Sunday, June 5, 2016

Devil's Den Loop Trail, Devil's Den State Park, near Winslow, Arkansas

6/4/2016 -  Waterfalls and Caves on the Devil's Den Loop Trail

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.78131   -94.24948,  1094 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.78074   -94.24408,  1143 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.78197   -94.24302,  1096 ft.
  Devil's Den Twin Falls:  35.78214   -94.24263  1166 ft.

Pet-Friendly: Yes, but it is a state park, so there are rules.  I know, I know, I hate that too.  Dogs are allowed on the trail but are supposed to be on a leash.  We left Boomer at home today since we were going out to dinner after our adventure.  He would have hated not being able to roam freely on the trail.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes, but with a caveat.  There is pavement all the way to where you park, and that's the most important thing for me.  The road into the park on Highway 74, however, has switchbacks that make the Dragon's Tail in North Carolina or the road to Oark seem fairly tame.  So go, enjoy yourself, but be aware you will be slowing down if you enter the park this way.

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike, on a well-traveled trail.  The trail is a little rough in some spots, but even young children can navigate it just fine.  The trail itself is only about 1.5 miles long round trip, with a highest-to-lowest elevation difference of only about 100 feet.  Not too long, very little climbing, and no bushwhacking, so the trail is in my "easy hike" category.  I tend to go off trail a lot and move around for some shots, so my GPS trip meter was 2.4 miles for the hike.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Devil's Den Loop Trail GPS track

Devil's Den Twin Falls
After finishing our hike at Moonshiner's Cave, Bethany and I headed into Devil's Den State Park to hike the loop trail.  This is a relatively short hike at 1.5 miles but has a lot of stuff to see on it.  There used to be even more.  The caves on the loop trail are closed now, but the waterfalls and scenery are more than enough to justify a trip to Devil's Den.  We had made a spur of the moment decision to make a day trip up to Devil's Den, but I had kind of forgotten that Saturdays are on the weekends when all those other people have the day off and might also flock to a place like Devil's Den.  One of the cool things about being retired is that you can get out on weekdays and have the great outdoors to yourself for the most part.  I'll admit that it was still quite pleasant, and I didn't really mind sharing the trail with dozens of other folks on such a nice day.  In addition to being the Natural State, Arkansas should be known as "that place where all the really nice people are."

Falls #2
Getting there is easy, especially for us, since we had been parked at the entrance sign to the state park for our hike to Moonshiner's Cave Falls.  But if you need directions to this little jewel of the state park system, here they are; take I-49 (which many maps still show as I-540), and take exit 45.  This is called the Winslow exit, but you will turn west, away from Winslow, and go 4.4 miles on Highway 74 (also known as Devil's Den Road).  You should see the big sign for Devil's Den State Park on the right.  You're there!  Keep driving past the sign, and you will go through some tight hairpin turns, past the visitor center and finally get to the bottom of the valley.  The road branches left to the swimming pool and the lake on Lee Creek.  You want to go to the right, and just before the bridge over Lee Creek park in the parking area on your right.

Falls #1
The trailhead starts at the end of the parking area toward the bridge, with some stone steps taking you up onto a very well-travelled trail.  The trail winds its way up the hill, but nowhere on this trail is it overly steep.  There is only about a hundred feet of elevation change for the entire loop of the trail.  There were a lot of hikers since it is late spring.  It is a long enough trail that the visitors to the park are spaced out quite a bit and don't really get in the way, even on a weekend.  Hiking the trail in this direction, you come to a couple of caves fairly quickly.  Devil's Den Cave goes back into the mountain side for quite a way, but you wouldn't know that from looking at the entrance.  You won't be able to find out, either, because the entrance is now sealed off.  The second cave, more of a series of crevices, has a big "Closed" sign stuck on the rock.

Caves are closed!
Why close off the caves?  This is part of a last ditch effort to save as many bats as possible.  Bats, as it turns out, are incredibly important to our ecosystem.  They are good little critters, not bad.  They don't really want to suck your blood, nor do they spread rabies any more than any other mammals.  What they are really good at is eating insects.  A cave full of bats can literally eat truckloads of insects a day.  Without bats, we would be overrun with insects and suffer enormous damage to crops and other stuff.  Humans hurt bats in a couple of ways.  If we wake them during hibernation, they go out and try to find food (insects, remember?).  Being wintertime, there are no insects to eat, and they can weaken and die.  Secondly, White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is running rampant in the bat world.  This disease can be spread by humans, on their clothes, shoes, etc.  It doesn't directly kill the bats, but it screws up their internal thermostat, which tends to wake them prematurely from hibernation.  And we have already discussed how that story ends.  

Falls #2
Getting off my bat soapbox and back on the hike, a short distance further on the loop trail you will find the first waterfall.  Actually, you won't find it on the trail, but if it is flowing you can hear it easily from the trail.  There is a well-defined path going up a small hill and back down in a little nook with the waterfall in it. In the coordinate listings above, I reference it as Unnamed Falls #1.  I'm sure with all the visitors this trail sees, it must have a name by now, but I have been calling it "the little falls".  That's only because it is much shorter than "the big falls".  Leaving Falls #1, the trail actually goes under "the big falls", Unnamed Falls #2, just before you come to Devil's Den Twin Falls.   This is a waterfall that tends to dry up before the others in the area but is quite tall.  It falls over the trail, hits some rocks, and falls off for another good drop before flowing into the same creek as Devil's Den Twin Falls.

Devil's Den Twin Falls - Upper Waterfall
The Twin Falls at Devil's Den are a couple of spectacular cascades, with a bridge
 spanning between them for the loop trail.  These are really nice, really photogenic waterfalls.  Unfortunately, at this time of year, the foliage makes it just about impossible to get a good shot of the span of these very tall waterfalls.  Fortunately for me, I enjoy just being there and taking it all in more than I do the photography stuff.  So I can't adequately show you how awesome it is, you just need to take my word for it.  Or go and see for yourself.  Leaving Falls #2 and Devil's Den Twin Falls, you continue on around the loop and come down close to Lee Creek.  There are paths very close to the creek, as well as further back on the bluff.  

The spillway at Devil's Den
Following along on the trail, you hike parallel to the creek, and eventually, come back to  the parking area.  This is an easy hike that I recommend to hikers of all ages and all levels of experience.  It's just got a lot going for it and is a lot of Natural State goodness with a minimal amount of effort.  This one is good family fun.  After you hike the loop trail, you can backtrack the way you came, and take a right turn to go past the pool and park near the lake spillway.  Normally, this large masonry dam makes a sensational looking waterfall as well.  Today, water was just roaring on Lee Creek and the spillway was an impressive but muddy mess.  This is one of those that looks much better with a normal amount of flow.
Devil's Den GPS Tracks
Red - Devil's Den Loop Trail track
Blue - Moonshiner's Cave Falls track

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