Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sweden Creek Falls, Sweden Creek Natural Area, near Boxley, Arkansas

5/26/2016 -  Sweden Creek Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.97226   -93.45122
  Bear crack where the trail splits:  35.97415   -93.45618
  Unnamed waterfalls (3):  35.974529   -93.45616
  Sweden Creek Falls:  35.97150   -93.45920

Pet Friendly: Yes; dogs on or off leash should be fine.  

Motorcycle Friendly:  Not "friendly", for sure.  Maybe "motorcycle doable" is a better term.  It is three miles down a gravel road that is generally maintained pretty well.  I wouldn't take mine there, but as one of my nephews says, "heck, my driveway is in worse shape than that."  To each his or her own.

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike, with a trail all the way to the top and bottom of Sweden Creek Falls.  The Sweden Creek Natural Area (NA) is only about 350 feet from top to bottom.  Boomer and I did some extra bushwhacking, but from the parking location to Sweden Creek Falls is less than a mile each way, and is an elevation change of only 200 feet.  I would rate this hike as easy, but with some special caution is you take children on the upper trail.  Today we hiked 2.7 miles, and despite the extra bushwhack and a lot of poking around, spent less than two hours hiking.

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

Sweden Creek Falls (81 ft)
Sweden Creek Falls is yet another of those waterfalls that I have never visited. This is a "big un", at 81 feet; how could I not have been to see it?  I suppose it has something to do with being over an hour and a half drive, but it still seems I would have done this hike at least once since moving to Arkansas 25 years ago.  Today, after a lot of recent rain and more forecast for later today, I was looking for a waterfall I could get down to and back fairly quickly if I did happen to get caught in a downpour.  Sweden Creek certainly fits that bill, and as I said, it was sitting out there in my "not seen yet" folder.  I've been meaning to knock some of those off the list instead of always going out into new unexplored areas, so today, Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I set out to see this one.

Sign at turn off Highway 21
Getting there is pretty easy, even if it is a long drive for me.  From the junction of Highways 21 and 43 south of Boxley, go north on Highway 21 for 1.9 miles, then turn left (west) onto NC-9500.  Note that the road sign here says MC-3260, which is the road it turns into.  Follow NC-9500/MC-3260 for 3.7 miles and park on the right.  There is now a large sign at the gate for the Sweden Creek Natural Area (NA) and a parking pad has been graded out for a couple of vehicles next to it.

Sweden Creek Natural Area Trailhead
The Sweden Creek Falls NA is one of 71 Natural Areas afforded some protection by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission to preserve it for "low impact" recreational use, such as hiking.  Perfect for us waterfall chasers, indeed.  This one is in Tim Ernst's great guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls.  If you don't have a copy of this hiking treasure, get one.  It's how I found this and many other waterfalls, and really gave my retirement waterfall chasing a boost.  It used to be privately held, but about all that is left now is the road that led to the old homestead.  That old road is the first half of the hike down to Sweden Creek Falls. 

The old road
with Boomer
Boomer and I walked past the locked gate and started hiking down the old road.  This property is being well cared for, it seems.  The old road is one of the nicest trails I have seen and shows signs of having been mowed recently.  They have put water brakes across it at strategic locations to help prevent erosion.  The road goes less than a half mile downhill to the old homestead site, and here you will find a bear crack leading down through the bluff line.  This is also where the trail splits; if you go down through the bear crack, the trail runs along the base of the bluff on your left to the base of Sweden Creek Falls.  The trail branch to the left runs along the top of the bluff to the top of the waterfall.

Middle of the Three Unnamed Falls
Boomer and I headed down to the lower trail first.  As soon as you descend through the bear crack, you will hear that familiar waterfall sound off to your right.  There is a faint volunteer trail that will take you over to the tributary creek here that flows down into Sweden Creek.  There are three small waterfalls, one right after the other, just  a few yards off the main trail.  We headed over to check them out first.  The trail takes you down to the base of the middle waterfall, and from there you can easily go up to the top one, or down to the lower one, on the left side as you face them.  While only 10 to 15 feet tall each, they pale in comparison to big brother Sweden Creek Falls but are nonetheless pretty nice in their own right.

Lower of the Three Unnamed Waterfalls
The upper two can be seen in the background
After spending some time with the three unnamed waterfalls, I looked downstream and (of course) wondered if there might be more.  I made a mental note to check it out, then went back to the lower trail and started following it around to the main attraction.  The trail is blazed with blue diamond markers, but they are not really needed.  If you stay somewhat close to the base of the bluff and keep it on your left, you will get there.  The lower trail goes around and over rocks, under some overhangs, and such, so it is not the best trail in the world.  That being said, I'm used to bushwhacking on most hikes with no trails whatsoever, so this was actually something of a luxury for me.  

Sweden Creek Falls (81 ft)
About a half mile from where the trail split back at the bear crack, you arrive at Sweden Creek Falls.  Today, it was spectacular.  The recent rains ensured there was a good amount of flow, and it apparently had been long enough since that rain to allow the water to clear up.  Today, it was gushing over the bluff above and was crystal clear when it fell into the very large pool at its base.  It was about 178% humidity today, with temperatures in the low 80's, so I seriously considered taking a dip in the pool.  It is a natural area, but I don't think 'au natural' is what they had in mind.  Maybe next time I'll wear shorts or swimming trunks.  At any rate, I didn't know if others were likely to hike down here today, so I just kept my clothes on.  You're welcome.

I was thinking about the other drainage that flowed into Sweden Creek a half mile or so downstream, and I suppose I was feeling a little guilty about hiking all the way here on an actual trail.  On top of that, it was a fairly easy hike and my boots hadn't even been flooded once yet.  So Boomer and I set off on a little bushwhack detour, hiking down Sweden Creek and back up the tributary drainage.  Sweden Creek exhibited a phenomenon I occasionally see here in the Ozarks.  With all the flow coming over the waterfall and falling into the pool at the base of the falls, absolutely none of it flowed out.  All the creek flow went underground and came back up in the stream bed about 50 yards downstream.

Upper waterfall of the Three Unnamed Falls
The bushwhack downstream and then back up the smaller drainage was a little rough, and the undergrowth was pretty thick.  As I mentioned, it was very humid and warm, and by the time we got back up to the three unnamed waterfalls at the trail split, I was soaked in sweat.  Save yourself the aggravation on exploring the rest of the area.  Other than the picturesque Sweden Creek itself, I found nothing of interest.  There was one area downstream of the three waterfalls that may have had a nice waterfall before, but a recent landslide took a big chunk of the creek bluff away.  At any rate, my curiosity is now satisfied, and I'll not do that extra bushwhack again.

Sweden Creek Falls
After climbing through the bear crack, we headed down the upper trail to check it out.  Usually, you can't see much from the top of Ozark waterfalls, but in this case, there were a couple of vantage points that provided a great view of Sweden Creek Falls.  The upper trail is what I would call super easy as far as hiking goes.  It is well marked, on the level, and runs along the top of the bluff.  One word of caution is needed, though;  in wet conditions such as we had today, the rock along the top of the bluff can get slick.  Sometimes, this rock is very close to the edge of the bluff and sloped over the bluffline.  I would not advise taking small children along the upper trail unless you keep a close eye on them and keep them well back from the edge of the bluff.  It is a long, long, way down.

Sweden Creek Falls
We returned along the upper trail, then back up the old road to the parking location.  Even with our little detours and traversing both the upper and lower trail, we were hiking for less than two hours.  I would highly recommend this hike for everyone.  As previously stated, if you take small children, I would advise taking them on the lower trail.  They will probably handle the ups and downs of it better than you will, and the pool at the base of the waterfall will make their day.  Boomer and I had plenty of our day left, so we decided to head over to Hideout Hollow, less than a half hour away.
GPS Track - Sweden Creek Falls

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