Wednesday, March 1, 2017

QuiVaLa Elise Falls, Smith Creek Nature Preserve, Arkansas Ozarks, south of Boxley, Arkansas

3/1/2017 -  QuiVaLa Elise Falls, Smith Creek Nature Preserve

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.93451   -93.38564,  1652 ft.
  QuiVaLa Elise Falls:  35.93808   -93.38302,  1321 ft.

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs on or off leash should be fine.  I did not see signs indicating that dogs were not allowed or needed to be on a leash.  Note that this is a nature preserve with hiking trails, so if your dog is not well behaved around people or other dogs, please keep it on a leash.  I had Boomer's leash with us today, but he just doesn't need it.  We had the place all to ourselves and he is remarkably well behaved. 

Motorcycle Friendly:  Yes, the parking location is on a dirt road, but a very short one that is very well maintained.  You will be parking just a short distance from Highway 21.

Hiking Statistics: There are many very well maintained trails that you may want to explore, but the hike to QuiVaLa Elise Falls is only 1.7 miles roundtrip.  The highest-to-lowest elevation difference is 430 feet.  The entire climb from creek level to the parking location is on a really nice trail, with few steep spots, so it seems like a fairly moderate climb.  Only the last part is a bushwhack, going a few yards down Smith Creek and then up the narrow canyon to the waterfall itself.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Hiking trail map of Smith Creek Nature Preserve (.jpg format)
  Smith Creek Nature Preserve brochure

QuiVaLa Elise Falls
We had some very severe storms come through northwest Arkansas last night, with tornados, hail, and everything else.  Almost everything, anyway; we did get a little rain, but only about a quarter inch, not nearly enough to make a dent in our drought.  I had previously scoped out QuiVaLa Elise Falls a couple of weeks ago, and it was still on my to-do list.  Before going to a new area, I like to check out the topo maps, Google Earth, and whatever other resources I can find.  This one is in Tim Ernst's excellent guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls.  Brent Toellner also had a nice blog post on this hike worth checking out.  

Parking location near gate
To get there, go north on Highway 21 from Mossville for 3.2 miles and turn right onto a dirt road.  Go down the dirt road several yards to the gate and park where you won't block the gate.  There is a turnaround here, and plenty of room for parking on the side of the road near the gate.  If you are coming from the other direction, from the junction of Highway 21 and Highway 43, go 3.7 miles south on Highway 21 and turn left onto the dirt road.  There is a bulletin board here at the gate, with a lot of information and directions.  The Nature Conservancy even provides free maps and brochures in bins on the bulletin board.  They only ask that you don't block the gate and leave the area as you found it.  I don't think that's asking too much.

Marty and Elise Roenigk are two of the great preservationists that Arkansas has been fortunate to have.  They also owned the 1886 Cresent Hotel and Spa and the 1905 Basin Hotel in Eureka Springs.  Many years ago, they called the aforementioned Tim Ernst, looking for a large tract of land in the Upper Buffalo area.  At the time, the Smith Creek land had been subdivided for development, and Tim suggested they look at it.  The Roenigks ended up buying all the property and a couple of adjacent parcels.   Terry Clark and Glenn Wheeler made improvements to the property, including building the road and the bridge.  Marty and Elise decided the best thing they could do with their almost two square mile chunk of Arkansas Ozarks would be to preserve it for future generations.  God bless them for that.  They transferred ownership in 2004 to the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to preserve over 300,000 acres of unique and beautiful areas like this in Arkansas.  After the Roenigks transferred the property to the Nature Conservancy, the Smith Creek Nature Preserve opened to the public the very next year.  One of the many things worthy of preserving here is Sheffield Cave, a three-mile system of caves under the Smith Creek Preserve that houses the largest colony of Indiana bats in Arkansas.

Turn off the main trail where you see this sign

Starting out at the trailhead behind the gate, I was impressed with the condition of the trails.  At this point, it is a road that any vehicle could use.  This "main trail" goes all the way to Smith Creek, but at just 0.2 miles, look for a white sign that says "Elise Falls" and take the smaller trail it points to on the left.  This is also an excellent trail, as all of them I saw within the preserve are.  About a half mile down this trail from the main trail, it crosses Smith Creek.  The trail continues around to the east side of the preserve, but you will want to leave the trail to the left and hike down Smith Creek a few yards.  From the trail, look to your left;  see the white bluff jutting into the creek bed where it turns to the right?  The smaller drainage containing QuiVaLa Elise Falls is just a short 0.1 miles up that drainage.  The only part of this hike that is a bushwhack is a few yards of walking down Smith Creek and up the narrow canyon that contains QuiVaLa Elise Falls.  Even at that, there is a volunteer trail of sorts going up the canyon to QuiVaLa Elise Falls.

Smith Creek - note the white bluff downstream -
the narrow canyon with QuiVaLa Elise Falls
is behind that outcropping.

This photo was taken from where 
the trail crosses Smith Creek.
Smith Creek at this point was bone dry, which might seem a little concerning if you are chasing waterfalls.  It is my understanding that Smith Creek in this area is dry more often than not because the water disappears underground into the Sheffield Cave system.  Today, there was water flowing in the side drainage containing QuiVaLa Elise Falls, although not nearly as much as I had hoped.  I noticed all the water in this creek flowed into Smith Creek for a couple of yards, into a small pool that never filled.  I can only assume that water is flowing through this sinkhole into Sheffield Cave, and makes it's way out at some exit point downstream on Smith Creek or directly into the Buffalo River, only about a mile away as the crow flies.

QuiVaLa Elise Falls is named after Elise Roenigk.  'Qui-Va-La' is a French-Indian word for "Who Goes There".  The rough translation of 
QuiVaLa Elise Falls
'Qui-Va-La' from French is "who's there".  When Elise found this waterfall while exploring, she thought the rushing water sounded as if it were saying "Qui Va La", and she answered "Elise."  That's the story, anyway.  In any case, it's a pretty name for a pretty waterfall, named after a pretty lady that gave us this great little chunk of Natural State beauty.  QuiVaLa Elise Falls is a 21-foot tall cascading waterfall, and even with today's low flow conditions is well worth the hike to see it.  Today, however, it was not rushing enough to speak French to me, so I'll have to return in wetter times to check that out.  After Boomer and I took in the scenery and took a few photos, we packed up and headed back.  

The hike back is a climb of over 400 feet, but really doesn't seem bad at all because the trail is a good one.  It is a fairly even climb over the three-quarters of a mile back to the parking location.  I'm not sure how I managed to drive past this area for years without stopping to give it a look.  It is a beautiful area, and the Nature Conservancy is clearly a good caretaker of the Roenigk's generosity.  Looking at the trail map, there are many features worthy of exploring, and the temptation to do that now was strong.  However, I also had planned to check out Marty Falls, which was only about a mile away, at the edge of the Smith Creek Nature Preserve.  It also occurred to me that the other hiking trails in the preserve would be more scenic in the late spring and early summer months, and during that time frame, I would enjoy an area like this all the more, with its great trails and lack of briars and undergrowth.  I'll be back!
GPS track to QuiVaLa Elise Falls

Trail Map for Smith Creek Nature Preserve


  1. What an excellent, informative blog post. Thank you!

  2. Went there yesterday. Heavy flow on the fall & Smith creek. Got wet crossing several times. FYI, we took the lower trail from the falls toward the bridge. About 1/4 mile past the split there was a moss covered cascade that went down to Smith Creek. It was flowing well also so we took the scramble down to the creek. Well worth it. I had my GPS and wish I had pulled it out to mark points, but we were enjoying the beauty far too much. We then followed Smith Creek up stream as far as we could. There are several stunning areas and found one fall on the creek that we spent about 1/2 hour at enjoying.

    Then we hit the damage from the Tornado on March 6, 2017. About 1/4 mile wide, kept us from reaching the bridge so we bushwhacked up the west side to the main trail. LOTS of down trees to crawl over & thru. It's a big mess to be cleaned up.

    This is the couple we hiked with, he's a photo bug so I linked his photo album

    1. Sounds like you had a great time despite the tornado damage. I intend to go back this summer, hopefully it will be cleaned up by then.

  3. I don't know that how to use these apps. Can you give me some suggestion through by your post.Thanks.

  4. Not been there...too well known and documented. What's with this "motorcycle friendly" crap? How many Harley riders hike? Maybe the odd dual-sport rider might, but their bikes can handle the roads.

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