.  By the time we made it up this prong to where we found Falls #7, a small five foot double waterfall, we also had made it to the edge of the tornado damaged area.  We started back to where we had left the vehicle  and fortunately most of the hike back was through a more normal area for the Ozarks.  It was still rugged and steep terrain, but at least with no more than a normal amount of undergrowth.

Unnamed Falls #6
I had wanted a good cardio workout after spending so much time driving and sitting on those road trips, and I certainly got that today.  We ended up covering a big portion of the northeast section of the Spring Creek basin.  While it is always good to get out in the woods, this is not a part of the Ozarks I would recommend.  There are only a few waterfalls, none of them particularly large or impressive.  Add to that the difficulties of the hiking conditions, and my opinion is that this juice is just not worth the squeeze.  You can get a much better payoff for much shorter and easier hikes.  On the other hand, if you like a challenge and don't mind aggravating hiking conditions, go out and get yourself some of this.
GPS Track - Spring Creek Northwest Section

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