Sunday, May 29, 2016

Still Hollow Polyfoss North Prongs, Ozarks west of Freeman Springs, Arkansas

5/28/2016 - Still Hollow Polyfoss - new route and even more waterfalls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location #2:  35.64255   -93.07780,  1808 ft.
  Parking Location #4:  35.64571   -93.08644,  1431 ft.
  Turn off trail to go to south prong:  35.64452   -93.09035,  1289 ft.
  Trace road to eastern prongs:  35.64520   -93.09152,  1234 ft.
  General Ed Falls:  35.65053,  -93.08112,  1103 ft.
  Wynona Falls:  35.65001,  -93.07834,  1157 ft.
  Wilburn Falls:  35.65027   -93.07432,  1284 ft.
  Falls #31:  35.65033   -93.07381,  1301 ft.
  Falls #32:  35.65063   -93.07289,  1371 ft.
  Falls #33:  35.65015   -93.07130,  1364 ft.
  Margie Marie Falls:  35.64989   -93.07634,  1208 ft.
  Maid Marion Falls:  35.65003   -93.07716,  1191 ft.
  Falls #42:  35.65063   -93.07276,  1331 ft.
  Bluffline Break to drop to Houston Falls:  35.65276   -93.07884,  1276 ft.
  Houston Falls: 35.65392   -93.07865,  1307 ft 
  Maggie Lou Falls:  35.65300   -93.07912,  1259 ft.
  Falls #34:  35.65236   -93.07962,  1228 ft.
  Beckham Falls:  35.65211   -93.07972,  1207 ft.
  Rock Chute Falls:  35.65199   -93.07973,  1197 ft.
  Bluffline Break for Rock Chute:  35.65160   -93.07972,  1170 ft.
  Uncle Kenneth Falls:  35.65150   -93.07994,  1162 ft.
  James Lidge Falls:  35.65208   -93.08666,  1181 ft.
  Margaret Lois Falls:  35.65247   -93.08671,  1192 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.65125,  -93.09400,  1093 ft.
  Berford Falls:  35.65121,  -93.09399,  1091 ft.
  Vernell Falls:  35.65125,  -93.09381,  1069 ft.
  The Sidewalk (Slot):  35.64828,  -93.09065,  974 ft.
  Sally Lou Falls:  35.64801   -93.09163,  961 ft.
  Still Hollow Twin Falls:  35.64782   -93.09160,  961 ft.
  ATV trail:  35.64791   -93.09109,  976 ft.

Pet-Friendly:  Dogs off leash may be okay, but there are some areas they may have difficulty getting into and out of.  This is what I would call a difficult bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on a leash, you are in for a long day.  There is a lot of undergrowth and opportunity for entanglement on the knobs between hollows.  I did take Boomer today, but he is always off leash, very well trained, and takes pride in being the king of mountain dogs.

The Forest Service 'road' - you have been warned
Motorcycle Friendly:  No, unless you don't mind a little extra hiking.  When 
you turn off Highway 7 onto Dare Mine Road, instead of going down the old Jeep road you could just park and hike in from there.  It will add about a half mile of hiking each way; that's over 1.5 miles to hike just to get to the bottom of Still Hollow, and the same hike coming back with a 1000 foot elevation gain.

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, Still Hollow is over 1200 feet of elevation change.  Boomer and I ended up hiking 10.33 miles with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of only 550 feet this time.  We did, however, make several climbs of several hundred feet as we went in and out of the various hollows in this drainage system.  We followed my "rules for hiking Still Hollow" as much as possible.  It is, however, still what I would rate as a difficult bushwhack.  At this time of year, I would degrade that to very difficult bushwhack.  We were hiking for 8 hours and 34 minutes on the track at the bottom of this post.  See my tips for hiking Still Hollow at the bottom of this post.

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

Houston Falls - with Rick
Still Hollow has to be the most prolific polyfoss area in Arkansas, and that's saying a lot.  In three previous visits, we identified 39 significant waterfalls.  By 'significant', I mean waterfalls that are big enough or otherwise picturesque enough to be deemed 'photo-worthy'.  If you have Tim Ernst's excellent guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls, these would be the waterfalls that he has names for, marked a "W", or has marked as unnamed waterfalls with a black "w" on his maps.  If Tim puts Still Hollow in his next edition, his wife will have a heck of a time adding all the "W"s and "w"s on this area.  In addition to the 39 previously identified, Boomer and I came across five more new ones.  I have no doubt there are even more that we just have not stumbled upon in our explorations.

Maggie Lou Falls
The problem with Still Hollow is that it is extremely rugged and steep, somewhat like the Richland Wilderness area in ruggedness, but less accessible and with much more undergrowth in certain spots.  Unlike Richland, it has very dense thickets of brush, saplings, vines, briers, blackberries, and anything else hikers don't care for on the knobs between hollows.  I know people once lived all through these hollows in the Ozarks that are now public land.  Gradually, one way or another, most of that land is no longer in private hands.  Early settlers used mules and horses to get down into these hollows, and in later days, loggers cut roads into them.  Still Hollow was much more of a challenge to these folks, so there weren't that many trails cut into it in the first place.  Now that it is entirely public land, very few folks go there.  I have not even seen signs that hunters venture into the hollow itself, which makes sense.  The old Forest Service track is the only place to get an ATV into even, and nobody is going to pack a bear or deer out of terrain like this.

Margie Marie Falls
Today, Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I were headed back to see if Still Hollow was even doable in "leaves on" season, and to get some photos of some of my favorite waterfalls here now that it had greened up.  My three previous visits here were all in "leaves off" season, but I have learned enough about this hollow that I thought a late spring visit would go okay.  Boomer and I loaded up in the FJ Cruiser and headed north.  Today's hike was all focused on getting in and out of the prongs in the north and east parts of Still Hollow, and maybe doing a little more exploration.  You can see previous blog posts for Still Hollow here:
  11/18/2015 - Initial visit to some of the north prongs
  1/15/2016 - Visit to the big south prong, which also has scads of waterfalls
  3/28/2016 - Return visit to the north prongs to blaze a new, better route

Beckham Falls
Driving directions are fairly simple.  From the Dover square (intersection of Highways 7 and 27), go north on Highway 7 for 21.2 miles.  This will take you to the small community of Freeman Springs.  Turn left (southwest) on Dare Mine Road (aka CR-1806).  Go down Dare Mine Road just a couple hundred yards and turn right onto an old Jeep road.  If you don't have a decent 4WD vehicle, you should probably park right there and hoof it the rest of the way.  This is a narrow "door scraper" trail.  If you have one of those show Jeeps and like to keep it pretty, you may add some "Arkansas pin striping"
Sally Lou Falls
to your pretty little show Jeep.  I will say that it hasn't done my FJ Cruiser any permanent damage.  About a half mile down this road is a food plot that is a pretty good parking area, designated as parking location #2 on the coordinates above.  Today, we used the knowledge gained from my last visit and went in about 2/3 mile more, to the coordinates for parking location #4.  After that, there are some sizable hardwood saplings growing up that would have challenged the width of my vehicle.  An old Jeep Wrangler with a bull bar could probably make it to the turn off the trail to the old bench trace road.  Or, if you really want to be nice, take a chainsaw or cordless saws-all and take care of those saplings so I can drive down there.

Berford Falls
Starting out from this parking location further down the mountain helps, but it really helps on the way out, when you are already tired and that extra mileage and 400+ feet of climbing are a killer.  The climb out is still bad, just not nearly as bad as it was last time.  Boomer and I made quick time getting down to the turn off on the bench road, but it was definitely a harder slog this time of year as the "Arkansas jungle", fully leafed out and growing, pretty much tried to take over the old road bed.  The old trace road along the bench, having the cover of the large trees, was not that much worse.  There were paw-paws and other low growing stuff, but nothing that will give a seasoned bushwhacker pause.  We followed the bench route all the way to where we dropped off to go to the creek last time, but decided to do a little exploration this time and continued on.  Where the old bench road comes to a small creek, we stayed high, crossed a little cascade on that creek, and continued on along the edge of the bench, where the old trace reappeared.  It becomes much more trace and less discernible as you go, but it is not difficult to bushwhack along the edge of this bench.

General Ed Falls
The bench is easy enough to hike on since it stays below all that mess of thickets higher up and above the rock jumble closer to the creek.  This bench slowly descends to almost creek level, and we found Margie Marie Falls where a major tributary drainage came into the main creek from the south.  This creek had pretty good flow, and after getting home and mapping it out, that whole drainage looks very promising for more significant waterfalls.  I would be willing to bet there is one at about 1300 feet elevation, on the same capstone that forms Wilburn Falls.  But instead of looking into that whole drainage that I had not yet
Margaret Lois Falls
explored, I got distracted and followed it the other way, then found an easy hiking route on the bench on the north side of the creek and followed it all the way to the hollow above General Ed Falls.  This was one of the waterfalls I wanted to see this trip anyway, but looping back like that added a good deal of hiking time and distance since I now had to go back upstream to the others I wanted to re-visit anyway.  Now you see why some of my hikes end up taking me places I never intended.

Wynona Falls
After visiting General Ed Falls, we hiked upstream to Wynona Falls, then continued on to the others along the main creek.  Between Wynona Falls and the drainage on the right (south) where we found Margie Marie Falls, we found yet another waterfall on the main creek.  Maid Marion Falls is a double waterfall only about eight feet tall, but it flows into a long frothing stretch that is something between a cascade and a water slide before flowing into a small pool.  It's kind of unique looking, and definitely photo worthy.  How, you might ask, could I have been through here twice and still have missed this?  When hiking along a drainage, we don't always stay close to the creek.  Often it's just much easier to hike up on a low bluff than to mess with the rock hopping and downed trees along the creek itself.  Sometimes grottos and blufflines will force you to hike at a higher level.  

Wilburn Falls
Our next stop was Wilburn Falls.  This one had just the right amount of flow today and looked great.  Recent storms had brought some trees down into the grotto, but I managed to shoot around that for the most part.  This is where I started having some camera problems.  At Wilburn Falls, and the stops further upstream at Falls #31, Falls #32, and Falls #33, I had some kind of focus issue with my Nikon 1 V3.  By the time I got to Houston Falls, it seemed to have healed itself, but then on photos at a couple of the other waterfalls, I noticed the same issue.   Maybe it is time to take it back to the shop.  What is aggravating is that you don't notice until you get back home to see all the cool shots you made that day.  

Maid Marion Falls
At any rate, we went from Falls #33 around the spur and into the hollow containing Houston Falls.  Along the way, we found yet another new waterfall, Falls #42, in a side drainage.  I remember seeing this one on the last visit and wondering if it might be a decent waterfall in wetter conditions.  It is indeed, but it's definitely only a wet weather waterfall.  On my last trip here, I stayed very high on the bluffline because I wanted to explore some above Houston Falls.  This time, I knew there wasn't anything for quite a way above Houston Falls, so I tried to pick the best spot to drop below the bluffline on the east side.  As it turns out, I did not choose wisely.  I could hear the crashing of water from Houston Falls and Maggie Falls just downstream from it and thought I should drop below the bluffline before it closed in on the top of the waterfall.  If you drop down too soon, you get yourself into a mess of brush and vines and clinging to the side of a cliff, trying not to fall.  I marked coordinates for a bluffline break adjacent to Maggie Falls that provides a very easy route down to the base of Houston Falls.

Houston Falls
There are some other big waterfalls in the south and northwest prongs of Still Hollow, but Houston Falls is my favorite.  The water here seems to always run very clear, it usually has good flow even in drier times, and the setting is spectabulous, with a huge rock plunked down in the middle of the grotto and smaller waterfalls running off the base.  It's also named for my Dad, a highly decorated WWII vet, who passed away over 10 years ago, so it holds a special place in my heart.  I tried to get a good photo with me next to it for scaling, but every time I set the timer and ran over next to the waterfall, Boomer would wander into the photo during the six-second exposure.  I can hold still for that long, Boomer can not.  When I ran for the base of the waterfall, he took that as his cue to be released from hold.  I finally gave up, and we moved on downstream.  

Rock Chute Falls
We stopped at Maggie Falls and all the others downstream in this drainage.  Beckham Falls still has a very large log jammed across it, but it is easy to get a good photo angle of the entire waterfall without it.  With all the spring greenery, Beckham Falls was much more picturesque today.  At Rock Chute Falls this time I knew where to climb down and back out, a huge benefit over my first hike discovering this waterfall.  Someday I need to figure out how to get a good shot of this one without drowning.  There was enough flow that water actually backed
up inside the chute until it found another gap it could run out of.  Once you see a thousand or so waterfalls in the Ozarks, many of them tend to look quite similar.  This isn't a really large waterfall, but it is certainly unique.  I know of a few that flow out of the mouths of caves, and a couple inside of caves, but this is the only one I know falling into a chute like this.  

James Lidge Falls
From Uncle Kenneth Falls at the bottom of this drainage, we headed on downstream.  I wanted to at least check out Toil Falls and Trouble Falls, so we stayed high on the bluff above the north side of the main creek.  We stayed just below where all the brushy thickets started and soon came to the middle prong on the north side of the main creek.  Dan and I had not visited this on our initial hike here, and on my last solo visit, it had barely a trickle of water in it.  This time, however, there was pretty good flow in the drainage and sure enough, there were a couple of new waterfalls right where I crossed.  James Lidge Falls and Margaret Lois Falls are both cool and unique looking waterfalls.  James Lidge Falls slides right off a huge chunk of stone.  This drainage undoubtedly contains more waterfalls.  I would expect some nice ones at about the same elevation as Toil, Trouble, and Houston Falls.  But today, we had already been out hiking many hours and many miles so I decided to save that for another day also.  Preferably a nice, cold, wet, winter day.

Trouble Falls
Toil Falls visible in the background
Continuing on around the spur into the northwest drainage, staying just below the "thicket line" put us at just the right elevation to drop down to Toil Falls first, then back up on the same (east) side, and down to the base of Trouble Falls directly below it.  These were flowing well today, but the summer foliage definitely makes a difference.  Both of these are double falls, and in "leaves off" season, you can clearly see the double-double from the base of Trouble Falls.  Double-double, Toil, and Trouble, get it?  That still cracks me up.  The foliage does partially obscure the right side waterfall of Toil Falls from below, but it is still a cool sight.  One more thing about these two waterfalls; when you get down in the grottos, it feels like someone left the air conditioning on.  Apparently, adiabatic cooling works even in Arkansas, and it was refreshingly cool at the base of both of them.

Vernell Falls
We stopped briefly at Falls #5, Berford Falls, and Vernell Falls before continuing down to Sally Lou Falls and the Still Hollow Twin Falls, where we would start our climb out.   Very brief stops, since I could tell Boomer was getting worn out, and I was certainly feeling the strain of hiking in high humidity, temperatures in the 80s, and very rough terrain.  But once you get down to the Still Hollow Twin Falls, the slot we call 'The Sidewalk' is just a short stroll upstream and is worth a visit every time.  We needed a little rest time before our climb out anyway.  

Toil Falls
The climb from Still Hollow Twin Falls to the point the bench road splits off is all along the old Forest Service track, but even though it isn't a bushwhack at this point doesn't make it easy.  It's only about 0.2 miles, but is very steep and when you are already tired can really take it out of you.  I didn't need but one breather on that long hike from Hemmed-In Hollow Falls back to the Compton Trailhead, but had to stop a few times to catch my breath today.  This hike is highly recommended, but ONLY if you are a hiker experienced with bushwhacks and are up for a challenging hike.  I have always rated this as a difficult bushwhack, and with late May temperatures and foliage, it is even more challenging.  So have fun exploring this great polyfoss area, but be warned it won't be your typical stroll in the park.  I'll be back a few times, I'm sure.  On this trip alone, I have identified a couple more drainages I want to explore.

Margaret Lois Falls
Any section of Still Hollow can be a challenging hike, just due to the nature of the terrain.  But if you follow some simple rules, you can visit the great water features without killing yourself.  Rules for Still Hollow:
  • Stay off the knobs (see glossary/FAQ)!  The lower, steeper, reaches of Still Hollow are more inaccessible, which means not as easy to log.  Logging years ago on the higher areas of the knobs was done in such a way that dense undergrowth was allowed to basically take over.
    Uncle Kenneth Falls
  • Be prepared to climb into and out of many of the waterfall basins to get to the base of a waterfall.  There are a lot of areas where it is just too dangerous to try to skirt along the bluffline from the top of a waterfall, looking for a break in the bluff.  You have to climb up to an area where the slope is manageable, then find a bluffline break.  Sometimes this conflicts with the first rule.  Oh, well.
  • Use the old road through the food plot and the trace roads on the south bench where you can.  They don't cut into the hollows at all, but will get you from one section of Still Hollow to another with decent hiking terrain.  The Forest Service track also cuts right through all the thickets on the big southeast knob.
GPS Tracks - Norther Prongs of Still Hollow
Red - November 2015 trip
Blue - Bench Trace Road Route - March 2016 trip
Yellow - Creek Route - March 2016 trip

Today's GPS track - quite a bit of needless looping back;
I recommend just using the bench and creek routes above


  1. Great post and photos! Thanks for sharing your exploration of Still Hollow. Bet you have some scratches and other badges of honor following that bushwhack.

    1. ha! A little, but I have been beat up by the Arkansas jungle worse. It is well worth it. And you are welcome!